Life Lessons from Children’s Books

I have been reading a lot lately, an estimated average of a dozen books a day. Granted, they are almost exclusively children’s books. Nevertheless, reading is an essential part of daily life in my household. So much so, that we intentionally organized our main living space to encourage and promote reading, with a bookshelf full of books and chairs near windows and lamps.

Children’s books are often just fun stories that offer pure entertainment. For example, Dusty Locks and the Three Bears by Susan Lowell illustrated by Randy Cecil, a cleverly reimagined version of the classic Goldilocks story, Don’t Push the Button by Bill Cotter, involving a silly monster who persuades the reader to break the book’s one rule, and The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone illustrated by Michael Smollin, starring Sesame Street’s Grover who makes a surprising discovery. Other books share heartwarming messages of parents’ love for their children, three of my favorites are You Are My I Love You by Maryann Cusimano Love illustrated by Satomi Ichikawa, My Kiss Won’t Miss by Lesley Dahlseng illustrated by Mirela Tufan, and Wherever You Are by Nancy Tillman.

However, there are also books that have surprised me with the messages offered, often messages I need to be reminded of even as an adult. The ubiquitous presence of children’s books in my daily routine got me thinking about the stories I thoroughly enjoy, the ones I feel offer uniquely relevant perspectives to life. Below are some anecdotes that came to mind after reading these books for approximately the zillionth time.

Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel
The Frog and Toad collection is one of my favorites. Toad is ridiculously silly, however, I found myself drawing on deep reflections after reading “The Letter.” In this story, Toad is sad because he never receives mail. His best friend, Frog, patiently listens to Toad express disappointment over never receiving mail before he excuses himself to go home. Once home, Frog proceeds to write Toad a letter about how much he values their friendship, then he mails the letter to Toad. Without judgment or admonishment, Frog instead reflects the value of genuine friendship, connection, relationship, and support. What a beautiful part of life.

I Just Forgot by Mercer Mayer
This beloved Litter Critters book reiterates a simple truth that, “sometimes I remember, and sometimes I just forget.” I’m currently in the midst of trying to instill responsibility and awareness in my children and the examples offered in this book hit very close to home. For example, the main character in the book admits to forgetting to pick up his toys, something my kids can easily relate to. But, it struck me during a recent read-through that this concept of forgetting could just as easily be applied to me. Although I don’t often “forget to make my bed,” an example provided in the book, I do often forget many things: to slow down, to be truly present and not distracted with my phone, to enjoy small moments, to appreciate every day as the beautiful gift that it is.

Moonbear’s Skyfire by Frank Asch
Frank Asch’s “Bear” is an endearing character in all of his books. I feel this story in particular is relevant to today’s experience of conviction in who holds the most accurate perspective on reality. The premise is that Bear and his friend Little Bird see a rainbow in the sky. The story continues with both characters attempting to convince the other of what it actually is: Little Bird claims it’s a rainbow with a pot of gold at the end, Bear insists the sky is on fire. The friends reach what appears to be the end of the rainbow and Bear pours a pot of water in the sky just as the rainbow starts to fade and Little Bird spies a tree trunk filled with honey. The book ends with both characters asserting their viewpoint is correct. How true of real life. Two people can observe something and come away with very different conclusions, all while being absolutely convinced that their version is the most correct. In the end, both sides may be correct, or both may be mistaken – it’s important to try our best to listen and communicate, even through divergent opinions.

The Wonderful Things You Will Be by Emily Winfield Martin
There is a lot to love about this book, the illustrations are adorable and the encouraging message of a parent’s enduring love for their child is heartwarming. But, I think one of my favorite parts of the book is how the author presents various diverse scenarios for what the reader might be when they grow up. Not in a specific, “you can be a doctor or a teacher” type of way (many books highlight specific future roles for children to consider). Rather, in this story the emphasis is placed on characteristics and traits that can be used in a variety of roles. The message of valued traits, “kind and clever and bold,” is woven throughout before concluding with the encouragement to “become anybody that you’d like to be.” Characteristics of kindness, love, and creativity can be used in any and all areas of life, jobs, roles, and settings. This importance of character is something kids and adults alike need to be reminded of.

When God Made You by Matthew Paul Turner illustrated by David Catrow
This delightful book with eye-catching illustrations emphasizes how we are all unique, “an exclusive design, one God refined.” Throughout the book, the reader is reminded that everyone is made in God’s image, “when God made you and the world oohed and aahed, in heaven they called you an image of God.” The author encourages sharing “your talents and passions, those gifts that God fashioned” with those around you. The messages shared in this book are not new to me, but rather were presented in a refreshing way: “God knew your name. Your picture is framed. God’s family without you would not be the same.” This book caused me to reflect deeply on my own thoughts of how unique and special we all are, a truth that applies to literally everyone in the world. What a beautifully simple reminder to view everyone as made unique in God’s image. Finally, the reader is gently reminded to be someone who “views others as sisters and brothers and lives by three words: love one another.” During this particularly challenging season, complete with discouragement, exhaustion, and deep polarization, what a crucial and simple hope-filled response to the world.

These are just a few examples of reminders that I needed in my own life. I know there are countless children’s books out there and I’d love to hear your perspective on some of your favorites. Continued cold winter weather has necessitated plenty of indoor time, which means I’m on the lookout for more books to incorporate into the collection to keep my kids entertained.

Please share your recommendations for children’s books in the comments section below!

Wendi, her husband, and their two kids live in Minnesota and are currently perfecting their best “ya sure you betcha” accents. She is co-author of the blog The Unexpected Ever Afters.

photo credit: personal photo

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