Just back from Premier Christian Radio where I was invited to talk about children's books on their Inspirational Breakfast show. Here are seven of my favourite inspirational children's books, (though I discovered all but one as an adult.) Also, three of my favourite quotes about spirituality and writing.
‘Writing is not an occupation; it is a way of life, in a sense not altogether unlike that of a religious devotion. It is a means of discerning what one feels and believes about life…’ Walter van Tilburg Clark, author
‘Why did God create mankind? Because God likes stories.’ Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi
'Jesus was not a theologian, he was God who told stories.' Madeleine L'Engle, author
MY FAMILY & OTHER ANIMALS by Gerald Durrell (1956)
Gerald Durrell was ten when his family moved to Corfu in 1935. Thanks to a photographic memory, he remembers every detail of each glorious day spent on the colour-saturated, sun-soaked island. His older brother Lawrence is the one who claims literary greatness, but for my money Gerald beats him hands down. Full of the sights, sounds, tastes, smells and animals of a Greek island, this book alternates between being uproariously funny and deliciously descriptive. An early scene with the Durrell family's hilarious entry into Corfu town still leaves me helpless with laughter. A pure delight.
ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS Scott O'Dell (1960)
This is the story of Karana, a twelve year old Native American whom tragedy abandons on an island off the coast of California. Alone except for a pack of wild dogs, Karana shows astonishing bravery and resourcefulness. Scott O'Dell shows us a world of great beauty: otters eating abalone in their kelp beds, a skirt made of shimmering cormorant feathers, a white dog howling in a grotto, a tidal wave: blood red in the setting sun. And dolphins, of course. When O'Dell died his family scattered his ashes over the glittering blue Pacific and as they turned for home, a dozen leaping dolphins escorted the boat back to shore. A fitting end for the masterful storyteller of this children's classic.
A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L’Engle (1962)
Fantasy sci-fi for kids which deals with themes of evil, self-sacrifice and the power of love. L’Engle was a theologian with a great passion for physics and science. My fourth grade teacher read us this book in the lazy after lunch period and that is my happiest memory from primary school. The Christian message runs under the surface but is all the more powerful for being veiled.
I AM DAVID by Ann Holm (1963)
A boy escapes from a nameless camp in a nameless country. With nothing but a map and a compass he crosses Europe to find the mother he has never known. He is wary, distrustful, older than his years. And yet in many ways he is an infant. His journey across Europe is a kind of rebirth; he discovers new colours, like the colour of the sea under a summer sun; new tastes, like the taste of an orange; he learns to trust: people, a dog, God. This is a timeless story of the triumph of persistence and courage over a truly evil opponent. There is one scene of self-sacrifice which is unforgettable. And the ending is deeply moving.
TRUE GRIT by Charles Portis (1968)
'People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood…' So starts one of the best Western novels ever written. Mattie is looking for a man with 'true grit' who will help her hunt down her father's killer. She settles on Rooster Cogburn, a hard-drinking, walrus-moustached cowboy. But really Mattie is the one with 'true grit'. Roald Dahl said it was the best novel to come his way in a long time and Donna Tartt writes 'I cannot think of a novel - any novel - which is so delightful to so many disparate age groups and literary tastes.' Probably my favourite book of the moment.
KENSUKE’S KINGDOM by Michael Morpurgo (1999)
I once met Michael Morpurgo and he was so polite. He is also gracious and compassionate. Those qualities shine out in this moving story of a boy's survival on a desert island. It's got all the best ingredients: a faithful dog, a strange but magical world, growth through hardship. Sol Stein's definition of how a writer should be polite to his readers is this: Never take the reader where they want to go. If that is true, then Morpurgo is the best kind of author, one who is polite in his life and in his writing.
PEACE LIKE A RIVER by Leif Enger (2001)
Echoes of To Kill a Mockingbird and True Grit in this best-selling book. The novel is narrated by eleven-year-old Reuben, an asthma-sufferer who lives with his single father, his older brother Davy and his precocious younger sister Swede. (She is only eight but writes epic poetry.) After Davy commits a crime and breaks out of jail the family goes on the run into the Badlands of North Dakota. You could call this a modern western. With miracles.