American history, children's books, Culture, intriguing authors, the business of books

Little House Books victim of woke hysteria.

There have been, throughout history, many great books written; books which have rightfully earned their spot on shelves as timeless classics. If we took a microscope to each and every one of those books with the express intent of removing any and all books with language in them which offends any particular group of people, we would have to remove the vast majority of books from the shelves.

If there was ever a set of books which finds me incredulous at the idea that they are harmful, it’s Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House book series. Our children love those books, and we have no intention of removing them from our shelves, despite being well aware of the “offensiveness” found within their pages. The Association of Library Services to Children cannot abide Wilder’s handling of Native Americans in her stories:

Laura Ingalls Wilder was on the brink of having an award named in her honor, from the Association for Library Service to Children, when in 1952 a reader complained to the publisher of “Little House on the Prairie” about what the reader found to be a deeply offensive statement about Native Americans.

The reader pointed specifically to the book’s opening chapter, “Going West.” The 1935 tale of a pioneering family seeking unvarnished, unoccupied land opens with a character named Pa, modeled after Wilder’s own father, who tells of his desire to go “where the wild animals lived without being afraid.” Where “the land was level, and there were no trees.”

And where “there were no people. Only Indians lived there.”

Although the complaint didn’t spark action at the time, the American Library Association has decided to make things right:

Now, after years of complaints, the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, says it voted Saturday to strip Wilder’s name from the award.

The decision makes Wilder the latest target of efforts to purge from the cultural landscape symbols that honor historical figures who owned slaves, espoused racist views or engaged in racist practices.

Books, as well as their authors, are products of the time and place in which they are set and in which the author lives. All of these elements are an important part of what makes books rich and interesting, providing depth and context of history. If we strip away all evidence of cultural and linguistic markers which are out of step with our modern sensibilities, we lose far more than we gain.

In exchange for the temporary and shallow pride of being able to signal our postmodern virtue, we miss out on the opportunity to discuss the why, hows, and wherefores of the cultural past. We miss out on the opportunity to explain to our children cultural and linguistic evolution, including the things which we find objectionable today.

In our home, we do not shield our children from books which contain derogatory racial terms, including or even especially terms which may be personally offensive to us as a black family. Why should we forgo an opportunity for them to learn, grow, and acknowledge the amount of progress our country has made in its treatment of black Americans, something we believe is generally true against the recent backdrop of inflammatory headlines?

When reading the Little House books, or Peter Pan, or any number of books which refer to Native Americans in ways that our current cultural iteration finds offensive, our children inevitably ask questions. These questions open the door to dialogue and understanding.

Further, I find it offensive to hold authors or anyone else who lived 100 years ago to a standard of behavior which didn’t exist when they were alive so as to retroactively smear their work and exact punitive redress. Laura Ingalls Wilder was a product of her time, and her books reflected that.

To publicly flog her for a series of books which have an imperfect presentation of current ideology, while ignoring the virtues and morals within their pages is just another example of how “wokeness” is killing our humanity, our ability to enjoy life and our ability to enjoy truly great literature.

More than that, to emphasize a cultural negative at the expense of all the hard work, family togetherness, faith, charity and community the Little House books offer does more than shield us from the bad. It shields us from the good as well.

 

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children's books, genres, homeschool

On morals in children’s books

In addition to books we are reading individually, I like the idea of having something we are reading aloud together. Over the years, we’ve had some very memorable experiences reading aloud. The Wind in the Willows was a particular favorite, as well as Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, and more recently Peter Pan.

Currently, our read aloud book is Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Little Women is interesting in that the morality and lessons to be learned from the daughters’ struggles are laid bare; often complete with a sermonette from their mother.  I myself am not particularly fond of what is known as “preachy” entertainment, but in this book, I have determined that the detours are a net advantage to the story. I and my children rather enjoy the brief, overt moments in the book which extol virtue, but not everyone does.

In recent weeks I have had the opportunity to muse on this issue of “preachy” or overt morality presented in children’s books as writers far more articulate than me have tackled the subject. First, Krysta at Pages Unbound makes the very astute point that despite any protestations, most people do prefer children’s books with moral. Indeed, the problem most people have with the older children’s books is not that they are overtly moral, but that the morals presented are out of step with our postmodern sensibilities and current morality.

However, moral messages are not relegated to books of the past.  Indeed, moralizing remains alive and well in children’s stories.  It’s simply that many of our moral messages have changed.  While books of the past may have emphasized virtues like honesty, cheerfulness, humility, and a good work ethic, books today often focus on themes of confidence, individuality, and inclusion.  Perhaps some readers do not see these books as moralizing because they agree so whole-heartedly with these themes that they see them as self-evident and not as lessons to be inculcated.  However, a good many readers actively expect such messages–and are disappointed or offended by stories that do not include them.

