The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Children and Books
presented by Mrs. Conyers Alston, President of the P.N.E.U. Branch, Stellenbosch, C.P. South Africa
It is the wonderful power that books have of presenting experiences, picturing life in its manifold relations and infinite variety that gives their supreme value as a supplement to, I might almost say a substitute for, formal education.
The ideals which children gain from books are their constant associates, and mould their characters even more than human companions.
They live with them not only while they read, but also while they are otherwise engaged; and suggestions so subtle as to pass almost unnoticed linger in the mind, to influence emotions and express themselves in action.
"Folk Lore as a Historical Science."--Gomme.
We English are not a bookish nation like the Germans--yet we have produced the greatest literature since the days of classic Greece. We have produced a great literature simply because we are not a bookish nation. Our literature is great because it is the outcome of living experience. The common lot must be shared. Deeds must be done. And good literature is the natural result of that sane outlook which only comes from a share in the active life of humanity and a living conviction of the significance of daily toil, of words and deeds and human relationships, and, above all, of the beauty of the world, and from a living faith too in God, and the triumph of Good over Evil. As soon as men cease themselves to live, and only write, the effect is evident in a certain lack of virility in their outlook. Feeling degenerates into sentimentality. Women, too, fail as writers when they throw aside the obligations of womanhood and fill their days with the writing of books, looking on at life as spectators, with a view to copy, instead of diving deep into the stream itself. We are suffering to-day from a surplus of professional writers, especially women writers. Too many books are written by people who do nothing else--and therefore their ideas and points of view are too often artificial and out of touch with the realities of life.
Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë were domesticated women with a high sense of the importance of the ordinary tasks that naturally fall to women. If they had held advanced views on the subject of women's lot they might have left us a greater number of books--but would the books have been so well worth reading as those we have? The books that live are not written by those whose lives are spent with the pen always in the hand. Books that stand the test of time are not written by those whose lives are spent in the seclusion of the study or within garden walls, shut out from the stir and whirl of battle. But the study and the seclusion of the garden are necessary too. In their turn they remain a part of every complete life. Only in the hours of silence do we learn to understand the meaning of the struggle and the whirl. The problems of life are only solved for each one in solitude; prayer and the wise interpretation of past experiences guiding us to our conduct of the future.
And in the solving of our life-problems what part ought books to play? How far are they a necessary part of a child's education? The question is a big one. Bookishness in a child is undesirable; nay more, it is prejudicial to a child's development, for bookishness precludes the physical activity and the self-statement by means of play which are the foundation of all growth. Books--or the stories contained in books--are necessary, but the child who is forever seen with a book in his hand is not growing up in a healthy, normal way. A story should suggest ideas and ideas should result in action. Always to be taking in and never giving out is a symptom of mental and physical inertia, and the little girl who spends every spare moment curled up on the sofa with a book is likely to degenerate into that mental parasite, the inveterate novel-reader, who is generally rather a stupid person with no originality. Such a person may read a dozen books without the least idea of the literary merits or demerits of what she has been reading. She may have a wholly illiterate mind. Yet no one can be well educated who has not a keen appreciation of good literature, and children must be trained to read well and wisely.
The literary mind is indeed rare. For a hundred who will read a book for what it has to tell or for amusement, only one perhaps will read it also for its literary value. The appreciation of good literature, for all our schools and universities, remains the possession only of a few.
Yet, just as the average person can be trained to appreciate good music and art, he can also be trained to appreciate good literature. And it is in the nursery that the key to the palace of good literature is opened. The reason why so few people have developed the critical faculty with regard to reading is that so few have grown up in the company of good books--only good books--but have been allowed, while their minds were growing, to read any printed twaddle within the covers of a book or magazine.
Miss Charlotte Mason, the creator of the Parents' National Educational Union, has been a power in education because she was the first person to base her gospel on the training of the child's mind chiefly by means of good literature. In the Parents' Union School children are taught from the beginning by means of good books, and the text book is eliminated as much as possible, and the result is that children learn to appreciate and prefer good literature to the reading of inferior stuff.
