Children’s Literature is my preferred reading diet. It is no easy task to keep a child engaged. Their minds wander easily. They can see through facades of boorishness and sermonizing. But every now and then, an author crafts a tale that is the perfect blend of drama, character, and plot. These three titles have been read and reread by my family innumerable times. I have mastered the lilt of Mrs. Bobbin’s voice and the haughty yet grateful tones of the duchess in Brave Irene. I can sing all of Frances’ tunes with more or less the same melodies every time. And I have renamed each one of the Owl Babies after my own babies with subsequent retellings. These books are our family classics and for good reason too.
3 Children’s Books With Powerful Life Lessons
Brave Irene by William Steig
William Steig’s story about a girl accomplishing a big task for her mother has stayed with me for decades. Irene volunteers to deliver the ball gown to the duchess, despite the coming snow. We often dismiss the notion that little children can make a big difference. I remember when my own mother was suffering from morning sickness, how I could make her feel better by bringing her a piece of buttered toast. Young children learn to do meaningful work in setting a table, sorting the utensils, tidying a room. Even toddlers can be taught to play “Put In” as they put their toys away, put the Legos in the bin, etc. The key is appreciation and praise. It still works for me to have some positive feedback after making a meal. Everybody likes to be thanked.
Irene encounters a fierce snowstorm with strong gusts of wind, but she does not give up! Persistence. Young children have so much persistence, sometimes in the guise of willfulness. If this stubbornness can be channeled for good, children will find much can be overcome simply by not giving up. I recall a chapter in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. The chapter on “Why Asians Are Better at Math” boils down to the fact that Western students don’t try as long. Not genetics, not intelligence quotient, success in mathematics directly correlates to how long we try. Irene keeps trying and is ultimately successful. As your child will be tying their shoes, buckling their seat belt, parallel parking…
This is commonly known as Growth Mindset. I hear my students say, “I’m not good at cursive,” and I automatically correct them, “I’m not good at cursive…yet.” I imagine Our Lord saying something similar to me as I confess my top three most commonly confessed sins, “You are not good at being good yet.” The focus is on the future. I am trying. I am learning. I will succeed eventually. Irene is a terrific example of this.
Sibling rivalry. My own sister is only 16 months younger than I am, and for most of my childhood, her birthday was my worst day of the year. As Frances says, “Your birthday is always the one that is not now.” All the attention, all the gifts, I focused on what she got, not what I gave. This is the same lesson Frances the badger learns when it is her younger sister Gloria’s birthday.
Oh how I sympathize with Frances. So much love is being poured out on Gloria– the place cards, the presents, and the little baskets of gum drops and chocolate covered peanuts. Frances imagines she is unloved. It’s so hard when one’s own birthday is very far away. It is only when Frances begins to focus on her own gift for Gloria that she stops feeling resentful and begins to enjoy the celebration. She even sings “Happy Birthday” to Gloria again, because she wasn’t really singing the first time.
Sweet Gloria intensely desires Frances’ happiness. Frances is blessed to have a sibling so adoring of her. Gloria shares her birthday wish, “I wished that Frances would be nice and not be mad at me because I hid her sand pail and shovel last year. And I am sorry, and I will be nice.” Frances thinks that the wish will come true, because as Mother says, “…it is a special kind of good wish that can make itself come true.”
If only the prodigal son’s older brother could have put aside resentment like these young badgers.
In Owl Babies, three owlets await their mother’s return and begin to panic as time passes and she is still gone.
But she returns! “Soft and silent, she swooped,” as she comes back to them. They were silly for suspecting she wouldn’t.
Lots of layers in this simple story. For a child to trust a parent to always come back, to be there every morning, to come when needed, is a fundamental stepping stone to our relationship with our heavenly Father. Trust in a parent naturally leads to faith that God will always listen, will always guide, protect, and accompany us through this life. And on an even deeper level, knowledge that God will always forgive us. God will never stop loving us. This is the ultimate lesson we are all trying to live out every day.
How To Discover More Children’s Books With Lessons
Here are three books that on the surface aren’t about the Catholic faith at all, but underneath are absolutely about everything Catholic. That’s how art should be, always leading us to the true, the good, and the beautiful. This is exactly the kind of book that comes in a Lion & Lamb subscription box. Books that are Catholic with a Capital C and books that are catholic, as in universal, pointing to God through the art of story and illustration.