Thursday, August 23, 2012

Plenty of batteries, just in case

Another good article on books for kids—this time specifically for boys: Martin Cothran, on persuading boys to read:
It is now well-recognized that boys are not reading. What is the problem? Most commentators want to say that boys have an aversion to books. But the problem is quite the opposite: books—modern books, that is—have an aversion to boys. ....

.... The entire educational establishment has tried for over 50 years to force boys into their effeminate mold, and in the process, they’ve succeeded in evacuating literature of all the things boys like in books: action, adventure, danger, bloodletting—and an iron moral code that is taught, not by smarmy sermonizing, but by immersing them in the moral universe of a story about a hero who not only believes in this code, but enforces it with a vengeance. ....

Most boys are born cynics and are rightly suspicious of moralistic platitudes. They respect words only to the extent that they see them followed by actions. Tell them (in mere words) what the right thing to do is, and they will look at you suspiciously and walk away. Do the right thing—preferably at the risk of your own person or reputation, and they will follow you in zealous allegiance.

The older authors of books for boys knew this: they forsook the sermonizing for the story of men in action. G.A. Henty, Johnston McCulley, Anthony Hope, H. Rider Haggard, P.C. Wren, Howard Pyle, C. S. Forester, as well as Western authors like Louis L’Amour and Max Brand—these were authors boys not only didn’t avoid, but sought out. Even a few female authors were on to this secret about boys: Baronness Orczy, she of Scarlet Pimpernel fame, being the most notable, as well as Laura Ingalls Wilder. Their books were once illumined by flashlights under bed covers so that, late at night, when they were supposed to be asleep, the young male reader could find out what happened next. To do the same with most modern therapeutic fiction would be a waste of batteries. ....
And he offers some more suggestions, among which:
  • Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder (and anything else Wilder ever wrote)
  • Robin Hood, by Roger Lancelyn Green
  • King Arthur, by Roger Lancelyn Green
  • Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • The Mask of Zorro, by Johnston McCulley (and the rest of the Zorro books)
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel and El Dorado, by Baroness Orczy (and the rest of the Scarlet Pimpernel books)
  • Men of Iron, by Howard Pyle (and anything else Pyle ever wrote)
  • Shane, by Jack Shaeffer
  • The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
  • Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain
  • The Jungle Books, by Rudyard Kipling
  • Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
  • The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Tell your boy to read them. And when you send him to bed, tell him to go to sleep—but make sure there are plenty of flashlight batteries around the house. Just in case he needs them. [more]
The Dangerous Article for Boys | Catholic Lane