Oh, the Books!

I still remember the scent when I opened the door to the children’s section at the library as a child. I say scent, because the collective smell of the books was beautiful to me. It evoked a sense of excitement—far off places, beloved characters in stories, biographies of interesting people, and so much more. I  remember the color of the green tile floors at old Finney, and to this day, if it were still there, I could tell you where my favorite authors were. That was my first library, and it has pride of place in my memory.

In fifth grade, I developed an obsession with the Presidency of John F. Kennedy. I think I read every book on the subject at Finney, even making my way to the adult section when the limited number ran out in the children’s. I could have told you a great deal about the man, the President and his assassination, in detail, at the time.  (My mother’s copy of, Death of a President is what got me started!)

My second library was the Wauwatosa Public Library, a beautiful place long before the redesign and building project in the late 1980’s. The children’s section was (and the new one still is) huge compared to Finney. When I first saw it, I felt like I had entered a book lover’s paradise. I carried home stacks of books every week. It was a  world of enchantment and fascination in my arms.  I learned so much about the world from books.  Much more than just sitting in classrooms.

It has been a joy to watch the love affair with the library continue in some of my own children. Some, not all. But our youngest, Emily, loves to read, and already has her favorite authors at the library. I offer up suggestions as we walk through. Some she likes, some she does not. I think some of the books haven’t caught her imagination yet, because she isn’t old enough for some of them. Some books, I don’t recommend to her. There is a great deal of paranormal, bizarre and unacceptable material in the library, especially now. Parents have to be the filter for children. Just as we guard our children from toxins of various kinds physically, we guard our kids from toxic materials for their minds and souls. If it isn’t honest, if it isn’t true and tells lies about the world and parents, etc., if it doesn’t celebrate the good, than it isn’t welcome.

A lot of the children’s authors I loved are no longer found, sadly. New authors come up and the old classics we knew and loved disappear. I looked in vain today for a couple of authors I remembered, but they were not there. I bought up an entire series online of used girls’ books, the Beanie Malone series, that I loved so much. They were written in the 50’s, but I enjoyed them in the 70’s and 80’s. Girls today would not find them interesting at all maybe, but I loved the whole Malone family as the stories followed the motherless family through adulthood. There were a lot of fantastic values conveyed with the hard-working Malones. The author had a real gift for conveying common moral dilemmas and misadventures of American kids in a family. Great lessons were learned by reading the books.

Today, I snapped a photo of Emily who was waiting for me to find my own books. I ended up with a few Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries and a 2016 release called, The Word Detective: Searching for the Meaning of It All at the Oxford English Dictionary. It’s a memoir by John Simpson, and if you think that’s boring, you’re very wrong. I’m already sucked into it.

The digital age has much to recommend it as far as communication and knowledge. But the thought of books, the kind you can hold in your hands and put on shelves, disappearing is a terrible thing. Emily has not yet been allowed into the digital world yet. She’s busy getting an appreciation for words on the page without digital distraction. It’s my strong view that children need to achieve an attention span and not have their brains rewired before they’ve even fully developed.

Emily and I have a  read aloud time. She sits in her smaller rocker next to mine and we read a chapter from our current book. It’s a special time for us, beyond just the reading of a story. She also has learned to love audio books on CD for when I can’t read to her. When summer days get long, those give her something fun to do to keep her mind and imagination busy.

There are no guarantees your children will love what you love. But as a parent, you can just set the table, so to speak, and let them sample good things that you lay out. Hopefully, the taste for good books will catch on! It looks like Emily is on her way.

Children’s Bedtime Reading Disappearing

According to an article yesterday in the UK’s DailyMail, declining attention spans in children are doing away with bedtime reading in some homes.

Technology is destroying the ability of children to concentrate for any length of time. This shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us. I sat in a doctor’s waiting room alone where the TV set had been left on. Some cartoon channel was on, top volume. There is no other way to describe it but as an aural and visual assault. The scene changes were so fast I do not know how any child could even keep up with the nonsense going on. Screaming, pounding music, bizarrely drawn cartoon characters. It looked like something Franz Kafka would have come up with for television.

Attention span? None required. That is not to mention the iPhone use, the tablets for tots, TV, the DVD’s and YouTube videos. Kids are pointing and clicking and touch-screening their way into a digital hell where no thought is allowed to linger for more than a second.

