Posts tagged " children’s books "

George and Martha, Frog and Toad

June 29th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 30 comments

As a young child, one of our daughters had an exceedingly difficult time controlling her temper and her tongue. When I had my act together, I would spin thinly veiled bedtime stories for her about a mice family dealing with the same issues as she and her siblings faced. Listening to those tales allowed her to glimpse storms and mistakes in her own world in a safe and gentle way.

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Growing with Nancy

January 18th, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings 1 comment

Superman comic books may not generally be considered advanced literary material, but the childhood hours I spent reading them did help me do well on my SATs.  While I didn’t read the comics for vocabulary lessons, years later the spurious documents that one criminal used served me admirably when I needed to pick the correct multiple choice synonym for that word.

This recently came to mind when I was shown an original Nancy Drew volume and one of the newer Nancy Drew: Girl Detective books. The “titian-haired girl” had transformed into a “strawberry blond,” she no longer “chafed at delays” and the sentence structure and plot were watered down.  Even worse, her personality, character and intelligence had reverted to the median. Instead of Nancy Drew, role model, she had turned into Nancy Drew, one of today’s crowd.

How unfortunate. A story is told about one of the great 20th century rabbis and one of my husband’s teachers, Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky, whose portrait hangs in the entrance hallway to our home.  He was visiting a pre-school and noticed that there were mezuzot (scrolls with specific Biblical verses written on them) on the doorposts, in accordance with Deuteronomy 6:9. However, they were placed lower than mandated. When he asked why, the teachers responded that they were low so that they would be accessible from the children’s heights. The rabbi commented, “What we must do is put a stepstool in order for the children to reach higher — to the proper level of the mezuzah (singular)! Raise the child at an early age to reach the height of the mitzvah (commandment), instead of lowering the mitzvah to the child!”

I am certainly not comparing Nancy Drew to the mitzvah of affixing a mezuzah to one’s doorposts. But I do believe in parents strongly supervising what their children read. Rather than thinking, “Well, at least they’re reading,” my husband and I were acutely aware that what our children were reading would help form their characters, attitudes and intelligence. While we didn’t always manage to apply the supervision we knew was needed (our children were voracious readers), our goal was for everything they read to make them greater, not lesser people. That didn’t mean filling our home with uninteresting, pious tracts. It did mean hands-on library visits, occasionally not allowing a popular book or series into our home, and a great deal of children’s literature on our own bedside tables. It frequently meant using the books the children were reading, or that we read aloud as a family, as a launching pad for discussion. 

I discovered the changes in the Nancy Drew series because one of my daughters showed me her ‘rejection’ pile after her children’s visit to the library. Her family’s shelves are filled with many of the books that she and her siblings loved as well as more recently written ones that she has discovered. There is little that can fill a grandmother’s heart with as much joy as knowing that her children are making sure that their own children reject the spurious values and prevalent trends surrounding them, for a greater goal than SAT scores.

 

 

Not the Charlotte’s Web I Recall

January 23rd, 2007 Posted by Susan's Musings 2 comments

What do you think of when you remember Charlotte’s Web? Maybe pigs and spiders, or perhaps you are surrounded by memories of cuddling under a blanket and reading, possibly the first stirrings of recognition that there was a relationship between the food on your plate and animals. (As a Jew who kept kosher, the book might have been an easier read for me) Whatever your memories are, they probably didn’t include high school students having affairs with their teachers or participating in a host of other immoral and un-childlike behaviors.

Which is why it was incredibly disturbing to me when I approached a copy of Charlotte’s Web prominently displayed in a bookstore on a shelf advertising “Recommended Reading for Children”, and found that the book featured next to it included the above depravities.

What is the manager of that bookstore thinking? And how sad is it that parents can’t allow their children the liberating pleasure of freely browsing through the children’s section of a bookstore or the library without having to worry about what they will find. With all the (necessary) warnings about children being accidentally exposed to pornography and other evils on the web, how about a little concern for what they will find in what we think of as safe locations?

Using judgment and taking the responsibility for what children see should be an obligation every children’s librarian and bookstore owner accepts. The fact that the government shouldn’t censor reading material is unrelated to whether adults in positions of trust should. In the years that passed between when my eldest and youngest daughters each became voracious readers and devoted bookshelf browsers I saw a scary change in the offerings on those shelves. I’m not talking age appropriate realism – I’m talking age inappropriate depictions and the presentation of deviation as the norm. What a sad reality it is when any caring parent today has to know that the sheltered harbors of their childhood, the libraries and bookstores, are no longer protected environments

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