Tag: children’s literature and spirituality

Sacred Stories & Melted Ice Cream: A Snicker of Magic (2014) by Natalie Lloyd

Sacred Stories & Melted Ice Cream: A Snicker of Magic (2014) by Natalie LloydA Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
Published by Scholastic Inc. on February 25th 2014
Genres: Family, Fantasy, Friendship, Middle Grade
Pages: 320
Goodreads

Suggested age range: 8 and up

Source: Copy Won from Emily at Oh Magic Hour

“Home isn’t just a house or a city or a place; home is what happens when you’re brave enough to love people.” (p. 302)

The Book: Felicity Pickle wants a home—but her family, which includes her mother, sister, and dog, Biscuit, has been prone to wander from town to town, until her mother gets the itch to pack up and move again. Settling in Felicity’s mom’s hometown for a bit, Midnight Gulch, means several things: Felicity finally has a best friend, she gets to live with her aunt Cleo, and her mom works in an ice cream factory that makes the town smell like waffle cones come evening time. Felicity has a magical way of seeing words and spinning them into poetry, but she fears public speaking; when her new best friend, Jonah, encourages her to enter the “Duel,” the town talent show, Felicity has to make a choice about whether she is going to face her fears or duck out. Will the town ever get rid of its curse? Will Felicity and her family finally settle down? A snicker of magic might be left in Midnight Gulch, and Felicity pursues that hope with everything she’s got in this delightful middle grade fantasy.

Spirituality in A Snicker of Magic: Where do I begin? This story reflects multiple spiritual dimensions, and certainly engaged my own spirituality as I was reading. Humans are built for relationship and authentic community with others, and this idea is woven throughout the narrative. Even Felicity’s longing for a home and community reflects an aspect of her spirituality—Jonah’s offering of friendship early in the story is almost impossible for Felicity to believe, but there’s a kind of “magic” still alive in Midnight Gulch. The mystery and role of “The Beedle,” for example, is another spiritual dimension of the book, which could certainly be discussed with readers more after the last page is turned. What about believing in people when they have given up on themselves? This is another valuable spiritual aspect of the story and could connect to readers in countless ways.

Exploring this Book with Readers: This book holds great potential for the upper elementary classroom and even beyond the classroom. It’s a pity I’m not teaching at the moment, for I know my 6th graders would have loved this story. The emphasis on playing with words and creating poetry in the narrative means that responses to this book could include the creation of poetry and other word inventing activities. For example, Felicity sees words over people—students could generate words for each other, and with those words, create poems or stories or artwork. The possibilities really are endless with the rich themes the book illuminates—I certainly intend to create some specific language arts curriculum with this book.

The Final Word: If you enjoy books like When You Reach Me, Hope is a Ferris Wheel, and When Audrey Met Alice, you will most likely enjoy A Snicker of Magic. This is a new favorite of mine! I first saw a review of the book on The Midnight Garden, and could tell this was a book for me. When I won a giveaway from my blogging friend, Emily, this was one of the books I picked. What a delightful surprise at such an enchanting and moving story! I had a kind of profound reaction to this book, that showed me even more strongly why spirituality and children’s literature is so fascinating to me. There is still so much I don’t know, but so many beautiful paths of exploration yet to discover.

What Katie Read

Will You Remember You Once Were a Child?-Review: Once Upon a Memory (2013)

“Does a book remember it once was a word?”

Once-Upon-a-Memory-cover

Once Upon a Memory (2013) by Nina Laden, illustrated by

Renata Liwska

Suggested age range: 4 and up

(Little, Brown, & Company, 40 pages)

Rating: 5/5 stars

Genre: Picturebook, Fantasy

Source: Library

The Book: A feather floating through a window sets in motion a boy’s curiosity about the world. He wonders whether a cakes, book, garden, and island remember their beginnings. One page opens with a question, such as “Does a statue remember it once was… and the opposite page reads the answer: “stone?”  Laden’s verses leave gaps for the pictures to fill, and a sense of childlike wonder is reflected in both the text and images of Once Upon a Memory.

