Gateway Books that Drew Me into Researching Spirituality in Children’s & YA Literature
These are ten “gateway” books that were influential in my adventure of exploring spirituality in children’s and young adult fiction. These were the books that really drew me into wanting to find out more about what it meant for a book to contain spiritual aspects, and even what it meant that a book could engage a person’s spirituality. Though not all readers would think some of these stories, spiritual, they all were certainly spiritually significant to me.
I didn’t discover this British fantasy from 1958 until I saw it on the reading list for the master’s program I would enter the following autumn. I started working on the books the previous spring and summer, and was absolutely enchanted by this fantasy! Tom hears the clock strike thirteen at night and goes to investigate. He discovers a garden behind his aunt and uncle’s house, but he inadvertently steps back in time and meets Hattie. It’s a delightful time slip novel that engaged my wonder in multiple ways.
Edward Tulane’s journey turned into something that I could relate to, though when I first read it upon its release, 2006, I didn’t know just how significant it would be! Though I had finished my master’s program by the time I read this, the story became part of my Ph.D. dissertation several years later. Edward’s journey through the challenges of a broken heart and opening up to love is a journey we can all appreciate.
I read The Hobbit as a young reader, and Bilbo Baggins’ great adventure stirred in me a desire to embark on my own great adventure. The story certainly made me think more deeply about the notion of journey as “spiritual” and it’s something that I still reflect on in my reading of children’s and young adult literature.
When I re-read Emily of New Moon in graduate school, I was struck by how Emily was in tune to the natural world as well as God, and this story gave me the urge to return to all of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s (one of my favorite authors) books to appreciate their spirituality.
Like Tom’s Midnight Garden, I encountered Marianne Dreams in graduate school in England and loved this fantasy so much, I included it as one of the books for my master’s thesis. The story gets into the significance of dreams, deep connection to other people, as well as the concept of providential aid and coincidence.
This book by Lucy Boston, published in 1958, is another story I included for my thesis, and this British fantasy is a fantastic classic. The idea of connectedness to the past is a strong spiritual element in this story, and the book represented an important one for my thinking about how literature can highlight the importance of the past for those in the present.
The battle between good and evil in this science fantasy was powerful to me, as well as the close relationship between Meg and her brother Charles Wallace. This is yet another story that drew me into the world of children’s literature and spirituality.
This is another classic that I didn’t discover until graduate school, but I included it in my Ph.D. dissertation. With a good dose of philosophy, this book is a perfect example of a story that made me think about all kinds of spiritual issues including the meaning of life, relationships, and infinity.
It was in the bookstore I discovered this amazing picturebook by Oliver Jeffers. When a girl loses a close family member, she decides to keep her heart in a bottle, so as not to get hurt anymore. The result is a beautiful and important story about the power of keeping one’s heart open to wonder and a childlike perspective.
This picturebook by award winning illustrator Shaun Tan is intense and moving, and it ends on a note of hope. The story was an important story for me during a crucial time when I was nearing the end of my stay in England. Many other books of Tan’s have continued to give me inspiration and engage with spiritual themes through both the pictures and the words.
What books were important in your reading journey?? Do share!
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