Posts tagged ‘children’s literature’

Open Letter to my Daughter: Horse and His Boy

An open letter to my daughter…
after reading The Horse & His Boy by C.S. Lewis

Dear Leah:

I can’t help but say this is my least favorite of Lewis’ Narnia series, so far. It’s a little predictable.

I mean, duh! Shasta looks like the Prince of Archenland, and turns out to be Cor, the long-lost twin of the Prince.

King Lune of Archenland: “Oh guess what, my son, kidnapped at birth, now YOU get to be trained to be king instead of your brother.” Twin brother Corin: “Yay! Now I don’t have to be king!” A little trite. A little too easy.

That said, this book was written by C.S. Lewis, which means there were some very rich nuggets of gold to be mined.

I thought it was hilarious when Lewis said Shasta and Aravis got married in order to make their continual fighting and making up more convenient. Likewise, when evil Prince Rabadash of Calormene got hung up on a hook by a chink in his armor in the heat of battle…Afterwards when Aslan turned him into a donkey as punishment…When Bree taught Shasta how to ride…When Shasta got to Narnia and told the first talking animal he saw that Prince Rabadan was coming to wage war on Narnia and steal Queen Susan away for his bride— that animal told another animal, who told another animal, who told another animal, until FINALLY the stag went off to tell Queen Lucy. They were a little complaisant. Lewis must have been thinking of the Western European nations and America during the rise of Hitler and World War II.

How about this funny line, when Aravis’ friend Lasarleen is threatening her servants: “And anyone I catch talking about this young lady will be first beaten to death and then burned alive and after that be kept on bread and water for six weeks.”

I loved seeing Edmund and Lucy fighting the war to save Susan, doing what was right (like not killing Prince Rabadash in cold blood), listening to wise counsel. Being leaders. I, of course, loved seeing Aslan the lion in all his wisdom and tenderhearted love and fearsome power.

But here’s the biggest nugget of gold I hope you took from reading this book: Aslan refused to tell anyone someone else’s story…he would only tell them their own. (Remember, when Cor could only wish he knew what happened to the lieutenant who saved his life as an infant…it wasn’t his story to know.)

Aslan, Jesus as we non-Narnians know Him, has written a story just for you to live, Leah.

You, like Shasta, are at the age where you are discovering the magnificent story (for I know yours is going to be particularly magnificent) of your own life. Shasta found out he was not the son of a Calormene fisherman, but he was Cor, a prince destined to become a king. I know your story will be just as jaw-dropping as you discover it.

You must find and live the story He wrote for you, as Shasta did. It must be between you and Aslan, and between the two of you alone. Remember what Lewis says when Bree proclaimed that he was too weak to go on without a snack, though Narnia was in imminent danger? “One of the worst results of being a slave and being forced to do things is that when there is no one to force you any more you find you have almost lost the power of forcing yourself.” Don’t ever let fear or the world enslave you. You are Christ’s and His alone.

Remember, how Aslan used the recalcitrant non-Talking Horse to lead Shasta to the safety of Narnia, though Shasta had no idea how to get the horse to do anything? Remember how Aslan stayed between Shasta and the edge of the mountain, though the path was so dark Shasta didn’t even know he was close to falling down the mountain? As Lewis says, Aslan is “at the back” of every story, and he is at the back of yours, too! Don’t ever sell yourself short.

Trust the Author of your story!

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12: 1-2

I am savoring every moment of watching Jesus work in your life, Leah.

I love you!


Orphans, Boarding Schools, and Hurting My Mom’s Feelings

As you know from yesterday’s blog entry, I had a childhood fixation on orphanages and boarding schools. I once wrote a "novel" in a spiral-bound notebook in which a child went to boarding school and there was assigned an orphan to take care of and teach. I constantly  wanted to play orphanage and/or boarding school, and forced my hapless little sister and brother to play with me. Mom and I were reminiscing about this quirk in my character one day when she, a  light tone of hurt in her voice, asked, "Yeah…why did you always want to get away from your Dad and me?"

