A child of two atheists, I was four years old the first time I set foot in any house of worship. It was at the urging of my then-best friend Caitlin, also aged four, who had dunked her head an extra time for my sake during her Mormon baptism to ensure I wouldn’t end up in Hell. (This gesture cemented our status as true best friends, even though I didn’t know what any of it meant.)
But Caitlin also had a mischievous side; when I joined her at church on that unprecedented Sunday morning, she took advantage of a pause in the Jesus hymns to announce to the congregation: “Kira doesn’t believe in God!” That was also the first time I learned that my upbringing was, apparently, unacceptable.
My parents were raised Jewish, but both rejected religion altogether as adults, so my childhood was utterly devoid of God and all the traditions that go along with a religious faith: weekend prayer, Bible reading, fasting, etc. Some people might then believe that I was raised without a moral code. After all, isn’t religion’s purpose, at least partially, to teach you how to be a good person?
In my case, having great role models in my parents molded my sense of morality, but I was lucky to have another set of fantastic teachers: books. I’ve been a reader ever since I can remember. Instead of a diet of Hebrew prayers, I was fed great children’s literature. I can’t think of a better way to teach kids lessons that will stick with them forever than to introduce them to characters that will engage, inspire, and move them—all while honing their fledgling moral compasses.
Here are some of my favorite books that have stuck with me through the years, and what I learned from them:
A Wrinkle in Time—The importance of individuality, and that it’s OK to be different; also the power of love to overcome challenges.
The Secret Garden—The value of friendship and beauty.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—The delight of fantasy and adventure.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond—The evil of prejudice and the value of compassion.
Shane—What it means to be a hero: loyalty, determination, and bravery.
To Kill a Mockingbird—The values of justice and tolerance.
The Scarlet Pimpernel—Admiration of ingenuity; courage and love.
The Little Prince—I read this in French, when I was a teenager eager to outgrow my childhood—a fitting time to remember that children possess a virtue that many adults do not: they are tapped into the power of their own imaginations.
As the iconic phrase says, “On ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.” One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.
There are some of mine. What books from your childhood made the biggest impact on you?