Posted 05/12/2010 by Judith Renteria
Every year, at least once, I go to a children’s bookstore to purchase intake books for the Childhelp Merv Griffin Village in Beaumont, California. This part of my job (for the past 13 years) I have always taken very seriously, and have done with care. I think to myself, what must it feel like to be uprooted from wherever you call home, maybe in the middle of a violent night, and shipped off with total strangers wearing uniforms or carrying briefcases? How must you feel as the familiar scenery of home gives way to other streets and other buildings, to a place you’ve never been? No matter how lovely the place is, for a child, it must be a traumatic experience. How many of us had difficulty sleeping that first night away at camp, even though we knew we would go back home at the end of the week?? I cannot personally imagine the initial trauma that the children who come to us go through, on top of the traumas they have already suffered.
So what sort of a book could you give to a child going to a strange place under sad circumstances? What sort of book could make one forget, if only for an instant, the pain, humiliation, and possibly horror of that removal and the things that led up to it? We couldn’t have stories with anything frightening; they’d had enough of that. No violence, of course, and just the mildest of adventures, perhaps, but something that would draw the child into some other world, some better place for a moment or two. An Intake book should be something like a door opening into another world, a place they could step into and get some relief. It should be a little dreamy, with great art work that would almost be enough to enjoy by itself if the child did not want to read, or could not yet read, or was so upset they had forgotten how to read (It happens.). Most importantly, these stories should not have much in the way of family. Our children needed a rest from that, too.
In pleasant children’s bookstores, I have found such books. Nature is very healing, and I found books about becoming one with nature for a while, like The Salamander Room, Lizard in the Sun, and Coyote Dreams. Or books that give you a close up of the natural world, like Once There Was a Tree and North Country Night. Nature from a child’s eye view can be found in books, like Stellaluna, The Adventures of Marco and Polo, Tuesday, and the wordless dinosaur tale, Time Flies. Fantasy stories where children go off in search of timeless truths, as in the Chronicles of Narnia, and imaginative books where children search for things within the pages before them, such as in Looking for Atlantis, and Imagine. If bad things were happening to me, these are the kinds of written journeys into which I would want to escape. So those are what I bought.
Now I struggle to find these bookstores that cater just to children. They seem to have all been swallowed up by the big chains who shelve fine books that will sell, but not necessarily books that will buy a child some time. They have the widely popular, the wonderfully gimmicky, the great gift books. But they might not have the books that will carry a child’s heart between their pages. Books that give rest to a child’s mind, numbly riding on their words. It breaks my heart. I miss them.
- Judith Renteria
Judith Renteria is the librarian at the Childhelp Merv Griffin Village located in California
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