MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
Glendale, Arizona 85304-2419
Some parents requested ideas about the books their children should read in their home-schooling program. The same books would be good for all children, but most schools will not give children enough time to read what they ought to know. Schools favor busywork over real education. One teacher assigned homework all year and never graded any of it.
Why do these books matter? If a child begins reading good literature, he will develop a capacity for the ideas of Western civilization and yet still enjoy popular culture. The children who are fed literary candy will only have a taste for that level of reading as they grow older. Not surprisingly, few people read any books today.
Until World War I (an arbitrary demarcation – such things are fuzzy), a good education always consisted of Greek, Latin, and Shakespeare. Math and geometry were studied to encourage the thinking and logical processes of the student. Schools were not considered vo-techs then. Previously, a gentleman knew the literature of the past.
We can see the same decline among Lutherans. The Bible was dumbed-down in the name of the young, and now we have manifold revisions of multiple modern versions. I would like to know how many confirmed youth know any verses of the Bible by heart. Similarly, adults are full of opinions which have nothing to do with established Christian doctrine. Talking on the phone is considered an adequate substitute for study.
Not every child is going to read all the books I suggest, but these are a good start. Once a child becomes a reader, he cannot be stopped. He will be like the teenager who eats a huge meal, two desserts, and then pleads in 30 minutes, “I’m hungry!” A growing mind will also hunger for good books and never be satisfied. Needless to say, the authors of the Book of Concord were trained in Latin and Greek, so they wrote plainly but with considerable scholarship behind them. The Book of Concord demands concentration to read but rewards study with doctrinal clarity and certainty.
PART ONE: FAIRY TALES, FANTASY, AND MYTH
Forget Harry Potter and almost all modern children’s literature. There are better books to read. Trivia – “Goodnight Moon” is now earning the author’s estate $500,000 per year. I believe it has 130 words and was written in one morning.
Greek and Norse Myths
The D’Aulaire books are very good. I remember reading these with our son and laughing over details. I felt a twinge of guilt and ordered the D’Aulaire Greek myth book from Barnes and Noble while I was writing this. We lost track of ours and promised both books for Josie and Dani. All of Western literature assumes a knowledge of these myths, so they should be known by children. Besides, they are a lot of fun.
Good books are NOT like raw asparagus, good for you but hard to consume. Good books are good for you and fun to read, great to remember. For instance, there are details in the Norse myths that we laughed over for years, repeating the phrases to each other. My favorite funny passage is Thor dressed as a woman, his eyes blazing with anger, being presented as an eager bride but ready to use his efficacious hammer.
Folio Books, very English and elegant – they sell a three volume set of fairy tales: Grimm’s, Andersen’s, and French. Each volume is about $60 and a work of art. The classic fairy tales have become part of our culture and everyday language. The classic collections do not water down the stories, so they build up a child’s vocabulary. Get the grandparents involved in buying hardbound copies of the classic children’s literature. The books will last forever and be used again in the next generation.
Danbury Mint/Easton Press – A lot of their books are overpriced and not worth buying, but they have some children’s classics, some of which we are getting for Josie and Dani:
There are several ways to get books. My favorite is to use the Barnes and Noble internet site and have them sent. Browsing in kiddie lit in stores (and libraries) is always a challenge. The books are all over the places, piled, spilled, in various shapes and sizes.
Another way is to go to BIG used book stores. They often have classic hard-bound children’s books. The Easton Press books are often on sale, too.
Walter Brooks’ Freddy the Pig
If you do not know the “Freddy the Pig” books, you are in sorry shape as a parent, child, or human being. To get up to speed, look up this site: http://www.freddythepig.org/index.html
The books are out of print, like the Lutheran classics, but available in the used market. If you have any, do not let go of them. They are funny, clever, and full of insight. All the animals on the farm talk and have great adventures. I have often quoted Freddy about naps. He observed that we usually wake up from naps sweating, so they must be work. Therefore, he always considered naps work. Amen, Brother Freddy.
I would divide Tolkien between “Hobbit” for all children and “Lord of the Rings” for older children. “Hobbit” is a great fantasy story for all ages. It introduces LOTR, as the veterans call it. I do not mean that LOTR is not for grade school children, but it is more demanding by far. Both books can be read to children at night. Both are grandchildren have Tolkien-inspired middle names. Josie is “Morningstar” – Tinuviel. Dani is Eowyn, the great female warrior.
Tales from Shakespeare
Charles and Mary Lamb published a “Tales from Shakespeare” which became a classic. Shakespeare, whoever he was, used a lot of older stories for his drama. One way to appreciate his plays is to know the stories in them. This is one way to learn them.
Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress
Bunyan’s classic does not quite fit anywhere, but it is a great adventure story by itself. I highly recommend the video sold by Christian News as an introduction. Once the plot is known, the allegory is easier to follow. Buy a version of the book with abundant illustrations. Children like illustrations and later see what is portrayed in words without the art. But we all love good pictures.
Herman Melville once visited the Hawthorns and spoke about his adventures in the South Pacific, including a time when a native waved a huge knife at him. His description was so vivid that both Hawthorns thought he had one in his hands and left it behind when he went home.
Wind in the Willows
Kenneth Graham’s classic should never be viewed in the Disney cartoon version. It is the worst piece of butchery I have ever seen. Most call “Wind” the best children’s book every written for adults. In many ways it is quite mature while being wickedly funny and poignant. I love the “Where’s mole” speech, the Christmas carolers, the fight over the oars, the scent of home, and the great battle scene. Most of all, there is the wonderful portrait of Toad, pompous, boastful, deceitful, falsely repentant, and finally repentant. His bragging, phony tears of contrition, and weaseling out of the consequences of his actions will remind children of their own challenges in becoming adults. It may remind you of our Boy President.
Has anyone read this book? I once tried to find it. The story is out of print and hard to find. The Jackson children grew up on it and memorized it.
The books listed above are all in the fantasy and myth categories. If I have forgotten some, let me know. My next installment will include children’s stories based upon fact, where animals bark and mew instead of delivering funny speeches.