Deeper meanings inside of our favorite bedtime stories By Laura Holloway
As children, we climb up beside our parents and grandparents, snuggling close to listen as our favorite books are read aloud. It doesn’t matter that we’ve heard the story a hundred times before, or that we can still see the pictures in our minds long after the book is closed. We just want to cuddle up for another chorus of our favorite songs, one more telling of our favorite tales, stories that offer life lessons, tell important truths, and mostly end in the happiest of ways. As adults, many of us have lost the whimsical time spent with a good bedtime story, and the harsh truths of the world have added a good many twists and turns in between “once upon a time,” and “they lived happily ever after.” Fortunately, our most-loved books as children carried a special secret even then, one that we can reveal to ourselves as adults: our favorite children’s books were really written to be enjoyed as adult readers.
Take, for example, “Harold and the Purple Crayon,” a book that encourages the creative spirit and inspires little minds to think outside the box with their play. But looking deeper into Crockett Johnson’s classic tale, we’re able to see beyond a simple story of a little boy (Harold) who takes a walk with nothing but a purple crayon, a utensil he uses to draw to the limit of his limitless imagination, creating a fantastical world around him as he goes. It’s also a story of removing boundaries from our comfort zones, encouraging the child within to live strongly every day, and to see the world as more than black and white. There isn’t always just one way to do things, just one opinion or guideline to follow. It’s okay to color outside of the lines, to use purple in a world that can often seem grey.
“The Giving Tree”: one of the most giftable books because it’s appropriate for numerous occasions and relationships, and also one of the most-loved books by children and adults of all time. Reading the book as a child reveals a story of an unlikely friendship between a boy and a tree, a tree that nourishes the boy throughout his life with what she is able to give at the time. Shade for sleeping, branches for swinging, apples for eating; she is able to provide what he needs when he needs it, but ultimately gives everything she has with the simple hope that what is left is enough for him to return. Simon and Schuster publishers initially rejected Shel Silverstein’s book, saying it was “too sad for children and too simple for adults,” and maybe that’s because it is, after all, a children’s book really made for adults. It defines the relationship between a parent and a child, between a person and the environment, between friends, even between a person and a higher power. At its core, it is exactly as it is titled: a book about giving on all levels, through all stages of life, through every kind of relationship, whether good or bad.
The imagery of a toddler flushing his mother’s watch down the toilet, the picture of an older boy tracking mud across what is most likely a recently cleaned kitchen floor, the image of a teenager with headphones on to tune out mom. These are all moments in parenthood presented in “Love You Forever” by Robert Munsch, whose colorful, humorous illustrations and sing-song repetition of “I love you forever, I like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be” appeal to the younger crowd. But reading the book as an adult, particularly as a parent, the tone of the book strikes a different soul cord, one that knows the baby turns into the toddler, then turns into the teenager all too quickly. Childhood is fleeting, and all of a sudden, our babies are grown and have left home, and all we can do is hope that we have done a good enough job as mothers and fathers that our children don’t think twice about taking care of us when the roles are reversed.
The next time your child, nephew, or grandchild comes to you at bedtime, sleepily dragging a blankie and clutching his favorite children’s book, take a moment to truly enjoy the simplicity of the request and the opportunity to relish in the story together. His take on the book and yours may be very different, but the heartstrings that these beloved stories pull are the same.
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