Life’s most important lessons, learned before age 10

When I was in college, I had a lot of tedious reading to do (sound familiar?) and frequently needed some relief from it all.  So, in my sophomore year, I started to reread my favorite novels from childhood during study breaks and before bed.  Their captivating stories required the perfect amount of concentration (of which I had little to spare), made me laugh and even touched on topics relevant to my life at Brown.  I also started to notice that the stories I gravitated to as a child strongly related to my interests as an adult.  Plus, I got tremendous satisfaction out of sitting among college students at my school’s library, a bright yellow copy of Winnie the Pooh propped on one knee.

I still find that I need a reminder of the important things in life from time to time, so I thought I’d share my go-to list, plus this little idea:

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Wouldn’t this make a great gift for a friend who’s been stressed and overworked?  Or if you have kids in boarding school or college, send them their most cherished childhood book around exam time.  (When I was in boarding school, I ALWAYS hoped I would get a care package from home).  And for a person dealing with depression, a good story well told can be a welcome break to the cycle of negative thought rumination (a common symptom), but unlike putting a dumb, mindless movie on, reading a book creates a sense of accomplishment and is in itself an enjoyable act.  So here it is, my list:

Caroline’s Annotated List of Favorite Children’s Books

1) A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

The movie is cute, but for me, completely misses the point of this story.  It is above all a book about girls learning to be kind to one another.

2) My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George

May inspire you to run away and live in a tree, too.

3) Mandy, by Julie Andrews Edwards

Mary Poppins knows how to write!  A little orphan girl finds an abandoned cottage in the woods and makes it her own, and in the process endears herself to the wealthy family on whose estate it sits.

4) Winnie the Pooh, by A.A. Milne

It’s like reading a condensed book of philosophy.

5) The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, by Avi

Charlotte goes from being a proper young lady to a bad ass line-hauling, rigging-climbing deck-scrubbing salty lass of the high seas during her passage from England to Providence (where Avi wrote the book).

6) The Redwall series, by Brian Jacques

I credit these books for fundamentally shaping my interests in gardens, architecture, cooking and otters.  I used to come home from school every day, work on my little plot of flowers and then bake a batch of scones and have a tea party while reading them.  Did you know that the covers were illustrated by a RISD graduate?

7) Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White

I cried reading this as a 5 year old with my mom, and I still cry when Charlotte dies.  I also try my best not to kill spiders now, and remember laughing for hours at the photograph of Wilbur jumping off a haystack with a piece of string tied to his tail in his attempt to spin a web.

8) Little House on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Potentially the root of my obsession with the American west.  It reminds me of how simply people used to live, and how superfluous so much of modernity really is.

9) Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren

Just plain ridiculous, plus I loved monkeys when I was little.

10) The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I’m still working through my French copy, but I’m pretty sure this is the most important line:  “On ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur.  L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.”

Charlotte’s Web Illustration, by Garth Williams, via 

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2 thoughts on “Life’s most important lessons, learned before age 10

  1. I agree totally that books are “old friends” who can reset our core values by serving as touchstones to what is really essential. Great blog!

  2. ‘My Side of the Mountain’ was one of my favorites. ‘Le Petit Prince’ still is, but I have since graduated to ‘Wind, Sand and Stars’. I recommend it. ‘Charlottes Web’…where do I start…

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