Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Learning to Like Childrens Literature

As our oldest has reached the ripe old age of six-and-a-half, she's come into a new appreciation of stories and poems I actually find it interesting to read. Thus, for instance, she sat raptly listing to Paul Revere's Ride the other night, while the two younger girls preferred to stage their own revolution against authority by jumping off beds and running around the room.

Similarly, she is now interesting in listening intently to everything from books about dinosaurs and the Egyptian mummies to the original Grimm's Fairy Tales, Hans Christian Anderson, Greek myths, and selections from the Red Fairy Book, Blue Fairy Book, etc. The just-turned-five-year-old will listen for a while to such stories if they involve dancers or princesses, but her retention is not necessarily very good, and her attention wanders if the story goes into much narrative detail. (Or lacks pictures.)

And miss two-and-a-half prefers very short stories with lots of pictures, at which point she seizes the book herself and points out all relevant parts of the illustration, shouting over your attempts to read if necessary.

This is all, so far as I can remember, part of normal development towards a real interest in reading. However, as I was congratulating myself the other night that my oldest was finally starting to be able to enjoy some "interesting stuff", it struck me that a parent has a duty of sorts to develop an actual interest in children's literature. Some people are blessed to have this on their own. Reading Tolkien and Lewis's writing about "fairy stories", you can tell that both of these men had a real and deep appreciation for stories written at a child's level.

I do not, to any great extent.

And yet it seems to me, now I think about it, that reading to one's children will not go as well if one sees it as a duty until they become old enough to enjoy "interesting stuff". Rather, one must be able to develop some degree of appreciation for children's literature for what it is.

So over the last few weeks I've started paging through our older treasuries of children's literature trying to find stories that I like, so that I can bring some genuine enthusiasm to reading to the younger girls. I'm not sure how far I'll be able to get in this. Most of what I truly like in the realm of literature and essays is not written at a level which is fully accessible (or indeed appropriate) for children. But I think I need to come up with some degree of appreciation for the sort of stories and poems which are accessible to 2-6 year olds if I'm to be able to start them on really enjoying reading early enough for the habit to stick.


Catholic Bibliophagist said...


I was lucky in that I've always loved children's literature and had a huge list of stuff I wanted to share with my kids at every age level.

The best thing parents can do when reading age appropriate books is to only read aloud stuff they really like. Because if your kids also like it, you'll be reading it over and over and over.

Also, if you read them stuff you don't care for, you'll only be cultivating in them a taste for stuff you can't stand.

jenniferfitz said...

Couple tips:

-When the story itself is not your thing, you can still have a lot of fun by focusing on your execution of the reading -- character's voices, interesting tone, clear enunciation, etc.

-look into children's picture-book history at the library. _Squanto's Journey_ comes to mind as an example. Written for children, but most adults don't know the details of the story either.

Good luck. You have my sympathy.


SteveG said...

I am also in the camp of enjoying children's literature as well, so this has been rather easy for me.

A few recommendations to check out from the library that the boys (7 and 5) have really enjoyed.

I wrote on our homeschool blog about the works that Eric Kimmel has put together, and I highly recommend them.

I'd suggest starting with something like Gershon's Monster and see if you like what he does.

Most of these works have been something that both the boys (and myself) have enjoyed a great deal.

Another author we've all enjoyed has been the works of William Steig. Amos and Boris, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Brave Irene, and the Doctor De Soto books have been our favorites among his works.

And also something that comes to mind for the older (it seems just a bit to 'wordy' for the younger) is the Anatole series by Eve Titus (our library seem to have quite a few more in the series than what Amazon shows).

All just wonderful stuff.

I've done a bit of digging to find what I consider good children's literature, and have some others that I could recommend if you are ever interested, but this is the stuff at the top of the list (along with the colored fairy books you mentioned in your post.

BTW...I wanted to mention that we just used the first article from Elementary Volume of The Humanities Program (The Neolithic and the Rise of Agriculture) for our first week of homeschooling and it worked out really wonderfully!

A great resource and I am very glad to have discovered it!

Week II, on to the First Cities!

Daddio said...

Most of our kids' books are okay, but if a kid picks a book I don't like, I'll have them read it to me instead. For practice, of course.

Audrey said...

