10 Things I’ve Learned From Children’s Books

Almost every day, I read a book called “Ruby the Copycat” to Anna. Maybe you’ve read this book to your child, or a child in your life, too. My copy of this story is nearly 30 years old; my mom introduced it to me once upon a time.

Anna loves this book. It’s about a girl, Ruby, who becomes enamored with her classmate, Angela, and begins copying everything about her—from the red bow in Angela’s hair to the poem she writes for a class assignment.

By the end of the story, Ruby learns the valuable lesson that her kind teacher, Miss Hart, imparts to her: “[You] don’t need to copy everything Angela does. You can be anything you want to be, but be Ruby first. I like Ruby.”

By the end of the story, Ruby and Angela also have become friends. Every time I read the last line of the book—“And at noon, Ruby and Angela hopped home for lunch”—Anna smiles and pronounces, “Happy.”

Children’s stories deserve happy endings.

Children's Books

At this point, I’ve probably read “Ruby the Copycat”—and I’m just guesstimating here—about 150 times. It hasn’t gotten old…yet. Not Miss Hart’s good advice (“be Ruby first”) or Anna’s literary analysis of the closing scene (“Happy”).

Maybe it’s just the writer in me. Or maybe we all can take away something meaningful from our children’s favorite stories.

Here are a few more lessons I’ve learned from the stories I’ve been reading and rereading to Anna and Grace lately. (What about you, friends?)

2. “The Adventures of Taxi Dog” – My sister gifted this book to the girls one Christmas. They love it. It’s about a homeless dog named Maxi who teams up with Jim, a taxi driver in New York City. Together, Maxi and Jim meet lots of interesting people and have adventure upon adventure.

That’s the moral of the story: You never know who might become a great friend, or which path may lead to amazing discoveries. Get out, make friends out of strangers, and discover.

3. “The Cat in the Hat” – We all know this one, right? Similar in theme to “The Adventures of Taxi Dog,” The Cat in the Hat encourages young readers to make their own fun, even when circumstances are less than ideal (a rainy day). Attitude is everything.

4. “The Day the Crayons Quit” – Have you heard of this clever tale? If not, check it out! Who knew crayons have personalities (and pet peeves) just like us?

For example, Red Crayon leaves this message for Duncan, the main character: “We need to talk. You make me work harder than any of your other crayons. All year long I wear myself out coloring fire engines, apples, strawberries and everything else that’s red. I even work on holidays!” (The following page shows a red-filled picture of Santa.)

The underlying message: Think outside the (crayon) box.

5. “Goodnight Moon” – Ahh, the children’s classic so many of us love. We delight in the poetry of the story, the way the words soothe us. When I read “Goodnight Moon,” Anna points at the pictures, finding the different objects being referenced—the red balloon, the kittens and mittens.

There are some pictures, though, that don’t match up with Anna’s understanding of the words. Case in point: “telephone.” The telephone pictured is an old-fashioned rotary landline, not a cell phone. My 2-year-old and I have had several conversations about how the rotary phone is, in fact, another kind of phone.

Lesson learned from “Goodnight Moon”: Some things are true classics; they’ll never go out of style, like “Goodnight Moon” itself. Other things have expiration dates. (Good night and good luck, rotary phone.)

6. The “Fancy Nancy” series – Some life lessons from this super-cute and intricately illustrated series about a girl whose favorite expression is “Ooh la la!”: Any occasion can be a special one; you just need the right accessories or décor. You can never have too many glitter pens, or wear too much fuchsia. Despite the messes little sisters may cause, they’re better than the best dress-up clothes.

7. “Corduroy”Friends, family, home—these are the things that matter.

8. “The Princess and the Pizza” – Witty, fun and better than any Disney princess story I’ve read or seen. The big idea: Ladies, you don’t need a Prince Charming to make your dreams come true. Be the hero(ine) of your own story.

