I love to read.
As a young boy, I can remember devouring Ellery Queen mysteries on long vacation drives, taking a hot bath and reading The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder, curling up in the bay window of a local library as cascades of rain dripped down the glass with a harrowing tale of Blackbeard the Pirate.
I still have the copy of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, worn from countless readings, given to me on my 12th birthday by my grandmother. The perfect day was one with a sky full of dark and heavy clouds, promising a furious storm or inches of snow, with a fire in the fireplace and a book waiting to be devoured by my side.
It's still true.
Aside from being raised in a post-Christian context, perhaps the greatest impoverishment of today's children is the lost art of reading for pleasure and, particularly, the great books of children's literature. Among these, the "Laura books" (as we called them), written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, are among the most significant.
The famous opening line of the first book, "Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs," introduced the world to her childhood as part of a family of homesteading pioneers.
Of course, this is now far more than 60 years ago.
But just recalling that opening line reminds me how much I would enjoy sitting down and reading the entire set again. (In fact, I just might.)
So imagine my delight to read an article marking what would have been her 150th birthday (She was born February 7, 1867.), noting how her books are still finding a place in imaginations young and old.
Why were her books so popular when they appeared, and why have they endured?
Elaine Showalter writes that, "During the Depression and World War II, they offered images of family protection from the storms of history: coziness, security and the simple homemade pleasures of music, holidays and crafts. Boys also read the books for exciting details of pioneer history and exact descriptions of male skills of hunting, building and self-defense. But in the 21st century, they survive for their art, their precision of language and depth of characterization."
But there's more. The "Laura books" embody values such as selflessness and courage, honesty and duty; they drip with simple but deep faith and unswerving commitment to family. Quite simply, these are not only good books or entertaining books – these are books that are good for the soul.
Former First Lady Laura Bush has written that the stories "have captured and preserved our nation's past for each new generation of readers." Let's hope and pray that it's true for the coming one as well.
For it is a past that our present desperately needs.
James Emery White
Elaine Showalter, "At 150, Laura Ingalls Wilder Still Speaks to Readers Old and New," The Washington Post, February 6, 2017, read online.