Commentary: The Children’s Books that Define Us

Commentary: The Children’s Books that Define Us

Photo Credits: ALLYSON KO / AGGIE

Children books that have had a lasting effect on students

After taking ENL 180 “Children’s Literature” with Professor Frances Dolan, I began thinking critically about how the books we read as children influence the rest of our lives. A child’s introduction to literature is important, especially during such a formative time for the brain. Youth is when we begin establishing thoughts and opinions about the world around us, something books can aid.  

An article in Time Magazine cites titles such as “Where the Wild Things Are” and “Goodnight Moon” as being some of the best and most influential children’s books. But what is it about these books that makes them so important? Why do people have so much nostalgia toward them?

The literature we are exposed to as children leaves a lasting effect on who we are and who we grow up to be. I personally was an avid reader as a child. Because I was so shy, I found solace in burying my nose in a book and turning the characters into my friends.

I learned the power of creativity in Katherine Paterson’s “Bridge to Terabithia” while also learning that sometimes novels can make you cry — a lot. I improved my vocabulary and tapped into my dark side in Lemony Snicket’s wonderfully weird “A Series of Unfortunate Events.”

From Roald Dahl’s classic novel, I related heavily to characters like Matilda: characters who were quiet and precocious and, above all else, book lovers. As an English major, I think it’s safe to say that what I read had a major impact on my life.

This goes for many other students as well. Second-year English major Ariana Green said that “Harry Potter” was one of her favorite series growing up.

“The theme or lesson that I remember learning from ‘Harry Potter’ is the importance of family,” Green said. “One doesn’t have to be related by blood to have a family, which is a lesson that really resonated with me growing up.”

Fourth-year English and theater and dance double major Katherine Halls said that her favorite books included the “Amelia Bedelia” franchise and the “Junie B. Jones” books.

“I think Junie B. Jones resonates the most with me, since the books’ point of view is set through her thoughts in her diary,” Halls said. “She leaves absolutely nothing out, and her perspective on life as a kindergartener is so funny and similar to mine. I whipped through them as a kid.”

Halls carried the messages she received from these books throughout her life.

“I think some important lessons I’ve learned from books like these are it’s okay to be yourself,” Halls said. “You get to choose what you like and what you want to do in life so you should be brave.”

Second-year English major Caitlyn Liu was an avid reader growing up and found the “Nancy Drew” series to be the most relatable.

“The most prominent lesson I learned from reading ‘Nancy Drew’ was to always be prepared,” Liu said. “Nancy always knew what to do, she was resourceful, she had everything she needed with her at all times. I was that third-grader who had dozens of band-aids and packets of Neosporin in my backpack.”

Along with providing her with important emergency readiness skills, Liu continues to see the value in what the novels taught her.

“Reflecting as an adult, reading ‘Nancy Drew’ definitely taught me how to be persistent and observative.” Liu said. “Nancy was always so attentive to everything around her — the atmosphere, the situation, the people she met. She taught me to not trust everyone I meet instantaneously.”

From the wordless pages of “Where the Wild Things Are” to the complex fantasy world of “Harry Potter,” children’s books captivate their past and current readers for generations. Whether we can recognize the impacts explicitly or not, the content we absorbed as children made an impact on us today.

Written by: Alyssa Ilsley — arts@theaggie.org