Here are my five favourite sentences/lines from children’s books (the topic for Writers’ Bootcamp for today is Your Five Favourite Words, but I’ve exercised a bit of artistic licence here).
1. “That very night in Max’s room, a forest grew … and grew … and grew, until the ceiling hung with vines and the walls became the world all around.”
The assonance and alliteration in that part of the sentence, the way it rolls around in your mouth, is just a tiny part of the late Maurice Sendak’s genius.
From Where the Wild Things Are, or, as Lil A calls it, simply “Max”.
2. “Night came with many stars.”
I never read Sylvester and the Magic Pebble as a kid. Lil A got it from an American cousin and every time I read it to her, it breaks my heart. That one sentence conveys so much desolation and beauty, wrapped in such a simple little package.
3. “It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like ‘What about lunch?'”
There are so many lovely little gems in Winnie the Pooh. On Lil A’s bookshelf is a copy of the first version of Winnie the Pooh ever published. It used to be mine when I was little. It’s written in AA Milne’s own voice, addressed to his son Christopher Robin, who has a beloved bear called Edward. Even before he became known as Pooh Bear, the sense of exactly which kind of bear he’d go on to be is right there in that very first book.
On a trip to New York a few years ago, I spent a lot of time staring at the original Winnie the Pooh toys at the Public Library. They’re all faded and their fur has been loved off – whether by time or Christopher Robin, it’s hard to say – which made them even more charming than they are rendered in fiction. They were real toys. And despite the Disneyfication of the “brand”, I like remembering that it all started as a real story told to a little boy by his Dad, about his favourite bear.
4. “The Lupine Lady is little and old. But she has not always been that way.”
Miss Rumphius is another favourite from an American cousin that I had not read myself as a child. The watercolours are gorgeous, for one thing, but I also really love how it carries so many truths about old age that children are usually shielded from in books and pop culture. It’s about an old lady who is not a witch – which is unique in itself. But further to that, it’s about an old lady who used to be a little girl. These sentences capture that idea very neatly, and I think it’s an important thing for all of us to remember on a visceral level. As adults, we all know intellectually that the elderly were not always elderly, but I know that I forget at times that not very long ago, they were exactly like me.
5. “I know a bear and when it is sunny, we go for a picnic with brown bread and honey.”
This might sound like another line from Winnie the Pooh, but it’s from Lil A’s favourite book, I Know A Rhino. I bought this book for her because the main character is maybe a boy, maybe a girl. He or she is equally happy playing in the mud and dressing up in a tutu. Their gender doesn’t matter, which is unusual for a children’s book. So I bought it more for the pictures than the words, but now I love this sentence about the bear. It always makes me hungry and seems like a good way to live. When it’s sunny, we go for a picnic. Yes.
And, as added value, here are some great resources on feminist-y children’s books. You’re welcome.
- A Mighty Girl’s guide to cool picture books for little ones
- A Mighty Girl’s favourite fairy tales
- This Guardian article from 2009 (yes, pretty old, but does include Pippi Longstocking, of which I wholly approve)