Stories make the child's life intelligible to himself and are therefore a means of gaining self-knowledge without self-consciousness. I have never been able to develop any enthusiasm for the Montessori system since I learnt from Madame Montessori's book that stories play no part in her scheme of education. Why, stories are the very source of education among all races. The hunger of the child for stories is the hunger of the race for knowledge. All great teachers have been great story-tellers, and our Lord was the greatest of all. A mere statement of divine truth would never have impressed the simple uninformed minds of His hearers as the parables did. Truth is absorbed and becomes a part of the child's self when enshrined in the form of a story.
Stories, too, enlarge a child's knowledge of the world, develop his imagination and educate his sympathies. Much reading may be a weariness of the flesh, but the well-read person who also takes his share in the work of the world is not likely to be narrow in mind or lacking in sympathy.
Animal stories have always played a large part in the development of children and of the race. Andrew Lang truly remarks that there are not so many fairies in the old fairy-tales after all, but that the most common characters are birds, beasts and fishes, who talk and act like men. What child has not thrilled with excitement at the rehearsal of The Three Bears and Red Riding Hood? There is a stage in the child's life, I've found, between two and three years of age, when he wants The Three Bears at intervals all day long. Æsop's Fables, too, are an important part of every child's mental equipment; and that volume of Folk-tales from Flanders, Beasts and Men, by Jean de Bosschère, so full of humour, sense and nonsense, is a book that could not fail to give delight.
Animal stories do much to nourish in a child's heart the spirit of St. Francis. A child whose heart had melted with pity for the trials of Raggylug would not be likely to forget the needs of his pet rabbits. No child who had learned to love the story of Black Beauty could ever afterwards neglect or ill-treat a horse. Even our visits to the Zoo and walks in the country mean more to us than they did formerly after reading The Jungle Books, and Just So Stories, and Tommy Smith's Animals.
Grimm, too, gives us a lesson in kindness to animals in the tale of The House in the Forest, in which we are told of the prince who could not be freed from the enchantments of a witch until a maiden should come who would be kind to the cock, the hen, and the brindled cow.
And the story of The Ugly Duckling in itself is a beautiful and touching sermon.
Children are sometimes cruel to animals from ignorance and lack of imagination, but with children who have been brought up in an atmosphere of love themselves there is a kinship between them and animals. A slight to a favoured pet is an unforgivable offence. "Love me, love my dog," is their attitude. There is something indeed unnatural about the child who is without any love for animals or interest in their ways. Any fact concerning animals interests a child, and we can hardly give a child too much natural history.
The frog's tongue, the cow's stomach, the snake's fangs, the owl's method of disgorging the bones and feathers of his victims, the rat's ingenious method of stealing eggs, are facts of greater significance than the Battle of Waterloo or the rivers of England, and so Tommy Smith's Animals supplies a thirst in the child for accurate information about the creatures in whom he is chiefly interested, if it cannot rank as imaginative literature as do the Just So Stories.
The story's primary function, however, is not to instruct, but to inspire and cultivate the imagination by the suggestion of ideas. We must not curb the child's imagination by a too strict adherence to accurate information, leaving out the realm of fancy, but we must seize the moment when interest is most alert to teach such facts as will enrich the child's mind. Incidentally, natural history teaches a child to use his own eyes and also is the best means of arousing an interest in the geography of the world. India becomes a reality when we learn it is the home of the tiger; and Africa, the home of the lion. The Jungle, the Prairie, the Veld, the Bush, the Arctic Regions, become interesting and a part of the real world as the child reads of the animals who dwell in these regions.
Seton Thompson's Wild Animals I Have Known is a classic. It is the work of one whose sympathy with animals and powers of observation, aided by imagination and the gift of interpretation, amount to genius. His animals are real characters. They have distinct personalities of their own. All the tragedy and pathos of life is in these stories, and for that reason I would hesitate to read them all through to very little children. I came to this conclusion after seeing a little boy burst into heartbreaking sobs at the death of the fierce old Lobo.
