By day my nose is stuck in academic journals and biblical commentaries. But in the evenings I devote myself to the heavy stuff.
My daughters read more than I ever did when I was in grade school. They also enjoy reading aloud with their parents, so thanks to them I have received a thorough introduction to so-called “juvenile fiction.” While I will pick up just about anything written by certain standouts in this literary category (N. E. Bode, Sharon Creech, Kate DiCamillo, to name a few), lately I have been especially captivated by a particular sub-genre: what one of my daughters and I refer to as heavy stories. These are novels about children dealing with death, serious illness, disabilities, and what we adults would term “identity issues.” Here are the best that I have read in the past year:
- Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
- Ida B: . . . and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World, by Katherine Hannigan
- Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes
- So B. It, by Sarah Weeks
The first title on the list is a well-known classic. The other three are newer and feature young female protagonists learning to make their way through the griefs and disappointments of life. What I appreciate most about all these books is their ability to lead my children and me into honest conversations about big issues. Life. Purpose. Love. Hope. Ministry and parenting are about (among other things) honest communication, meaning-making, and accompanying one another through the trials and joys of human existence. These books support creative ways of doing such things in real life; in this way they are great gifts to the parents, church leaders, and young people who read them together.