Children's literature can be transforming

There’s a magic in children’s literature that can be transforming. It can help children see other worlds, other perspectives. It can help them travel -- in their imaginations, at least -- to places that they may never be able to actually visit.

My favorite children’s book fits this description. I remember reading Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “The Secret Garden” when I was about nine or 10 years old. It was (and still is!) an amazing book. Mary Lennox arrives at Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle after she was orphaned. The estate was cold and dark and not a place for a young girl to enjoy living. That is until she finds the doorway to a secret garden that had been long overgrown and uncared for since the death of her aunt. Mary begins to transform the garden into a place of beauty and in turn she begins to transform herself. Mary also discovers that Misselthwaite Manor hides another secret – her cousin, Colin, who has been hidden in a dark room in the estate believing that he is an invalid destined to die young.

“The Secret Garden” is one of the few books in my life that I have read multiple times. I think I actually read it four times.

There was something about the way that the garden transformed Mary that spoke to me -- it’s something that’s stayed with me for 30 years. That’s the beauty of children’s literature, it can make a lifelong impact on a person.

This lifelong impact is the purpose of Children’s Book Week, which is celebrated the week of May 4. According to the Children’s Book Week website,, Children’s Book Week originated under the idea that children’s books can be life changers. In 1913, Franklin K. Matthiews, the librarian for the Boy Scouts of America, began touring the United States to promote higher standards for children’s books. He pushed the idea of a Children’s Book Week.

Matthiews gained the support of Frederic G. Melcher, the editor of “Publishers Weekly,” and Anne Carroll Moore, the Superintendent of Children’s Works at the New York Public Library. Children’s Book Week has been celebrated in some fashion every year since 1919, making it the longest-running literacy initiative in the country.

Here in the Sweetwater County Library System, we put a great emphasis on children’s literature and literacy. The main purpose of our Toddler Times and Story Times is to get kids reading and loving books when they are young. It’s also why we spend so much time and effort on our children’s summer reading program.

An early love of reading can truly transform children by helping them succeed in school, introducing them to new ideas and concepts, and helping them see the world from different perspectives.

This year, you can help celebrate Children’s Book Week by reading with a child or introducing a child to a great book that may transform them (and helping a kid find such a book can help transform you as well.). At the libraries we can help you with this mission. We will have lists of great children’s books available to help you with your selections.

Our youth services librarians are also great resources when it comes to selecting books -- they spend a lot of time reading children’s books and all have favorite books that they’re willing to share. Our youth services librarians also great at matching books with kids.

And if you’re up for it, Children’s Book Week is also a great time to reread your favorite children’s book. You just may catch me reading “The Secret Garden” for the fifth time.


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