My son has been playing a texting game with his girlfriend called “Would you rather . . .” This is how it goes: they take turns asking each other hard philosophical questions, or silly questions, or questions involving difficult moral conundrums, all beginning with those words “Would you rather . . .” The other day I was driving with my son up in the mountains and his little text notification kept chiming at him. Because he and I were having some wonderful conversations together, I felt a little sad that the texting would probably prevent us from going as deeply into philosophy as we had been delving. But then he turned to me and involved me in his game. “Mom,” he asked, “would you rather live in a little house with a big garden or live in a big house with a very little garden?”
I thought for a minute. “I think I’d like to spend more time outside in the sun than I do, and a little house with a big garden would make this appealing.”
“I think so, too,” he said, and texted his answer back. “Now we have to think of a question for Marisa.” What could have been a lapse into silence and one-sided loneliness became instead a three-way conversation about some very important things. I asked, “Would you rather have a few close friends or many casual acquaintances?” This stimulated a discussion between us about what true friendship means, and what kinds of people my son and his girlfriend want to become. Later my son asked, “Would you rather be rich and sick or poor and healthy?” Again this led to some heartfelt discussion about choices and goals and wealth and habits. By the time we reached our destination, I felt a great surge of love and appreciation for my son who included me in his conversations and valued our time together enough to share his thoughts with me.
My mind keeps flashing back to this experience. I think that even though such things as texting and Facebook and Twitter and other forms of technology exist to connect people, such electronic connections are simply tools for bringing people together and not a replacement for communication in other ways. In my experience, the happiest and most serene people are those who are able to have meaningful and rich, loving interactions with others. Maybe these interactions are electronic, or maybe they take place face to face, but I think the medium is less important than that they happen at all.
I believe people crave closeness and true friendship and real connection. I know I do. In a world where face to face conversations are becoming rarer and rarer, it is important to continue to build friendships by whatever means are at hand. Right now one of my sons is in Poland as a foreign exchange student. I had high goals of writing him a real letter every week, but I have not been as consistent as I’d like. On the other hand, he and I have grown very close through Skyping. The medium is not as important as the communication. Because he is in Poland, my son had the opportunity a few weeks ago to visit Auschwitz with his school class. The experience had a profound effect on him. It haunted his dreams and distracted him in his waking hours. One day we were talking on Skype and he began to share with me some of the feelings he had after his experience. As he talked and I simply looked with love into his eyes and listened, I could see some of his anguish lifting. My listening didn’t change the experience, but he was able to share it, in English, with someone who loved him. That sharing helped us both grow closer to each other.
What does this have to do with children’s literature? Well, I’ve found that as people read, they are able to catch a glimpse into the lives and hearts of the people they read about. Characters in books become our friends as we see them interact with others and are able to jump into their minds and hearts as they “live” on the pages. One beautiful thing about books is that the same character can be a friend to many, many people at once, without diminishing in strength as the number of readers grows. Here is a list of characters that have become close friends of mine. Can you match them to a list of books they come from? Good luck! And I’d love to meet some of your best book friends as well.
1. Arietty A. Arabel’s Raven
2. Aerin B. Because of Winn-Dixie
3. Aza C. The Book of Three
4. Calder and Petra D. The Borrowers
5. Charlie E. Bunnicula
6. Charlotte F. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
7. Chester and Harold G. Charlotte’s Web
8. Dicey H. Chasing Vermeer
9. Dorothy, Tip, and Ozma I. The Chronicles of Narnia
10. Ella J. East
11. Ethan, Noah, Nadia, and Julian K. Ella Enchanted
12. James L. Fairest
13. Laura, Mary, Carrie and Grace M. The Hero and the Crown
14. Lester N. Homecoming
15. Lucy, Edmund, Eustace, Jill, etc. O. The Indian in the Cupboard
16. Martin P. James and the Giant Peach
17. Mary Lennox Q. Little House in the Big Woods
18. Mortimer R. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic
19. Omri S. Redwall
20. Opal T. The Secret Garden
21. Rat, Mole, Toad, and Badger U. A Toad for Tuesday
22. Rose V. The View from Saturday
23. Taran W. The Wee Free Men
24. Tiffany X. The Wind in the Willows
25. Turtle Y. The Westing Game
26. Warton and Morton Z. The Wizard of Oz Books