The New Student's Reference Work/Literature for Children

The New Student's Reference Work  (1914) 
Literature for Children

Lit′erature for Children. In recent years there has grown up a large demand for books and general literature suitable for children. A great variety of such books has been produced and would be sufficient, if brought together, to make a good-sized library. There has thus developed a distinct body of literature, belonging to the various stages of childhood and youth and somewhat definitely marked off from the literature designed for adult minds. Many of these books are poor and trifling, others are choice in thought and style and are highly educative in their effect. It requires considerable special knowledge and experience to select the books of most value and best adapted to children from this great mass and variety of materials. Parents especially find it difficult to keep track of the choice books, and even teachers, with their larger experiences in literature, history and science, often are unqualified to make a good selection for children.

We will first briefly summarize and classify the principal kinds of books.

The books of early childhood include such as the Mother Goose stories, Stevenson's poems of early childhood, Eugene Field's poems and other illustrated poems and tales. Fairy-tales and folk-lore, including Grimm's and Andersen's, follow closely, and then the whole series of myths from Hiawatha and other Indian tales back to the Norse and Greek myths. Old English story is rich in ballads and songs of delight to children. The legendary stories of early Roman history, Siegfried, Roland and many early and medieval tales from the history of Germany, France and Italy, William Tell, the accounts of King Arthur and the Round Table knights, the patriarchal stories from the Bible and legendary stories of French, German and English kings furnish a rich variety of interesting narratives for the young. Frederick Barbarossa, King Alfred, Charlemagne, Robert Bruce and Sir William Wallace and many other stories may be cited. Some of the standard books dealing with these stories are Grimm's Fairy Tales, Andersen's Fairy Tales, Hawthorne's Wonder-Book and Tanglewood Tales, Kingsley's Greek Heroes, King Arthur and His Court (Greene), Old Testament Stories in Scriptural Language, Peabody's Old Greek Folk-Stories, the Eugene Field Book, Stevenson's Book of Poems, Norse Stories (Mabie), Myths of Northern Lands, Hiawatha, Lays of Ancient Rome (Macaulay), Tales from English History, Heroic Ballads, Stories from Herodotus, Jason's Quest (Lowell), Tales of Chivalry (Rolfe), The Boy's King Arthur (Lanier), The Story of Siegfried (Baldwin), The Story of Troy, The Story of Roland (Baldwin) and Church's stories of The Iliad and The Odyssey.

The best of these legends and stories are selected from the early history and literature of modern European countries and from Greek, Roman and Hebrew civilization. Many have been translated or adapted for modern use from the old literatures. Belonging also to the earlier and middle period of childhood, from 10 to 12, are such stories as Gulliver's Travels (Swift), The Arabian Nights, The Nürnberg Stove (Ramée), Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (Carroll), Black Beauty, Little Lord Fauntleroy (Burnett), Being a Boy (Warner), The Story of a Bad Boy (Aldrich), The Robin Hood Stories (Pyle), Tales of a Traveller (Irving), King of the Golden River (Ruskin), The Water-Babies (Kingsley), The Pied Piper of Hamlin (Browning), Ten Boys on the Road from Long Ago (Andrews) and The Story of the English (Guerber).

From 11 on, some of the simple biographies are interesting to children, as of John Smith, Boone, Miles Standish, Lincoln, Washington, La Salle, William Penn, Benjamin Franklin, Peter the Great, King Alfred, Cæsar, Cromwell and others.

During the grammar-school period children become interested in such books as Tales from Shakespeare (Lamb), Irving's Stories, Vicar of Wakefield, Pilgrim's Progress, Swiss Family Robinson, Last of the Mohicans, Evangeline, Tales of a Grandfather, Plutarch's Lives, Silas Marner, Tom Brown's School-Days, Franklin's Autobiography, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Merchant of Venice, Roger de Coverly, Lady of the Lake, Don Quixote, Rob Roy, Treasure Island, Peasant and Prince, Scudder's Life of Washington, The Talisman, Ivanhoe and The Deserted Village.

Then comes a large series of books of travel and adventure, geographical descriptions and excursions, stories of hunting and fishing, voyages of exploration and discovery, which make a good share of a library for boys and girls. Such are Livingstone's and Stanley's experiences in Africa, the ocean-explorers, as Columbus, Da Gama, Magellan, Sir Francis Drake and Captain Cook; Arctic explorers, as Nansen; pioneer explorers in America, as Champlain, De Soto, Lewis and Clark and Fremont.

More recently there has come into use a body of nature-stories and science-books which are of much importance, as Burrough's Birds and Bees, Squirrels and Other Fur-Bearing Animals, Bird Land (Keyser), Krag and Johnny Bear (Seton), The Foot-Path Way (Torey), Three Outdoor Papers (Higginson), Stories of Bird Life (Pearson), The First Book of Birds and Birds Through an Opera Glass (Olive Thorne Miller), Nestlings in Forest and Marsh (Wheelock), Town Geology and Madame How and Lady Why (Kingsley), Star land (Ball), Natural History of Selborne (White), Secrets of the Woods (Long) and Familiar Flowers of Field and Garden (Mathews).

In addition may be mentioned humorous stories, as How I Killed a Bear (Warner), Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (Twain), The Rose and the Ring (Thackeray), The Story of a Bad Boy (Aldrich), The Adventures of Robin Hood (Pyle) and Little Masterpieces of American Wit and Humor (Masson).

