Children are much smarter than adults. They play outside, tell people their opinions straight, and finagle their way into forbidden bedtimes, junk foods, and TV shows.
There's a lot we could learn from children, but we probably shouldn't make their heads any larger then they are already (both metaphorically and biologically. Kudos to every mother ever on that one). We can learn even more from children's authors -- because they're the ones who teach kids to wise up and have ethics and all that jazz (this all comes straight from literature. No parenting plays a role.)
And when it comes to children's authors, my favorite is Norton Juster, author of "The Phantom Tollbooth." Why? Because he lays low... there haven't been any sequels to the book and, even in the age of "Twilight" and "Harry Potter," there have been no films turning Milo or the Humbug into weirdly sexualized characters.*
Think I'm wrong? Think that adults already learned their lessons from children's literature when we were...well, children? Nope. If we had absorbed everything that Judy Blume and Astrid Lindgren wanted us to, there would be no such thing as the finger moustache tattoo. Just trust me.
Here are just a few lessons that we can learn from "The Phantom Tollbooth." As it turns out, Juster is a very wise guy indeed.
1) Choose your words carefully: I'm looking at you, talk radio. In the land of Dictionopolis, Milo is arrested because he and his companions have been careless with their words (which function as sort of a currency there. Hence the "diction"). Of course, we don't arrest people for poor use of words, given free speech and everything. ** But I promise you that if you are consistently say things that aren't quite what you mean, the consequences will catch up with you. Anyone else remember how the words "47 percent" tanked a presidential campaign?
2) Most people are not exceptional: In the middle of the woods, Milo finds a shack purporting to be the home of "the shortest tall man in the world." On subsequent visits, the same guy claims to be the tallest short man in the world, the thinnest fat man in the world, and the fattest thin man in the world. Guess what? He's just a dude. People talk too much about how fantastically extraordinary they are. Mostly in college classrooms. So, sorry twentysomethings -- hang up your guitar by its straps and go find a day job.
3) Don't assume: In Digitopolis (land of numbers, y'all), Milo is offered something to eat -- he accepts, only to find himself growing more and more ravenous after each bowl. Turns out it's subtraction stew, and the people in Digitopolis start eating when they're full and stop when they're hungry. When you're somewhere new, sit back and those who know their way around lead -- just for a little bit. There's no need to pretend you know Portuguese ... and now you've just ordered us all sheep's head.
4) Know your limits: Milo comes across a conductor whose job is to conduct the day -- as he lifts his hands, the sun rises, and he doesn't stop conducting until nightfall. When the conductor is resting, Milo decides to try his hand at conducting, but before he knows it the sky is purple, it's snowing, and three weeks have passed. Just...don't do that. Don't say you can volunteer 20 hours of week after work, don't say that you're going to run a marathon this year if you've never laced up your sneakers, and definitely don't do a keg stand. People will still like you when you're not pretending to be able to do ridiculous things.
5) Boredom is underrated: Seriously, have you ever been so bored you wanted to find yourself lost and alone in a foreign land with a vital mission to accomplish and death around every corner? Milo only got himself into that hot mess because he was bored. And if you feel similarly, you should probably consider going into the CIA or being a drug dealer. Just pop in "Step Brothers." See? Boredom gone.
See what I mean? There are plenty of lessons that adults have yet to learn from children's literature. We should all just stop reading adult literature and go back to the books that nourished our souls as kids -- what have grown up books ever taught us anyway? Dan Brown: people get too worked up over books they can buy in an airport. The Help: It's easy to be casually racist if you slap on a happy ending. Dostoyevsky: Everyone's name sounds the same.
Children's literature is much more inspiring.
*Apparently there is an animated film. I refuse to acknowledge the veracity of that claim.
**There are days when I'd be willing to reconsider that right. This day, for example.
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