Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.
— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “The Little Prince”
Grown-ups always need explanations, the narrator in The Little Prince says. Once, when he was six, he saw a picture of a boa constrictor swallowing a wild animal. With this picture in mind, he made his first drawing:
The grown-ups thought it was a hat, when in fact it was a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. He then made another drawing to simplify things for them:
They advised him to put away his drawings and become something useful instead. He became a pilot but remained unimpressed by grown-ups. He still showed them his first boa restrictor drawing, and they always said it was a hat.
Later, when the little prince asks him to draw a sheep, he draws a box and explains that the sheep is inside it. Obvious, isn’t it? They both think so.
Timeless classic: When a character you created decades ago — one with red hair, sticky-out pigtails, freckles, strength, and the name of Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Efraim’s Daughter Longstocking, Pippi for short — continues to inspire, both because of who she is and because of her mismatched long stockings. Knit yourself a pair.
Swedish children’s author Astrid Lindgren (1907–2002) was a wonderful storyteller.
A childhood without books — that would be no childhood. That would be like being shut out from the enchanted place where you can go and find the rarest kind of joy.
— Astrid Lindgren
Do you remember the moment when you cracked the reading code? I do.
I was five when I finally figured out what the words in the books said. I remember how frustrated I had been because I knew all the letters but I couldn’t combine them into words.
One day I made an extra effort and read each letter in a story slowly, pronouncing them and trying to put them together: a-a-a l-l-l… Then, all the sudden, the door flung open, letters formed into words, words formed into stories. You know how it is when the fog lifts and you suddenly see the vast landscape around you, or when you draw back the curtains in the morning to have a first look over a new city you arrived at only the night before… that’s how it felt, looking back.
It was a life-changing moment. I became literate from one second to the next, literally. One instant I was just an ordinary earthly child, the next an explorer in a new world that opened up before me. I know exactly what Neil Armstrong must have felt the moment he put his foot on the lunar surface. A giant leap. Nothing less.
Not that I reflected on it at the time. I did not cheer, I did not even bother to tell anyone about my new-found skills. I just felt a silent satisfaction and thought, “Finally. About time.”
The first thing I read was a Donald Duck magazine. I lay flat on my back.
The sheer joy of reading! Every child has the right to experience that sensation.
— Zol H.
Libraries and bookstores! Shelves upon shelves and books all over the place, full of stories that take you here and there and back again. Some people allow themselves to get lost between the shelves. Others know exactly what they want and head straight for the crime or romance or sci-fi section — or to books on how to make a stellar birdhouse or knit a pair of striped socks. Such a variety of genres, yet the books have one thing in common: Someone wrote them, word for word. With pencil or pen on paper in an English manor, on a portable Royal typewriter somewhere in Spain or Italy, or on a 2017 laptop in the coffee shop just around the corner. Fact: Someone has to write the stories. They don’t write themselves in some mysterious fashion.
Did you hear that, you reluctant writer? Yes.
I like a good story well told. That is the reason I am sometimes forced to tell them myself.
— Mark Twain
If you have read The Little Prince, you know what the box below contains. If not, take a guess.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry dedicated The Little Prince (1943) to his good friend Léon Werth, but because the book was a children’s book and Werth was a grown-up, he dedicated it “To Léon Werth, when he was a little boy.” Small details like that make me a happy reader. He doesn’t stop there, of course, but quickly sets the tone for the book: In the opening chapter, the little prince asks the narrator to draw a sheep. The prince is not satisfied with the first drafts, but when the narrator draws a box and explains that the sheep is inside it, he is content. “That’s just the kind I wanted!” he says. Delightfully carved out details — what a gift to the readers.
The Little Prince is 74 years old this week. It was first published April 6, 1943.
Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them. — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “The Little Prince”