Luckily there is no need for me to ever align all my thoughts on books, literature in general, or children's books, because my thoughts all contradict one another. I think that kids should be allowed to read whatever they want, but I am also tremendously leery of allowing my kids to read books that I consider downright bad. I think of reading as an intensely private and self-directed joy, something that should be unalloyed with any hint of medicine to it—and yet I use books as medicine all the time.
Case in point: right now. There's been some bad news coming down the pike here, and one cannot help but be aware of exactly what one is reading during difficult times. At the beginning of the bad news it was American Gods, then it segued into The Truth About Drug Companies (don't ask and no, it's not comforting) before finally settling in the heart of the bad news with 36 Arguments for the Existence of God. Fear not: it's a novel.
None of these were chosen for comfort; they were what I happened to have on hand and I made do. The last one, especially, was blissfully distracting, but when I was afforded greater choice, I had the strangest experience of watching myself make a selection, as though I was outside of it. I need peace, I need comfort, I told myself. What did I go for? This.
This probably tells you more about me and my ridiculous sentimentality than anything else ever could. Good old, sloggy old Dickens. What is it that I find so moving about him and his brutally tear-jerking ways? I can't say. All I can do is be so grateful that he is there to tell me a story. A story makes all the difference in the world.
My children have found their medicinal choices too, even if they don't quite know it yet. In times of trouble, Chestnut heads back to the Prairie and Laura Ingalls, and you can almost see the stress leave her body, strewn across the bed in the air conditioned room, mentally traveling somewhere she is able to make sense of. Diana finds her peace with The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
And that's not to say that these are the same ones every time. For fever, I prescribe something much lighter, perhaps a Robert B. Parker or Rex Stout, or maybe Rich Men, Single Women (if that's your style). And for deep sorrow, there's nothing better (as I've said often enough before) than Patrick O'Brian.
But things will be better now, and I still get to follow Little Nell and the Old Man to the end of their journey.
So here's the question, readers of all: what comforts you? What comforts your children? I say we come up with a pharmacopoeia and spread it around.