Old Enough for Fairy Tales

The dedication at the beginning of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe reads:

My Dear Lucy,

I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say, but I shall still be

your affectionate Godfather,
C.S. Lewis

Taking the University of Maryland Writing Project the summer before I teach a Literature for Adolescents class this fall was a happy accident. For the class I’m teaching, I’ve had to brush up on a lot of the YA (Young Adult) literature that I hadn’t read for years, or in some cases had never read- Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson; Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor; Monster, by Walter Dean Myers; Flight by Sherman Alexie; Stitches, by David Small; and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis. Having the excuse to wedge these novels into the heavy reading on education theory that I’ve been trying to cram in has been a relief in itself. But when I started the UMdWP, I realized that the benefit of reading books meant for young people gives me more than simple pleasure.

For one, Joseph, the sage leader of the Writing Project teaches by telling stories (in fact, I just discovered that he blogged on this same topic, and quoted one of my writings in his post! Talk about the circularity of narrative and modern technology…). And two, one day he brought in a stack of kids books for us to browse or borrow. And I mean little kids books– mostly image with only a sentence or two per page! Now, most grad students have had a professor or two bring in the seminal texts of their field and been told, “If you want a proper foundation in this discipline, then you’d better read this… .” Usually they are dusty old tomes containing the theory of history, or the history of formulas, or the formulas for research; and they are usually excellent for curing insomnia. But how many have had their professors recommending kids books?

Then of course C.S. Lewis’s dedication hit it home: “But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” Old enough? Though I loved the books of my childhood, I could not wait to get to the more advanced stuff. Books with pictures seemed baby-ish, and the smaller the print, the more “adult” the book seemed. And when I did finally start wolfing down novels for adults, I never looked back. Now, at age 31 (and no, I do not have kids of my own) I’m returning to the kind of literature that deals with image and color, fantasy and folklore. And I love it. C.S. Lewis is wickedly smart. Harper Lee has a dry sense of humor that I never picked up when I was 12. And Sherman Alexie… well, let’s just say he’s my hero. The coolest thing about these authors is that they are not worried about being baby-ish. What they know, and what most other adults forget, is that in a child’s world is wonder. Without that, how else do we learn?

My sister (in front) and me, as kids.

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2 thoughts on “Old Enough for Fairy Tales

  1. I love your ending statement: “in a child’s world is wonder”. So true! Over the weekend, I took my granddaughter to a picnic at a friend’s house with a pond. Another little girl came up to her & together they schemed their playtime in the pond by choosing to become mermaids. “I will be a mermaid with a purple tail & purple eyes & regular lips” said one. “I will be a water fairy with glitters and a crown” said the other. Ahhh, the joy of a child’s imagination!

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