Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"The first thing is to read aloud..."

Crisis Magazine reprints Russell Kirk's 1979 essay, "What Should Children Read?," from which:
.... The first thing is to read aloud to children—and to continue oral readings long beyond the ages of seven or eight, so long as the children continue to enjoy group-reading. Thus children’s vocabularies and comprehension are built up well before those children are able to unravel for themselves the mystery of transforming abstract letters on a printed page into mental images. Besides this, one ought to give books to children as presents, show interest in whatever they are reading, and talk about one’s own favorite books with boys and girls. ....

Were I asked what children’s books have charmed me longest, I should answer, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Lewis Carroll is as wondrously comical now as he was in Victoria’s reign, and his miniature theater of the absurd, so impossible, nevertheless somehow introduces a child to firm knowledge of reality.

Were you to inquire of me what author of children’s literature moves me most as an adult, I would tell you, “George MacDonald.” He immensely influenced G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, among many others. Don’t fail to give your children At the Back of the North Wind, The Princess and the Goblin, The Princess and Curdie, The Golden Key, and MacDonald’s other books for the young, all of which also teach adults.

Were the question put to me, ‘What children’s author of our century has had the healthiest influence upon the rising generation?” I should tell you, “C.S. Lewis.” Get his Chronicles of Narnia, seven volumes, beginning with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and ending with The Last Battle. These make up a children’s parable of the Christian understanding of the human condition. ....

Should you want to know how to teach courage and fidelity to children through literature, I would commend to you some very old books and some very new ones. Among the old, I would have you turn to the legends of King Arthur and his Table Round, in Sidney Lanier’s version or Howard Pyle’s. (And don’t forget Pyle’s own Book of Pirates and his Jack Ballister’s Fortunes). Among the new books there stand eminent Tolkien’s fantasies, beginning with The Hobbit: Frodo does live. Older boys, and some girls, will be ready for Tolkien’s three-volume Lord of the Rings, with all its sorcery and derring-do in Middle Earth. When I was in the sixth grade, I took for my models of manliness the heroes of Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Kidnapped. The anti-hero may dominate adult fiction in our time, but the hero still strides triumphant in children’s books.

.... Our daughters’ favorite book, I find, is Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden—which I never encountered until my own little girls introduced me to that convincing tale of pathos and triumph in the policies of an English country house. It is written with strong tenderness, and it teaches us how to rise above our vices, especially the ugly vice of self-pity. ....
What Should Children Read? | Crisis Magazine

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