Last week a couple of little girls came into my wife's library and asked, "Do you have any sad books?" What a great question. There's a lot to love about sad stories. For one thing, sad stories remind us whatreally matters to us. We feel sadness at the loss (or else the absence) of things we value. I don't suppose they knew it, but the girls who asked my wife for sad stories were looking to affirm the things that mattered most to them by feeling what it would mean not to have them. By looking to enter into another person's sadness (even a fictional person's sadness), they were looking to experience their own lives more fully. That's why I love sad stories.
In children's fiction, nobody does sadness like Kate DiCamillo. The same ache haunts The Tale of Despereaux, The Adventures of Edward Tulane, The Magician's Elephant, and Because of Winn-Dixie (I haven't read her other novels). In each of those stories, the hurt, the loneliness, and the sadness nourish the souls of characters and readers alike.
There's a great moment in Edward Tulane in which a grandmother tells an awful fairy tale: a beautiful but self-absorbed princess is turned into a pig and eaten. The granddaughter is shocked at the suddenness and brutality with which the story ends. "No one is living happily ever after," she complains.
"But answer me this," the grandmother says. "How can a story end happily if there is no love?"
It's a great question, and one we needn't protect our children from. Without love, there is no hope for a happy ending. The good news is that we live in a world that, though broken, is still shot through with love. Every sadness, every hurt is redeemable. Which is why we need not pretend that hurt and sadness don't exist. So sing sad songs. Tell sad stories.
Tomorrow I'll tell about my favorite sad book for children. Meanwhile, what are yours?