I hope that one day my daughters look back on the countless hours we spend reading stories with the same amount of fondness as I will. It's not always fun, of course — The Great Dora Phase of 2013 comes to mind. But for the most part, children's literature is a wonderful art form. You just have to do a little research. For example, one of my favorite paragraphs in the english language is from Julia Donaldson's The Gruffalo:
All was quiet in the deep dark wood. The mouse found a nut and the nut was good.
And speaking of Julia Donaldson, my eldest daughter and I have been going through a Snail and the Whale phase. Ok fine, it's mostly me, but whatever. It's about this snail that doesn't want to spend her whole life living on a rock, so she writes a message to ask for a ride around the world. A whale shows up and they go on an amazing journey together.
There's one page, towards the middle, that I always pause on. Even though I've seen it a thousand times, I stop to admire the scenery, and the composition, and the typography, and oh, those words:
And she gazed at the sky, the sea, the land, The waves and the caves and the golden sand. She gazed and gazed, amazed by it all, And she said to the whale, 'I feel so small.'
— Julia Donaldson, The Snail and the Whale
I was in a meeting the other day with a bunch of very important people and in the midst of it I just texted my wife, "I feel like the snail on the whale." She immediately knew what I meant. I would think (hope?) that any of you would have known what I meant, because we all experience this sometimes. We look around us at the big open world, and all the people with their lives perfectly together, and it's hard not to feel just a little bit insignificant. As if our self-worth is somehow linked to how smart or big or important other people think we are. We know it's not true, and yet... I feel so small.
Of course, in the story the snail goes on to (spoiler alert!) save the whale from certain death. The whale washes up on a beach, and the snail goes to get help. In the end they return to the rock and the entire snail colony jumps on the whale's tail, because they also want a piece of the exploration action.
It's pretty much a perfect story. The moral is clear and uplifting: no matter how small you are, and how big the world is, you can still make a difference in someone's life. And it's universal enough to make emotional parents like me choke up every time I read it.
But yeah, then I close the book and walk out the door and sit in meetings and forget about the lesson because all I can think about is how I'm this tiny speck on a big world's tail and what if I fall off or get lost or say the wrong thing or not live up to expectations or mess up this big project or...