What shaped your moral imagination?

Hello friends and fellow bloggers. Once again, sorry for the lack of blog last week. I think until I am moved and hopefully settled into new job (of some sort), I should just accept that a blog every two weeks is a more reasonable goal.

So, this week’s quote isn’t from a children’s book but from an article my mom sent me about the importance of children’s literature. The article (http://www.nationalreview.com/article/364662/it-takes-pirate-raise-child-daniel-b-coupland)wasn’t very well written unfortunately, but it ended with some great points about children’s literature and developing children’s “moral imagination.” My favorite part was when he described lecturing his son about teasing his sisters. He realized he wasn’t getting through with a traditional lecture, so he switched tactics: “And then, in a rare moment of inspiration, I looked at him and said, ‘Son, you’re being an Edmund’….The reference to Edmund hit my son in a very deep place in his heart, which only stories can reach.” (If you don’t recognize the reference, go read The Lion,the Witch and the Wardrobe!)

This article got me thinking about something that has been kind of kicking around in the back of my mind ever since Sarah and I started writing our book. My memory of my most beloved fantasy or magical adventure books as a child (books by C.S. Lewis, J. R.R Tolkien, Madeleine L’Engle, or Susan Cooper for example) was that they were books about epic battles. It wasn’t just some characters who were good vs. some characters who were evil- it was Good vs. Evil. In the midst of these timeless struggles between large, abstract forces, there were children who had distinct, everyday moral struggles. This juxtaposition was, and still is, thrilling to me.

The question I now struggle with is whether many of the kids’ books today have this same quality. My immediate reaction is that they do not. While I can easily list the strengths and weaknesses of every character in Percy Jackson or Harry Potter, I don’t know if there is one character who resonates with me the way “You’re being an Edmund” does. I don’t know if that is just because I didn’t read those books as a child, so they didn’t impact me the same way or if we have lost something in today’s books.

Or, maybe those books are just a different style than the books I read in my childhood. I think that Harry Potter and Percy Jackson don’t have the sense of timeless Good vs. Evil that are in Susan Cooper or J.R.R. Tolkein. Voldemort is a really, really bad guy, but is he a part of an ongoing struggle between good and evil, right and wrong? I’d say no, although I should probably reread them to be fair. And are the everyday moral struggles the kids face in those books as poignant without that big picture backdrop? For me, they’re not.

That’s not to say that I don’t thoroughly enjoy Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, and maybe the observations I’ve made here can be chalked up to me just being nostalgic for the excitement I had when reading books as a child. But, I think there is something to be said for having kids playing a small (but important) role in a larger, ongoing battle. Regardless, I know that I want an epic struggle in our book- I’m not sure if we’ve achieved it with draft #1, but I hope we find a way to convey it in the 2nd draft.

That’s it for me today because I really have to get my house packed up! Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving last week and feel free to comment or share examples of your favorite epic adventure books as a child.


12 thoughts on “What shaped your moral imagination?

  1. Our kids just have many more books to choose from – I remember re-reading books so often, because there simply weren’t that many to choose from.

  2. I think these moral examples can be found in lots of picture books too! Camilla Capybara from “Hooway for Wodney Wat” by Helen Lester comes to mind for me. I have had some great discussions with my classes after that book about bullying the bully and whether or not that is OK.

  3. Favorites as a child included your favorites but also loved Secret Garden. One of my favorites to teach …old now would be the Giver and Out of the Dust. xo

    • I read the Secret Garden multiple times as a child- absolutely loved it, and its on my list of books to re-read as an adult. I haven’t read those last two books- I’ll add them to my list of must-reads. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I love learning about new books to read 🙂

  4. My heart still freezes to think about “Are You My Mother?” by P. D. Eastman! The fear it instilled in me, that a child cannot find his mother and is taunted by those who will not help! Later, as an adult,I was appalled to find out that other people thought the story was hysterically funny!
    The other heart-catcher for me is “The Giving Tree,” It is digging its way deeper as I age – I started reading it to my kindergarten students when I was in my early 20’s, and it took a long time to be able to read it without crying. Now, as I approach my 7th decade, the story continues to wind itself around my heart and state of mind!

    • Thank you so much for this kind and moving comment. I loved “The Giving Tree” as a child. I haven’t read it in ages though but after your beautiful description of how it has impacted you over the years, I will get it from the library straight away so I can appreciate it as an adult. I haven’t read “Are You My Mother?” I will have to check that out as well! Thank you so much for commenting and introducing me to new great books!

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