The Child's Reading
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THE modern mother is nothing if not systematic. Her child's hours, its food, and its studies are all carefully planned to the smallest detail, yet when it comes to its reading she is told by some authorities that she should let the child itself take the lead. Not "what must children read," but "what will they read," is the question. A child should develop along its own lines as far as possible. To destroy its individuality, if that could be done, would be the greatest possible wrong. We can only look on, see the bent of the childish mind and, not by antagonizing it, but by training it, secure the best results. This is true of its reading more than of anything else. What is mental pabulum for one is husks for another.
Juvenile Books Plentiful.-The child is initiated into literature by way of "Mother Goose," "Red Riding-Hood," "The Three Bears," and "Cinderella," and naturally its imagination develops first. It demands stories-fairy stories prefer-ably. Luckily for it, we have more to-day than ever before, and better ones. Andersen's and Grimm's are the simplest, then come Lang's "Red," "Blue," and "Green" books of the wonder-stories of all countries. These lead up to "Alice in Wonderland," "The Water Babies," and the stories by "Uncle Remus."
About this time the child's desire to investigate will make it desirous to know more about nature. Never were children so happy in their opportunities for this study as to-day. Our book-shelves are crowded with volumes each more delightful than the last. There is the series of stories for the smallest children, called "Feathers, Furs, and Fins"; there are those fascinating volumes, "Wild Animals I have Known," "The Red Animal Book," "The Jungle Tales," and those charming companion volumes, "Among the Forest People" and "Among the Meadow People"; there are "The Bee People" and its sequel, and there are numberless books on birds. All of these are valuable, and the more of them children read the better.
After this the child will want books about other children story-books; and good ones of this sort are not too easy to find. They are in the book-stores, but side by side with others that are sentimental, or too pathetic, or simply trashy. The only way to choose is to read for yourself before buying. Do not fill your child's mind with rubbish. Know your author; see that the style is good, the matter simple and wholesome. It is a safe rule to reject nine books before taking the tenth.
Instructive Interest of the Classic Tales.-It will be found that the famous stories are the best after all. "King Arthur" will hold the attention for a long period. The love for stories of adventure will become more pronounced after this is read, and then may come "Robinson Crusoe" and Church's "Stories from Homer and Virgil." In connection with these last two there may be some reading of mythology, beginning with AEsop's "Fables" and Hawthorne's "Wonder-Book." The simplified forms of the "Nibelungenlied" may follow these, and the stories from Norse folk-lore. There will certainly be a call for stories about fighting, at this point, and the mother in gratifying it may quietly introduce a little history. The tales of the Crusades and the life of Robin Hood and his "merrie men" will give a glimpse of England under Richard Coeur de Lion and John, and explain Magna Charta. After this the story of Raleigh and his adventures in South America will give interest to the beginnings of our own history. Nothing could be more fascinating than the exploits of Drake, of La Salle, and of Marquette, and the experiences of the early colonists. The French and Indian War is full of romantic incident, and so is the Revolution, from the Boston Tea-party to the treason of Arnold and the surrender of Cornwallis. There are any number of delightful books for children on all these subjects.
The desire to know more of individual heroes will open the subject of biography, and the lives of Washington and Putnam, and after these the lives of Napoleon and Wellington, and those of the heroes of the War of 1812, may be read. The Henty books will be enjoyed along this line.
Of course children will be interested in Indians. They will learn of Massasoit, Pocahontas, and Black Hawk in the course of their reading of history, and a little later they will delight in Cooper's novels. We know now that his might be called " wooden Indians" and are far from being true to life; nevertheless they will serve. The real Indian will be found in Park-man's " Oregon Trail."
Romance and Poetry.-Probably before this your child will have been introduced to Shakespeare, either directly or by way of the "Tales" by Charles and Mary Lamb. How early children should read Shakespeare is often discussed, but it is to be settled by the children themselves; they should read him just as early as they will. In that exquisite book "Captain January," the minister gives the old captain a Bible, a dictionary, and Shakespeare, as comprising a complete curriculum for little Starlight. If there is evil in Shakespeare, there is none which will contaminate a child's mind, and there is a wealth of good to bless it. It is scarcely necessary to say that the Bible should be read, whether perfectly understood or not. Its stately measures, its stirring stories, its wealth of imagery and beauty will be a means of education quite apart from its sacred value. With the Bible should be given "Pilgrim's Progress," which will be a real delight to the imaginative child, especially in some of the newer editions with their artistic illustrations. It is said that Lincoln's wonderful use of English came from reading over and over his little library of five volumes, two of which were the Bible and "Pilgrim's Progress."
The love of poetry varies greatly in children. Many wish to hear it read simply for its rhythmic sound, while others will not listen to it at all. One mother recently said that she read to her five-year-old boy the whole of "Paradise Lost" and Pope's translations of the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey." Naturally enough, perhaps, she considered that she had a genius to train, whereas really the child's ear alone, and not his mind, was attracted. But without inquiring too closely into the reason why children listen to poetry, we should seize the earliest opportunity to teach them some of the best. Macaulay's "Lays of Ancient Rome" will appeal to all, as will the martial bits from "Marmion" and "The Lady of the Lake." There are the famous old English ballads and the stirring songs of the Cavaliers; "Hiawatha" and parts of "Evangeline" are delightful; so are "Sir Launfal" and the "Idylls of the King."
Guard a child sedulously against everything sensational and vulgar; give it books which are the best of their kind, books of real worth, and its taste is already trained.
There is a word to be said in favor of teaching children to read aloud. It not only impresses upon them what they are reading, but it cultivates a habit which is capable of giving much pleasure to others. It also enables the parent who listens to correct a mispronunciation or give some explanation, and make it certain that the child's reading is intelligent. A word of warning may be given against letting children read too rapidly. When books are drawn from a public library they are apt to be devoured-" skipped" through half comprehended. If it is understood that only one book, or at the most two, may be drawn during a week, they will be read carefully and perhaps twice over.
Instead of buying a whole library of books for children or depending on the local public library to supply them, it is a good idea to buy one of the best collections of literature for children, such as our Library, which in its twelve volumes has the choicest stories and poems, exactly what they need. There they will find selections from "Robinson Crusoe," "Uncle Remus," "Alice in Wonderland," fairy tales from the best sources, stories of natural history, of animals, birds, and bees, and much delightful poetry. With a quantity of such things as these always at hand, a child acquires a love of good literature and a taste for it before he knows it.
The Love of Books.-While the public library is an inestimable blessing, it should never be used to furnish the whole of a child's reading. Children should own their books as far as possible, and learn to treat them with respect. A bookcase should belong to them alone, which they will take pride in filling. As they grow older the volumes they prize at first may be hidden away and their places filled with others, but every book should be valued. Let their birthday and Christmas presents consist largely of books which have more than temporary worth.
If a child loves its books it will not wish to lend them, and at the risk of seeming selfish, one must deprecate the passing about of its treasures unless it is so situated that this seems really necessary. When children have access to a lending library it does not seem wise that they should be permitted to borrow indiscriminately from one another. Books are soon injured by going from hand to hand, and it is a real grief to have them hurt. All of us whose books are our personal friends, tenderly loved and cherished, must desire to see our children grow up with the same feeling.