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  • Gracie Carmichael

The Tales of our Youth: A Return to the Children's Story

"No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally—and often far more—worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond."

- C.S. Lewis

Dear kindred spirit,


I am delighted you could join me today, and I wish this first blog post of the year may find you pursuing joy, and discovering it at every turn. It was my intention to keep up on writing new blog posts in January, but we cannot always expect what life may deliver us! If you follow me over on Instagram, you may already know that last month was a difficult one, with a period of sickness and the passing of a loved one—but I am feeling at last ready to return to the writing so dear to me through this here blog.


It seems to me that a comforting book through a period of sorrow serves often as the biggest reminder of exactly why I read—not merely for entertainment or escapism, but for comfort, for consolation, to find wisdom and worth in age-old words that have never lost their ability to teach and humble, and bring joy to our weary hearts. I was reminded of this last month, in which a reread of Pride and Prejudice filled me with more joy and solace than I'd felt in a very long time. We learn to value the good, simple joys of literature from childhood—I learned it from Beatrix Potter when I was 9...from Little Women when I was 12. Though our tastes grow and shape themselves with age, as we delve into Austens and Gaskells, Tolstoys and Dickens, it is those early literary loves that prove to have been the foundation all along.


I find it rather sad that those first loves are often abandoned when we grow older. The books become bigger, darker, heavier as we age up—and we treat dear old Beatrix like an old, lost memory that was good while it was here. It's not meant to be like that, I believe. One of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes is, "One day you will be old enough to read fairy tales again." The wisdom of that statement is one that really must come with age—when at last we surrender our lofty notions about the expectations of adulthood and return to the sweet-hearted ideals of simple joy, ageless laughter, and timeless wisdom. The Children's genre is full of this, though we choose to forget it. We have misplaced the door to fairyland and must enter through that gate by new means—for though a child may enter freely, we unwise Big People must learn again what time has taken from us, and restore the hidden pathways only when we first have learned to seek them once more.

The literary treasures of our youth have perhaps more to teach us now than when the small child-hands gripped their pages. Better yet, some of those dear child-treasures were left undiscovered in those golden years of youth, and they are waiting for you now just as they waited for you then—and it isn't too late to find them.


As a little girl I adored Winnie-the-Pooh, but it wasn't until I was nearly eighteen that I actually read A.A. Milne's original story. In no way did reaching it at an older age impede my enjoyment, let me promise you! If you have never read Milne's Pooh, whether you are eight or eighty, I implore you to read it straightaway. Nothing has ever made me laugh so much, or smile with such a warm-hearted feeling in quite the way that book did. Even now, I pull it out whenever I'm feeling low and read a chapter. I should hope I'll still be doing that when I'm eighty.


Classic childrens' stories like that have curative powers, I'm sure. I will never be too old to laugh at Beatrix Potter's Two Bad Mice when poor Tom Kitten gets rolled into dough with a rolling pin, nor too old to smile when Heidi teaches "Uncle Alp" to love again, and I shall certainly never be too old to shed a tear when Aslan sacrifices himself for Edmund Pevensie in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It is those very stories that stay with us all our lives, and are still teaching us, though we may think we have forgotten them.


Perhaps the children's story is more wise, after all, than the stories written for adults. Is this because we recognize a need to teach young minds good and worthy lessons, to promote sweetness and selflessness, and show a child the many ways in which they may simply do good in a very dark world? And yet, we unwise adults aren't given such stories now. They do not generally write books for "Big People" about honoring good deeds, doing the kind, simple, whole-hearted thing for somebody in need, and chastising the heart that turns away from help and humility.


Perhaps that is why the child's heart is wiser, after all. We have grown up to be too silly to realize that we don't ever stop growing! Our hearts are constantly changing with all that we learn and experience, just as a child. Yet we are no longer given those unstained ideals to aspire to—no longer told to seek what is worthy and wise. How we have forsaken our old wisdom!


Now, to impart a bit of hopeful truth.

Age does not eclipse the value of the Tales of our Youth.


Beatrix Potter has more to tell you now than when you were a child. Mary Lennox of The Secret Garden has more wisdom to pass on than when you first visited her enchanted garden. A Little Princess will touch your heart with greater worth and more tears than when you last left Miss Minchin's boarding school. Eustace Scrubb has more to say about surrendering our pride and finding courage than he did when you last sailed on the Dawn Treader.


It's time to recognize them again, and cherish in our hearts what we once knew well enough to hold dear. If you are looking for stories that uphold goodness and light—if you are longing for hope in dark places, for courage against fear—then I ask you to revisit the tales of your youth. There is more joy, more solace to be found in those well-worn dog-eared pages than in the whole of the contemporary fiction line-up for adults on display at Barnes&Noble.


The very beautiful thing about returning to the children's genre is that there are more stories to be discovered that I never reached in my girlhood. I never read Little House on the Prairie growing up (despite having spent a considerable amount of my life in the very locations the Ingalls lived, ha!) and am overjoyed that I get to meet those dear people for the first time. I am sure my enjoyment of them will not suffer for reaching them in adulthood! I have also the Betsy-Tacy books before me, and all of Nancy Drew! The darling mice of Brambly Hedge are waiting for me to stop in for tea, and The Penderwicks are hopeful of becoming beloved new friends.


You can't be too old for fairyland. That's a misinterpretation of the truth, I'm sure. The fact is, for the gates of fairyland to be barred from you, your heart must have grown too stone-hearted and forgetful of the cherishable good things which our child-hearts knew better to appreciate. If your heart is full of thoughts of fairyland, you certainly have not forgotten it! Go out and find it—go, and join the Pevensies through the wardrobe door; fall through the looking-glass with Alice; keep lookout for Peter Rabbit in Mr McGregor's garden; and seek the worthy wisdom of childhood once more.

 

Thank you dearly for joining me today, kindred spirit. I'd like to close with a small list of recommendations for you from the tales of my own youth. These sweet stories are ageless, full of so much laughter and joy and wisdom, and I would recommend them to any friend, whether they are seven years old, or seventy.


The Tales of My Youth:

  • Beatrix Potter: The Complete Tales

  • The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

  • The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

  • Heidi by Johanna Spyri

  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

  • James Herriot's Children's Treasury by James Herriot

  • A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

  • Tumtum and Nutmeg: Adventures from Nutmouse Hall by Emily Bearn

  • Utterly Me, Clarice Bean by Lauren Child

  • Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne

  • The Flower Fairies by Cicely Mary Barker

  • The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo


If you would like to share with me the tales of your own youth, or share your own feelings about the wonderful world of children's literature, I would be delighted to hear from you. You can leave a comment below if you fancy! Wishing you many blessings, and happy reading!


Until next time,

-Gracie


 

Want to follow along on Instagram? You can find me @austensandalcotts for mini blog-posts, a glimpse into my reading life, and giveaways for products from my shop. You can also subscribe to the Austens & Alcotts mailing list to receive my twice-monthly newsletter direct to your inbox, where I share personal encouragement for kindred spirits longing for a simpler, lovelier life, as well as news on shop releases, subscriber-only sales, and more!