Inspiration came knocking at my door last week. It came during one of Dr. Susannah Richard’s sessions at the IAGC Gifted Convention. And it hit hard. There stood Richards talking about the value of children’s books and holding up a collection of stories, references, and commentary compiled in Everything I need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book.
As a child, much of my learning came from biographies. I devoured them. I loved to read about eminent people and their accomplishments. I’d travel back in time and try to imagine what drove influential women like Elizabeth I, Jane Adams, or Amelia Earhart. As a teacher, I urge my gifted and talented students to study eminent people, in part to understand themselves, but also to value their “big ideas” and significant contributions to society.
So imagine my excitement when Richards held up this book and described its contents. Some 100+ notables, the likes of Pete Seeger, David McCullough, Jack Prelutsky, Lesley Stahl, and William De Vries, contributed to this collection by selecting a children’s book that influenced them and describing why and how. To help the reader connect to each selection, editor Anita Silvey juxtaposes a page of text right next to the contributor’s commentary.
After I left Richard’s session, I did what any good teacher would do. I bought the book. Now I’m reading it and sharing it with students and parents (who are always looking for good books). And we all agree that:
It’s heartwarming: Open heart surgeon William DeVries became intrigued by the Wizard of Oz series during nightly story time with his mother. His favorite book in the series was the Tin Woodsman. Today, as he cares for his patients, he often thinks of the scene in which the Wizard tells the Tin Woodsman the pros and cons of having a heart, and the Tin Woodsman responds: "For my part, I will bear all the unhappiness without a murmur if you will give me a heart, p.13."
It’s inspirational: Dr. Robert Ballard, who discovered the Titanic shipwreck and the missing Kennedy U-boat, and remains a driving force behind The Jason Project, “hands-on,” science education, found his calling as an oceanographer and geographer after he read Jules Verne’s, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea;
It’s provocative: many in 1963 challenged Maurice Sendak’s book, Where the Wild Things Are, because writing about “rage against one’s mother” was not acceptable at that time. In spite of the challenges, illustrator Marc Brown loved the book as a child. He was fascinated by Sendak’s ability to portray complex issues in a picture book; Where the Wild Things Are “determined the course of my life. “ p. 131
It’s imaginative: 60 minutes anchor Lesley Stahl wrote about how Pink Ice Cream stimulated her imagination as a child. Author Launa Latham’s character covered a light bulb in her apartment so that her children could eat “pink” ice cream.
It gets you reading.
And it’s filled with lessons learned. I’m not going to tell you any more about it. I don’t want to spoil your enjoyment. Buy the book for someone you love. The children’s books referenced in the collection will enrich school and family life. As Silvey emphasized, “the act of reading to a child is the most important contribution to the future of our society that adults can make.” Introduction, p.vii.
Read my lips: you want this book on your shelf.