Monday, April 28, 2014

To be a child...

When Coleridge was eight years old, he walked one winter evening with his father from a farmer's house home, and his father told him the names of some of the stars, how far they were from the earth, and so on.  Coleridge has written:

"I had heard him with a profound delight and admiration; but without the least mixture of wonder or incredulity.  For from my early reading of fairy tales and genii, etc., etc., my mind had been habituated to the Vast, and I never regarded my senses in any way as the criteria of my belief.  I regulated all my creeds by my conceptions, not by my sight:  even at that age.  Should children be permitted to read romances, and relations of giants and magicians and genii?  I know all that has been said against it; but I have formed my faith in the affirmative.  I know no other way of giving the mind a love of the Great and the Whole.  Those who have been led to the same truths step by step, through the constant testimony of their senses, seem to me to want a sense which I possess.  They contemplate nothing but parts, and all parts are necessarily little.  And the universe to them is but a mass of little things..."

"Know you what it is to be a child?  It is to be something very different from the man of today.  It is to have a spirit yet streaming from the waters of baptism; it is to believe in love, to believe in loveliness, to believe in belief; it is to be so little that the elves can reach to whisper in your ear; it is to turn pumpkins into coaches, and mice into horses, lowness into loftiness, and nothing into everything, for each child has its fairy godmother in its own soul; it is to live in a nutshell and count yourself the king of infinite space."

p. 156-157

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Reservoirs of Life

I recently took a quick tour through a modern bookstore.  I usually avoid them, knowing that most of what is currently published is devoid of beauty, both of sight and of mind.  But I had a few minutes to kill so, as the bear who went over the mountain, I went in to see what I could see.  I left dejected, uninspired and definitely unimpressed.  What little life that was there was crushed among the death-obsessed tomes.

I went home to dig out one of my favorite book treasures, Five Years of Children's Books:  A Supplement to Realms of Gold.  Oh, what a gem this book is!  Published in 1936, this secular list of books contains wonderful selections for children in all genres that had been released since 1930.  Just browsing its pages lifts the spirits for it contains snippets and illustrations of many of the books it lists.  Over the next weeks, I hope to offer select quotes from this book to show what authors of past generations sought to instill in children...reservoirs of life.

From page 11 we read:

To estimate the importance of these beautiful books and to realize fully what they may mean to children and to the rest of us, we must ourselves believe that the artist creates life.  He sees with more than the physical eye.  He sees with the vision of the soul.  The artist creates for the child a noble reality by which the child - and we ourselves - may grow.  We have had too much emphsis upon realism and all its insignificant and often ugly detail.  Let us be thankful for this wonderful gift of genius, cherish it, and let us expose our little children to these beautiful books as to "a simple atmosphere of all fair things, where beauty, which is the spirit of art, will come on eye and ear like a fresh breath of wind that brings health from a clear upland, and insensibly and gradually draw the child's soul into harmony with all knowledge and all wisdom, so that he will love what is beautiful and good, and hate that which is evil and ugly (for they always go together) long before he knows the reason why."

Page 3 reveals the purpose of collecting a list of these treasures into this volume:

As for the values which we claim are strong and clear in children's books, the first of these is a sense of God.  "God is a spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth."  A seeking after truth and beauty; a sense of wonder and reverence; the balance and proportion which humor gives:  these are values in terms of the spirit which shape the design and form for living.

In Eleanor Farjeon's words, such a child would have ever "new eyes, new ears and a new vision of life."

The books which fill these pages have the power to add life and reality.  Our hope for the book is that it may serve to introduce books, to reveal them as reservoirs of life.

May our children grow to offer reservoirs of life to a dying culture.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

When you reread a classic,
you do not see more in the book
than you did before;
you see more in you
than was there before.
 ~Clifton Fadiman~

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Human Equation ~ Geography

One of the greatest joys of our lives is to have hosted foreign exchange students from all over the world.  Two boys in particular have become like sons to us.  In fact, when folks ask how many children I have, I say I have five boys including two French sons.  You see, for us France is more than just a spot on a map, more than just landscapes and landmarks.  It is two very special people. 

Recently Francois returned to the US for a three week visit.  We laughed as we relived the great times we had during his year with us.  We cried when he left.  But we carry a bit of France in our hearts knowing he is there thinking of his American family.  The time with him and our other exchange students is very special to my boys.  When newsworthy events happen in these countries, they immediately connect to those who have shared our home.  As we study geography, we have real faces and real relationships.  A human equation. 


We don't have to host foreign exchange students, however, to experience this human equation.  Living books about the people and cultures of those countries can help us build personal relationships with others around the world.   The golden age of children's literature is replete with gems to introduce us to the world.  Below are just a few of my favorites.

If you would like to begin your world tour at home, Lois Lenski wrote an extensive collection of regional stories such as Judy's Journey.  Some of these treasures have been reprinted!

One of my favorites series and that of my patrons is the Twins books by Lucy Fitch Perkins.  Lucy wrote many titles of a set of twins in many cultures.  The Dutch Twins, The Chinese Twins and The French Twins are just a few of the books in this endearing series.  Some of these have been reprinted as well.

In the 1930's Madeline Brandeis traveled the world with her daughter and her camera.  She photographed the people and places, weaving stories around them.   Filled with photographs and cultural facts woven in story, these books are a fascinating look at the world.  Some titles in this series are Little Philippe of Belgium, Little Anne of Canada, and Little Tom of England.  When my French sons were here, I read Little Jeanne of France.  The boys were continually pointing out the landmarks that they pass by everyday.  It didn't hurt that they could help me pronounce the French words.  :)

Charlotte Mason used living books to introduce her students to many cultures.  When I Was a Boy in Japan by Sakae Shioya was one of her choices.

Simply Charlotte Mason has published a geography curriculum that combines living books, map work and cultures by introducing us to families in various countries around the world.   Their Visits to... Series is a good choice if you would like more guidance.


It is a small world after all.  When we reach across political and social boundaries, we may learn that people are not so different.  Reach out and develop a relationship.  You may change a life...even your own.