If you don’t yet know Sarah Clarkson, you’re in for a real treat: you get to meet her today! And if you’re familiar with Sarah, you already know you’re in for a treat. Sarah is my favorite young writer. By young, I mean, younger than me 🙂 And for the next three Tuesdays, this beautiful writer is gracing my blog with her words.
Sarah is the author of two books, Journeys of Faithfulness: Stories of Faith for Young Christian Women and Read for the Heart: Whole Books for Whole-Hearted Families.
Those of you who know me know that I love books and that I love reading to my kids. Some of you have even asked me for book recommendations. Here’s my dirty little secret: I get those books I recommend from booklists that other people—people like Sarah Clarkson—have compiled. I read their recommended books and then pass them on to you.
Today, and for the next two Tuesdays, I am cutting out the middleman: you get to hear from Sarah herself, who graciously agreed to answer half a dozen of my questions about reading, children’s books, and her research for Read for the Heart. Lucky you. Sarah’s booklist is one of my favorites, largely because it’s not just a booklist, but an impassioned plea for reading good books with your kids and a deeply thoughtful reflection on why that’s so important.
But enough of my yakking. Let’s hear from Sarah.
KCI: What prompted you to write Read for the Heart? In particular, what were the catalysts for the book?
SC: If one can be born to a vocation for making booklists, I think I might have it. My nose has been in a book since I was a tiny girl, and ever since I finished my first beloved story (Little House on the Prairie is the first “long” book I clearly remember), I’ve been pestering my friends with promises that their lives will be changed for good if they will simply read these few books (insert current favorite titles).
I love books. I love the stories that worlds create in my imagination and carve out within my mind. I love the person that great books challenge me to become.
But the journey to formalizing that love of books into an actual guide to children’s literature began with my startling realization that the rest of the world might not share my love for literature. The idea for Read for the Heart began when I was at a C.S. Lewis conference in Oxford and heard a talk by Dana Gioia, in which he mentioned a recent study into the reading habits of Americans. The report he quoted, Reading at Risk, found the activity of regular reading (particularly of literary works) to be in sharp decline across all age groups. Intrigued, I ordered a copy of the report and was astounded at the rates of decline in just the plain old act of reading a good book, especially in people of my own twenty-something age group.
Events conspired to deepen my astonishment and galvanize me to action. Just after reading the report, while I was still mulling all that I had learned, my sister, mom, and I fulfilled a long-time dream: we went for a girl’s week to the famous Prince Edward Island, otherwise known as “Anne’s Land.” On the puddle-jumper last flight to the island, I sat knee-to-knee with a chatty flight attendant who regularly travelled to and from P.E.I.
“Why are you going to such a backwater place?” she wanted to know.
“Why, because of Anne of Green Gables,” I innocently replied.
“Anne of Green Who?” she queried, leaving me in astonishment.
She had never heard of Anne of Green Gables, never read the books, and what’s worse, neither had her eleven-year-old daughter. I’m pretty sure I got her address right then and there and sent along a copy when I got home, because I simply couldn’t bear the thought of a little girl growing up without Anne.
The episode troubled me. Raised as I was, in a home crammed with books, in which reading was a beloved and highly required activity, I simply assumed that everyone else loved (and had access to) books just as I did. As I began to realize (through the NEA report, the encounter on the flight, and my own continuing research) that a life formed by books might be something increasingly rare, I realized that my own early exposure to great children’s literature had been a gift, one I felt a deep need to share.
I got home from PEI and pulled a bunch of childhood favorites off the shelf. As I read through them, savoring again the imagery, the emotion, the resolve they evoked within me, I realized how deeply I had been formed by the stories I had read as a child. I realized that a great deal of my concept of what was good, true, and beautiful in the world had come to me through what I had read. I realized that stories taught me what sort of person I ought to become. I measure myself even now against the great characters I have known in books. I realized that each story I had read contributed to my image of what it means to live well. To live, in other words, a life that was a good story in and of itself.
So, I began to write those ideas down and then ended up giving a talk on them at a conference for moms. A publisher heard the talk and challenged me to turn it into a book. I didn’t need much urging. Of course, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I just wanted to tell the world about my favorite stories and why children should read them, and suddenly I was up to my ears in original publication dates and brain research. But I loved it. And two years later, Read for the Heart was born.
Sarah will return next Tuesday to talk about particular books that formed her and why the content and literary quality of children’s books matter.