9. “Chocolatina”As unbelievable as it seems, there is such a thing as too much chocolate. (Sorry, girls.)

10. “Harold and the Purple Crayon” – Possibly my favorite children’s book, ever, and the girls enjoy it too. We love little Harold and his adventure-seeking imagination. This story celebrates creativity, roads less traveled and “thinking fast.”

What this story taught me: Dream big. Set sail. Climb high. Rest when you need to. Keep your wits (and your purple crayon).

And whenever you get the chance, go for walks in the moonlight.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

Do You Know You’re Lucky?

This past Thursday, the girls and I drove to our local Y, as we usually do. I practice yoga in a morning class there, while Grace and Anna play in the Kids’ Korner with other little ones and several sweet (and patient!) babysitters. The essential principle of yoga is breath—breathe deeply and consciously; be present in the moment—but, ironically, many Thursday mornings are a breathless rush to get everyone fed, dressed and packed up before banging out the back door.

On this particular Thursday morning, I parked the car. Slung my yoga bag and the diaper bag over my left shoulder. Hoisted Anna up in my left arm, grabbed Grace’s left hand in my right and clicked the car locked.

“Fun!” Anna yelled as the three of us hustled across the parking lot, the spring breeze tousling our hair. (Grace sometimes observes that she and Anna have “gold” hair, while, “You got some gray in yours, Mom.”) Anna flung her arms up in the air. I stumbled, then steadied myself. Anna, in pure Anna fashion, threw her hands around my neck and laughed, causing Grace to laugh, too.

An older lady was walking toward us. She smiled and said, “Aren’t you lucky to have your hands full?”

“Yes,” I agreed, smiling back at her. I am lucky.

Do you ever stop and remember you’re lucky, friends?

It might be hard to consider ourselves lucky. We think about the challenges of day-to-day life. We think about how things could be better. We worry about our aging loved ones—our jobs, our bills—the world we’re leaving for our children.

Do You Know You're Lucky

In the fall, I happened to hear a missionary speak. He quoted a news report (this one, I think) that reported that the world’s average salary, based on the data available, is about $18,000 a year. Another statistic: More than one-third of the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day.

I don’t know your personal or professional statistics. I do know, though, that you have Internet access. You can read; you’re educated. You have access to food, water, warmth. You have time.

You’re lucky, right? All things considered…the answer is probably yes.

Some of us use the words “lucky” and “blessed” as synonyms. I’m not sure they are. But I do appreciate this sentiment from Albert Einstein (who called himself agnostic): “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

Life, we know, is more complicated than that—miracle or not; black or white; all or nothing. Whatever our life philosophies or spiritual perspectives, though, we understand the concept of “glass half full.”

Those of us who struggle with emotional or mental health can grasp for the glass half full, and not find it. I empathize with this struggle. It’s not always easy—not always possible—to simply “snap out of it” and “count our blessings.”

This is true as Mother’s Day approaches. Mother’s Day can be a difficult time for those of us who have lost our mothers, or our children, or a vision we once had of “family.”

I’ve shared before that my first pregnancy, before Grace, ended in miscarriage. I’d rather not bring this experience up in my writing anymore—I don’t want to exploit it for the purposes of telling a story, or making a point. I bring it up now, though, because I still remember, vividly, a time in my life when I felt very, very sad.

Two evenings ago, I watched the FRONTLINE/NPR documentary on “Poverty, Politics and Profit.” Maybe you saw it too. The lead journalist reported on several families’ struggle to find affordable housing. She also reported on corruption within the low-income housing industry—corruption within both federal agencies and private companies. The documentary ended with an image of several elementary-aged children watching as their mother’s minivan was repossessed because she had fallen behind on the car payment. When these kids and their mom weren’t able to find space at a homeless shelter, or stay with family and friends, the minivan was where they slept—until that moment.

It can be hard, for all sorts of reasons, to feel lucky.

But I am.

And if you’re reading this, you probably are too.

