by Anniel 4/29/15
I chose for several years to work one day a week as a volunteer librarian for three classes at the elementary school my children attended. It was a lot of work, a lot of fun, and I learned much about children’s literature from the children themselves. One of the best lessons I learned was how children react to the choices they make in the books they read.
I had always tried to be friendly with the kids as they came to check out their books and they were polite enough. One day soon after I began volunteering, the first girl in line for checkout put her book down and, as I computer scanned it, I saw it was about someone making a quilt. I picked it up and told her I was a quilter and how interesting the book looked. The next girl in line plunked her book down with a challenging look on her face, and I knew immediately I had better find something to say about her choice, too. One by one the girls watched as I scanned their books and commented on them.
Then came the boys, eyes watching carefully to see what I would say about their books. Fortunately the first boy had a book on spiders, so I told him he had to scan the book by himself because the cover had the grodiest spider I had ever seen and I couldn’t touch the book. For a few weeks the boys went to great lengths to find the most disgusting picture books available. I perfected a convincing shudder and icky noises to keep them satisfied. [pullquote]As far as I can tell, staying silent and not reading worthwhile books or telling stories to children is the modern equivalent of book burning.[/pullquote]
That first day was kind of fun, but it only got better as the weeks went by. The girls began spending a few moments showing me the books they were checking out and what they thought of the books they had read. The boys seemed to listen in and they became (somewhat) more serious in what they read and spoke about. I wound up having all the kids scan their own books in and out themselves so we would have time to talk about their thinking. I’m still surprised how much love I developed for those children and how much I learned from them.
The younger children seemed to prefer books on Fairy Tales or mythical creatures, so I revisited many of the stories I knew from my youth and talked to the children about those tales. I knew every Fairy Tale or spin-off available in the library.
November 27, 1991, was the 6th birthday of my youngest daughter, Cate. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast had been in the theaters for “FIVE WHOLE DAYS, MOM, and we haven’t seen it yet.” So off we went with the birthday girl, a few of her friends, our oldest daughter, and a gaggle of unwilling brothers and their friends to see the movie.
The boys were so mortified we had to send them to sit a few rows away in order to escape their eye-rolling sighs and histrionics, while the girls, no matter their age, enjoyed every minute of the movie. Cate and her friends, in particular, loved the story and were happy until we got out of the theater. That was when the boys started their critique of the movie.
“Did you hear that stupid teapot sing ‘surely as the sun rises in the east?’ It doesn’t either. And aren’t dancing forks and knives just so sweet?” A technically correct statement about the sun by an Alaskan kid, but maddening for the girls to hear, they loved the teapot and dancing china and silverware. The girls told the boys to be quiet, but no, they just couldn’t stop panning the “childish” movie.
Finally we got to the pizza place for dinner and cake and one of the girls asked me what I thought of the movie. “What do you think the movie was about?” I asked. Everyone looked puzzled and said it was “a stupid love story” from the boys, or “an awesome love story” from the girls.
“You missed the whole point,” I said, “What it teaches you is that men are all beasts until beauty tames them.” Gaping mouths greeted this statement, and then silence descended on the table.
“You don’t really believe that, do you?” my oldest daughter finally asked. She looked shocked.
“Absolutely I do,” I said and continued chewing my pizza.
“Do you think we’re beasts or something?” asked my oldest son. He looked distinctly puzzled, and I knew I had to be careful.
“Not entirely,” I answered, “but you might have better table manners if you took the movie seriously and were trying to impress some cute girl your own age.” I finally told them they were all fine young men and women, but getting married to the right person at an appropriate time might have much to teach them.
The boys finally settled into a more quiet and rational discussion of the movie.
I’m trying not to offend any Hans Christian Anderson fans here, but really, what is the worth of Fairy Tales, or even Nursery Rhymes for that matter? Should you tell them to your children and grandchildren? What exactly do they teach about life?
Let’s see, the main ingredients of good Fairy Tales usually consist of a handsome heroic prince, probably on a quest, or disguised by a curse on his outward appearance, like being a beast or a frog; a heroine, beautiful of course, but with a hardship or curse placed upon her because of her goodness and beauty; an evil, jealous witch or step-mother, sometimes both; various fairy godmothers, dwarves, animals, enchanted castles, and magic mirrors. Love versus jealousy and hate, good versus evil are the most important ingredients in the whole mix.
When I was a child all parents I knew taught their children Nursery Rhymes, nonsense songs and Fairy Tales as a way of preserving the great truths of human existence. When and why did that stop?
Maybe it began with the demise of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. After all parents shouldn’t lie to their children, should they? I remember the serious articles written about the deleterious effects on a child when he finds his parents have not always been truthful about Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. Such horror!
Yes, I do know parents who don’t want to upset their precious little ones’ psyches or “scare” them, or “lie” to them about what is true or false. And there are those who don’t want their children to be “uncomfortable” about such things as gruff billy goats or Ogres. As though children will never face real fright that a story might have prepared them for. As far as I can tell, staying silent and not reading worthwhile books or telling stories to children is the modern equivalent of book burning. Children’s minds are impoverished when their civilization is lost to them.
Yet these same parents will allow their children’s reading at school to be determined by poor teachers and Common Core. Much of what now passes for children’s literature is ugly and degrading, and the same parents who want their children protected are willing to submit to the bilge being taught in the schools.
People stopped telling civilizing tales for young children, and later banned books like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, or even Shakespeare, because they are supposedly racist or whatever. Even in college libraries there are those who want to put warning labels on the covers of non-PC books they decide might be offensive to somebody.
Nursery Rhymes, Fairy Tales and good books can teach boys to be chivalrous and heroic, to appreciate virtue, in themselves and in the women they come to admire. Girls learn to look at the dorks and geeks as more than their outward appearance. They, like the boys, can learn what is admirable in the people about them. Through Fairy Tales they learn about restraint and the proper bounds for love and marriage.
The best children’s books should enlarge the children’s minds, and have good taste in reading as one objective.
When are children going to be allowed to really read again, to obtain the knowledge necessary to grow up as civilized beings, and when will all the nonsense stop?
Treat a child you know to a good book today. Talk to the child about what they think about what they read. Their insight could surprise you.
You might even try reading aloud, for love of that child. • (2699 views)