A Grown-Up Perspective on Children’s Literature Photo by Sarah Ross | Flickr (CC)
KEVIN C. NEECE In addition to being a husband and dad, Kevin is an adjunct professor of Fine Arts and Developing a Christian Mind at Dallas Baptist University. His work has appeared in Next Wave Magazine, Breakpoint Worldview Church Report and Baptist Life, among others. He also contributed to the forthcoming book Light Shining in a Dark Place: Discovering Theology Through Film. You can read his blog, connect with him and book him as a speaker at kevincneece.com.
s the father of a one and a half year-old boy, I read a lot of children’s books. I read so many, in fact, that I have four Dr. Seuss books memorized and I’m working on my fifth. Some dads may dread reading the same books over and over, annoyed by the simplistic, repetitive text of many a slender tome, but I love reading children’s literature. I always have, really, but I gained a new appreciation for it long before I was a dad, during my wife’s years as an elementary school teacher and librarian.
Sitting around, waiting for her to finish her work when I came to pick her up from the school, there was little else to do but peruse the numerous tiny volumes around me. Some were dreadful, 26
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with poor meter, badly rhymed verse and pointless, nonsensical plots unconvincingly passed off as whimsy. Others, however, were surprisingly delightful and even deeply moving. By the end of the first year, I was an ardent fan of the genre. The not so good books were fun to criticize, at least, and the good ones were enjoyable reads that made me smile. But the great ones – the truly great ones, I found, were concise yet thoughtful narratives, describing contours of the human condition and often impressions of our relationship to the Divine. One such book (which also happens to be one of my son’s favorites) is the 2005 Caldecott Medal winner, Kitten’s First Full Moon. In this beautifully crafted work, author and illustrator Kevin Henkes takes us on a journey with a kitten who mistakes the first full moon she sees for “a little bowl of milk in the sky” – one she wants very badly to drink. After unsuccessfully attempting to lick it out of the sky, Kitten chases it far from the front porch of her house and out into the night. As you can imagine, Kitten never attains her prize. Like many of us, she is drawn away from where she is safe and loved into potential danger, seeking after something that isn’t really there for the taking. Just as we may pursue the illusion of happiness or satisfaction in things that cause us to move away from values we know we should hold and people who love us, so Kitten ventures into the dark, trying to take a sip from the moon. In Henkes’ celebrated black-and-white illustrations, Kitten’s focus on the moon becomes our own as the bright, white circle in each scene inevitably