at·ten·tive –adjective \ə-ˈten-tiv\
: mindful, observant
: heedful of the comfort of others: solicitious
As a child, summer reading was my favorite activity. Yes, I was that child. The one checking out the absolute maximum number of library books allowed. The one secretly absorbed under the covers, flashlight in hand, finishing just a few more chapters of The Secret Garden. The child engrossed in reading another Nancy Drew mystery. Curling up in the hammock under the green canopy of magnolias, maples, and mimosa trees, stretching out in the flattened back seat of the lumbering wood-paneled station wagon, or rocking steadily on Granny’s front porch, I paid no attention to summer’s oppressive heat, hairpin curves, or humidity.
Wondrously lost in a book, attentive to characters fully alive via my imagination, summer reading transported me to places and time periods far beyond those sweltering summer afternoons. These were my friends, attending to me as I did to them, stirring my imagination. Decades later, as an elementary school teacher and a mother of three little children, I returned repeatedly to the library, introducing my old book friends (along with discovering new ones) to my children or students.
This summer, noticing the frayed state of my heart and imagination, I remembered those playful days of being fully present to children’s literature. Where, now, was my playfulness of heart? God in His infinite kindness gently nudged me to be child-like. To rest. To heal. To rejuvenate. To enter Proverbs 16:24 afresh, attentive to pleasant words, honeycombs of soul sweetness and bone-healing goodness.
How might I catch a whiff of childhood? Could I return to the light-hearted yet substantial summer joys of a book? Why not soak this summer in reading like a child? A child now in her 60s. Not a bad way to spend summer days, I thought. There’s just something whimsical and magic about a child’s book.
“No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty—except, of course, books of information. The only imaginative works we ought to grow out of are those which it would have been better not to have read at all,” said C. S. Lewis.Johann Wolfgang van Goethe concurred, “Good children’s literature appeals not only to the child in the adult but to the adult in the child.”
Lingering among familiar children’s literature, I spotted spoiled Mary Lennox and sickly Colin Craven, protagonists in The Secret Garden, who again enthralled me. I’d forgotten how their attentiveness not only saved the lost garden, but also other characters and themselves, as well. Dickon Sowerby, the moor boy whose pets were wild animals, and the gruff old gardener of Misselthwaite, Ben, displayed how attentiveness alters hearts. Adventurous Liam in The Curious Garden, also attentive to small wonders, transforms a whole town with his gardening. I revisited Buddy Holly’s fascination with music in Anne Bustard’s folksy Texas-style picture book. Anne of Green Gables and Lucy in Narnia stopped by for a visit as well.
Along the way, I met new friends. Ivan, a silverback gorilla, delighted me, as did his observant friend, Julia. August Pullman’s courage riveted me in Wonder. Violet the Pilot, Grandma Dowdel and her grandchildren Joey and Mary Alice, May B., and other new folks moseyed on over. Perhaps you know some of them?
Have you yet met Hattie Big Sky who bravely homesteaded in Montana? Did you ever laugh at Zoe Fleefenbaucher’s hair creating classroom disasters? Maybe you’ve heard of Queen Victoria’s desire to swim in the sea? Or ached with Old Grandfather Buffalo’s longing as he ages? And what of Mr. Putter’s and Tabby’s antics or Willow who doesn’t adhere to her teacher’s notions of what art is and isn’t? Then there is Met Moose, out on Alcatraz, whose shirts are done by Al Capone.
It was Kobi Yamada’s What Do You Do with An Idea? that inspired me to stick with a creative thought, so I’m back nurturing along the novel I’m creating. Peggy Rathmann’s Good Night, Gorilla pointedly showed me what happens if I’m not attentive. I’ll become like the distracted zookeeper who doesn’t notice what the clever gorilla is up to as the zoo closes down for the night. What I am attentive to shapes my heart, my days, my interactions with others, my creativity. What distracts me keeps me unfocused, unaware, and decidedly absentminded.
My summer romp in the fields of children’s literature attended to my heart through the simply profound ways of story, revitalizing frayed parts. At the same time, becoming child-like while reading about the likes of Comfort Snowberger, Ivan, and August, to name a few, showed me how to be attentive to the hearts of others. It’s like Katherine Paterson said, “The wonderful thing about books is that they allow us to enter imaginatively into someone else’s life. And when we do that, we learn to sympathize with other people. But the real surprise is that we also learn truths about ourselves, that somehow we hadn’t been able to see before.” Such readings invite me to stay fully present to the moment at hand, while delving attentively into the wonder of words, honeycombs of soul sweetness and bone-healing goodness.
Where has attentiveness shaped you afresh this summer?
WORD COUNT: 874
Lane Arnold is a spiritual director and writer. She lives in Colorado with her wildly adventurous husband and sees their five grown children, who live much too far away, and their delightful grandchildren whenever she can. She loves chocolate and raspberries and the way the light changes everything in the wild beauty of Colorado. Her writings have appeared in Conversations, Every Day Poems, The Reading Teacher, TESOL publications, and Tyndale’s online devotional pages. With Valerie Hess, she coauthored The Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Formation. You can follow her on her blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook.
Photo above by Lord Marmalade, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License
A Long Way from Chicago: Richard Peck, 1998.
A Year Down Yonder: Richard Peck, 2000.
Al Capone Does My Shirts: Gennifer Choldenko, 2004.
Anne of Green Gables: L. M. Montgomery, 1908.
Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly: Anne Bustard (Author), Kurt Cyrus (Illustrator), 2005.
Each Little Bird that Sings: Deborah Wiles, 2005.
Grandfather Buffalo: Jim Arnosky, 2006.
Good Night, Gorilla: Peggy Rathmann, 1994.
Hattie Big Sky: Kirby Larson, 2006.
May B.: Caroline Starr Rose, 2014.
Mr. Putter & Tabby Paint the Porch: Cynthia Rylant (Author), Arthur Howard (Illustrator), 2000.
Queen Victoria’s Bathing Machine: Gloria Whelan (Author), Nancy Carpenter (Illustrator), 2014.
The Curious Garden: Peter Brown, 2009.
The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Goes to School: Laurie Halse Anderson (Author), Ard Hoyt (Illustrator), 2009.
The One and Only Ivan: Katherine Applegate (Author), Patricia Castelao (Illustrator), 2012.
The Secret Garden: Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1909.
Violet the Pilot: Steve Breen, 2008.
What Do You Do With an Idea?: Kobi Yamada (Author), Mae Besom (Illustrator), 2014.
Willow: Denise Brennan-Nelson (Author), Rosemarie Brennan (Author), Cyd Moore (Illustrator), 2008.
Wonder: R. J. Palacio, 2012.
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