Due to a recent question I was asked, I’ve been rummaging through childhood memories and examining the books I read as a youngster. It’s an instructive, refreshing and thought-provoking experience, particularly as I have young sons of my own now. I’m not a psychologist or a teacher, but I’m convinced that what one reads as a child is of vital significance. Ideas have consequences. The claim that books have no effect on their readers is demonstrably incorrect. I won’t argue that, other than to point out that advertisers are willing to spend millions of dollars on short commercials designed to manipulate our thoughts. You can fill in the dots from that idea to my original claim that reading books (absorbing ideas) have consequences. Oh, and be sure to add Lenin’s thought into that as well: “Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.”
There’s a great deal here that I aim to be thinking about over the next few months. If you do have children, give them great books. Be choosy. I’m not so arrogant to say this on behalf of my own books. Instead, go find the great books first. Life’s short and children grow up fast.
6 thoughts on “Rummaging through memories and Lenin”
Good reminder, Christopher.
What would you say the “great books” are?
I’ve been thinking about that for the last couple of days, specifically in the context of young children (around 0-10). I’m certainly not an expert in the academic sense of the word, but I’m rather opinionated and always happy to pontificate about books. I don’t have an exhaustive list, but I’m planning on putting one together from my childhood memories. My parents still have most of our books from those days in their library, so I’m going to go take a refresher course. I’m more preoccupied with illustrated children’s books right now, as my sons are still quite small. I’d start with writers like Maurice Sendak, Dorothea Warren Fox (Miss Twiggley’s Tree), Tomi Ungerer, Tomi dePaola, Jan Brett (beautifully illustrated and well written books), the Berenstain Bears books (their portrayal of family is superb, gently and deftly done), Richard Scary is marvelous (interesting to go back and find his earlier work with the Little Golden Books). In addition, the older fables and fairy tales are incredible, Aesop and the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen and company. Anyway, I’ll stop now. Do you have any favorites?
Honestly, it’s been a recent realization that I need to start actively looking for books to read with my 2 1/2 year old since he’s basically a sponge. It really hit home when he recited a poem from one of his books that neither his mom or I knew he memorized.
It’s hard for me because I don’t the strong memories of reading when I was very young. Sure, my mom read to us all the time, but I just don’t remember what when I was under 5. I need to get to the library soon and look at what is out there. And your list will be helpful.
Yeah, I have sympathy for the sponge syndrome. My 5 year old always wants more and more books. It’s going to take constant vigilance to keep him well-stocked.
Who the heck made the claim that books have no effect on their readers? They should have their heads examined. Or perhaps read a few more books, they might learn something. Incidentally, I heard that quote about “Give me the children for four years…” attributed to several different people; this is the first that I’ve seen it associated with Lenin.
I still remember the first line in the first book I ever read by myself: “Cedric selbst wusste nichts davon.” (“Cedric himself knew nothing about it.”)- the first line of “Little Lord Fountleroy”. I still love Victorian novels with happy endings. The books I read as a child not only had a lasting influence, they shaped my life.
As a parent, I agree with your advice to give kids great books and be choosy about them. I would also add: allow your kids to make up their own minds; their tastes might differ from yours. And if there’s something you object to in their choice, don’t just censor those books (i.e. take them away), but read them yourself and discuss with your kids why you object. There’s no better way to teach your kids how to think for themselves, rather than teaching them *what* to think.
The claim that entertainment (TV, film, video games, songs, books, etc) have no real effect on the consumer is one that various entities in the entertainment industries have repeatedly made over the years. It’s a rather ridiculous argument.
I agree with you to a degree on allowing children to make up their own minds regarding books. Age and emotional maturity, of course, have to have a place in the equation. I think there’s a sort of sliding dependency that adjusts as a child ages, and as they mature emotionally and mentally (ie., there are some twelve years olds who are more mature than some seventeen year olds). And, yeah, I agree with you about teaching kids to think by discussion. I kind of think of that whole process as giving them the intellectual and moral tools in their mental toolbox which they can then use, later, to analyze situations and, hopefully, arrive at a good moral choice. With my young sons, I try to give them the moral reason “why” for situations, and not just tell them they must behave a certain way. It’s interesting watching how the oldest is beginning to process things from a moral perspective. The younger one is too young still. He just smiles and tries to whack me with his stuffed bear or whatever else is handy.