She is absolutely correct. In fact, our moral lessons of today actively discourage cheerfulness, humility, and a good work ethic if those virtues in any way conflict with our ability to be a confident individual. Hence, it’s not particularly hard to see why Little Women’s overt moral lessons might be offensive to contemporary readers.

Additionally, there is the presumption that Marmee, the mother of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, offers her lessons and sermonettes in a way that is unrealistic or stilted. I find the assertion curious as it is not at all unusual in our home for events to evolve into teaching lessons complete with reminders of what our faith and the rules of our family demand. Our children seem to connect with, enjoy, and be enriched by those moments. we do our kids a disservice when we project our hardened resistance to being influenced to a higher standard onto them. The teachable, open hearts of children are much more receptive to such messages than adults tend to be.

In addition to Krysta’s post, there is another well presented argument in defense of preachy children’s books by Lindsay Brigham Knott at Circe Institute. One of the thoughts she offered is our error in presuming that children’s books are to be read solely for entertainment in the first place:

As near as I can tell, the arguments against preachy children’s stories range from shallow to significant. On the shallow end is the argument that children will, by nature, “tune out” anything that smacks of a sermon. The following excerpt (again, compliments of Google) typifies this argument:

Adults patronize kids almost all day, so as an adult ourselves, it is too easy to make this mistake. The key here is to make your point without going too preachy or didactic. Nothing can turn children off faster than a lecture, or worse, a moral lesson. Kids want to be entertained and delighted. The first thing you can do is erase the words moral, teach, message, and lesson out of your vocabulary. Instead, trust your readers to figure it out through the storyline and actions that your characters take. Another tip is to keep authoritative figures, like parents, teachers, or older siblings, in the background. Lastly, never let the adults in the story tell what the main character should do. Remember, it is a sin to preach in fiction.

I shall let that argument stand for itself, and not belabor a rebuttal; anyone already committed to classical education likely does not need to be convinced that kids’ desire for entertainment should not determine the content of their reading, nor that authoritative figures ought to be honored rather than stuffed in the closet.

Over the course of the recently ended school year, our 11-year-old, in her fulfilled assignment of writing a short story, was admonished by her teacher that her story didn’t direct the reader to draw a conclusion with regard to the behavior of her characters. Because I was stuck on my concern that it sounded so much like a Disney movie, that particular aspect of her presentation eluded me.

Rather than ask her what she wanted to convey, I read the story again, and again was struck with the notion that the problems inherent in the behavior of the characters was evident because of the troubles their decisions wrought. The fact that there was no overarching, ultimate consequence could certainly be perceived as problematic.

However, on the heels of having read Rudyard Kipling’s Captains Courageous, which was also very matter of fact in its presentation of behavior and consequences, I was prepared to accept my daughter’s presentation as valid. What to do about the canned plot development is another issue.

It left me wondering what positions others general have when it comes to presenting morality and life lessons in children’s books.

What say you?

 

 

 

 

children's books, Culture, tales from the local library

Feminist Baby: The Sequel

A while back, gripped by incredulity, I mentioned this book which I ran across while in Barnes and Noble, the Feminist Baby.

Because I was incredulous, it never occurred to me that such a silly book as Feminist Baby could evolve into a series of note, but apparently, it has. My incredulity is more symptomatic of how out of touch I am. This lately occurs more often than I realized, but I digress.

Feminist Baby is back, and finding her voice, no less:

Feminist Baby Finds Her Voice!

Feminist Baby is learning to talk
She says what she thinks and it totally rocks!
Feminist Babies stand up tall
“Equal rights and toys for all!”

Let’s disregard for the moment my sincere and well known problems with the ideology of feminism as a whole. This increase in political “literature” for toddlers combined with feminist “fashion” for toddlers (yes I’ve seen it in the flesh), raises a larger question for me, and it’s this:

With so many things in the larger culture encroaching on the innocence and wonder of childhood, why would anyone choose to read this to their toddler in lieu of real, living books which highlight wonder and beauty? How are children served by political indoctrination as early as possible?  In whose universe does a bull horn toting, equal rights clamoring baby belong aside the likes of:

Cover image - Goodnight Moon

Image result for the very hungry caterpillar

Image result for The Snowy Day

Image result for Madeline

Image result for If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

It doesn’t.

There will be time to infuse our kids with our political thoughts and ideologies. They’ll pick most of it by osmosis anyway. There’s no need to infect them with adult cares before they can even understand what they mean.

Real books never get old and they speak to us, young and old alike, across the generations.

