“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” – G.K. Chesterton
I’m five years old, standing in a drafty church-turned-library. Watery winter sunlight pours through arching windows and catches the dust that trickles from the rafters. All around me, wall to wall and floor to nearly ceiling, brightly colored spines advertise the contents of their hardbound covers. My rural public library is small but mighty, boasting an impressive children’s book selection for a tiny mountaintop town with a population of about 1700, but I don’t know or care about this at the time. I run my fingers along the books I can reach and select a few choice volumes; spines of black, red, or gray, titles written in a drippy or scratchy typeface. Anything with witch, ghost, tragedy, legend, or haunted in the title makes it into my little hands.
If it’s true that reading fiction can enhance empathy, it seems worth the effort to seek out the most heartfelt, bold and imaginative selections related to the American immigrant experience. We elevate ourselves for our children, wanting their world to remain most beautiful, most kind. And without the complicated rationalizations of adulthood, children’s literature has a way of striking at what is universal. Italian, Jewish, Korean, Japanese, and Syrian immigrants in these stories embrace the same Hero’s Journey of departure from an old land, journey to a new land, and the hope and promise of a new life mixed with the inevitable nostalgia for one’s homeland.