MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
Tuesday, December 26, 2000
MORE ON CHILDREN’S BOOKS
Earlier I wrote about children’s books. The proper use of reading time can make all the difference in a child’s life. For one thing, story time is very special for a child. If possible, it is great to read to children every night. Fathers will enjoy the time and lay the foundation for all future advice and instruction. Those individual slices of time are fleeting. When they are spent well, they provide wonderful memories.
I recall an episode in Twain’s “Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” The effect of an explosion was so funny that we laughed about it for several weeks. Now my son and I discuss computers, networks, bugs, and crashes the same way. He has story time with his children. Recently he requested a copy of a book he loved at the time, D’Aullaire’s Greek myths. The Norse myth book is also great for children.
Recently I stumbled upon a remarkable series of books. I am a member of the Folio Society, seduced into membership by an offer I could not resist. (I belong to four book clubs, unless you count two memberships in Folio, but that’s another story.) I saw an ad for “The Railway Children,” but it did not affect me. The Folio promotion said it was a great children’s classic. I did not recall it, so I puzzled over it and forgot it. Later I was tricked into buying a surprise package of books from Folio. I know, no one held a gun to my head. When the books arrived, one was “The New Treasure Seekers” by E. Nesbit. (Later I realized she also wrote “The Railway Children.”)
One day I needed something to read outdoors – one of the great pleasures of life in Phoenix. Now, even in the dead of winter I can go outside and read under the stars or enjoy the morning and afternoon sun. Thanks to my Minnesota-strengthened constitution, I can read outside on a cool night.
So I went outside with “The New Treasure Seekers.” Soon I was laughing so hard I thought the neighbors would call the police. Soon I was going through the children’s department of Barnes and Noble to find more Nesbit books.
Let me summarize a little bit. There are boy books and girl books. I think most people would consider the “Little House” books to be girl books. A boy does not want to read girl books. I did not know E. Nesbit was a woman until I looked her up on the Internet. She fooled many early readers because her first name (Edith) was never given and she assumed the role of one of the boys in some books. Most importantly, she did not write little girl books. I think the stories are appealing to boys and girls both. Which age group? Anyone younger than a teen would love the stories.
Here are some Nesbit books to buy and enjoy. Each chapter is short enough to be a great story by itself. “Railway Children” is also on videotape.
In “The Railway Children,” the family is living in great comfort and security when the father is suddenly and mysteriously taken away. The mother then moves the children into a little cottage near a railroad. All their adventures follow from living near that railway. In all the Nesbit stories, the children are normal, getting into all kinds of mischief. However, even harsh words must be taken back and amends made. For instance, in “Railway Children,” Peter becomes a coal miner and supplies the family with an amazing amount of coal in their desperate poverty. Finally he is caught and admonished for taking railroad coal from their storage bin. All the children accept responsibility for stealing and promise never to cover up their sin with stories about “mining coal.” These lessons are well done and not heavy handed.
I noticed many references to English literature, the Bible, hymns, and English history. Some incidental references are hilarious, such as the burn mark in the chair from celebrating Guy Fawkes Day indoors. (Guy Fawkes tried to blow up Parliament, so GF Day is celebrated with fireworks.)
Just to show how the stories work together, in “Railway Children” the children’s kindness and mischief mingle together with a happy ending and the return of their father.
I love the patter between the children. Nesbit talks about the way girls behave in certain circumstances and the way boys respond to the same things. Her observations are keen and funny as well. When girls talk of marriage, Peter says he wants his wife to be asleep most of the year and only wake up once or twice. So his sister says, “Yes, she will sit up in bed and say ‘You are the light of my life, Peter,’ and fall asleep again.” Once again, I started laughing so hard that neighbor’s lights went on as they sought a source for the hyena laughter.
In “The Treasure Seekers,” the children look for all kinds of ways to restore the family fortune. They know from reading children’s books that acts of kindness will encourage a rich man to adopt them and give them wealth. One idea is to have their pet dog attack a gentleman in the park and then rescue him. The reward will restore the family fortune. The plan works until the dog jumps up on the children afterwards and licks them. The gentleman admonishes them for being dishonest in earning a reward. The children are contrite and befriend the man. Later, they bring him little gifts.
One of the great things about “The Treasure Seekers” is that all the schemes are funny and typical of child-like cunning and innocence. However, at the end the family fortune is restored because of the children’s kindness toward their “poor uncle from India” and not because of their sales of sherry or attempts to borrow money on their signatures.
“The New Treasure Seekers” and “The Wouldbegoods” both pick up from the ending of “The Treasure Seekers.” The children constantly work on being worthwhile citizens and bringing honor to the House of Bastable. However, they fall into strange schemes and have to deal with their father. One adventure I enjoyed was their preoccupation with people who might wish to blow up their father’s house. They explore the basement and find evidence of explosive devices they have never seen before. They destroy all the fuses and wiring, only to discover their father just wired the home for electric lights. The commentary is hilarious, because the children take several days to calm down their father. After all, they did apologize.
Some stories are quite touching. In one case (“New Treasure Seekers”), one boy is offended by how he is treated on a train. So the children find out the porter’s name and send him a Christmas package full of junk. They delight in their revenge. Then a man comes to their house and makes them confess they sent the box of junk to his daughter’s home. They try to protest, but one boy left evidence in the packing material. So then the older man explains how his daughter thought it really was a generous Christmas gift. She was heartbroken that such a cruel trick was played on them, especially since it was anonymous and his daughter was so poor. The children are absolutely crestfallen that their trick turned out to be so harmful, so they gather a real Christmas box and deliver it. The stories abound in examples of contrition and forgiveness.
Nesbit was born in 1858, so her stories have a pre-WWI innocence that I enjoy. Her books are so light-hearted that no one would guess what a difficult life she led. She lost her mother as a child.
In England Nesbit is enjoyed so much that many adults read her stories over and over. I found a large selection of her books at Barnes and Noble. If you want to start with one, begin with “The Railway Children.”