“One runs the risk of weeping a little, if one lets oneself be tamed…” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
“If you love a flower which happens to be on a star, it is sweet at night to gaze at the sky. All the stars are a riot of flowers.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
My love for children’s and young-adult literature is no secret. As a veteran educator with nearly 35 years of classroom experience, books have centered at the heart of what I do. In fact, books are quite typically the unifying thread that binds, and has bound, the vast majority of lessons I teach. Good literature has the power to inspire lessons in geography, math, biology, physics, history, politics, psychology, sociology, and so much more. Additionally, a great story can even offer a life lesson, or two, that pulls at the readers’ hearts and challenges the reader to reflect, contemplate, and evaluate both their internal world as well as their external actions.
Many years ago, I was once asked, during an interview, to name my favorite book. To this date, though I do not recall for what I was being interviewed, I vividly remember my response, Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White, and the stinging silence that followed. Afterwards, I remember inwardly cringing because I am certain, given the context of whatever adult-situation in which I found myself, the interviewer made certain assumptions about me–namely, I must not be very bright and/or well-read.
Later, I thought of all of the phenomenal and influential novels I have read for which I could have responded, making me sound, at the very least, more mature–and certainly more well-read–than the beloved children’s classic. Still, E.B. White penned a story in 1952 with two strong female characters who saved a life, motivated by their passionate desire to rid the world of a wrongful death. More importantly, White’s characters illustrate to readers what it means to live a compassionate and loving life, how to develop and foster lasting relationships, and, in the end, how to sacrifice one’s self to the greater good of another–even if that means letting go and saying goodbye.
I was reminded of this interviewer’s question from the 1990s when I overheard a piece on public radio regarding inspiring spiritual books that aren’t, per se, considered “religious,” but still offer readers lessons for the soul. While I was not able to listen to the entire piece, it was of interest to me that of the six or so titles that were recommended, at least three of those titles were considered children or young-adult literature. Huh, maybe I was on to something years ago and only now is the rest of the world catching up to me!
Two of the juvenile titles, I had read within recent years, but one title, The Little Prince, by Antoine De Saint-Exupéry, I was not sure if I had read or not. I felt as if I had, but memory, like the morning fog rising above the Ohio River, fades as time passes. The person being interviewed on the radio stated that it was this particular book that continues to help him in times of grief. That was all it took, and I decided in that moment to read–or perhaps, reread–this classic.
They make me wonder where you are
Up on heaven’s boulevard . . .”–Grace Potter
There is a song, written by Grace Potter, and performed by Potter and the Nocturnals, for which I have found great comfort when missing a relative who has slipped their Earthbound chains. While I suspect the song is actually about lost love, since the writer states she cannot look at the star without wondering where her former love is, her lyrics, instead, remind me of how I prefer to think the opposite. Whenever I look at the night sky and see my friends, Orion, Libra, the Little Dipper, and even Mars and Venus–though they’re not stars–I am reminded of those I have lost. It often seems to me as if the twinkling of the stars is God’s way of allowing the heavenly souls to wink at those of us still bound to Earth’s gravity as if to say, “We are okay, and you are okay. You’re welcome to join us, but there is no rush. Time is endless in the heavens.”
Ah, but I am a silly, ingenuous adult at my heart, I suppose. Perhaps that is why from the very first chapter of The Little Prince I was transfixed. The author’s opening scene describes, in great child-like detail, why the main character, an adult pilot, abandoned his budding career as an artist as a child due to grown-ups who could not understand his art; and therefore, the character was encouraged to pursue more serious matters such as, “geography, history, arithmetic, and grammar. “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is exhausting for children to have to provide explanations over and over again.” Thus, at the ripe old age of six, the main character begins to lose sight of matters of the heart and soul–which cannot be seen by the eye–until his plane crashes in the desert where upon he meets a Little Prince from another planet.
I can recall the nagging feeling, after that unknown interview, that has always nagged at me, if I am to be honest. That feeling is called, “You, Stephanie, are not smart.” And while I do not want to create some glorified fictional version of my childhood–and adulthood, for that matter–I certainly can look back throughout the years and recognize my dreamy nature. My desire, which is perhaps equal parts strength and Achilles heel, to go into my head, to dream, create, and think–really, heartfully, soulfully think–has always been my comfort, ally; and at times, has given me the ability to withstand certain difficult situations. It is probably that very quality that makes me immensely sensitive, and perhaps ultimately, it is what called me to education. Then, again, perhaps this is my over-active imagination wanting to believe this. . .
What I do know is that I will no longer apologize for adoring children’s literature. I have cried more real tears, felt more deeply, and have often been more motivated–upon reflection of a work–to evaluate and rethink my actions or motives due to well-written books geared for younger audiences. My interviewer was merely, in the words of The Little Prince, a serious adult who could not see, or find value, in the matters of the heart and soul. He could not look up at the stars and see what I see; he could not feel the depths of real love; the joy of true friendship; what it means to really sacrifice for another; and I am quite certain, he could not pick up a children’s book and allow himself to imagine, dream and grow. And that, Dear Reader, is a sad story, for he is missing out on the joy of seeing heaven’s boulevard and other inner-worldly experiences.
May we all celebrate great books, even those written for the unfledged mind.