Liwska’s beautiful hand sketchings were inspired by her observation of animals in the natural world, and their antics throughout the story are enchanting and delightful. A textured feather graces one of the endpapers, and Liwska’s bears are expressive and perfect for the story. Here is a story that reminds us to step into childlike wonder and awe, and to reflect on love’s beginnings and the beauty of the natural world.

Spirituality in Once Upon a Memory: Maintaining a sense of wonder and awe at the world is a characteristic of spirituality, and the picturebook celebrates this attribute. Sometimes, marveling at the beauty of the natural world, or even pondering our origins can connect us to the Creator, and this story leaves open such possibility. It doesn’t matter that a young boy and bears are telling us this story visually; the book invites readers to consider a spiritual aspect of life—the importance of maintaining and nurturing a sense of wonder and awe at the world around us, as well as ourselves and our loved ones.

Exploring this Book with Readers: The book ends with a list of favorite things the author and illustrator remember. Items from the list include “eating grandma’s chocolate chip cookies,” “learning to speak French,” “sitting by the bonfire and listening to stories” and “getting letters and postcards from the mailbox.” The list ends with a question for the reader: “What are some of your favorite things to remember?” In addition to talking about these favorite things, readers might also draw some of their favorite memories. They could sing, dramatize, or dance their memories. In this way, readers have the opportunity to explore different literacies for expressing what is important to them. Even the part of the book asking, “Does an ocean remember it once was…rain?” represents an entire dance or drama that readers could create. A whole discussion could center on this notion of origins of the natural world. The book certainly reflects potential for a diversity of activities and curriculum to help readers enjoy and draw meaning from it.

The Final Word: I appreciated the rhyming verse in this story as well as the humorous and fantasy-filled pictures with their expressive bears, birds, and ducks. The cover of the book with the boy perched, reading in the tree with the owl and squirrel drew me to the story, as well as its title, reminiscent of fairy-tale beginnings. There are dinosaurs and even a raccoon. This is a delightful, warm, and reflective fantasy picturebook, perfect for a read-aloud, and perfect as a discussion starter for sharing memories and creating new ones. I love the double-page spread at the conclusion of the book, and think Liwska’s style is a fantastic match for Laden’s text.

 

What Katie Read

Wardrobes, Gardens, and Hot Air Balloons: The Spirituality of Children’s Literature (Part I)

The_Secret_Garden_book_cover_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_17396

“And the secret garden bloomed and bloomed and every morning revealed new miracles.”

 (The Secret Garden [1911] by Frances Hodgson Burnett)

A door into the garden. A step into a wardrobe. A flight in a hot air balloon. Whether it is Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden (1911), C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950), or Pauline Fiske’s Midnight Blue (1990), literature for children, in both realistic and fantastic genres, illuminates a spirituality that cannot be ignored. At least I couldn’t ignore it. And many young readers that I talked to couldn’t either.

What is spirituality in children’s literature anyway? I’m glad you asked. In my exploring of the topic, I first had to consider a definition of spirituality itself.

What in the world is spirituality?

Some researchers of children’s spirituality including Robert Coles, David Hay, Rebecca Nye, Brendan Hyde, and Tobin Hart, among others, perceive spirituality as a universal human attribute, a fundamental aspect of existence (1990; 1998; 2008a; 2003). In other words, spirituality is an “innate human trait,” playing an important and beneficial role in people’s lives and it is not limited to one religious tradition (Hyde, 2008a, p.23, 29). I like how Sandra Schneiders expresses it: “spirituality is a project of life-integration which means that it is holistic, involving body and spirit, emotions and thought, activity and passivity, social and individual aspects of life” (2003, p. 167). In the context of studying it within children’s literature, I think of spirituality as awareness, a lived reality, which can relate to an individual’s connection with other people, the self, the natural world, or a divine source such as God. Helminiak states that spirituality “refers to everything one does that expresses or enhances one’s awareness of and commitment to the transcendent dimension of life” (p. 34).

