All too often we become overly concerned with the value of what our children are doing. Numbers, letters, names and places – these are all things that receive far too much attention among our kids’ toys, programmes, songs and games. But why? Are we worried that if our toddlers’ bouncing balls don’t shout out the alphabet they’ll never learn their ABC? Do we really think that failure to incorporate colours into the lyrics of our sing-alongs will mean their never being able to distinguish between orange and pink?
The real value of songs, bouncing balls, Peter Rabbit toys and storytellingis inherent. The worth is in the listening, the articulating; the giving, the sharing; the throwing, the catching. And yet, there’s also no denying that there are manytimeless, wonderful lessons to be learnt from our playtime, and especiallyfrom our favourite fictional literary characters. What are those lessons, and why are our favourite stories so great at teaching them?
The eponymous hero at the centre of Beatrix Potter’s classic famously ignores his mother’s warnings, heads into Mr. McGregor’s vegetable garden, and gets into all sorts of mischief as a result. First forced to hide in a watering can, Peter then has to creep past the cat, before finally being able to escape beneath the gate. For his troubles, Peter loses his jacket and even gets ill and sent to bed without dinner.
Young readers have for generations been utterly bewitched with the charisma of Potter’s Peter Rabbit, his quick thinking, and his close brush with the menacing Mr. McGregor. What better way for children to appreciate the value of obedience and respecting your mother’s wisdom, not to mention the perils of illegal trespassing?
In Mark Twain’s American classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck goes on a host of thrilling adventures on the Mississippi River, placing him in the company of murderous robbers, the loyal runaway slave, Jim, well-to-do families, two-bit swindlers, and of course his great friend, Tom Sawyer.
Huck’s world is fraught with danger, superstition, black magic and romance, and on more than one occasion, he is forced to make tough choices that willplace his personal safety at risk, and even break the law. Yet, throughout it all, Huck has his heart, loyalty and good natureto guide him. Indeed, if any, this is the lesson that we can take from Twain’s novel, which places into question much of the conventional behaviours of the day. As the great writer said himself, “A sound heart is a surer guide than an ill-trained conscience.”
Hazel, Watership Down
With his magical tale of a colony of rabbits that seek out a new home after their warren is destroyed, author Richard Adams created not just a fantastical, classic adventure, but also brought to life the English countryside with incomparable vibrancy and imagination.
Along the way, we will see our determined heroes pitted against fierce rivals, beasts and even humans as they somehow overcome all the obstacles to successfully find a safe haven for themselves, their mates, offspring and many generations to come.
Hazel is our courageous and quick-witted leader throughout it all, and what young readers won’t fail to notice is that it is by virtue of his intelligence, unfaltering loyalty and conviction that our rabbit friends eventually beat all the odds, defeat their tyrannical foes, and are able to found their new idyllic home.