Friday, May 02, 2008

Story Time

Today's reading at the Charlotte Mason blog was on the importance of restricting children's reading to good literature:

For the children? They must grow up upon the best. There must never be a period in their lives when they are allowed to read or listen to twaddle or reading-made-easy. There is never a time when they are unequal to worthy thoughts, well put; inspiring tales, well told. Let Blake’s ‘Songs of Innocence’ represent their standard in poetry; De Foe and Stevenson, in prose; and we shall train a race of readers who will demand literature––that is, the fit and beautiful expression of inspiring ideas and pictures of life. Perhaps a printed form to the effect that gifts of books to the children will not be welcome in such and such a family, would greatly assist in this endeavour.

Now I've never been quite that strict. I haven't even read them Blake or Defoe yet. But that printed form about gifts of books . . . now that is tempting. I wonder where you submit it.

A few weeks ago a kind lady at church gave the ducklings a wrapped present. When they opened it, they found it contained a book, which, of course, we were at that point honor bound to read to them. Unfortunately, the text of the book consisted of a toddler mouse obnoxiously defying his mother at every opportunity all day long (with no consequences), culminating in running away and hiding for hours in the evening (an idea which fortunately has not yet occurred to the ducklings).

Needless to say, it was not exactly great literature either.

It might have done as a cautionary tale against overly-permissive parenting, but we couldn't figure out what the point would be in reading such a book to a small child. (The lady at church, when I thanked her the next week, unknowingly confirmed my suspicions that she had looked no farther than the "cute little mousie" on the cover.)

At this point, I improvised, which I can keep getting away with until one of them learns to read. Instead of young Tip starting the day by insisting on a different shirt than his mother had set out, my new and improved Tip proudly announced to his mother that he had already gotten dressed all by himself. Throughout the book I either re-interpreted Tip's behavior or made sure it did not go unchallenged. The final incident of running away became a game of hide-and-seek.

My retelling was not great literature either, but at least the ducklings were inspired to put on their own clothes and help fix supper and play hide-and-seek like Tip the Mouse instead of the original behaviors. Small children not yet being highly discerning in the literary line, they were obsessed with it for about a week anyway.

It has quietly gone to Goodwill. I hope they don't notice. We're back to Make Way for Ducklings and Peter Rabbit.


Steve said...


Great re-interpretation for poor Tip.

Baleboosteh said...

We did the same with a book by Helen Oxenbury. Lovely illustrations but the text was appalling. My children can behave like little monsters without any literary encouragement, thank you very much! We found it a home in the recycling bin.

the Joneses said...

Ha! That's great. There have been a few of our books that have Disappeared like that, too. Although most of their books come from their grandmothers, who are both serious readers. So we usually don't have to worry.

And I see the point of not letting children read twaddle... but as they get older they'll probably go through twaddle stages (surely the BabySitter's Club type books are twaddle), and as long as the books are unobjectionable otherwise, they're welcome to them. It's a bleak life with all whole-wheat bread and no cotton candy!

-- SJ