I’ve just begun reading the book Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton and immediately am struck by one of his observations on humanity and what it is we’re all drawn to.
If you don’t know Chesterton — and I am no expert on the man — he was a jovial, obese, eccentric, brilliant, eminently likeable British journalist, whose life drapes evenly over the turn of the 20th century, 1874-1936.
He was so absent minded that he “would scribble notes when ideas came to him, sometimes standing, oblivious, in the middle of traffic as he did so.” So free from pomp and pride that his critics had a dickens of a time offending him. His ability to laugh at himself, to evaluate himself with head-to-toe humility and praise his naysayers for their acumen, won him immense affection. What an uncharacteristic manner of presenting oneself to the world. Who wouldn’t vote for more of that, here in the U.S. right about now?
At any rate, Chesterton begins his book by musing on what it is humans want in life and he comes up with two things which he believes are “common ground between [himself] and any average reader” and that is:
an active and imaginative life, picturesque and full of a poetical curiosity…the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure. We need to view the world as to combine an idea of wonder and an idea of welcome. We need to be happy in this wonderland without once being merely comfortable.
from All in a Day, Mitsumasa Anno, et. al.
I was struck by how these longings – the longing for something quite outside oneself, something imaginative, strange, curious, and the longing for something snugly in sync with oneself, something comforting, welcoming, stabilizing – are a description of what I search for in children’s literature. Imaginative wonder, and warm assurance. An expanding of one’s world, and an embrace from one’s world.
from Last Stop on Market Street, Christian Robinson illustrator
One critical caveat is that “one’s world” looks immensely different to the millions of children on the planet at any one time. A child’s world might consist of a refugee camp or a secure home. Her family may have one parent or two; those parents, increasingly, may be of one gender or two. His neighborhood might be rural countryside, but more likely it will be a bustling city. Children have different racial and ethnic backgrounds, economic situations, stresses, in their lives.
All of that means that what looks welcoming and familiar and comforting to children is vastly different from one to another, and our literature must expand to suit this diversity. This is a huge concern in children’s literature, and rightly so. Which children get to find themselves on the pages of a book? Which get to read a story in which they identify deeply with the characters? Share their skin color? We are gaining in this area, but slowly. I notice more diversity in stories taking place in urban areas, for example, but a woeful lack of diversity in characters exploring nature, reveling in the great outdoors. That pains me deeply.
Jason Chin is one illustrator who gets this right! from Water is Water
When I search out books to share with you all here on Orange Marmalade, I’m looking for books that spark imagination, that charge us with wonder over the curiosities strewn everywhere in this world, that comfort, and that bring us into one another’s familiar so that a wide variety of readers’ kids can find themselves in the pages of a story and we all expand our awareness of the diverse people who share our world.
from Oscars Half Birthday, by Bob Graham
These apparently fundamental human needs are powerfully addressed by story. It was a strange comfort for me this morning to find this unexpected connection to my world at the outset of Chesterton’s book. I love partnering with all of you as we explore, wonder, and comfort ourselves and our children with stories.
Quotes are taken from Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton, copyright 1908; this edition published by Image Books, Doubleday, in 2001.