Advice from children’s books

Adulthood is a lot more complicated than we’d like it to be sometimes, especially for single parents. There’s so much to be done and so little time to do it. When it comes to our romantic lives, they always take a backseat to the welfare of our children. That’s why it doesn’t hurt to find insight in unexpected places. The next time you’re reading a classic children’s story to your kids, think about whether there’s any wisdom in it for you. You’ll probably be surprised just how much decent advice these authors have when it comes to love.

Read on below for the best relationship advice culled from beloved children’s books — after all, we’re all kids at heart!

Lesson #1: Real love takes time

“I officiate weddings and over time have accumulated a large number of readings,” says Rev. Carleen Burns in Kalamazoo, MI. “One of my favorites that I wish more couples would consider is from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. Real love isn’t glamorous and it doesn’t happen in an instant, like the standard romantic comedy would have you believe.”

Classic children’s book: The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
– From a conversation between two toys (Skin Horse and Rabbit) at the beginning of The Velveteen Rabbit

Lesson #2: Difficult goodbyes are OK

“Sometimes what hurts us is an indication of how great love really is,” offers Elise Stephens, author of Moonlight and Oranges. “When you cry because you have to say goodbye to someone you love, it means you love [that person] so much, your tears are measuring the hugeness of that love. It’s what adds the pinch of sweetness to the bitter. Winnie-the-Pooh states deep things so simply, which is why he’s profound when it comes to love. He counts himself lucky instead of bereaved when he says his goodbyes to a dear friend.”

Classic children’s book: Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
– Pooh’s sad-but-friendly farewell in Winnie-the-Pooh

Lesson #3: Love disguises itself

Sometimes the behavior of children and teenagers in love isn’t all that different from adults harboring crushes. Haven’t we all embarrassed ourselves trying to impress someone whom we find attractive?

Classic children’s book: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

“He worshipped this new angel with a furtive eye, till he saw that she had discovered him; then he pretended he did not know she was present, and began to show off in all sorts of boyish ways in order to win her admiration.”
– Tom Sawyer’s thoughts on his crush, Amy Lawrence, in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Lesson #4: Be who you are

“If you’re a smart woman, be a smart woman,” implores Beth McIntyre, a children’s librarian in Boston, MA. “The smart guys will notice. Gilbert Blythe... swoon.” Anne Shirley (the title character from the popular novel, Anne of Green Gables) didn’t pretend to be anyone but who she was, and it all worked out beautifully.

Classic children’s book: Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery

“Perhaps, after all, romance did not come into one’s life with pomp and blare, like a gay knight riding down; perhaps it crept to one’s side like an old friend through quiet ways; perhaps it revealed itself in seeming prose, until some sudden shaft of illumination flung athwart its pages betrayed the rhythm and the music, perhaps... perhaps... love unfolded naturally out of a beautiful friendship, as a golden-hearted rose slipping from its green sheath.”
– Anne’s thoughts on love while gazing into Gilbert’s eyes in Anne of Avonlea

Lesson #5: You are the prize

The Paper Bag Princess is a great tale that turns the idea of princes saving princesses on its head,” offers Jennifer H. Keaton, Esq., a mediator in Atlanta, GA. “In this tale, the princess ends up working tirelessly to save the prince she’s been waiting for only to realize that in the end — after all the efforts that leave her clothes in tatters (hence, wearing a paper sack) — that the prince wasn’t worth the effort. The message: don’t forget that you are the prize, and that waiting to be rescued isn’t what it’s all about.”

Classic children’s book: The Paper Bag Princess by Robert N. Munsch

Prince Ronald said, “Elizabeth, your hair is all dirty. You are wearing an ugly paper bag. You don’t have any shoes on and you smell like a dragon’s ear. Come back and rescue me when you’re dressed like a real princess.” Elizabeth said, “Ronald, your hair is all nice. Your clothes are all pretty. You look like a nice guy, but guess what? You are a bum.”
– The final exchange between Prince Ronald and Princess Elizabeth in The Paper Bag Princess

Lesson #6: You won’t get over a broken heart, and that’s OK

Talented writers have the ability to show us when a standard cliché is wrong. In this case, the cliché is: you’ll get over it. You didn’t like hearing it when you were a teenager, and you don’t like hearing it now… probably because it belittles the relationship that came before the breakup. Even a short flirtation doesn’t deserve that, if you cared. Author Betty Smith clearly understands this, and her refusal to sugar-coat things for younger readers is admirable.

Classic children’s book: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

“Oh, you’ll be happy again, never fear. But you won’t forget. Every time you fall in love it will be because something in the man reminds you of him.”
– Francie’s mother, Katie, advising her daughter about heartbreak and regret in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Lesson #7: Love is powerful beyond measure

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books have taken over the world, and with good reason — they are about love. It’s always reassuring to think about the power love has to surprise and sustain us.

Classic children’s book: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

“When you have seen as much of life as I have, you will not underestimate the power of obsessive love.”
– spoken by Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Laura Schaefer is the author of The Teashop Girls and The Secret Ingredient, two novels for young readers. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

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