One of the many tragic things about the war has been that children have been growing up familiar with ideas of suffering but it is a strange thing that the sufferings of animals are more real to them than those of human beings. A little girl who burst into tears at the picture of a dead horse on a battle-field saying: "If I had a horse I wouldn't like the Germans to kill it," showed no particular sign of distress when she saw her father, whom she adored, lying wounded and maimed and bandaged in hospital.
Rudyard Kipling takes us to a wonderful adventurous world in The Jungle Book and Just So Stories. I cannot count the times I have read aloud the stories in the "Just So" book. During a dreary month of grey skies and perpetual snow, spent in the hotel of a grim Yorkshire village, those stories were our daily bread, especially those that took us to the sunshine of South Africa, a land we knew. And the greatest favourite of all was The Beginning of the Armadilloes. Only Rudyard Kipling or Lewis Carroll would dare to write anything so absurd. Day after day, for thirty days or thereabouts, those two rascals, Stickly-Prickly, and Slow-and-Solid, played their pranks, and day after day we laughed at the same places, and when Slow-and-Solid said to the Painted Jaguar--"Because if she said what you said she said, it's just the same as if I said what she said she said"--day after day we bounded out of our chairs with joy.
"I like 'How' stories," said a little girl to me. All stories dealing with the beginnings of things, however fantastical they may be, appeal to children even when they know the story is entirely an invention. The Just So Stories respond to this thirst for knowledge of first causes. So does, in a different way, Madam How and Lady Why, and Florence Holbrook's Book of Nature Myths. In Sara Bryant's How to tell Stories to Children (an invaluable little book) there are several delightful stories of this kind, "How the roses become pink," is a gem; and "Why the sea is salt," is a great source of merriment.
Of the Jungle Stories, Rikki Tikki Tavi is the favourite, I find, but I think the delightful name has something to do with the choice. A quaint, fantastic name with a humorous suggestion about it amuses and arrests children's attention at once. "Rumpelstiltskin," "Tom-Tit-Tot," "Puck," "Goody Two-Shoes"--mention those magic names and they are all agog. Nobody would now dream of calling a pet mongoose by any other name than "Rikki Tikki," and we all know a dog called "Kim." In every educated British household where there are children we find the influence of Rudyard Kipling, just as we do of Lewis Carroll.
To think that we in middle life had to grow up without Kipling seems an injustice. We had Alice in Wonderland and The Water-Babies, however, and so we were not altogether starved. People were beginning to understand a child's mind, but the purifying powers of innocent laughter were not appreciated by our grand-parents. You could make a child as miserable as you liked by such stories as Christy's Old Organ and Peep of Day, but jokes were not for the young. Books were primarily for edification, not for amusement, and books written for children were almost invariably religious--religious in a very depressing way. The world was not a beautiful place of buttercups and daisies where we had to serve the Lord with gladness all the days of our life, but a place of trial and temptation, where we had to travel along a path of thorns, with a homed devil ready to spring out and at us, tooth and nail, or to lay traps for our stumbling footsteps, and the golden crown at the end seemed oh, such a long way off, besides being a doubtful reward.
But in the sixties people began to wake up to the truth that we might do more for our children by giving them what they enjoy and want than by stuffing them prematurely with partially understood theology and moralisings, under the delusion that we were improving their minds and assisting the progress of their souls. People began to realise that it is good for children to romp and laugh and that it is good to cultivate their imaginations. There was a distinct movement, which has gone on steadily, in the direction of an effort to understand, appreciate, and enjoy childhood. It is no mere coincidence that The Water Babies was published in 1863, Alice in Wonderland in 1865, the first number of Aunt Judy's Magazine with Mrs. Ewing's Stories in 1866, and At the Back of the North Wind in 1870. And then in the eighties we had such books as Canton's W.V., Her Book, a beautiful and charming idyll of a real little girl not written for children, but just a living picture of how a father's life was enriched--and how ours might be too if we were not so dull--by the joyous companionship of a dear little girl. And then Rudyard Kipling gave us Wee Willie Winkie.
