Saturday, November 23, 2002

Kids' books

Back in grade school the teachers used to read to us. I'm not sure, but I think it continued into 4th grade. Is that still done?

We heard several Marguerite Henry and Laura Ingalls Wilder "Little House" books. There were some interesting singletons too, like "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle, and of course "Charlotte's Web".

Did this reading get kids interested in books? I think so. I know I read about everything I could get my hands on, and not just because we didn't have cable TV in those days (I still have forearms like Popeye from turning that !@#$! mechanical TV tuner). Much of it was the public domain books that were bundled with a set of encyclopedias (remember those?).

Often the books I liked were part of a series. Encyclopedia Brown was one - there have been dozens of books in this series by now. I just bought a mess of those for assorted rugrat relatives.

Then there were the Danny Dunn books, by Jay Williams and Raymond Abrashkin. (Actually Abrashkin conceived the stuff, but he was almost completely paralyzed - he survived to work on the first 5 books). Danny lived with a professor and had all sorts of adventures that were high-tech by 50's/60's standards. Technology has a short shelf life, so it's no surprise that these are out of print.

Oh yes, there were the "Happy Hollisters". I thought they were great at the time - I was offended when I found that these were ground out by the yard by the Stratemeyer syndicate (Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, etc.). All of the HH books appear to be out of print.

On my own I found some others, like Albert Payson Terhune's dog stories like "Lad, A Dog" - the style of writing is dated and the author worries about then-current issues like vivisection, but animal lovers might still enjoy them. Once in a while Aesop's fables would show up in English books, and I sought out others - it's hard to imagine anything pithier. Of course there was Ayn Rand's Satan, Robin Hood, who I prefer to think of as robbing the govt to give to the taxpayers. All of them were about old-fashioned virtues that often are seen as utterly cornball now.

So what are kids reading today? Well, I investigated Harry Potter to see what the fuss is about, and unless you have some sort of religious issues IMO they're terrific books. What little I've seen of other series like "Captain Underpants" and "Bailey School Kids" seems harmless enough, and about anything is fair to get the kids to read.

But let's keep on pushing the older stuff too, such as "The Children's Book of Virtues" and the new release from National Review, "Treasury of Classic Children's Literature". I'm convinced that it did me a world of good.

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