What does this mean in children’s books? It means there is a spiritual geography in many stories for children, and that talking to readers about those spaces can be incredibly rewarding and rich (for both child and adult!). Put simply, spirituality in a text might be a character’s awareness of something beyond the physical dimension of existence; it could be a sensitivity that can tune into profound hope, awe, wonder, selflessness, and love. A book’s spirituality could also be revealed through a relationship between two characters–but it’s not just any relationship. And yes, spirituality can be expressed within a particular religious tradition, but not all people who consider themselves spiritual would call themselves religious.

Think of the way that Mary Lennox (see The Secret Garden) shakes off her selfishness and begins to care for and nurture others. There is certainly a “transcendent dimension” to Burnett’s story, in the way that Mary and Colin experience renewed hope through their engagement with the beauty of the natural world. Lewis’s fantasy has the religious undertones, yes, but along with those, there is a spiritual aspect in Lucy’s openness to wonder and awe, and her faith and ability to hope in the midst of difficulty and sadness (See The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardobe). Fiske’s fantasy novel illuminates the battle between good and evil, a showdown that doesn’t have to be between hobbits and the evil forces of Mordor in order to be spiritual. Sometimes the struggle can be a lot closer to home (See Midnight Blue). These few examples are meant to highlight that the spirituality of children’s literature is more than just epic battles between good and evil, supernatural happenings, or religious stories. Although, spirituality in books can certainly include these.

Another opinion of mine: spirituality in children’s literature is important, for both young and old readers. The reason for this is because SPIRITUALITY is important.

Here’s one way to think about it: In his book, Hay discusses a study with people who said they had some kind of spiritual experience. The results of questioning hundreds of these people indicate “that the initial effect of their experience is to make them look beyond themselves. They have an increased desire to care for those closest to them, to take issues of social justice more seriously and to be concerned about the total environment” (Hay, p. 29). If spirituality in a person’s life plays a role in such activities, maybe reflecting on and talking about the spirituality of books with others might be a good activity too. One more way to think about it–a book might depict a character experiencing something “spiritual” or it could be that a book just happens to nurture a reader’s spirituality, though maybe it seems lacking in any spiritual aspects at first glance. So, we could talk about the spirituality of a story, or what a story does to the spirituality of the reader. Or both.

Doing this gives us a chance to reflect on our spirituality and think more deeply about this important aspect of life. For me, this happened with contemporary works of children’s literature such as Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (2006), Oliver Jeffers’ The Heart and the Bottle (2010), and Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan (2012).

I’m an adult, you’re thinking.

Is this kind of thing supposed to happen when you read children’s or young adult literature? If you are open to it (and sometimes even if you aren’t), then yes, literature for younger readers might just tap your own spirituality. It might remind you that there was a sad moment in your life when you hid your heart away, just enough, so you could get through to the next day (see The Heart and the Bottle). You might find yourself identifying with the way Edward Tulane refuses to hope anymore after so many times of being separated from the people he wants to be near (See The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane). Even though Applegate’s novel is about a gorilla and an elephant, you might be surprised when you find yourself wondering if your own creativity could bring freedom to someone. Can art free others? (See The One and Only Ivan). These examples illustrate potential ways that reading children’s literature might nurture our spirituality. And they are just three examples: a picturebook, and two illustrated novels.

The journey of exploring the spirituality of children’s literature is neverending. There are countless texts that highlight spiritual issues and concepts. From my own experience, there is an amazing amount of books that might nurture the spirituality of young readers. But that discussion is for another time.

For now, I hope you will pick up a children’s book, and with an open mind, step through the wardrobe, open the door into the garden, and hop on the flying balloon for a journey into the spiritual dimensions of children’s literature.

Midnight Bluewardrobe

References
Coles, R. (1990). The Spiritual Life of Children. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Hart, T. (2003). The Secret Spiritual World of Children. Maui, Hawai: Inner Ocean.
Hay, D. with Nye, R. (2006). The Spirit of the Child. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. (Original work published 1998).
Helminiak, D.A. (1996). The Human Core of Spirituality. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Hyde, B. (2008a). Children and Spirituality. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Schneiders, S.M. (2003). Religion vs. Spirituality: A Contemporary Conundrum. Spiritus, 3, 163-185.
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