It is indeed a long way from The Fairchild Family to Alice in Wonderland. The difference in the two books is an interesting commentary on the evolution of ideas regarding the training of children.
Of course there were The Arabian Nights and the old fairy tales, which always fascinated children, and the first translation into English of Grimm's Fairy Tales in 1823 had a large sale. But the reading of such books was rather tolerated by broad-minded parents, than encouraged. Certainly the educational value of fairy tales was not dreamt off. And I think even thirty years ago the scorn of Stalky and Co. for Eric would have been deemed irreverent.
Let us arm our children for the slings and arrows of later life by cultivating the spirit of innocent laughter. Let us give them something to laugh at, to laugh at without any suspicion of malice. Thus only do they learn the relative importance of events and how not to make mountains out of molehills. We cannot expect in them a subtle sense of humour, but we can fill their young lives with wholesome laughter, and Lewis Carroll and Rudyard Kipling are always at hand to help us.
Some of the old fairy tales too are full of good-natured fun; such are The Three Sillies, The Discreet Hans and The Hare and the Hedgehog. Brer Rabbit, too, is an exhilarating companion for a wet day.
Beautiful as most of Hans Andersen's tales are, there, is a vein of sadness in them that should make us careful not to read them indiscriminately. Grimm's Fairy Tales, with the lived-happily-ever-after endings are, on, the whole, more wholesome reading. The Snow Queen has a most depressing effect; the reading of it positively makes one shiver. The sorrows and misfortunes of The Ugly Duckling are almost too painful, and even the picture of the silly little fir-tree, lying neglected and forlorn in the garret, to be finally thrown out in the yard and burnt, hurts. The "infinite pathos" of life may be in that little story of the fir-tree, but we do not want children to feel that life is like that. Just now and then it is good to touch their hearts with a note of pathos, but it is joy, for the most part, that we want to give them, and there isn't enough joy in Hans Andersen.
Much of the satire, too, of Hans Andersen, is beyond the comprehension of any child under ten. What child, for instance, under that age could see the satire of The Emperor's New Clothes, or The Nightingale, or even of The Princess and the Swineherd, or The Princess and the Bean? As for The Red Shoes, it is a cruel, immoral story. The idea that a little girl, merely because she loved overmuch her little red shoes--and what child wouldn't love a new pair of red shoes?--should have such a terrible punishment, is all wrong from the ethical point of view. Nor can the story of Little Klaus and Big Klaus be called an edifying one. Little Klaus was a liar and a cheat, yet he is represented as a hero. I avoided this story as long as possible, but a picture of the farmer finding the sacristan in the chest was too much for our curiosity--besides, one child had read it herself and thought it a lovely story--so I yielded. "And you are not to miss one word," said a warning voice, remembering The Fairchild Family, and on the alert for maternal evasions.
To me the idea of the dead grandmother of Little Klaus sitting up in the cart as if alive and the landlord throwing the wine in her face was distinctly unpleasant, but when we came to where Big Klaus kills his grandmother with an axe I stopped, exclaiming: "Oh, this is a horrid story!" "Go on, I love it," said a five-year-old (she who had wept at the picture of a dead horse). There was nothing horrible to her in the idea of the grandmother being killed, because her sympathies had not first been aroused by a description of the grandmother as a dear old lady with silvery hair who loved little children. The grandmother, indeed, did not matter alive or dead. My point of view, therefore, was unnecessarily squeamish. The tricks of Little Klaus are too preposterous, too far removed from anything in their own lives, to have a bad moral influence, and Little Klaus was all the time outwitting a bigger scoundrel than himself. The story is therefore on a different plane from The Red Shoes, for it does not give pain nor offend the child's sense of justice.
This idea of the hero as a clever rogue who outwits his neighbour is common in primitive stories. A high sense of honour is the virtue of a highly evolved people. Considering, indeed, the attitude of primitive races towards Truthfulness there is something to wonder at in the truthfulness of our own children. They invent--yes--but they condemn deliberate "story-telling" in one another as rigidly as we do ourselves, if they are brought up in a truthful atmosphere. But they are pleased when, in the story, the clever rogue gets the better of his stupid neighbour. They accept the tricks of their primitive heroes with laughter, as they did those of the pantomime clown before he had vanished from the stage.
The hero of Puss in Boots attains his success in life by a trick. Jack the Giant Killer conquered by his ability in outwitting the giants. Jack of the Beanstalk was a lazy young boy with a get-rich-quick type of mind. And what a little fraud Grimm's Valiant Little Tailor was! Yet our children whom we bring up to be truthful in word and deed, accept these tales without question--and without harm.
I do not mean to imply, however, that tricking and deceit are invariably condoned and commended in the fairy story. In the Japanese fairy story told by Ozaki of The White Hare and the Crocodiles, the little hare is severely punished for practising deception on the crocodiles, and the penalty was not removed until he had confessed his wickedness and expressed repentance. But it was kindness and sympathy for his sufferings that induced the state of repentance. A curious feature of this story is that the good fairy who comes to the aid of the little white hare is a full-grown man. In the Japanese and Chinese stories the "fairy" corresponds to the media review idea of an angel. In the main we must refrain from being hypercritical with regard to the primitive attitude towards truthfulness.
Generally speaking, however, we find virtue represented in the light of Beauty, and Evil as all that is hideous and horrible.
The story of the beautiful and good girl from whose mouth jewels dropped as she spoke and the ugly evil-hearted step-sister from whose mouth toads and worms fell, is worth volumes of sermons on the beauty of holiness and the ugliness of sin. The physical repugnance of children--and I have noticed the same trait among the natives in South Africa--towards reptiles and crawling creatures is here appealed to with some purpose, as well as the love children share in common with all primitive beings, for bright, glittering things.
In the Japanese story of The Tongue-Cut Sparrow we have again the evil nature punished in a characteristic manner. In this tale we have a kind old man who made a pet of the sparrow, and his ill-natured wife who cut the sparrow's tongue because it had pecked at some starch-paste. The old man, distressed, goes to seek the sparrow and eventually finds him in his home. The sparrow entertains him royally and gives him in a wicker basket valuable gifts on his departure. The wife, jealous and envious, feigns repentance and also goes to visit the sparrow and she too brings back a wicker basket, but on opening it, not beautiful presents come forth, but all sorts of disgusting and horrible live things which bite and pull and scratch. This reminds one of Hawthorne's version of Pandora's Box, which I have found very unpopular. To be left with nothing but Hope is a very poor interpretation of Life.
It is rather surprising that such a terrifying story as The Tale of a Youth who Set out to Learn What Fear Was should still be included in modem editions of Grimm, and that Andrew Lang should have put it in The Blue Fairy Book. To me it is a frightsome tale, but some children read it with equanimity and even amusement. You never may be sure what may frighten a child. I once read aloud version of the Minotaur with disastrous results. That night a child woke up crying out that she had dreamt of "a horse with a man's voice," and the next night of an alarming creature which she described as "a hippopotamus slug with black slushy wings." I certainly should not like to meet such a monster myself.
In the fairy story, goodness means, for the most part, kindness of heart and valour, while wickedness means cruelty and cowardice and ill-nature. Now, kindliness and fearlessness are just the two virtues that children most admire and love, and their opposites do they condemn and dislike. We mothers might well take this to heart. Most educated mothers do try and teach their children to be kind and to control their tempers, but not many realise the importance of teaching children to be brave. Our own fear for our children's personal safety is one of the greatest handicaps they have.
"Don't walk on that wall, you'll break your neck--Don't climb that tree, you'll fall!" exclaims the mother or nurse oblivious to the fact that the desire to climb that tree or wall is a sign of mental as well as physical growth, and that by hampering the child physically we are injuring his spirit, and then mothers explain away any lack of spirit by saying: "Poor child, he is all nerves, you know!" whereas, they themselves are generally responsible. We cannot make brave men and women without letting our children run risks. Physical courage is the forerunner of moral courage.