Sorry, Mom! I hadn’t thought of my childhood games in that way. Mom and I have always had a good relationship. Dad and I too, though he was the focus of the minor teen drama I did have. It was a good childhood, focused on family. I HADN’T wanted to get away from them at all! The thought never crossed my mind. Ever, To be fair, Mom realized that, and the tone of her voice when she asked her question was more curious than hurt. But, yeah. Where did my desire to play such games come from?

Fast forward a few years when my daughter, Leah (she hates when I just call her my daughter…"I have a name, Mom!"),  had grown up and I was homeschooling her. Then I realized where my childish obsession with orphans and boarding school came from. We began reading books like:

Anne of Green Gables.
Tom Sawyer
The Secret Garden
The Little Princess
Caddie Woodlawn
Jungle Book
Boxcar Children

See a pattern here? Yep. Orphans. And I haven’t even touched on books that focus on children separated from parents, or any fairy tales. Children’s literature is rife with orphans, and I was, and still am, a voracious reader.

They’re independent, plucky, intelligent, courageous, funny. They have major adventures. Who wouldn’t want to be an orphan?

                        [And an orphanage is similar to a boarding school…students live there and attend school
                        there. I read a LOT of Madeleine L’Engle growing up, and she used her real life boarding 
                        school experiences as fodder for many of her books. I suspect I liked the idea of living 
                        independently, but actually disliked the idea of being without my family. That’s how I 
                        explain my boarding school thing.]

Of course, this is not reality with orphans. I guess that’s why they make such good stories. It’s the same reason it makes news when someone returns a wallet full of money…it’s not usual reality, therefore it makes a good story.

Thinking of it purely from the storytelling perspective, weak-willed, stupid characters who have no adventures are boring characters. Even if they aren’t orphans, we want to read about plucky, intelligent, courageous, funny, adventurous characters. When the author makes them orphans or forcibly separates their character from their family into a boarding school, he or she is emphasizing those qualities. The nature of their dire situation makes their character strengths stand out even more.

Plot-wise, it’s good for an author to have the children away from the parents to force the characters to think and problem-solve for themselves. If a parent (or other adult) swoops in to solve their problems and save them from a crisis, the story is going to be boring, especially to young readers. It would be a form of deux-ex-machina, meaning "god from a machine," in which a god would literally arrive via a crane into a Greek or Roman drama, to resolve the problems of the play. Major let-down.

So, what think you? 

What are your favorite children’s literature orphan or boarding school stories?

What reasons do you see for the prevalance of orphans and children separated from parents in children’s literature?

Click on "please comment" and let me know!


Writer’s Block: Stories of old

My favorite mythical character is Frodo, from Lord of the Rings, because of his faithfulness, his courage, and his hobbit-ish love of the simple things of life. His faithfulness and courage inspire those characteristics in the characters around him. And even Samwise Gamgee was inspired to be thankful for the simple things of life in the end.

Yet, like me, Frodo is not perfect. He gets a certain "I don’t need any help" attitude. He nearly gets done in by The Ring…but it ends up in the lake of Mordor, in the end. I love an overcomer, because I want to be an overcomer when I face tough things in life.


An Open Letter to My Daughter: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

An Open Letter to my Daughter,after reading (and seeing the movie of) C.S. Lewis’ classic The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Dearest Leah, Daughter of my Heart:

I pray for you every day to have a soft heart toward God. You saw in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe how evil can turn people to stone, when Jadis hatefully turned those she hated  to stone. Most of those who ended up stone during the story had been trying to serve Jadis, or even just try to appease her.


