764. Hope on The Pages of Children's Books

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A recent article in The Guardian suggested five children’s books every adult should read. Katherine Rundell, author of the article, the newly released Why You Should Read Children's Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise (Bloomsbury), as well as numerous children’s fiction books, says that she writes for two audiences—herself now and herself at age 12 years—putting into a limited number of words what she most wants “children to know and adults to remember.” Rundell suggests adults should read children’s books from time to time for intrusions of “sustaining truths,” which often can only come to us through imagination.

One of the sustaining truths that adults need to remember, according to Rundell, is hope.

“Children’s books say: the worlds is huge. They say: hope counts for something, bravery will matter, wit, empathy, love will matter.”

Rundell writes that to see hope as well as other truths on the page, we need imagination:

“When you read a children’s book, you are given the space to read again as a child: to find your way back, back to the time when new discoveries came daily and when the world was colossal, before your imagination was trimmed and neatened, as if it were an optional extra. But imagination is not and never has been optional: it’s at the heart of everything, the thing that allows us to experience the world from the perspective of others, the condition precedent of love itself. For that we need books that are specifically written to give the heart and mind a galvanic kick—children’s books. Children’s fiction necessitates distillation; at its best, it renders in their purest, most archetypal forms hope, hunger, joy, fear.”

The five children’s books identified by Rundell in the article, which she recommends that adults read, are The Paddington books by Michael Bond, His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson, and Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie.

We still have many of the children’s books from when our sons were young, a handful of which have been brought up from the basement bookshelves so as to be handy to read them to our new grandson. Here now in front of me is Harriet and the Garden, written by Nancy Carlson. I’m flipping through the pages and indeed hope is there: Harriet has run into Mrs. Hoozit’s garden, trampling her lilies, rose bushes, and prize dahlia, while trying to catch a fly ball in a neighborhood ball game. She feels so badly, so guilty, that she runs home and tries to pretend it didn’t happen or that it didn’t matter even though she can’t eat, can’t enjoy her favorite television show, can’t sleep without having bad dreams. The next day she goes to Mrs. Hoozit and tells her what she did. Mrs. Hoozit brings her out to the garden, and they work together to fix what is broken. A picture* shows them side by side, mending plants. Indeed this is a book filled with hope: that what is broken will be restored. People and relationships as well as plants.

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As I read books to my grandson, not yet a year old, I’m going to keep my eyes open for infusions of hope from the pages.

What children’s books have spoken to you of hope?

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[Photo at top: taken of daisies.]

[*Photo from Harriet book: Carlson, Nancy. Harriet and the Garden. Minneapolis, MN; Carolrhoda Books, Inc.: 1982.]

763. The Prophetic Imagination

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A few nights ago I was talking with some writer friends about our respective works in progress, and I mentioned that one of the sections in my hope manuscript draws on Walter Brueggemann’s writing in his books The Poetic Imagination and Reality, Grief, Hope. One of the friends told me that she had recently listened to Brueggemann being interviewed on the radio program “On Being” and sent me the link (“Walter Brueggemann: The Prophetic Imagination”). I listened to it while taking a walk a couple mornings later and again just this afternoon. Although recorded in 2011, and re-aired last December, the content is just as relevant today. I encourage you to listen as there is much wonderful wisdom here on hope, the use of metaphor and poetry in understanding God, and the mercy of God.

Here’s a small section:

The other text I’ll read is Isaiah 43. It’s a very much-used passage. “Do not remember the former things nor consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” And apparently, what he’s telling his people is just forget about the Exodus, forget about all the ancient miracles, and pay attention to the new miracles of rebirth and new creation that God is enacting before your very eyes. I often wonder when I read that, what was it like the day the poet got those words? What did it feel like, and how did he share that? Of course, we don’t know any of that, so it just keeps ringing in our ears.

I first read Brueggemann when I was at St. John’s Abbey Guest House in Collegeville, Minnesota (6 years ago?). I was in the library writing when a book on the shelf, The Prophetic Imagination, caught my eye. I took it down and read it nearly nonstop over the next day or so. I hope you’ll take a listen.

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[Photo: taken on the Detroit River Walk in Detroit, where we were for a wedding several weeks ago.]

759. On Hope and Fear in Birthing Hope

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In Birthing Hope: Giving Fear to the Light, author Rachel Marie Stone writes:

“Hope: believing that some alleviation, some hand to hold or some hands to hold us, some ark, some higher place is always on its way, that our suffering, our struggle, our death, even, somehow generates life of some kind; leads to some homegoing, some rescue, some return: salvation.”

I first read Birthing Hope last summer. The title attracted me given my current work on a manuscript about hope, plus the book’s cover is gorgeous. I’ll admit I read it rather quickly, looking for how Stone developed the topic of hope. The writing was beautiful, yes, and the story and rumination compelling, yet I’ll admit it left me puzzled. The title had given top billing to Hope, while Fear held secondary billing in the subtitle position, yet the book’s primary gaze was on fear not hope. Hope is so often linked with desire that this way of looking at hope as linked to fear took me by surprise. I had to think about it awhile.

Late last fall, I reread the book and what came forward to me was the title’s first word: Birthing. Birthing is what is front and center. In the context of fear, when living with fear, what is the role of hope? The author likens the ability to hope in spite of fear to the birthing process, where labor is indeed frightening, but the hope for the new life to come keeps the delivering mother moving forward.

Stone continues:

“There’s a bit of false etymology that’s grown up around the word hope, and I like it, even though it’s not true. Hope, some people have claimed, comes from the word for hoop. I like it because hope should be round. Hope, like wholeness, like holiness, years for healing, resolution, closure. Hope believes that the circle will indeed be unbroken, by and by.”

The metaphor of labor, with its attending fear and hope, includes each one of us: aren’t each of us giving birth to something, waiting for newness and life to emerge?

What are your thoughts on hope and fear? I’d love to know.

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[Photo: taken of a slice of the book’s cover.]

Excerpt used with permission.