The fear of being afraid, of which we heard much during the war, is no doubt an echo from the nursery. We have no right to surround our children with a network of physical limitations merely because there is a remote chance that they may hurt themselves.
Virtue is a word that has lost its original significance. There can be no virtue without valour. And children realise this unconsciously. And yet when we talk of a good child we seldom mean a brave child; we mean rather, a faint-hearted child who does not make his mother's heart jump every minute by a superabundance of physical vitality.
Gaiety of heart also counts for much in the old folk tales. Grimm's Two Wanderers is typical. In this story the cheery little tailor, who faced life and misfortune with a smile, finally conquered and married the king's daughter, while the croaking old shoe-maker ended his life in misery.
All fairy stories are true--that is, true to life as seen by primitive folk and by children.
"As we read fairy tales to our children," says Doctor Karl Pearson, "we may read history for ourselves. No longer oppressed with the real and the baroque, we may see primitive human customs and the life of primitive man and woman cropping out at almost every sentence of the nursery tale . . . Back in the far past we can build up the life of our ancestry--the little kingdom, the queen or her daughter as king-maker, the simple life of the royal household, and the humble candidate for the kingship, the priestess with her control of the heathen and her power over youth and maid."
It is by reading the folk-lore of a nation that we come most truly to understand the spirit--the prevailing ideas--that have formed the people. Andrew Lang did a fine work in compiling his various fairy books and has contributed by so doing to the Joy of the world, but he might have done even more if he had kept the stories in each book confined to one source, instead of giving us, for instance, Irish and Swahili and Indian stories in one volume. It is of more value to give a child a series of English, Indian, or Chinese stories, than first one of English, then another of Chinese origin.
While disparaging cosmopolitanism and realising that a first-hand intelligent knowledge of his own surroundings is more important than a second-hand knowledge of Central Africa, we are justified in the belief that, grafted on to the knowledge of his own particular corner of the world, we are giving the child a liberal education by opening his mind to a living interest in far-off countries of the wide world, especially in those--for they appeal to children most--still in a primitive state of civilisation--those, like Peter Pan, that have not yet grown up.
Our children show their kinship with primitive man by their delight in living over again, by means of the folk tale, the life of their own distant past. The doings, the absurdities of primitive human beings, they accept without any consciousness of incongruity. Feed a child's mind on the folklore of all nations and you have set him on the road that leads to the study of history, anthropology and literature, and incidentally given him lessons in geography and even in philosophy.
We cannot read the Japanese fairy stories, for instance, without learning something distinctive about the Japanese people. There is little in them of the love of man for maid and of married bliss as the reward of goodness. In common with the Chinese the virtues held in highest esteem are respect and duty to parents.
There is also a happy indifference to the taking of life--which is not characteristic of Chinese stories.
In the Chinese popular tales we find a high ideal of conduct and of justice. We get glimpses into many curious customs and ceremonies, and we see the Chinese as a hard-working nation, living in a continual state of struggle against poverty. Wealth and learning are held in great regard. Also, we see how death is ever present in their minds by their continual observances at the graves of their ancestors. We see, for instance, a woman bringing money to buy food for the dead in the Land of Shadows. Priests, evil spirits, fairies, Heaven and the Goddess of Mercy, beggars, temples, the love of wealth and the commercial instincts of the people--we find them all in their popular tales. Unlike the Japanese, on the other hand, animals play a small part in their stories. Nor do we find anything of the war-like spirit of Japan. Not conquering heroes, but men of meditation and learning win the day.
