The good stories

Reading out loud to our son is great. We all love a good story. Whether it’s about Peter Pan or Simon Peter (two very different characters often mixed up around here).

Children’s Literature isn’t just enjoyed by Children however. In fact, one of the subtler pleasures of Children’s literature is the transformative effect it can have on us as adults. It can remind us of of the things worth passing on, the best of civilization, the very things we’re too busy to remember ourselves.

My son received a handsome gift edition of The Jungle Book for Christmas. The whole family has been enjoying it. Characters switch positions faster than square dancers in Kipling’s stories about Mowgli. The story of Kaa’s Hunting, my favorite, is all about Turnabout – seeing yourself on the other side of the table. Watching our favorites, our heroes go round and round, changing sides, confusing their positions and forgetting where they are, it’s easier to see why sometimes tables need to be turned over.

Even a child’s book on manners reminds us, adults, grown-ups, of how we should treat each other. We forget how the simple niceties are the kindness we should expect from one another. Not so grown up, I guess.

Harold Bloom, who does not prefer to use the title Children’s Literature (this doesn’t mean he can come up with a better phrase, though), seems to think the stories we tell to our children help them to be separate and distinct, building up the individual to fight off the despair of the solitary life. I disagree. In the introduction to his excellent, yet poorly titled, collection of stories for children he notes that the Homeric epics were chanted aloud to audiences and that Chaucer wrote in order to read his work aloud at the royal court. The works that have shaped us were meant to be enjoyed together. I think no book can be for a child alone.

I’d appreciate any tips you have on picking out good stories or any recommendations on stories for children you might have. Please let me know in the comments.

N.B. Miyamoto Musashi is a terrible children’s writer. He will fill a child’s head up with exactly the wrong sort of “silly” ideas. I have almost no idea where the picture at the top of this post came from.

… and that’s not my son in the picture.

7 thoughts on “The good stories

  1. Oh boy!The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, most stories about King Arthur and his knights, stories about Robin Hood, The Phantom Tollbooth, Tarzan, The First Men In the Moon, King Solomon’s Mines, Alan Garner’s Elidor, The Dark is Rising, Alice in Wonderland, all 23 Oz books, The Four-Story Mistake, The House With a Clock In Its Walls, pretty much any thrilling wonder story from Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Three Investigators, anything by Lloyd Alexander, The King’s Fifth, Robinson Crusoe, The Swiss Family Robinson, Treasure Island, and that’s probably enough for now since I could go on forever. (And that’s leaving out the more innapropriate books I read when I was a young kid, like James Michener’s Hawaii, and Moby Dick, and that weird science fiction book about the social problems of a planet of homosexuals… it was in our school library for some reason.)

  2. You’re right, that Harold Bloom book has an incredibly stupid title. You know, I might buy the book but I think I’d have to put a book jacket over it before I read it to any child!I read A Tree Grows In Brooklyn when I was 12. I’m not sure if I was ‘supposed to have’ but I did and thought it was fantastic.Nice post. :o)

  3. Sorry for the cascade of ideas. But I did love reading and being read to as a youth. My father read me the (mostly) unabridged Robinson Crusoe as episodic bed-time story, and I still have that copy somewhere.I’m staying away from the kid in the picture. He’s liable to swipe off my head with one stroke if he finds it advantageous. I’ve read The Book of Five Rings! (Or at least part of it.)

  4. Hey, Elliot, don’t apologize. When I saw Verne and Mr. Toad pop up I kinda hoped there’d be even more. I might have to do a post just on your comments.I was thinking about one day reading Crusoe as an episodic bed-time story to my Son. I just read it for the first time last year. It’s pretty cool that you still have the copy your Dad read to you. My Dad never read long-form stories to me but I do still have, and treasure, his childhood copy of Have Spacesuit Will Travel by Heinlein that he encouraged me to read in grade one or two.

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