I hope many of you are finding the time to wind down a little for the winter holidays. At my library, children’s librarians recently traded lists of titles of "comfort food books"….children’s books that we turn to, to re-read as adults, to get through challenging times.
Interestingly, the ones that leapt to mind first for me are all Newbery titles, and none of them sound particularly comforting.
The Dark is Rising is always first on my list. When I think about this book, I’m immediately in the Stanton’s homey home. There’s a mood of something dangerous outside…something Will has not yet been able to put his finger on. But inside feels safe: just. Then he opens the present from his older brother, and something bigger and older than he can comprehend is sitting in his lap. He’s forced to step forward, into the dark, to take his place in the world. Most years, I pull this one out on Midwinter’s Eve and read it again. It still gives me courage.
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler and The Westing Game run neck and neck for second. Same story: Smart girl outsmarts grown-ups, solving a riddle and thus claiming the key to her independence. Even though she’s still a kid, that key will serve her until she can actually use it.
A Wrinkle in Time, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH are next, and here’s when I notice that my choices for comfort food tend to be stories in which the main characters are in peril. To be honest, at this point other non-Newbery titles enter the fray for my attention (Grimm’s tales, The Changeover), including ones that I’ve only read as an adult (The Golden Compass, The Canning Season)… but making such a list, and comparing it to those of my colleagues’ (a lot of Moffats, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, Anne of Green Gables…all books I enjoyed reading as a child, but none of which continue to stay in my bloodstream like the ones above) always reminds me of the very different ways in which and reasons why we each reach for a story…just as the people I ride the bus with every morning each see a different city out the window.
The Newbery criteria help us ferret out some of the stories for children that are the most effective, and perhaps significant. I’m fine with a Newbery honoree reaching a small audience, as long as it sustains those that it reaches. What I really hope for is that every reader find–somewhere–a distinguished story that gives them comfort, so that when they have to meet the very real challenges in their life, they don’t feel alone.