The idea of the dead requiring food seems to our unsophisticated mind an echo from the far past. Yet in Lancashire, we are told, a belief still lingers that on the journey to the other world food is necessary! We are not really so civilised as we supposed. What is our practice of "touching wood" or the exclamation "unberufen" but a survival of an act of propitiation or an incantation to some unknown power, analogous to the belief among certain primitive peoples that the name of the totem that protects the tribe must never be mentioned? What is the use of a family crest but a survival of totemism? The Highlanders of Scotland take as much pride in their crests as do the Indians of North America in their totem badges. There are very few people--particularly women--who are completely free from some superstition which has its origin in the primitive beliefs of far-off times. I have heard the wife of an Irish Dean solemnly affirm that she had heard the banshee. I know another woman of the educated classes who, when the cream wouldn't churn, put a splash of cream on the dairy door, "to make the butter come." What was this but an act of propitiation? I have heard another express fear because a swallow flew into a room, asserting that "A swallow in a house is a bad omen." And when we come to the peasantry what do we find? In Galway the Claddagh fisherfolk will not go out to fish if they meet a fox, and in another part of Connaught the people believe foxes understand human speech and can be propitiated by kindness. In Japanese folk-lore we find the same attributes ascribed to the fox.
In certain parts of England and Scotland ill-luck is associated with the hare. In Japan again we find the hare is a prominent character in the old folk tales. And it is not long since there existed a belief in certain parts of Ireland and of Scotland that men were frequently turned into seals. Christianity has never completely subdued paganism, and the early Church Fathers thought it was wiser to adopt rather than to suppress certain pagan ceremonies and customs, harmless in themselves, but in some mysterious way gratifying to the converts. In Fiona MacLeod's book, The Sin-Eater and other Tales, we have a vivid and beautifully written illustration of the manner in which Christian beliefs and paganism exist together in the minds of a simple and primitive people.
After all, we can only educate up to a certain point. It takes more than one generation to humanise a mind. There is much room for improvement in our schools, but in the end it is the home, the people the child meets in the home, the things talked about in the home, the books he finds waiting for him to read, the things his mother says to him as he is tucked up in bed at night, that, for the most part determine his future.
America has much to teach us in the education of children and we might well borrow one excellent idea for the encouragement of the reading of good books. In the large public libraries of the United States there are children's sections in which specially qualified readers are employed to read at certain hours, well chosen stories from the rich fields of English and American literature. They also assist children in the choice of books and sometimes they tell stories instead of reading them.
Let us have children's libraries and reading hours not only in our large cities, but in every country town and village. To a certain extent the work might be voluntary. No work would be more rewarded or could leave a more beneficial mental influence on the reader herself, and many educated women and girls of leisure might well take it up. The work would, of course, have to be organised, and have a distinct educational aim. Think what an hour in fairy-land would mean to many poor children.
About the age of ten or eleven children outgrow the fairy tale, desiring something more like life as they know it to be or to have been in the past. They still want adventure of course--battle, murder and sudden death--but on a larger canvas and semi-historical. Then comes the call for the great Epics and Sagas and Eddas, for such stories as that of Robin Hood, King Arthur, The Odyssey, The Cid, The Song of Roland. Besides these, to girls, Mrs. Ewing and Mrs. Molesworth make their appeal at this age, but Mrs. Molesworth they soon outgrow.
And now we enter the palace of literature where dwell Scott, Dickens, Kingsley, Maria Edgeworth, Charlotte Brontë, Jane Austen, Thackeray, George Eliot. Boys may be excused, perhaps, for preferring Marryat and Fennimore Cooper to Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë.
For children under ten the best we can give them is still the oldest. At the same time our children, as heirs of all the ages, have a right to enjoy the best literature for children of modem times. It is strange that, with the exception of Mrs. Ewing, the best books of modem times for children are written by men, not women. Women excel as novelists, but they cannot stand beside men in the presentation of the purely imaginative and fanciful story that appeals so much to young children. Dickens, Scott, Hawthorne, Rudyard Kipling, Ruskin, Poe, Kingsley, Lewis Carroll, George MacDonald, have given children generously of their best, and that best we grown-ups can enjoy almost as much as the children themselves.
Proofread by Naomi Goegan and Phyllis Hunsucker, Feb 2013
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