Welcome to our new section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.
If you take a trip to your local bookstore, you might notice that the children’s section is usually far from the main entrance. Perhaps it’s clearly tucked away in the back or segregated to a remote corner of the shop. Often, the colourful decorations that adorn the children’s section clearly divide them from the more “serious” books for adults. Unless you spend some time meandering through the space, it’s unlikely you would casually pass through the children’s area to get through to the politics or history sections. The “serious” matters come first: They are, in my experience, almost always front and center.
This division made my love of children’s books feel all the more guilty.
When I visited the children’s section of bookshops inevitably I stuck out like a giant piece of spinach between your front teeth: typically no one actually says anything to you (with the exception of some kind souls and your very best friends), yet the eyes of children and parents alike fell on me, the young woman who clearly did not “belong” to this section.
Over the years, the sense of guilt slowly faded and transformed into pride. I realised with age that this practice was, in a way, a powerful secret weapon; one that was strengthening my sense of wonder, a fundamental component of well-being.
Here’s one of the reasons why children’s books help me spark and sustain wonder.
In my university experience, writing assignments have typically consisted of essays ranging from 5,000-10,000 words — for some classes, a monthly requirement but for others, a weekly one. As a freshman daunted with these unfamiliarly lengthy writing assignments, I remember fondly the advice of a professor helping me alleviate the stress of the transition from high-school writing: don’t try to take on too many topics/subjects, just stick with a simple idea and then add complexity to it.
Children’s books, in essence, do the exact opposite as academics: they take complex moral and life truths, and break them down in simple and enjoyable ways. And for this, I absolutely love and admire them.
Take, for example, my favorite children’s book: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. The plot is extremely simple: there is a boy, and there is a tree. They interact, converse, and grow together in 621 words. Through these 621 words, Silverstein conveys what I consider two of the most significant life lessons: the danger of individualistic behaviour, and the beautiful power of small acts of kindness. Despite the small word count, Silverstein instills universal truths that some books take 700 pages to say… or more.
The ability of children’s books to represent fundamental issues in simple ways, always leaves me with a refreshed sense of wonder of the power and beauty of intellectual simplicity. Reading them is a reminder to push my own creative communication capabilities: can I too convey my truths in simple and enticing ways?
Subscribe here for all the latest news on how you can keep Thriving.
More on Mental Health on Campus: