Also, long titles have a long and glorious history, so don’t judge.
Seriously though, why read children’s literature? Why does a college student check books out of the children’s section of her local library? Is this something like 30 year old men still playing video games in their parents’ basement? (No offense to that segment of my reading population, should you exist. That’s a debate for another day.)
I read children’s lit because of books like Palace of Stone, by Shannon Hale. Hale is the author of many fantastic books like Princess Academy, Enna Burning, and the graphic novel Rapunzel’s Revenge. I’ve been reading her stuff for ages. First off, I’m a sucker for fairy tales, particularly retold ones. Second, I’m hooked on the way she’s essentially writing her own fairy tales. I love the way she weaves stories into her books, illustrating the place of myth in humanity.
I liked Princess Academy, but Palace of Stone, the sequel, swept me away. Miri and some of her friends move to the capital city for a year, representing their province and supporting Britta, the soon-to-be princess. Miri goes to university and falls in with revolutionaries who want to overthrow the monarchy. The plot is fascinating…sort of a version of the French Revolution, mixed with romance. But what really struck a chord with me were Miri’s inner struggles. Between education and home, between revolution and her friend (the princess), and between her hometown love, a stonemason, and the revolutionary scholar she meets. The themes smacked of college, felt like deja vu. I suppose not for everyone. But choosing between my small Southern hometown and the bustling university town, between my (wonderful) blue collar boyfriend and the shiny, smooth-talking, suited college boys…well, thankfully no revolutions, yet!
Miri’s turmoil felt like mine. How do you hold onto both things that you love? *Spoilers ahead*
In the end, Miri and her friends forge a charter to appease the revolutionaries and support the monarchy. She chooses Peder over the revolutionary, and she decides that she will somehow enjoy both home and her education. I wish Shannon Hale had better explained how Miri was going to do that. I’m not so different. I have chosen the man I love, because I decided that there were so many things more important than wearing a well-cut suit. I chose to move (semi-permanently) to the university town that I’m coming to love. I’m still thankful the revolution hasn’t yet appeared. But Hale well captured those feelings of confusion and uncertainty. Of learning so many things out of books, but not knowing how to apply them in real life. What good is literature and philosophy and history if it doesn’t help me live today? There’s no point in studying logic and rhetoric if it doesn’t help you craft a charter that will end a revolution. And there’s no point in me learning how to understand other people’s points of view if I refuse to apply that knowledge to understanding and loving my family.
That’s why I read children’s literature. Because sometimes it’s not written to the 5th grader who can get 10 AR points for that book (the spine tells me this is the case). Sometimes it’s written to a confused college student who comes to the children’s section of the library for wisdom in fairy tales.