I didn’t post for a while as I finished–and recovered from–graduate school. I put aside this winter to do some “deschooling” as unschooling families talk about, some finding myself, some peace after 25 years of school and pressure. A friend I know watched the tv show Cops for 6 months after she finished her dissertation. For me this recovery process meant trying, to the best of my ability, to let myself do what I want, to learn by inspiration rather than feeling a should live this way or that. In previous posts I’ve explored what that means in terms of child raising, like finding ways to explore the world other than the park. For me at this moment, I found that what I love to do most right now is read children’s books.
As a kid, I used to check out weekly stacks of novels from the library and sit and read them all day. I’m not sure I did anything else most summer days, and I remember vividly not wanting to go to a friend’s birthday, or girl scouts, or basketball practice, preferring to read and read. That obviously led me to grad school. So I thought I would want to read novels all winter after being freed from the endless reading and writing demands of graduate school. But those stacks of novels are still sitting unread on my shelf, nearing their non-renewable due dates. Instead, I’ve been absorbed by children’s books.
I tried to structure that passion in a capitalist, school-y way for a while. I’ll write children’s books!, I thought. I’ll become a children’s librarian! But I’m not really interested in doing either of those things. Marketing your own work doesn’t appeal to me, and I’m not even writing children’s books. Database management and customer service aren’t that interesting to me, although fulfilling I’m sure in many ways.
Turns out I find myself, at the end of this winter, not that far from where I started. I’m a trained critic, and my training is to interpret the value and the impact of literary work. I see, for example, a lot of recommendations for children’s books that I don’t think are well-written, or beautiful, or inspirational to children. Instead, they’re instructive. I asked my library for a long-list of nature-themed books recommended by a trusted publisher, and ended up with several poorly written, awkward books that my daughter tired of quickly. Especially when I’m looking for activist histories, cultural appreciation, or environmentalist children’s books, I often find didactic, clunky prose written more for grown ups than kids.
So I have a new goal with this blog: connect my passion for unschooling and peaceful parenting with my passion for literature, and my training in feminist, anti-racist critique. I have 45 children’s books checked out from the library right now, and I love 30 of them. In addition to reflecting on our unschooling journey, I’ll also be posting about what exactly makes these books so beautiful. What makes them “too difficult for grown-ups” as Madeleine L’Engle put it.
My goal is to provide a list of beautiful children’s books to the unschooling and parent-blogging communities I have learned so much from. A list of books that inspire children, that are challenging for everyone, that are creative and unique. That combine writing and pictures and sound in ways that make sitting and reading together a life-changing practice.