The old darkness mystery of children’s literature.

One of the joys of home education is the kind of literature rich culture you can form as a family. The children read better quality books, and hear the old stories in all their rich colour, where real light casts shadows, and no one chokes on the sugar. So many ‘modern’ versions of these stories have been stripped of so much that they are a bland, sugary mush – almost unbearable to read.

I get the impression that while most home educators are using classic literature that other families are looking for it too, as some publishers (Usbornes for example) are publishing edited versions.

One of the things that strikes me about the classics is that their appeal to such a broad age range. They are not aimed at “grade 2” or Key Stage 1 or age 6 or whatever  – they are simply stories to be read in families.

Our read alouds at the moment are The Fairy Land of Science by the wonderfully named Arabella Buckley and The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. Now, anyone who writes on the “fairyland” of anything is going to lean more to the romantic, but it is done with fine language and good science. There is no talking down to the children, nor stripping the language because otherwise the poor dears wouldn’t understand it. It is properly written and has fired up the children’s interest and conversation about all sorts of subjects.

The Jungle Book is a much darker tale than Mr. Disney would have had us believe. The language is harder and I admit I have transliterated the “thees” and “thous” at times to make things less dense. But that is about all I have done and the children love the story.

It occurs to me that if we want children to expand their vocabulary and language skills, we have to expose them to language that stretches them a little.

The Andrew Lang fairy stories are also well written and many of them are quite dark, confronting children’s terrors of the night with monsters, witches and other scary things.

These older stories will deal with things that most modern writers would never speak of in “children’s books”.  Tomie dePaola stands out as an exception. He will talk about virtue, about God, and about death.

I do wonder why so many of the children’s classical stories have been sugarfied and blandified to a grey pulp fiction. Then when children reach the age of 8 or 9 the books that seem to be the cultural mainstay are really awful “how to be an obnoxious twit” kind of books, with an added dash of “because this is normal behaviour for children” cynicism.  This is another moment to sigh with relief that my children are not in school. At least I can give them some real literature and what Charlotte Mason called “living books” and avoid what she called “twaddle”. Sadly I think she would have much harsher and more shocked words to describe what passes for children’s books these days.

Literature like any other media introduces a culture into the readers mind. Those books which are so popular and which I personally can’t stand, introduce the idea that children should not get on with or respect their parents, that especially fathers are pretty useless. The idea that children have no role in the adult world and are justified in treating adults  as fools at best, and enemies at worst  is set out for children to incultrate their lives. But these same stories avoid too much “life” as though that can’t be offered to children. In some ways I think the stories of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, The Ugly Duckling and the Jungle Book have more depth and reality to them, because they explore how we really are- they are, in fact, truthful. They speak across time and cultures of those truths we all carry with us, the natural law that is written on our souls.

I have always had the theory that the reason Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings remains so continually popular is because he was telling the truth. We can’t help but be attracted to something that has such a basis to them. It is the same with C S Lewis but in a different way.

I predict that in a hundred years children and young adults will still be reading Lewis, Tolkien and of course Chesterton (Fr Brown rules!) while Wilson, Pullman and probably even Rowling will have been forgotten.


2 responses to “The old darkness mystery of children’s literature.

  1. Greetings, to a Delightful mom of 6,

    I’m commenting with the sincere desire to ‘help’ you with this post, which is so good, but I did come across many typos. It’s not that I am cranky or persnickety or ‘pointing’ out another’s faults, but as a homeschooling mom, it would surely be beneficial to your ‘mission’ to either ‘proof read’ before posting or have someone do it for you, if you don’t have time.

    I offer this advice, though unbidden, because there are some *very critical* types of people out there who don’t want to homeschool their children, due to misinformation and old stigmas of ‘home schooled kids, being socially inept, etd.

    I’m trying and hoping to change the mind of one of those who happens to be my daughter-in-law. I was thinking of sending her this post, or to my son, but with the errors I found, and her being a non working school teacher, mother of new twins, they might be noticed and then would be flung back at me, with something like, “Oh really? Look at this!” Do you see what I mean?

    I don’t mean to be ‘critical’ of you, per se at all. I’m only a person who just happened to read your post, and the typos really did stick out and if it were me, I’d be grateful for some help in this area and not be offended, for to ‘offend’ is not my aim.

    Your blog is great. I’d saved it because of a St. Catherine of Siena post or photo some months ago, and today found the file and clicked to see what was new here.

    God bless you. Below is my email if you’d care to contact me.

    Peace of Christ. –

  2. Susie, thank you. I really hadn’t looked at this post properly and there were an awful lot of typos. I even spelt Tolkien wrong! I am afraid I wrote this in the evening. Not a good idea if I want to be coherant!
    I appreciate your point that those of us who HE must be more perfect than other parents thanks to the negative responses of so many.
    You have inspired me to be more careful.
    God bless

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