The enchanting fable of The Little Prince explores the question of what is truly valuable in life. An ode to the insight and innocence of childhood, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s best-seller is cherished by children and adults alike, around the world.
The Value of Thinking Like a Child
Picasso once said:
All children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.
He encourages us all to search for the truths and qualities in all manner of things, the way an artist would. That’s right – Picasso was an early adept of The Great Everything.
His words echoed those of the Great poet, writer and master-of-many-things, Baudelaire:
Genius is no more than childhood recaptured at will.
And funnily enough, those of the creator of Peter Pan too (genius is the power to be a boy again).
True to this artistic outlook, children are frequently more curious and perceptive than adults. They’re free from the received wisdoms, social expectations and material worries that narrow our adult perspectives. Above all, children are free from the fear of being wrong.
But as we age, educators encourage us to think along narrower lines. We care more about looking like we have answers than discovering we’re wrong:
And that’s as good a gateway as any into the genius of The Little Prince.
The Little Prince In A Nutshell
Nowhere is the value of child-like discovery celebrated more tenderly than in this book. It’s one of those rare texts that provides ageless wisdom for children and adults alike. Its central tenets and deft illustrations translate across cultures.
Children quite naturally see with the heart. The essential is clearly visible to them. The little fox will move them simply by being a fox. They will not need his secret until they have forgotten it and have to find it again.
Dismayed by war but buoyed by a life of extreme exploration, in The Little Prince the extraordinary Antoine de Saint-Exupéry set about imagining a planet far more innocent than our own. His protagonist is a boy who (like him) travels far from his roots, queries how all things work and searches avidly for honest answers to life’s quandaries. This convenient study-guide summarises the various encounters through which The Little Prince makes his Great discoveries on truth, love and life.
We share some of our practical takeaways from The Little Prince below, but highly recommend purchasing it and keeping it alongside Viktor Frankl as part of your Inspiring Life Books collection. It’s short and it’ll never go stale.
Five Takeaways from The Little Prince
We’ll leave you to enjoy this book on your terms. Its takeaway points will vary according to where you’re at in life.
These are the ones we choose to focus on, privately or through The Great Everything:
1. Choose (and prioritise) your inner circle
Through his friendship with a fox and his affection for a little rose he’s looked after, the Little Prince realises that novel company is no substitute for deep relationships he’s invested in over an extended period. He is shown what a privilege it is to know someone intimately.
His fox friend tells him:
To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world. […] People have forgotten this truth.
Similarly, the Little Prince has these words for those roses that aren’t the one he’d cared for:
You’re beautiful, but you’re empty… One couldn’t die for you. Of course, an ordinary passer-by would think my rose looked just like you. But my rose, all on her own, is more important than all of you together, since she’s the one I’ve watered. Since she’s the one I put under glass. Since she’s the one I sheltered behind a screen. Since she’s the one for whom I killed the caterpillars (except the two or three butterflies). Since she’s the one I listened to when she complained, or when she boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing at all. Since she is my rose.
2. Tackle problems before they take root
In the Little Prince’s world, there are invasive plants called baobabs. They start as light weeds. But if not uprooted early, they grow deep roots and risk splitting his planet. Dealing with the baobabs in our life as they arise important – small mistakes or misunderstandings can morph into giant issues that prevent us from being what we wish to be.
You must […] pull up regularly all the baobabs, at the very first moment when they can be distinguished from the rose-bushes which they resemble so closely in their earliest youth.
3. Truth is felt, not necessarily seen
Perception is not reality – appearing isn’t being. Independent discovery will fulfil us deeply but is the fruit of looking beyond what’s easy-to-see. Beauty and authenticity lie in what’s hidden. Quoting perhaps the most famous line of all:
On ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.
Or, in less melodic English form: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.
4. Your outlook says more than your status
Retreating to the freedom and fantasy of our childhood mind can open up options in our adult life that we may have shunned without reason. The Little Prince’s openness and unrelenting thirst for truth reflect a mental space we all once inhabited – and should consider revisiting.
So it’s not that adults couldn’t tell a fat boa constrictor from a hat – it’s that their jaded outlook made them miss it.
Tellingly, the French original never refers to its uncomprehending elder characters as adults. It calls them grandes personnes, or big people. This is deliberate: it underlines that it’s outlook, not status (age, in this case) that defines your worth.
All grown-ups were once children. . . but only few of them remember it.
5. Growth requires shedding your former self
As the story ends, the Little Prince leaves behind the empty shell of his former self. Having outgrown his past existence and progressed towards a wiser one, he reminds us not to ponder what was with nostalgia, but to look towards what we each would like to become.
There’s nothing sad about an old shell.
The Gift of The Little Prince
The Little Prince should be a pillar of every child’s early education – and in much of Europe, it is. It’s a must-read for anyone keen to escape the narrow thinking we all fall into, and truly one of our favourite books of all time. You can buy it here (and support The Great Everything in the process) – it makes for a Great gift.
In the words of Mary Poppins author, P.L. Travers:
[It] will shine upon children with a sidewise gleam. It will strike them in some place that is not the mind and glow there until the time comes for them to comprehend it.
Which chilldhood reads do you still turn to now? Drop us a line or share them in the comments section below – we’d like to know what we’re missing out on!