Nonsense is only good for a fixed point in time, such as this nonsensical Feminist Baby series.

 

 

children's books, fiction, homeschool, joys of reading, just for fun, tales from the local library

Picture Book Bonanza!

Our 9-year-old is one of the sharpest tools in the shed. Mother wit is not her strongest suit (we’re working on that), but she was blessed with a hefty bit of cognitive fire power.

I don’t just say that about all of my children. We tend to be very open and honest about gifts, talents, abilities, and how the Giver of all gifts does things the way He does for a reason. There’s a point to this particular line of thought, and it is wholly centered around books.

During our recent trip to the library, the kid surprised me by making a beeline for the picture book section. Since she has read chapter books alongside picture books from the time she was 6 or 7,  I figured she might find picture books less worthy of her time and attention. It turns out that a full school year of reading great literature, even though enjoying it,  gave her a craving for some light-hearted, brightly colored picture books.

After readng them to herself, and reading them with her 11-year-old sister, she wasn’t quite read to return them to the library until she’d had the pleasure of my voice reading them to her. I am very glad we took the time to do that, because these were all very enjoyable books:

 

phobe sounds it out

The fun thing about these books is that they were books I would never would have chosen on my own, since none of them meet the standard guidelines I tend to use when picking out children’s books.

The other interesting thing I noted was how often she gravitated towards boks with characters who looked like her. Although only two of the books listed here met that criteria, she looked at quite a few.

The lesson I took away from this excursion was that no matter how “advanced” kids are, they’re still kids, and they like kid things. Such as brightly colored picture books!

children's books, fiction, homeschool, Uncategorized

The Samurai’s Tale

samurai's tale

The Samurai’s Tale, by Erik Christian Haugaard. Originally published in 1984, 256 pages.

This, like many of the books I’ve read over the past several months, is a book I only read becuase it was assigned to one of our children as a literature assignment. It has been a pleasure to read these book in a way that does not describe the books our public schooled middle schoolers were assigned to read. This year has been one filled with books which fully meet the standard of C.S. Lewis’ famous quote about stories worth reading.

The Samurai’s Tale is a novel set in feudal Japan, and begins when our hero Taro, is a four-year-old boy whose powerful samurai father, along with his mother and brothers, are killed by a rival samurai in the fierce struggle for Japanese power. His mother, before her death stripped Taro of his costly, regal clothing, dressed him up as a servant, and concealed him in a box. Her aim of hiding the truth of his lineage in an attempt to spare his life was successful. The warlord, amused by Taro’s mettle as he rushes out to defend his home, takes him under his wing as a servant.  So begins Taro’s long, tumultuous journey as the vassal and liege of the powerful samurai Lord Akiyama.

Reading along as a witness to the tale Erik Haugaard has woven was at times sad, and others harrowing, but was never boring. The realism of the story was refreshing as well as unsettling.  Many wrters would have Taro grow up under Lord Akiyama waiting for the day that he could avenge his family’s death. Haugaard however, offers us a more true to life scenario, one in which Taro’s loyalty to Lord Akiyama increases the longer he is with him and he grows into a faithful young samurai warrior to his liege lord.

The Buddhist religion loomed large throughout the book, and was another angle that offered opportunity to explore and compare belief systems. Haugaard offered an interesting aside concerning different competing sects within the religion which to us sounded eerily familiar to the kinds of schisms and battles which take place in Christianity as well.

Our daughter found that the book moved too slowly for her at times. The overall narrative was interesting to her and several of Taro’s experiences motivated interesting conversations. It was not her favorite of the books read this year, but neither was it her least favorite.

I liked it, but I concede that it would likely have been a less than exciting book for me to read when I was 11 years old. I was impressed with the issues and writing she produced from the reading given the fact that she was less than enamored with the book. The grade being offered however, is based on my review. I’ll add hers as an addendum.

Grade: B+ (the kid gave it a ‘C’)

Content advisory: war and violence.

Age range: 9+ (or 5th grade and up)

 

 

children's books, fiction, homeschool, novels, Uncategorized

A Wrinkle in Time

wrinkle in time

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeliene L’Engle. Originally published in 1962. 228 pages.

While Peter Pan was our 4th grader’s latest literature class assigned book, this was our 6th grader’s most recently assigned literature book. I think I was the only mother in the class who hadn’t read it as a girl, but I’ve read it now and I’m glad I did.

While the dominant motif of this story is quite familiar, Madeliene L’Engle presented it in a fresh way that was sure to appeal to her young readers in 1962. It was a time of domestic and international political tensions paralleled with a transformation of cultural norms and mores aimed specifically at the youth of that era. As I read it I wondered how the younglings of that time viewed it compared to the young readers today. It is a book with timeless themes, like any one still worth reading 56 years after it was originally introduced to the public.