Be well, friends.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

The Art of Letting Go

Stanton, the girls and I moved into our new house here in New York about two weeks ago. About half of our belongings—possibly more than half—remain in boxes in the basement. We’ve broken in our new home, though. The girls’ favorite books cover the coffee table; various pairs of sneakers and flip-flops clutter the back porch; and loved ones’ greeting cards, along with Grace’s preschool artwork, adorn the refrigerator.

The first few days here, I cleaned the kitchen, made the beds, unpacked the girls’ clothes (how do they have so many clothes?). I thought I could get everything “all set up” by the end of that first weekend. Ha…ha…ha.

The delivery guys for the washer and dryer needed more time than they originally estimated to maneuver the appliances downstairs. A customer service manager from a local utility company stopped by to share information. And the girls called for my help in collecting dandelions for their backyard tea party.

Interruptions to my grand plans. Distractions. Or…life.

There’s a quote I like, and you may have heard it too: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” (credited to John Lennon, and Allen Saunders). As I picked dandelions with my daughters, I acknowledged that I needed to let go of my “all set up this weekend” plan. I needed to be realistic, present, flexible.

The art of letting go.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become better—more practiced—at letting go. Letting go of unrealistic expectations. Letting go of past hurt, and loss.

Dandelion

The other day, I saw several deer—a family, maybe—walking through a neighbor’s yard. Big, beautiful deer. I thought of my Poppy, a hunter.

Four years ago, when Poppy passed away, I would have felt a pang in my heart. Today, I still feel that hole in my life—that emotional and physical absence—but time has tempered the pain, and has helped me feel, first and foremost, gratitude for all the time we did have together.

Everyone is different. Everyone feels differently, heals differently. People become who they are based on their unique blend of nature and nurture.

For many of us, we decide how we approach each day. We can endeavor to meet all the action items we bullet-point for ourselves, no matter what, possibly becoming impatient and irritable in the process…or we can roll with the punches, grace under fire.

We can keep mourning disappointments and heartaches…or we can find silver linings in those experiences, those lessons learned.

For many of us, we decide how we approach each day.

After Grace was born, I began recording my first-time-mothering “lessons learned” into a newspaper’s parenting blog, which I later turned into my first e-book, “Diaper Bag, Coffee, Let’s Go! 237 Tips for First-Time Moms.”

That’s right, friends: 237. It was an earnest effort, my hope to provide all the encouragement and positive vibes I could to new moms who maybe were uncertain and overwhelmed as I had been.

Years later now, I’m glad I wrote that book. Other moms still buy it and let me know it’s a helpful resource, which makes me happy. And personally, “Diaper Bag, Coffee, Let’s Go!” is almost a scrapbook of that season in my life, first-time motherhood. I’m glad I wrote that book, but I probably won’t write more tip books, especially related to parenthood. Because as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to let go…of trying to do everything perfectly.

And, simply, of trying to do everything all at once.

Babies need food, diapers and a warm body to fall asleep against. Basically, that’s it. (Newborn Grace didn’t care that I’d spent hours researching the best crib mattress for her color-coordinated nursery, or the top-rated baby monitor that year.) And older kids don’t care that you haven’t yet hung up the window valances in their rooms. What they say instead is, “Mom, help us pick these yellow flowers!”

(“They’re called dandelions.”

“Dan-de-lions? Like lions?”

“Kind of…”)

Grace is 5; Anna’s 2. They play well together now and sleep (fairly) well at night. Stanton and I have powered through those early, oh-so-tiring years of parenthood. We’ve walked through some difficult times, together, and have made the journey through intact, with a deeper appreciation for each other. This chapter in our life feels so good, so refreshing.

Yet the thought flickered across my mind. When might the next tough thing, that we need to overcome, happen?

Just as quickly, I had to remind myself to stop. Enjoy. Live.

And let go of trying too hard, of worrying and fast-forwarding too much.

“Mom! We need more dandelions!”

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.