Intelligent parents are becoming aware of the importance of selecting the best books for children and of not only putting these books where children may find them but of reading to the children. Mothers, fathers, older brothers and sisters or aunts cannot entertain and benefit the children so much in any other way as by reading the best stories to them. This should begin before children are old enough to go to school. Between four and six is the choice time, in many respects, to introduce children to the best stories and ballads. Their minds are remarkably receptive to good stories at this period, and the thought and language of children can be thus early shaped and directed into the best channels. Thoughtful mothers who can get time for this delightful study with their children find it most valuable to all concerned and a real pleasure.

As children grow a little older, the reading of good books in the family circle, where old and young alike may enjoy them together, is perhaps the best way of developing the right family spirit and at the same time cultivating and enriching the minds of young and old. For this reason a well-selected family library is very helpful. Some of our city and town libraries now provide a children's room where a full set of children's books is supplied. In some cases a lady is employed to read to classes of boys and girls, introducing them in an interesting way to the better class of books.

In common schools the entire method of treating books and literature has undergone a great change in recent years. The oral treatment of stories in primary grades has developed into an elaborate plan of introducing the best stories and literary products to children, in order thus to give them an early and vivid acquaintance with authors and their works. Primary teachers have been developing the art of storytelling, including clear and attractive narrative, impersonation of characters, dramatic action of a simple kind, question, answer and discussion and, finally, careful reproduction of stories by the children. This kind of work has vitalized primary instruction, awakened the interests and thought activity of children, and exerted excellent influence in improving the language and composition of pupils. It has laid the foundation in primary grades for a real educative acquaintance with several standard classes of literature which may grow and develop later. This oral acquaintance with firstclass stories and myths also has a close relation to the labor of learning to read in primary schools. It plants in the children the desire to learn the art of reading, and it lends enthusiasm and natural expression to all later oral reading. The mechanical formalism and monotony so common among children in learning to read are due largely to the lack of thought and interest in what they are reading; in short to a deficiency of such stimulating ideas as children appropriate richly through oral story and work.

As soon as children have learned to read in primary grades and have acquired a strong interest and preference for suitable books, the later reading in schools, from the fourth grade on, is designed to cultivate and develop this lively interest in the best standard works in literature still further. Instead of the series of regular readers, many of the schools are in the habit of requiring the reading of good English classics in the intermediate and grammar grades. Such series of unabbreviated English classics are now published for school use by most of the large publishing companies, including such books as Longfellow's Evangeline and Courtship of Miles Standish, Irving's Rip Van Winkle and Sleepy Hollow, Whittier's Snowbound, Lowell's Vision of Sir Launfal, Matthew Arnold's Sohrab and Rustum, Scott's Marmion and Lady of the Lake, Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice and Julius Cæsar, Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare, Webster's Speech at Bunker Hill, Motley's Essay on Peter the Great, Schurz's Essay on Lincoln and Hawthorne's Tales of the White Hills.

The study of masterpieces as units of thought has introduced into the common school a new and improved method of reading and interpreting literature. Reading in grammar grades is no longer a mere drill in enunciation, pronunciation and rhetorical expression. It has become a fruitful and many-sided thought-study, an awakening of deep and lasting interest in the works of great writers and in the great writers themselves as leaders of thought. The very methods of instruction have changed. The teacher herself needs to have an appreciative and sympathetic acquaintance with classic works and an enthusiasm for the study of them. Boys and girls have their attention directed first of all to the growth of a strong idea in a masterpiece and to the author's style and power in expressing it. The characters depicted by the author are worked out in their proper setting and relation to environment. Great moral principles come to light, and ideals of personal conduct are set up, or contrasts are shown between right and wrong action. In other words, it becomes a deep and interesting study of human life as revealed by great writers. Such an inspiring study may then well lead to natural and expressive reading.

It is not unusual to dramatize some of the suitable works and present them on the school-stage, especially those which already are in the dramatic form, as Shakespeare's Julius Cæsar, The Courtship of Miles Standish and others.

Another field to which it is the business of the school and home to introduce children is that which belongs to periodical magazines, newspapers and the current literature of periodicals. Children need, on the part of elders, first of all, a wise choice of the best of these productions and, second, a considerate encouragement to read those which deserve attention.

The home has the best opportunity of directing the tastes of children by reading with them. The school can call attention to the best magazines, furnishing them in the school-library, and in the discussion of current events directing the attention of pupils to those periodicals which give a simple and interesting discussion of political, scientific, social and practical topics. Even the daily newspapers require attention; young people should be shown how to read and judge them, and should then be led to appreciate the better class of dailies.

One of the peculiar characteristics of our civilization is this increasing importance of literature in the education of the young. It has grown to large proportions in the last 30 years. Side by side with good and wholesome literature is a great mass of false and vicious books and periodicals which pander to a depraved taste and to vicious thoughts and impulses. It is the duty of the school and home to forestall these bad influences by the steady forces of education, begun early and kept up continuously through all the years of youth.

Some of the books dealing with this problem are Literature in Schools (Scudder); How to Teach Reading (Clark); Counsel upon the Reading of Books (Van Dyke); The Study and Teaching of English (Chubb); The Story-Teller's Art (Dye); Books and Reading (Lowell); Special Method in Primary Reading and Oral Work with Stories (McMurry); Special Method in the Reading of English Classics (McMurry); The Book-Lover (Baldwin); Place of the Story in Early Education (Wiltse) and The Listening Child (Thacher).