I recently described Michael Chabon’s “Summerland” as “a healing book.” This made me think about books that could serve as therapy for young readers living with adversity.
A book doesn’t have to depict an epic conflict or thrill you with a sense of urgency to be powerful. Some books prove their power by ushering readers into a peaceful place.
Frances Hodgson Burnett achieved this in such books as “The Little Princess” and “Little Lord Fauntleroy.” She seemed to specialize in gentle children who win the hearts of grumpy adults. “The Secret Garden,” especially, tells about an unhappy girl who starts her journey toward happiness simply by putting her fingers into warm earth.
Other beloved books about childhood comfort us through camaraderie with their characters. These include Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women,” L.M. Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables,” Joanna Spyri’s “Heidi” and E. Nesbit’s “The Story of the Treasure Seekers.”
L.M. Boston wrote several books set around the English castle of Green Knowe, starting with “Children of Green Knowe.” In them, children encounter gorillas, ghosts, villains and floods. But these threats never upstage the scenery, described so beautifully that it does the heart good.
Other books whose loveliness is refreshing include “Clair-de-Lune” by Cassandra Golds, James Thurber’s “The 13 Clocks” and J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Smith of Wootton Major.”
Gennifer Choldenko’s series of books, starting with “Al Capone Does My Shirts,” feature a boy named Moose, living around 1935 on the prison island of Alcatraz, where his dad is a guard. Moose takes it on himself to protect his family, including an autistic sister. His story reminds us to be kind to people who face challenges at home.
Other examples include Jack Gantos’ “Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key,” Kevin Henkes’ “Olive’s Ocean,” Chris Lynch’s “The Gravedigger’s Cottage,” Rodman Philbrick’s “Freak the Mighty,” Neal Shüsterman’s “The Schwa Was Here” and Katherine Paterson’s “The Great Gilly Hopkins.”
Polly Horvath writes about family members sharing memories that sometimes divide, sometimes pull them together. Her stories are often zany, creepy and horribly sad, but never sentimental. They include “The Canning Season,” “Everything on a Waffle” and “The Trolls.”
Authors whose work hits the same target include Elizabeth Enright (“Gone-Away Lake”), Beverly Cleary (“Dear Mr. Henshaw”), Sharon Creech (“Ruby Holler”), Joan Bauer (“Rules of the Road”) and Jeanne Birdsall (“The Penderwicks”).
M.M. Kaye’s “The Ordinary Princess” turns fairy-tale fashions on end, giving kids who aren’t very strong or beautiful a heroine to identify with.
Other novel-sized fairy tales with a healing twist include “Birdwing” by Rafe Martin, “The Two Princesses of Bamarre” by Gail Carson Levine, and Robin McKinley’s “Pegasus.”
Daniel Pinkwater’s books for kids make me laugh, and in some matters of the heart, laughter is the best medicine. Pinkwater’s characters include one named Flipping Hades Terwilliger – among my favorite fictional names ever. Some of his titles are “The Hoboken Chicken Emergency,” “Lizard Music” and “The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death.”
More authors who pack laughs into emotionally rich stories are David Lubar (“Flip”), Terry Pratchett (“The Wee Free Men”), Adam Rex (“The True Meaning of Smekday”), Susan Cooper (“The Boggart”) and Henry Clark (“What We Found in the Sofa and How It Saved the World”).
Robin Fish is an avid reader who blogs about books and other topics at afortmadeofbooks.blogspot.com. Contact him with questions or suggestions at email@example.com.