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Making Sense of the World Through Reading

Posted by on April 18, 2013.

My girls are trying to figure out life by living, learning, testing, playing, fighting, and reading.

Reading is the cool trick we do every night before bed. After a long day of living, learning, testing, playing and fighting, it’s like a much needed form of therapy, but the relaxing, entertaining variety (if there is such a thing).

Reading is how my girls make sense of their day. The books we read together provide for them a frame of reference, help them analyze their own mishaps and foibles, and offer a glimpse of problems or experiences from alternate perspectives.

For this “therapy” to work its magic, we have to have a steady stream of good books about kids who, just like my own, are struggling along trying to make sense of the world and to figure out how they fit in. Thanks to British author Lauren Child, this is not too hard.

Lauren Child is first and foremost a visual-artist-cum-children’s-author. After developing a sense of style, a flair for bold patterns and colors, and an artful panache for incorporating mixed mediums, Child put her genius to work in developing her first children’s book, Clarice Bean, That’s Me. Several more Clarice Bean picture books followed along with picture books featuring her now world famous characters, Charlie and Lola.

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Now, I love visually stunning artwork as much as anyone, but like I said, my children need book therapy. That means strong, likeable characters, and, well, problems. We need to witness the characters working out problems that we can relate to. And it doesn’t hurt if the stories are funny.

On all of these counts, Child delivers. She has a knack for making quirky, sweet characters that you care about and even miss when they’re not around. Their problems are often the little incidents that occupy the day-to-day of a child’s life. And she does it all with a great sense of humor.

It turns out Child is so good at characters and their problems that she has made a successful shift from picture books right on into chapter books without missing a beat. Instead of decorating her pages with fabulous patterns and colors, Child somehow infuses her characters with the same whimsical complexity for which she is famous. Her new medium is the word on the page, and with it she has created textures and patterns as rich and complex as she ever did with her artwork.

We are currently enjoying Clarice Bean Spells Trouble, in which Clarice navigates the stresses of an upcoming spelling bee, participation in the school play and a narrow minded and often unkind teacher. All the while, she gains an understanding of the burdens other people carry when her friend Karl Wrenbury’s life takes on a complicated twist. The scene is set for Clarice (and the reader) to learn what it means to be a good friend.

As we all know, life can be really complicated, it’s part of what makes it so interesting. But for it to be really great it has to be manageable. Great fictional characters show us how to navigate life’s ups and downs, and gear us up to do it ourselves when necessary.

Lauren Child’s work is her art and, in so being, an expression of herself. It is also the catalyst for some great “book therapy” and an opportunity to work out life’s lessons.

I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!

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2 Responses to “Making Sense of the World Through Reading”

  1. Kasha

    I will have to get my hands on these books. I love books that help our children work through problems or even just analyze them. Another great set that does that is the modern American Girl doll books. We read “McKenna” last fall and it really helped my second grader think about what she would do if/when she has friendship/jealousy issues. The book really sparked some great discussions for us.

    Reply
    • Gretchen Stern

      Thanks for the suggestion, Kasha. It sounds like those books really address some of the same issues. Let us know what you think of Lauren Child’s books.

      Reply

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