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Review: "Winnie-the-Pooh" and "The House at Pooh Corner"

It probably comes as no surprise that Winnie-the-Pooh was my favorite as a child. The paraphernalia I’ve retained is not even a quarter of the Winnie-the-Pooh dolls, clothes, and accessories that filled my toddler room. (My mom even stenciled bears holding balloons on my walls. I came by my obsession honestly.) In my first ever trip to the movie theater, my mom and I watched The Tigger Movie. Even now, I’ve saved every Winnie the Pooh movie on Disney Plus so I can watch it on days I feel low. However, my childhood fangirling surrounded the Disney-fied interpretations of A. A. Milne’s classics. So, how do the original Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner stack up in terms of children’s literature?

I First Read Winnie-the-Pooh

While I read all the Disney picture books ever published in the early 2000s as a child, I didn’t obtain a copy of the original A. A. Milne tales until the past year or so. In a panic to avoid the stress of wedding planning and office managing, I grabbed Winnie-the-Pooh and plopped on the couch to read. I proceeded to laugh so hard and so often that my dad had to look up from his solitaire game every few minutes. As much as I love every Disney adaptation of Winnie-the-Pooh (minus that My Friends Tigger and Pooh show… they screwed up that one,) A. A. Milne’s books captivated me just as completely.

The characters in Milne’s books are just so charmingly real, despite being animals. I laugh hysterically at misspelled words and hidden moments of arrogance because I recognize the misunderstandings from my daily life. While the books perfectly capture the imagination of a child, they also reflect our reality as adults. And don’t get me started on the series’ ending! I think The House at Pooh Corner even beats out The Great Gatsby as the best last line of all time!

What About Faith?

Well, Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner definitely aren’t expressly Christian. There are no stories paralleling Biblical events. Yet, the books feel pure. Childhood innocence oozes from the pages. The stories teach problem solving, friendship, and how to tell a good story. Yet, I think Milne’s most powerful message is that of compassion. The animals are accepted as they are in childlike love. Even those who frequently carry disdain in their back pocket (ahem… Rabbit) quickly forgive inconveniences and learn to embrace the qualities that make each character unique. Concern for others trumps selfishness every time. The interactions between the characters lead everyone to grow into more caring and generous members of the Hundred Acre Wood.

I believe we all can agree that these behaviors are worth learning and sharing. Jesus certainly exemplifies these traits perfected. So, despite Christopher Robin not waving a magic Bible in the air every time a problem arises, the books reflect Christian concepts. I feel no shame in continuing to claim Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner as a pinnacle of children’s literature.

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Review: Magic Treehouse "Winter of the Ice Wizard"

So many people love the Magic Treehouse books. Alas, I’ve never been one of them. (I’ll go hide from the rotten tomatoes now.) Jack and Annie bored me. I much preferred books with humor like Junie B. Jones, Amelia Bedelia, and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Well, now that I’ve decided to try my hand at writing children’s books, I felt I should give the Magic Treehouse another chance. Here’s my review of Winter of the Ice Wizard.

Winter of the Ice Wizard, aka Creepy Pirate Santa

This is semi-tangential, but the illustrated Ice Wizard looks like a creepy pirate Santa to me. He’s got an eye patch, has an expression somewhere between flabbergasted and explosive, and a belt holds his coat fabric in place over that bowl full of jelly. He’s kind of a creepy pirate Santa in the story, too. He trades his eye for wisdom, kidnaps adults, and sends good children on his errands (only with icy threats instead of bribes of presents.)

Moving past creepy pirate Santa, who admittedly was one of the most interesting characters in the book because of his dynamic nature, we come back to Jack and Annie. I admit, my brother is my best friend, and I have a soft spot for Jack and Annie’s close relationship. But past that, they have very little personality (again, I’ll be hiding from the rotten tomatoes.) Based on this book, I gathered that Jack is the cautious nerd and Annie is the brash girl. (And “girl” is the only character type I can think of for Annie!) They keep secrets from their mother. They seem to like cookies. Yup, that’s about all that I came up with.

The Writing Style

Bearing in mind this book is written for children expanding their reading abilities, Mary Pope Osborne excels at immersing children in history and myth. Her descriptions, while basic, did in fact place the reader in the story with Jack and Annie. Plus, the illustrations by Sal Murdocca are phenomenal!

It took me about 4 chapters to get into this book. The first two chapters connected this book to the rest of the Merlin Mission batch and explained the premise for any readers coming to the series out of order like me. However, those two chapters bored me to death! I couldn’t even remember what I’d read when I finished the chapter. The third chapter set up the conflict, so creepy pirate Santa aside, we started moving. It still took until chapter 4 for me to want to keep reading past my one chapter for the day. I saw a lot of the plot coming, although I can’t fault Mrs. Osborne for that; I’m in my twenties reading a book for seven year olds.

So, I concluded that Mrs. Osborne is a very talented writer who knows her strengths and plays to them well. The number of adults who still praise her books attests to that. They just aren’t my style. Give me the emotional five year old who makes up words and mismatches her hair bows! Then I’ll be laughing because I know the character is real.

What about faith?

Ok, we’ve been talking about the Christian faith in children’s literature. I’ve seen Facebook moms passionately defend the purity of the Magic Treehouse. So how does Winter of the Ice Wizard really stack up? Can kids actually learn Biblical values from this book?