My biggest hindrance to instilling a love of literature thusfar has also been by own doing--in my underestimating Henry's ability to remain attentive and to retain/comprehend anything beyond picture books. A happy accident occurred recently when he pulled the Hobbit off the shelf and requested it for pre-nap reading. I only considered it because it did mention dragons (his favorite) and had a few of the rankin & bass cartoon stills...Well we're still reading it at his request, and today when asked what last happened in the book: "Bilbo took the off his finger" Ha! So anyhoo-don't underestimate your girls!

peregrinator-it said...

I have to confess that I, too, am a children's literature enthusiast, even a picture book enthusiast, so I fear I may not be very helpful.

I second and third the comments about making reading to children more interesting by focusing on characterization, voices etc. I don't know if my father was less than interested in the picture books he read to my siblings and me when we were little, but he was the preferred reader amongst us kids because he read with so much expression. I can remember the voices of some characters to this day.

(My poor mother, by contrast, was often out of favor as a reader because she read with no expression whatsoever and would often fall asleep in mid-sentence. I don't know, with 7 kids maybe she was ... tired!)

Other than the above, all I have to add is a list of some of the picture books, I remember with fondness from childhood which still strike me as amusing/interesting. Apologies if you're already aware of them all.

steveg, we totally loved Anatole too in our family; in addition we loved the Madeline series by Ludwig Bemelmans, the Babar books (Jean de Brunhof?), Ferdinand the Bull (Munro Leaf), The Ox Cart Man (can't remember the author), anything by Beatrix Potter, and last but not least anything by Tomie de Paolo whose books are so beautiful, I'm still tempted to buy them today.

Darwin said...

Thanks to all those with suggestions. I'll definitely be going through and checking them out.

I should add: I do have a great deal of fondness for a lot of "kid lit" in the age-eight-and-beyond category, and our oldest is getting to the point where she can enjoy these quite a bit.

The younger two, however, are less prone (at least so far) to fall in with Daddy's reading preferences. I very much enjoy Winnie the Pooh (in part because I'm very pleased with the English voices I've worked up for it -- with the exception of Tigger who is an Aussie in my reading) and also Babar, but for whatever reason these are only interesting to the oldest, not the younger two.

Our middle girl really cannot interest herself in much that does not involve a dancer or a princess, or better yet a dancing princess. Sadly, both of these are archetypes I have no interest in.

As I think about it, though, I think the root problem is that the girls (now mainly the younger two, and the oldest is becoming a bit of a bookworm) are not so fond of reading that they actively want to do it. So often the dialog around 7:30 at night goes like this:

Daddy: Do you want to girls want a bed-time story? What would you like me to read?

Julia (5): I don't want a story. I want to dance. Turn on my ballet music.

Isabel (2): Weeeeeee! [bounces off walls]

Eleanor (6.5): [sits quietly turning the pages of her dinosaur encyclopedia which she is reading to herself]

Daddy: Well then... [Turns on Tchaikovsky, picks up his own book, goes and reads to himself.]

And so I'm realizing that I need to develop enough enthusiasm over things that the younger two, especially, can understand that I make sure to read to them even when they're not at first interested.

mrsdarwin said...

Unfortunately, I'm at the stage right now where I fall asleep if I snuggle down to read to girls, so that job often falls to Darwin.

I like reading Beatrix Potter and Tomie De Paola (everyone with youngsters needs to check out his new series of chapter books about his childhood -- 26 Fairmount Street), but the erratic rhyme scheme of Madeline rubs me the wrong way. Julia (5) enjoys listening to fairy tales (about princesses, of course) but the colored Fairy Books are too wordy for her attention span, so we look for shorter versions. All the girls like Aesop's Fables, and Darwin has a great version with illustrations from the early 20th century.

What I won't allow in the house (per Catholic Bibliophagist's advice) are "character" books -- Barbie princesses, Dora, bastardized Disney fairy tales, etc. These are ugly and drive me crazy. Also, I try to find read-aloud books with beautiful pictures. Basically, if I don't feel like I can put up with it multiple times, we don't get it. The same goes for DVDs, and I think that's saved us a lot of irritation over the years.

Steve Bodio said...

My mother read me Kipling when I was 5, and I still revisit him at 58.