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.