A Wrinkle in Time is the story of the Murry family, whose father has disappeared for the last two years. No one knows exactly where he is or when he will return. His wife, Mrs. Murry, along with their four children: Meg, twins Sandy and Dennys, and the younest and most exceptional Charles Wallace, are an oddity and source of gossip in their community for a variety of reasons.

Meg, the Murry’s teenage daughter, is the central character through whose lens the reader views most of what occurs. Charles Wallace, largely regarded by the townspeople as a dunce due to his self-imposed silence, is exceptionally intelligent and insightful but keeps this knowledge between himself and his family. Until the nearly equally exceptional Calvin O’Keefe joins him and Meg on an adventure to save the world from a darkness which trying to absorb everyone into itself and make the world a place of one consciousness and “unity”, but void of uniqueness.

They get a little help along the way from three immortal beings known only as Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. These are three colorful, quirky characters whom only Charles Wallace really understand. You’ll have to read the book for more lest I spoil the plot and the ending.

One of my favorite passages, which captures the heart of the story, is this:

“But a planet can also become dark because of “too strong a desire for security … the greatest evil there is.” Meg resists her father’s analysis. What’s wrong with wanting to be safe? Mr. Murry insists that “lust for security” forces false choices and a panicked search for safety and conformity. This reminded me that my grandmother would get very annoyed when anyone would talk about “the power of love.” Love, she insisted, is not power, which she considered always coercive. To love is to be vulnerable; and it is only in vulnerability and risk—not safety and security—that we overcome darkness.”

Grade: A-

Age level: 10+, though as usual, I am open to a different take. These books are a part of a series, and as I read the next two, I hope to review them here.

 

 

 

children's books, fiction, homeschool, iconic characters

Peter Pan

peter pan

Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie. Originally published in 1902. 151 pages.

This book was assigned to our fourth grader, who is a very strong reader, but the language and some of the themes have proven to be a bit more advanced than 4th and 5th grade. She is still reading through the book, reading the chapters as assigned by her teacher, but I forged ahead and finished the book. Firstly because I found it thoroughly enjoyable, but also because it will be easier to work through the narrations with our student having familiarized myself with the story.

The interesting thing about this book is that it is far less innocent and far more intense than the Disney-tized version of Peter Pan most of us were exposed to from chidlhood. This one is more violent, with more mature themes. It does contain a mixture of adventure and whimsy missing from the Peter Pan I was famliar with, however.

This quote from Peter, however, is the common thread we are all familiar with, and was one of my favorite quotes from the book:

“I’m youth, I’m joy, I’m a little bird that has broken out of the egg.”
The characters were all engaging and entertaining, and even the villains, such as the pirate Smee, confidante and first mate to the fearsome yet ironically cultured Captain Hook, were the types that stick with you long after you close the last page.
Peter, the ultimate bad boy crew leader, was the character you rooted for because you were supposed to, but was not without less than endearing qualities. His Lost Boys were wonderfully innocent and faithful to him, while all of the female characters surrounding Peter were written with a coquettishness that was completely lost on Peter Pan. Nevertheless, Peter seemed to know exactly when and how to exploit the affection his charges and the ladies (Tinker Bell, Tiger Lily, and Wendy) felt for him.
At the end of it all is the great and violent showdown between Peter and his Lost Boys and Hook and his pirates. Peter is the ultimate victor, while Wendy, John and Michael wrapped up their adventure, and headed home to their griefstricken parents. Parents who had kept a window open in anticipation of their return one day. J.M. Barrie had an interesting way of expressing what the narrator considered the heartlessness of the three children who flew away on an indefinite adventure, leaving their parents behind to fret:
Off we skip like the most heartless things in the world, which is what children are, but so attractive; and we have an entirely selfish time, and then when we have need of special attention we nobly return for it, confident that we shall be rewarded instead of smacked.
I found that quite funny, second only to Wendy’s exasperation with being the mother to the Lost Boys (Peter was their “father”):
Oh dear, I am sure I sometimes think spinsters are to be envied!
She says this several times, and although I heartily disagree with her, it is funny nonetheless.
There is actually plenty to be said about this book, but I recommend that you take the time to read it yourself as it is enjoyable on many levels. It is a perfect example of this quote from C.S. Lewis which I have always loved:
No book is worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally -and often more- worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.
Grade: A
Age range for this book,which is the original, unabridged version I’d put at 12+. I chose that not because of reading ability, but because of the violent content, adult language (nothing overly offensive, but still), and general level of maturity required to appreciate the themes and subtexts of the book.