If you appreciate the simple details of the present moment, you will enjoy this month’s theme, for no one celebrates the joys or observes the flashes of the here and now better than a child.
When interpreting life from a child’s perspective, a writer can allow the abstract to take over, such as in The Poisonwood Bible. Barbara Kingsolver’s narration through a mother and her four daughters portrays wildly different perspectives: the innocent, the intrepid, the egocentric, and the wise. Although her novel is fiction, Kingsolver lived briefly in the Congo as a child and presents the real-life changes over time in that land.
In considering another story of complex struggles in postcolonial Africa, Managing Editor Karna Converse points to the power of survivor tales: “News reports, even those written by Pulitzer prize-winning writers, can’t tell the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan (or the story of any group of people displaced from their homeland) as well as the individuals themselves. They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan is the story of three boys who, with tens of thousands of other young boys, fled Sudan in the late 1980s during that country’s civil war. At the time, they were five, six, and seven years old. The book is structured in alternating chapters; each boy narrates in a matter-of-fact recounting of his experiences—experiences that last more than 14 years and end with refugee resettlement in the United States. Readers will marvel at the boys’ stamina, stubbornness, and determination to survive and then, upon finishing the book, are sure to search the Internet to learn what’s become of them since they landed in America.”
Literary Reflections Editor Andrea Lani shares a novel that demonstrates how even a small child can give a harrowing account his own fraught existence: “I’m not usually a big fan of child main characters in books written for adults, but the young narrator of Emma Donoghue’s 2010 novel, Room, grabbed me from page one. ‘Room’ is five-year-old Jack’s name for the world as he knows it—the inside of a backyard shed where he and his mother are held captive by “Old Nick.” Jack’s perceptions of his experiences both in Room and after Room are at once innocent and chilling. While reading the book, I never once doubted Jack’s credibility as a five-year-old witness to this tragic life. I was astonished at how much information Donoghue was able to impart to readers through Jack, allowing us to understand much more about what was going on than he did. On her website, Donoghue writes that her inspiration for the story derived from real-life events, fairy tales, and ‘the claustrophobic, tender bond of parenthood,’ something to which I can certainly relate. Room is one of those rare books that has stuck with me for years after I read it.”
Transporting us to a new emotion and part of the world, Blog Editor Amanda Jaros offers a peek at the intrinsic value of Mother Nature’s gifts: “Nothing is more awe-inspiring than seeing our natural world from a child’s point of view. In her book, The Sense of Wonder, Rachel Carson explores the sea and woods of Maine with her young nephew. She shares how profoundly vital it is for children to encounter nature on their own terms. Being blown by the sea wind, finding minuscule creatures on the forest floor, and marveling at the wide open sky are just a few of the ways Carson and her nephew experience nature. In her rambles she urges us, as adults, to remember how enlivening and stimulating it is to see the world with the curiosity and joy that children do. When we follow their lead and look upon nature with new eyes, we will always find wonder.”
To round out our list, “Birthing the Mother Writer” columnist Cassie Premo Steele gives us a selection that both a literary mama and her literary child can enjoy: “One of my favorite books as a kid was Jean Little’s Look Through My Window. Published in 1970, it is the story of a girl named Emily who wants two things: (1) to be a writer and (2) to have a friend. Her poems are interspersed throughout the novel, along with her unique wisdom. In fifth grade, I kept the book on top of my desk at school—like a kind of silent sign to my classmates that read, ‘I’m serious. Look how big this book is. I’m going to be a writer.’ One of the best lines in the book is this: ‘In that moment, deep inside herself, she felt the steadfastness of important things.’ I have retained this sentiment inside me, too, throughout my life. I didn’t know until I was an adult that Jean Little is blind! Talk about believing in yourself.”