In the preface to his recent book, Literature: What Every Catholic Should Know, Joseph Pearce gives a compelling case for the study of great literature. He writes:
The great works of literature help us to know ourselves…. In the great works of literature we discover a deep understanding of man’s being and purpose. We discover that the human person is homo viator, a pilgrim or wayfarer who journeys through the mortal life with eternal life always in mind.
Indeed, the theme of journeying into the great unknown is evident in many of the great works of literature. In children’s literature, we see this in The Odyssey, The Hobbit, the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and so on.
Tales of great journeys into the unknown have a timeless appeal. They are exciting, but even more, they show us how to make wise and generous decisions. Almost always, the characters in these books come to cross-roads where they must choose between generosity and selfishness, between the wide easy road or the steep narrow path. These adventures often require the main characters to exhibit great heroism, and in doing so, they discover more about who they truly are. Further more, as Joseph Pearce points out, we often see the contrast between “the viciousness of the prideful villain with the virtuous humility and humanity of the noble hero.”
So, here is another great book for your middle schoolers to read: Swift Rivers by Cornelia Meigs. A 1935 Newberry Honor Recipient, Swift Rivers tells the story of a teenage boy who sets out to transport logs from the stream near his house, down the Mississippi River, all the way to St. Louis. The task is precarious and at times, seemingly impossible. But he is driven to persevere by the love he has for his grandfather and the urgent need to provide for him.
Read by itself, the book is entertaining and inspiring. One can’t help but admire the hero and his dogged tenacity and generous heart. But there is so much in the book worth discussing, so I made a study guide for my middle schooler. And, yes, I included questions that really made him think critically. Here it is for you to use with your kids:
What books about great journeys have your kids enjoyed?