It took until chapter nine to appear, but there is a message of redemption in this book. Creepy pirate Santa winds up repenting for his actions, and Merlin and Morgan invite him to visit them in Camelot. It read a little too hunky-dory for me, but it made for a nice ending. And honestly, it’s the basic truth of salvation. We repent for our wrongdoing, and thanks to Jesus, God gives us a whole lot of forgiveness that we don’t deserve.

Are you pro-Magic Treehouse and find Jack or Annie relatable? Let me know in the comments!

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Faith in Children's Literature: Method 3

Welcome to the third method in our series on faith in children’s literature! We’ve discussed using allegory and including Biblical values as methods for sharing faith. Today, we’re diving into the genre of Christian children’s books.

Method 3: Niche Down to Christian Children’s Books

There are publishers for overtly Christian children’s books. Unfortunately, some school libraries may not be able to carry these books because of their overtly evangelistic message. If you choose this route, know that your book won’t have the same reach as books using the first two methods. Of course, some of my favorite overtly Christian books as a child came from the now-defunct Mission City Press. I loved the Elsie Dinsmore series! It blended historical settings with problems and feelings I related to. However, as an adult, I read a rather harsh review of the series. I suddenly realized that the reviewer made an excellent point.

The problem with the Elsie Dinsmore series stems from the main character created back in 1867 by Martha Finley. While Elsie is sweet and lovable like a little puppy needing protection, her silent “Christian” rebellion allows her to be run over by her domineering family members. Yes, Jesus honors meekness, and Peter recommends a submissive attitude in a wife, but the examples of meek submission in the Bible are not weak. Jesus turns the other cheek, but also flips tables at injustice. Peter gets arrested, but his and John’s singing breaks open the jail. Their meek submission represents controlled strength, not beaten-down surrender.

Therefore, if we decide to niche down to an overtly Christian book for impressionable young readers, let’s be cautious. When we oversimplify issues of faith or create nearly perfect main characters, we set a standard that the child reader aspires to but can never attain in this broken world. I suggest we embrace our imperfections and teach our children that God gives grace when we stumble. We will still feel and hurt when we let God lead our lives, but He also gives us hope and purpose.

Would you rather publish your children’s book with a Christian publisher or a “secular” publisher? Let me know in the comments!

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Faith in Children's Literature: Method 2

Last Friday, we started talking about faith in children’s literature. We looked at allegory where the plot or characters of the story parallel a story in the Bible. This week, we’re delving into a related-but-different method: writing Biblical values into children’s literature.

Method 2: Biblical Values in Children’s Literature

And no, I’m not talking about the media’s definition of Christian values. True Christian values supersede political affiliations. As such, the Bible teaches us how to relate to each other and the world. We can reflect those concepts in the books we write for children without quoting Scripture to reach a wider audience. For example, we can teach the Good Samaritan’s compassion for his neighbor by telling a story of friendship between two children with very different backgrounds. This spreads God’s love and compassion without causing a fight between religious affiliations. And honestly, I think our world could use a little more compassion and peace.

While including Biblical values in “secular” stories sounds like allegory, there is one key difference. Allegory loosely follows the plot of the original story and parallels the new characters with Bible characters. In contrast, writing stories with Biblical values relates to theme. The characters and plot may be very different from any story in the Bible. However, the lesson the new characters learn can be found in the Bible.

Reading books while looking for the Biblical truth hidden in them is an eye-opening, awesome experience. It does, however, take effort, which means that non-believers won’t instantly convert to Christianity when they read your book. So, be aware you are writing for a different audience than your church’s kids’ ministry. This method is more about planting seeds than outright evangelism.

What do you think of basing books on Biblical values instead of addressing faith outright? Let me know in the comments! Stayed tuned next week as we wrap up this series with our last method!

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Faith in Children's Literature: Method 1

Adult literature has its own subgenre for faith based works, but what about children’s literature? With such a diverse range of beliefs among students, controversy over religion culminates in the public school system. How can we write faith back into kids’ books and our schools? Thankfully, the classics give us three methods for melding faith into kid lit. Today, we’re delving into the world of allegory.

Method 1: Allegory in Children’s Literature

Of all three methods of writing children’s literature, we can recognize faith most easily in the allegorical style. C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe still fascinates school children despite its original release date of 1950. On its face, the story engages readers well in a fantasy plot delving into sibling relationships and self-discovery. Beneath the surface, Lewis reflects the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection with the killing and return of Aslan, the lion. Lewis continues writing Bible stories into the rest of the Narnia series, especially the creation story in The Magician’s Nephew and Revelation in The Last Battle. For a deeper look at how Lewis reflects the Bible allegorically into his books, read this article from HarperCollins.

The power of allegory comes from its ability to reach readers from a variety of backgrounds. Readers who hold negative views of Christianity may soften to the whimsical stories. These stories reach far beyond their original Christian audience and enter the larger realm of children’s literature. Thus, schools can carry the books in the library and teachers can promote the books in class. These books can plant seeds of faith in a wide audience.

One caution before we run off and rewrite the whole Bible in kids’ books: the power of allegorical books can also be its weakness. For example, while Lewis focused on glorifying God through the writing and publishing process, his books teach and entertain readers who may not agree with the Christian religion. Therefore, the religious references cannot overpower the quality storytelling if he wants to keep his readers engaged. If we want to impact readers like Lewis does, we must strive to write quality stories that children relate to and enjoy.

What do you think of the allegorical model? Let me know in the comments! Stayed tuned next week for method #2!