Children’s Literature: Gateway to the Hero’s Journey Story

I have a childhood memory of going to a bookstore located in a big, old house called the Atheneum. (Maybe it was spelled the Greek way as Athenaeum, but I don’t remember it that way and it was Northeast Ohio (Elyria) in the 1960’s….).  The owner was a tall, thin woman with long black hair, streaked with white.  She didn’t carry a lot of books, but she did stock good children’s literature.  I remember a few spin racks, some shelves not quite full, and a slightly musty and book-y smell.  My mother, who is smart, but uneducated, must have listened to the bookstore owner’s recommendations and bought us books that were acclaimed and literature medal winners (Newbery and Caldecott).  This is the memory/story I have; whether it’s true to my mother’s story doesn’t matter, but I am grateful for those early, great books in my life.

I still have many of those books and those stories are much loved.  From my 1959 Eloise in Moscow to my 1960 Island of the Blue Dolphins. My old Wind in the Willows dust cover is nearly in tatters.

I heard a recent interview with Kate DiCamillo who said that she loves writing children’s stories because “you’re duty bound to end with hope.” Great children’s literature usually follows the Hero’s Journey path, and these books are a great way to remind yourself or instruct your children on the power of the Hero’s Journey.  You don’t need to read Homer.  Just read A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park (a near textbook Journey plot line) or Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli (a robust set of mentors and allies for the Hero on his Journey).

If you have a favorite childhood book, recall it or, better yet, pick it up and read it again. The library will likely be able to get you a copy of it, if you don’t have it anymore. I re-read Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins a couple of years ago and Millie by Bessie Holland Heck last year. These were two books that had a strong influence on me since I read them multiple times as a kid. I’m not surprised they hold up for an adult reader, too. It seems that I will always enjoy a strong female hero in my stories.



Photo by my Mom of the author as a young reader, 1956

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