Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Grace-Soacked Spirituality in Children's Literature

Yesterday, on my creativity blog, I wrote this piece about the 50th anniversary of the publication of A Wrinkle in Time.  I was a voracious reader as a child, and I read many books which I no longer remember at all.  But A Wrinkle in Time was different.  I remember the first time I read it.  I remember how captivated I was.  I remember returning to it again and again.

As with the Chronicles of Narnia, I don't remember saying, "Gee, what an interesting allegory.  In this book, I see x as a Christ figure, and I see the theology of the cross here."  No, of course not.  Those are things that adults say.  As a child, I wanted a great story.  If it transported me somewhere else, great.  If it taught me something, I might be OK with that, as long as the story was good.  Nothing trumped story.

I fell in love with spunky female characters:  Meg Murry (A Wrinkle in Time), girl sleuth Trixie Beldon (so much more spunky than Nancy Drew), Jo in Little Women, Laura Ingalls Wilder . . . oh the list could go on.

Those books taught me that women can be brave and adventurous, and still be loved by their families and some select outsiders.  The books I loved best taught me the importance of staying true to myself and my beliefs, even if the world I lived in told me otherwise.

I was lucky in that I got the same message from my parents and from my church, which put it in religious terms of staying true to God, if one must make a choice.  I had some friends who also valued spunkiness, and I was really lucky in having teachers who valued the unique girl that I was.  I remember teachers who praised me for my writing, instead of encouraging me to think about how to please boys.

It was the 1970's, after all.  I benefited in many ways from the feminist movement that swirled in the larger culture.

Lately, I've been thinking about children's literature and how to write good books for children, how to write books that encourage children to be true to themselves and to be true to God.  I want books that tell children that God loves them just the way that they are, that in fact, God created them just the way that they are and the way that they are is fine.

A grace-soaked spirituality in children's literature--yes, that's what I want.  And happily, A Wrinkle in Time fits that bill.  I still remember the central lesson, that abiding love can defeat a totalitarian, fascist planet.  I remember the message that little children can be the ones that save us.

In the next month or two, I expect to reread A Wrinkle in Time--and I expect to love it every bit as much as an adult as I did when I first read it in the 5th grade.  Maybe even more.


Anonymous said...

In addition to being an Episcopal priest, I am also a substitute teacher in the small, poverty-stricken town where I live. I was recently called to sub in the 5th grade, where part of the day's agenda was to read a chapter of this wonderful book aloud, introducing a whole new generation to the idea that love is stronger than hatred and fear.

Kristin said...

What a wonderful assignment--for the children, for you as sub!