I never went to Disney World as a child. Our family was not in a financial position to take a trip like that. As a result, I had no yearning desire to visit as an adult nor did I pine for the magic and wonder of The Magic Kingdom. I was content because I had no idea what I was missing out on.
The first time I experienced Disney World was with our four-year-old, two-year-old, and three-month-old sons. Not only was I amazed by what I saw with my own eyes, but I was moved almost to tears by the awe on the faces of my children. They could scarcely take in all of the sights and sounds of such an amazing place, and to be able to witness that was an experience I will never forget. It made me love Disney World, not so much because of what it is, but because of what it stirred in my children.
Wonderful books can be that way as well. There are many great children’s books that I never read in my youth for one reason or another. I did not fondly pine for them as an adult because I never knew what I was missing. As a parent, I made it my mission to cultivate a love of reading in the hearts and minds of my children. Consequently, we experienced amazing stories of wonder and adventure for the first time together. I discovered magical places and brave heroes as an adult, while my children encountered them through the innocent eyes and minds of youth. I cannot say if I loved the stories we read or my children’s reactions more.
My children are grown and I have now begun collecting books for my “grandreaders” that I anxiously await to spoil someday. In the meantime, I am introducing beautiful stories to other children and find I am just as moved by their awe and wonder. Earlier this year, while reading Charlotte’s Web, the students were transported to a different time and place where they laughed at some characters and cried with others. Recently, as we journeyed through The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, there were moments of disgust (they had strong opinions about Edmund and the White Witch), great bursts of laughter, as well as long stretches of speechless silence when they pondered the the meaning of Aslan’s submission. I have no doubt the students learned much from both stories, but I am just as certain that they taught me new things as I listened to and watched them.
I write all of this in the hope that it will encourage adults of all ages to experience the awe and wonder of great children’s literature for the first time through the perspective of the young people in their life. Or, revisit those special stories that brought beauty and wonder to their world as a child as a way of igniting a love of reading, imagination, and curiosity of the world around them in the hearts and minds of those special young people. Through the process, you are sure to create a bond that will last for years.