I despise what this is doing to children. According to several published studies, it is changing the actual wiring of their brains. How do you undo this damage once it occurs?

I was blessed to be raised with a mother who valued books. She read to us from the time we were small. There was no TV in the house when we were little. Any ability I have to concentrate was fostered in those early years of story time and discussion about what we had read. We didn’t read trash, either. The classic children’s stories beginning with books like The Little Engine that Could opened up not only language, but character concepts like perseverance, kindness, empathy, and so forth.

Reading to children has to begin early. Having watched all six of my children, two of which came from orphanages in Eastern Europe, I can say that if a child is not read to early, a window will close in their minds. Our daughter from a Romanian orphanage came as a toddler, and she loved nothing more than sitting in her jammies with her brother William, one on each side of me, as we read and read and read. The pictures stimulated her mind, and her new language, English, was developed through hearing it. I believe that reading time together each night helped her tremendously to adapt to English. She did so well that she learned to read at age 5 on the exact same track as our biological son, William.

It’s a commitment to read. Years later, I am reading to our little 3-year-old daughter the same classic children’s books all over again.. We are currently reading the series of Edith and Little Bear books. She adores these stories. Dare Wright, a photographer, took a doll and 2 stuffed bears and posed them doing all kinds of things, and then wrote stories around those beautiful black and white photos. Edith and Little Bear have all kinds of adventures. The stories teach forgiveness, consequences for not obeying, kindness and many other things in the context of the stories. Published in the late 50’s and early 60’s, they are great books for little ones! Many libraries still have them. I bought some used copies online in case they go out of print.

Some nights I am nearly too tired to read at all. But having Emmy’s sweet-scented head under my chin as she eagerly turns the page is such a precious time that I make every effort to do so.

Our Bible stories are the most important. Emily is learning foundational things about God. Her Aunt Marilyn gave her a Bible story book from Concordia Publishing with gorgeous illustrations. We are really just beginning the greatest story ever told, the story of God’s love for us. Reading time is also a teaching time. I can’t afford to miss that with our little girl.

I don’t intend to buy technology any time soon for Emily Frances. I don’t care about computer tablets and such for her. She will use technology fast enough. As Will said, the more advanced technology gets, the more user friendly and easier it becomes to learn. She will pick up what she needs later, just as William and Mary have done. For now, she is developing the priceless ability to think deeply. She needs to be able to appraise the worth of ideas. She needs an imagination. She needs internal quiet to grow emotionally and spiritually. Reading time each night, I believe, is a crucial part of making that happen.

“Read it to me, Mama!”

Emmy is only now becoming really interested in books. She’s nearing the age of 3, and with language development on track and with her growing mind full of questions, she is now able to follow a plot line as she scrutinizes every picture.

Last night after her teeth were brushed and her pj’s were on, I told her I had some books I wanted to show her. I went downstairs and found my hardbound copy of Velveteen Rabbit, Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses and a couple others.

She was waiting for me in our reading chair in my bedroom, blanket over her knees. “Whatcha got, Mama?” she asked eagerly when I came in the room.

One glimpse of the Velveteen Rabbit immediately drew her in. “Read it to me, Mama?” she asked.

She knew I would. We also started on page one of A Child’s Garden of Verses. The copy I have has the adorable, color illustrations by Gyo Fujikawa. (There are so many beautiful editions of this book with great illustrators that it’s hard to pick the one I love best, but Jessie Wilcox Smith is another one of my favorite illustrators, and not just for A  Child’s Garden of Verses!)

So we read Windy Nights, Bed in Summer, Whole Duty of Children, and At the Seaside. At this age, reading is sometimes slow going, as children have so many questions. I remember back with Charlie and Sammy on each side of me, and then years later, Will and Mary on each side that even a short book would take a long time to get through – why, what is that, what’s he gonna do, Mama? All of these questions need an answer when you’re 3!

The most popular book right now at our home is The Three Little Pigs, or as Emmy calls it, “The Big Red Wolf.” I’m not sure where the “red” came from, but she can’t read that one enough. She is outraged, every time, when the “big red wolf” huffs and puffs and blows the houses down. She spends time lamenting the ruined little houses and that naughty wolf’s destruction. I softened the story line somewhat so that the little pigs didn’t get eaten up. I figure there’s time enough for reality. But I did not go so far as one liberal version of the book from the library where the Big Bad Wolf ends up hopping out of the stew pot and running off, presumably to terrorize other little pigs down the road. (What a perfect example of liberal thinking. Let the murderous guy loose, don’t put an end to him. Let some other community deal with him! But I digress.)

