I argue that since grownups were once children we have locked inside all of us the memories and feelings of being younger. Reading children’s literature takes you back and reminds you of things forgotten or pushed aside during day-to-day adulating. Beautifully written children’s books are for everyone.
But, I feel that a great deal of what we recommend to children is rife with peril and death and grown up concerns. Many times we forget that being a kid is hard. Even children in a stable childhood have everyday worries that weigh on them. There is no amount of money that you could pay me to be thirteen again! We make the mistake of recommending books to kids that we remember being required to read or worse, books we have heard are good for kids but haven’t read yet.
So, I actively seek out good children’s literature that is wholly enjoyable, well written and as free from unnecessary upset as possible to recommend blindly to children. When I am in a position where a parent asks me, “What should my kid read,” I have a bank of great stories and adventures to rattle off. I don’t usually recommend books to children that are anything but an escape because I want to encourage kids to love to read – to see it as the adventure it can be. And, I actively weed out books in which there is unnecessary sadness, loss or (what I think is) manipulative death. Beautifully written books about real feelings are important for everyone, including children, but I think it is a mistake to carelessly expose children to adult feelings and issues.
Walk Two Moons is on my local school district’s summer reading list for kids third through fifth grade. I picked it up off the shelf out of sheer curiosity and I loved it. In this story we meet thirteen year old Salamanca Tree Hiddle. While traveling with her eccentric Grandparents from Ohio to Idaho, Sal entertains her Gramps and Gram with the story of her friend Phoebe, the disappearance of Pheobe’s mother and a lunatic. Meanwhile, Sal’s own story and her desires to be reunited with her mother unfolds.
In Walk Two Moons Sharon Creech weaves these two stories together so expertly that I could not sleep until I finished the book. Sal’s story, and the one she tells about Phoebe, will stay with me. I love this book even though it made me cry.
Throughout the book we see the quote, “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins.” This was the undercurrent of the story. The author was able to show with every single character that a person has layers, history and experiences that we don’t see on the surface. Everyone has stories, things the whole world doesn’t yet know, and we shouldn’t make assumptions about people.
I am sure that this message is, in part, why the publisher and our school district recommends this book to ages 8-12. But, I disagree. Sal is dealing with regular childhood problems and real world hard problems all at once. There is no way to really explain without including spoilers but Sal’s world knowledge far exceeds the typical 8 year olds I know. And, while I wouldn’t question reading this in a third through fifth grade class, I don’t like that this is on the summer reading list where, presumably, kids are reading it independently.
I want to be clear. This book is fantastic. I am in awe of Sharon Creech’s ability to put all those feelings and wonderful characters into this beautiful story. When I see this book in a store or a library I will hug it. I can’t hug Sal so I will give the book a good squeeze and try not to cry in public. But, it will not be something I recommend blindly to elementary students to read on their own. Instead, I’ll recommend it to all of you and keep it in my back pocket to recommend to any specific child that needs to know Sal’s story.
Have you ever read a book like this? One that is for the child inside of us but not really a children’s book?