Children’s literature was one of my favorite college courses. For one thing, the class consisted of about five students, most of whom were planning on teaching elementary school, and everyone seemed genuinely passionate about the subject and their future careers. I had no plans to teach (although I ended up doing so immediately after graduation), but I loved children and loved literature, so I figured it had to be a good use of three elective credits.
As an English major, I’d always been crazy about literature. My mom keeps telling me to write a book, and is convinced that if I ever do, I’ll be able to actually make a living doing nothing but what I love—writing. That’s never really my ambition, though. I majored in English because I love language. I love reading words and stories and poems written by creative geniuses. I love contemplating letters and words themselves. I’m sure my sixth sense is an innate editing ability, sniffing out misspelled words and grammatical snafus the way my beagle Clyde can uncover anything stinky within a mile. And I love nothing better than turning a thought or a memory into an essay, poem, or short story.
I discovered when I took children’s literature that I love it more than any other genre of literature. Although it’s true that a great teacher, like Dr. Murphy who taught my children’s lit class, can make a student love anything, that’s not what convinced me of its merit. It’s not because it’s easy and quick to read, although that’s certainly a bonus feature. It’s not because I collect children’s books, particularly antique children’s books, but I do treasure each one of them on my bookshelves. It’s not even because I have such vivid memories of my mom reading classic children’s stories and Little Golden Books to me as a child.
It’s because in children’s literature, there’s always a happy ending. Try to think of a children’s book that ends sadly, as if the world were covered in a dark shroud of gloom. It’s difficult. Sure, there are some creepy tales, like those written by the Grimm Brothers and plenty of others like them. But for the most part, when I pick up a children’s book, I know I’m going to smile at the outcome. I’m ensured I’ll feel the corners of my mouth curl up and perhaps even little tears of happiness form in the creases around my eyes. At the end, no matter how much I’ve been kept on the edge of my seat due to twists and turns in the plot, I seem to end up hearing Annie sing about the sun coming up when I close the cover. Who doesn’t love a happy ending?
The fact is that life’s often nothing like a children’s book. It is hard. It’s not fair. It’s not even happy much of the time. It’s full of intricate, sticky cobwebs and messy, difficult decisions. Its characters are often crude, calloused, and calculating. The plot continues to thicken and complicate itself with every turn of the page.
But the beauty I’ve discovered, just as in children’s literature, is that it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes, especially when I let myself see it for what it is, I find life to be full of beauty, adventure, and love. I feel alive, hopeful, and content. I notice people around me who do the same and who make my life richer, deeper, and lighter.
And no matter what happens in each chapter, when I close my eyes for the last time, I’m pretty certain I’ll be silently singing about the sun coming out inside of me. After all, life is a story. And its Writer has already crafted a perfect ending for me.
It’s just like the ending of Matilda, which I’m not ashamed to admit I watched this morning all by myself while consuming an entire pot of coffee.
“And as bad as it had been, that’s how much better it became.”