I just tell Emily that the wolf falls into the hot and boiling pot and “that’s the end of him.” No elaboration is needed at this stage. It’s enough to satisfy the basic justice instincts in the heart of a 3-year-old. The Bad Wolf needed stopping, and he got stopped. (Children are basically conservatives…)

I want to tell you about a beautiful gift Emily received from Tom’s Aunt Marilyn. When Aunt Kris was here, she brought the most beautiful Bible story book I have yet seen. I had just been thinking about buying a new one, as the old edition of Egermeier’s Bible Stories from my own childhood has lost its cover, suffers from a cracked binding, and the illustrations are very faded. Kris brought this beautiful new book on her last visit, and I was so glad to receive it.

It’s called, The Story Bible, and it’s published by Concordia Publishing House. The illustrations are absolutely beautiful. I still remember the illustrations from childhood in Egermeier’s when they were new and vibrantly colored. I can still see Daniel in the Lion’s Den in his golden robe and the fierce looking lions whose mouths were closed by an angel.

I’m looking forward to many hours with Emily reading the Story of all stories, the account of God’s sovereign hand down through history, the story of His love.

There is no more happy place in this world for me than my reading chair with a child’s sweet smelling head under my chin, exploring the beautiful books of childhood. I have a dining room bookcase full of books that I hope Emily will love as much as I did!

A Reading (and Music) Break

I came across a book last week by an author I love, and for once, it turned out to be a book I hadn’t read before. Here’s a paragraph I read last night.

“It was dim and shadowy in the little church, after the glare of the sunshine, and I stood for a few moments looking round.  The walls and floor were of stone–the floor uneven, worn into channels by the passage of many thousands of feet–the roof was barrel-shaped, crossed by great oaken beams.  The windows glowed like jewels and threw coloured patterns on the stones.  Over the doorway was a wooden screen and carved upon it were the words, “O come let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.”

It seemed to me good advice.  I knelt down in the nearest pew and prayed that Simon might be guided aright through all the dangers and difficulties of his life.  When I rose, I felt happier and more relaxed.”  ~ from Katherine Wentworth, by D.E. Stevenson

Paragraphs like this are the essence of why Stevenson is a hit with me. Today it is gray and rain is pelting the windows. Katherine Wentworth is my book of choice. The author’s Mrs. Tim books are some of my favorites in the library.

Some might sneer at books like these, but I enjoy them. They are filled with apt observations about human nature, the morality is right side up, and running through the books are themes of endurance, strength in adversity and the kind of love that sticks in tough times.

I have mentioned before that I also appreciate the books of Elizabeth Goudge. Her book, The City of Bells, is among my top five favorites, along with The Dean’s Watch. There are fewer and fewer copies of these books available as they fall apart and go out of print. It is sad to think that unless I buy up used copies of these books, Emily will never get to read them. The newer novels coming into libraries aren’t even on my radar. The messed-up state of our world is reflected in the books of younger authors.

I don’t want to read depictions of bed-hopping, abortion, adultery and sleaze and read the name of my Savior taken in vain, along with constant vulgarity. That’s not writing, that’s vomiting, and frankly, many of the books I take off the shelves at the library go right back after looking at them.

It isn’t that good books don’t have these themes of sin and its consequences in the writing. The tension between good and evil is always there or there wouldn’t be a story. It’s that too many young authors have abandoned good prose for crass shock material that takes the base and the grotesque and celebrates it or causes readers to wallow in the details until they are defiled by it.

Good writing naturally shows the ultimate triumph of good over evil. How that is all worked out within the plot is what makes books so interesting. I like to come away from a book thinking about the themes and message it contains. Katherine Wentworth (I’m on page 145) contrasts an emotionally healthy, if poor, widow raising three children, with a stifling, controlling relative who has everything money can buy, and nothing of the priceless gifts that love and freedom bring relationships.

I highly recommend this book, even though I haven’t finished it yet!

Here’s a music break, a little Dubussy impressionism for your day! I love this piece.