Good books give us strength

Author and ALMA jury member Mårten Sandén reflects upon reading as a source of solace and diversion during the corona pandemic.

The past few weeks I've been reading more than usual. Fiction and children's books; biographies and long-form internet articles. The reason, of course, is the corona pandemic, which has kept our whole family mostly at home, with all the anxiety and tedium that entails. But reading has been more than a way to pass the time. As ever, it is a source of solace too.

Nothing opens doors and windows quite like a book

Good literature has an ability to put life in perspective. When you’ve been cooped up for a while, it’s easy to forget how big the world outside really is. When that happens, nothing opens doors and windows quite like a book.

Katherine Paterson was the ALMA laureate in 2016, and her book Bridge to Terabithia won the Newberry Medal in 1978. I first read this book as an adult, but I’ve gone back to it again with my own children. It's about a boy named Jessie who feels alone and neglected, and a girl named Leslie who comes into his life like a whirlwind, and it's a story that has just about everything.

If you need to remember how big life is beyond the walls of home, read a good children’s book.

The portrait of the friendship between Jesse and Leslie makes me think of my own friends, even though I can’t be with them in person right now. The children's adventures in Terabithia, the fantasy world they share, remind me of the wide world that’s still there outside my apartment. Jesse's shy artist dreams, his feelings for Leslie, and the loss he suffers at the close of the book are woven into a bittersweet, contradictory finale equally as rich as life itself.

Good books give us strength. They make us remember more clearly, dream more vividly. And perhaps because they are so tightly entwined with the very foundations of our grown-up selves, good children’s books reach extra deep.

If you need to remember how big life is beyond the walls of home, read a good children's book. Read Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson.

Mårten Sandén
Author and member of the ALMA jury