Commonplace Book: Children’s Literature, Part III

Children’s literature distills experience into concise, often pithy nuggets of wisdom. When you happen upon one such pearl, it often feels as if — for just that moment — the author (and not the narrator or character) is talking directly to you. From time to time, I gather a few such quotations in my irregularly appearing “Commonplace Book” series:

After an inexplicably long delay, here are ten more quotations, all but one from children’s books (I fudged a little, and borrowed a Sendak quotation from an interview).

Children have the strangest adventures without being troubled by them.

— J.M. Barrie, Peter and Wendy (1911)

In reality, childhood is deep and rich. It’s vital, mysterious, and profound. I remember my own childhood vividly. I knew terrible things… but I mustn’t let adults know I knew…. It would scare them.

— Maurice Sendak, in Sendak and Art Spiegelman, “In the Dumps,” New Yorker (27 Sept. 1993), p. 81.

Louise Fitzhugh, The Long Secret (1965)Why was it, she thought, that the most interesting things in the world are always kept from children? Isn’t there some way to force parents to tell the truth? They’re always telling us to tell the truth and then they lie in their teeth.

— Louise Fitzhugh, The Long Secret (1965), p. 127

all stuff about happy endings is lies. The only ending in this world is death. Now that might or might not be happy, but either way, you ain’t ready to die, are you?

— Maime Trotter, in Katherine Paterson, The Great Gilly Hopkins (1978; 2004 edition), p. 177

It’s hard to explain the terrible things that happened out there. In fact, the more I tell you, the less you will actually understand. Some things in life are like that. You have to find out for yourself. . . .

— Grandpa, in “Grandpa’s Story,” from Shaun Tan, Tales from Outer Suburbia (2008)

Guus Kuijer, The Book of EverythingAnd do you know how happiness begins? It begins with no longer being afraid.

— Guus Kuijer, The Book of Everything, trans. John Nieuwenhuizen (2006), p. 20

There are things in this world you can’t back down on, things you gotta take a stand on. But it’s up to you to decide what those things are.

— Papa, in Mildred Taylor, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976), p. 176

The mouse and his child, who had learned so much and had prevailed against such overwhelming odds, never could be persuaded to teach a success course. Popular demand was intense, but they steadfastly refused. The whole secret of the thing, they insisted, was simply and at all costs to move steadily ahead, and that, they said, could not be taught.

— Russell Hoban, The Mouse and His Child (1967; 2001 ed. illus. by David Small), p. 238

Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut (1978)The more that you read,

the more things you will know.

The more that you learn,

the more places you’ll go.

— the Cat in the Hat, in Dr. Seuss, I Can Read with My Eyes Shut! (1978)

Remember the voices from the past. As do the folktales, keep close all the past that was good, and that remains full of promise.

— Virginia Hamilton, Introduction, The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales (1985), p. xii.

 As in previous posts of this nature, there are of course many omissions!  Feel free to add your favorites below —

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