The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Children's Books

by Mrs. J. C. Barnett.
Volume 14, 1903, pgs. 374-376

No education is of quite the same value as that which comes from acquaintance with good literature. "Lost in a book" describes one happy condition in child life. Later on we scarcely succeed in being quite lost. How many sensitive or nervous boys and girls creep away from the frictions of nursery or schoolroom life and find peace and soothing in the world which a wonder-working genius has created for them!

It is not good that boys and girls should read everything that comes in their way. We must trouble ourselves to select for them. The wee ones must have their fairy tales and old-fashioned nursery tales, which never lose their charm. Grimm's and Andersen's still hold their honoured place. Andrew Lang's Fairy Books, Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Books give the same wonderful delight. We are a little jealous of them lest they displace our own dearly-loved Arabian Nights, Robinson Crusoe, and The Pilgrim's Progress. But of that there is no fear, for these are among the immortals.

With free libraries and with friends ever ready to borrow and to lend, there is the danger of indiscriminate reading. It is not enough that we forbid "penny dreadfuls" and paper-covered novelettes. There are books with nothing actively bad in them which yet have a pernicious effect on young minds. The kind of adventure book, in which a runaway boy sails round the world, falling in with a rich treasure ship, and after unprecedented dangers, hair-breadth escapes, and deeds of valour, is created Admiral of the British Navy, is an unhealthy book. It is not true to life, and does not tend to encourage a boy to practise honourable living in the narrow sphere which will probably be his. Not more stimulating in view of the life awaiting our girls is the kind of love story which too often falls into their hands, and which if we took the trouble to read it we should term "utterly ridiculous."

Tastes are formed unconsciously. Good literature gives discrimination, and one accustomed to it from childhood simply cannot read what is inferior. Young people who love Scott, Dickens, or Thackeray, will turn from slip-shod writing and from books whose moral tone is doubtful. It is possible to read without remembering, but it is not possible to read without being influenced. We may not recollect a single thought of the writer's, but he has nevertheless given our mind more or less of an inclination to think in his way. And it is just here that the power of a book lies. The queen bee to begin with is an ordinary bee; superior feeding makes her larger and handsomer than her sisters and brothers. Literature supplies food for the mind, and our very souls are moulded to a great extent by what we read.

For the teaching of morals, Charles Kingsley thought nothing outside of the Bible could come up to the old Greek stories. That was why he wrote his Heroes, and dedicated it to his children. Ideals of life are gathered from books. A wise mother said lately, "A boy who keeps company with David Livingstone, with Nansen, with any of the great explorers, warriors, or missionaries, may fall into mischief occasionally, but he will be utterly incapable of meanness."

Sermons and moral dissertations are unsuitable for young people, but books like Miss Yonge's, Mrs. Prentiss's, and those of the Misses Warner, teach almost unconsciously the great truths of religion and life.

Reading aloud in the family circle is a delightful bond. Macaulay's plays and Scott's poems, if read by father or mother, will appeal to all except the very young children. In fact, as George Macdonald said of Tennyson's lyrics, most poetry "was made to be read aloud." We miss the music in silent reading. A little girl had heard Scott's Lady of the Lake, and for weeks after, her play hours were spent in dressing her dolls to represent the different characters and in making them play their parts. Another young child conducted her dolls through the stirring scenes of Ivanhoe. She is a woman now, and her name is an honoured one in literature, but she dates her dawn of literary taste to her mother's reading of Scott in the family.

Perhaps the best way to read a long book aloud is for each to take their turn in reading. Distinctness of utterance and absence of self-consciousness will be acquired, and the quality of voice will almost insensibly improve.

The good old fashion of "learning by heart" is worth cultivating. I have heard of a gentleman who paid his family for committing to memory Paradise Lost. The lofty music of it was worth the expense to him and the trouble to them, and in the silent times of life the words will recur to them with uplifting power. It is good to have within us words of inspiration which may be brought to mind in an hour of need. It is our duty, not only to give our children pleasure and profit for to-day, but to make provision for their future.

If we give our children music and books, we give them two pleasures which can never fail them. There are children who take to books as naturally as they took to walking, other children have to be greatly encouraged ere they find pleasure in reading for themselves, but all children love to be told stories. How they hang upon us and love us, and how we are encouraged to go on as we repeat the old nursery tales! And how proud we feel as they applaud our telling of a brand-new story, and hear them say in wondering tones, "Did you make it up?"

Our consideration of juvenile literature would be incomplete without a reference to story-telling. Round the fire on a winter evening is there anything more entrancing? In the midst of comfort and light how readily the imagination roams to far-distant scenes! What thrills of delightful fear! What eyes of intense excitement! How the little ones beg to stay up just a little longer! But we grown-ups must not do all the telling. A very good plan is for each person to tell a bit of a story; the eldest may begin to make it up, and will take care to leave off at an interesting part. It is very interesting to watch how one will add a serious touch and another a comic element to what is certain to be a very varied tale. A little practice in this sort of story-telling may lead to individual telling of complete stories, and the result a skill and fluency in the use of language as well as a development of literary talent where it exists.

"My mind to me a kingdom is."

We can bequeath nothing more precious to our families than a love of books; it will be a comfort and refuge to them, and it will save them from the deteriorating effect of a devotion to riches and to mere things.

Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, November 2008