Leah, sin is like that. It will turn against you the way Jadis turned against Edmund, Mr. Tumnis, all those who disappointed her or who chose not to follow her any longer. Sin always turns against you, no matter how fun or unhurtful it seems at the start. That’s the trick behind sin. It always seems fun or unhurtful at the start. Mr. Tumnis was just trying to get along and not shake things up, for example. Yet he was turned to stone. Edmund just wanted to be treated special and have Turkish Delight. He nearly ended up stone.


Do you see it? You can be going along perfectly well with sin (like Jadis’ followers), until, at a moment’s notice—boom—your heart will be stone. You won’t have even seen it coming. This is why we always talk about avoiding temptation.


I think of how God hardened Pharaoh’s heart when he wouldn’t let the Jews leave Egypt. At some point, Pharaoh’s heart simply hardened, and that spelled the end of things for him.


On the other hand, I think of King David, who murdered, committed adultery, and many other sinful things. Bad sins (though isn’t all sin bad?). Yet, the Bible still calls him a man after God’s own heart.


Remember when Nathan the prophet tells David a story about a selfish, evil man, then David realized it was him the story was about? David tore his clothes in repentance. In other words, David sinned, but his heart was soft toward God…he repented. He came back to God.

[Just a note: David still faced a dreadful consequence to his sin!]


In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, remember how those who turned to stone came back to life? It took Aslan to do it, didn’t it? Leah, if your heart is soft toward God, He will always bring you away from sin, like Aslan did for Edmund in the novel, and like He did for David in the Bible. He will always guide you where He wants you to go, like Aslan did for the Pevensies in the book, and for our family in the move to Alaska. No matter what bad things happen in your life—and they will happen—if your heart is soft toward God, He will be ever close to you.


Jeremiah 18


“This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: ”Go down to the potter’s house and there I will give you my message.”


So I went down to the potter’s house and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.


Then the word of the Lord came to me:  “Oh, Leah, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Leah.”

Okay, so the Bible doesn’t say “Leah,” but the point remains: instead of stone, let your heart be as clay in your Potter’s hands.

This is what I pray for you!


I love you, Honey!



Commentary: Violent Children’s Literature

A lady on one of my homeschooling forums recently posted a request for suggestions for nonviolent children’s literature. I wholeheartedly support her quest.

But (you knew there had to be a but) I had some thoughts to share, and I’m going to share those thoughts here with some additions slight changes. I’d love to hear what you have to say on the issue.

I have a friend who deliberately allows her teenage boys to read violent books, watch violent movies or play violent video games WITH the caveat that in their selections good is good and evil is evil, and that her boys are on the side of good in the games. Choices like that video game where the goal is to steal a car and get away from the cops are NOT allowed.

Her logic in this is that they are growing up in a culture where they may one day be in a position to fight for good over evil, and to protect their families. She wants that to be a part of their character.

My own logic is that this is a part of the world. Think about the hero of the Old Testament who hammered the enemy’s head to the ground with a tent peg! I’d much rather talk about the violence in the world with my 14yo daughter than for her to find herself in a real-life situation where she has to make decisions with no character to draw on. If the reading selections are bringing up good, character-building discussions, I’m pleased.

(I feel the same way about the boy-girl thing. We don’t read or watch sexual material, nor allow our daughter to do so, but I’m not like my friend who will not allow her girls to see or read anything with boy-girl content. If one of my dd’s choices leads to a discussion of how a character’s feelings were hurt or another character focused on romance instead of godly love…I’m pleased.)

Plus, from a storytelling perspective, there MUST be conflict, or there is no story. Of course, it doesn’t have to be violent conflict. And any goriness does not have to be described in detail by the author, either. I have to admit, there were sections of Homer we skipped for that reason. War, war, war, gory stuff happens…yada, yada. We didn’t need to dwell on it!

All of this is just my opinion, and it is absolutely crucial for her to do what her children need. (For instance, we avoid stories with animals that get hurt or die for my particular daughter. They cause her to fall apart.) I applaud both of my friends AND the mom who posted for nonviolent material for seeking God’s best for the children He has given each of them.