Newsletter - Volume 1 #2

SUBJECT: The Enrichment of Our Childhood by British Authors

Daily at the bookstore, I hear adults comment in a mystified tone how incredible it is that youngsters, even non-readers, are all reading the Harry Potter books - even the 4th one with over 700 pages. No one seems to comment that 3 generations are reading the books at the same time. There appears to be a general lack of observations as to why this is so. Let me enlighten you.  

I will admit it  took Harry Potter to wake me up to the fact that so many of our well-loved, well-remembered books from childhood have been written by British authors, past and present. At first I recalled only a few. But then the names started flooding in. Some are newly written. Some are over 100 years old. All share an important characteristic. A strong plot and excellent use of the English language. We never tire of them. They are all still in print. How come? Let me reiterate - a strong plot and excellent use of the English language. There is no pandering to the reader. There is no assumption that the reader has a limited vocabulary. There is no assumption that the reader has a limited imagination. We even have 8 and 9 year olds who are reading them. Some are reading and rereading them to be sure they haven't missed anything. 

Let's take a look at the other books of British origin that continue to delight us however old we are. The list is not definitive but interesting. Please let me know if I have missed any other memorable ones.

Rev. W. Awdry - the Thomas the Tank Engine series - relatively new but a superb vehicle to teach   
                           the advantages of  socialization. 
James Barrie -
Peter Pan
Frances Hodgson Burnett -
The Secret Garden; The Little Princess; Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886)
Edgar Rice Burroughs -
Tarzan. 
Lewis Carroll -
Alice in Wonderland (1866)
Agatha Christie -
106 marvelous mysteries. I always recommend these for 11 and up. 
Winston Churchill - My Early Life 
Roald Dahl -
Matilda, The Witches, Twits, BFG, Charlie &  the Chocolate Factory, etc.The adults 
                      don't  always appreciate the humor, but the youngsters do. They also know the 
    
                   difference between reality and make-believe.
Daniel Defoe -
Robinson Crusoe
Charles Dickens -
A Christmas Carol; Oliver Twist; plus, plus, plus
Arthur Conan Doyle -
The White Company plus many mysteries
C.S.Forster -
the Midshipman Hornblower series
William Golding -
Lord of the Flies
Kenneth Grahame -
The Wind in the Willows
Kate Greenaway - The Sunbonnet Babies
Brian Jacques - The Redwall series based in a medieval background with mice as the   protagonists
                           (1986 - Present)  
Charles Kingsley - Water Babies; Westward Ho!
Rudyard Kipling - The Jungle Book; Just So Stories,Wee Willie Winkie, Captain Courageous,etc. 
Edward Lear - The Nonsense book
C.S.Lewis - The Narnia Series
Hugh Lofting -  Dr. Doolittle
A.A.Milne -
Winnie the Pooh series (1926, 1924, 1928, 1927)
Edith Nesbit -
The Railway Children
Patrick O'Brian -
The Mazarin naval series (1970-1999) 20 volumes
Beatrix Potter -
Peter Rabbit series. 1st written in 1893.
J.P. Rowling -
The Harry Potter series. (1998 - )
William Shakespeare -
Midsummer Night's Dream, Romeo & Juliet, etc.
Robert Louis Stevenson -
Child's Garden of Verses; Treasure Island; Kidnapped (1886), etc.
Jonathan Swift - Gulliver's Travels
J.R. Tolkien - The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, plus, plus
P.L. Travers - Mary Poppins. (1934, 1952, 1943, 1935)
Jules Verne - 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth, etc.
H.G.Wells - 
The Time Machine, War of the Worlds, etc.

Why do we, as adults,  read and reread these  books. I know I am being redundant, but again, two reasons come immediately to mind. 
1. All have a strong plot line. We find them hard to put down once we have started them because they 
    have a sense of pace.  
2. British authors do not talk down to their readers. They respect their readers ability to read the English 
    language.  
3. These books take you into another world; they have a sense of adventure; they are positive in outlook in the face of adversity. They don't depress. 

Isn't it time that American writers and publishers take note. Isn't it time that educators take note. Everyone seems to have forgotten that the youngsters have never "been here before". Sure! The competition for the student's attention is pretty steep. But school was never a popularity contest. It was a place for young people to learn about things they do not know. School is where students go to work. It is their job. They deserve the best. 

Up until the post WWII era, American children were taught with McGuffey readers. All reading teachers take note. Through grade three, our books look similar. Please take a look at grades 4-6. If we really think that children today are smarter than the children of yesterday, then let's start using material that challenges them and educates them at least to the level their ancestors achieved. Good old-fashioned procedures produced excellent results. Why change!

If the teachers of grades 1-3 do their job, then the teachers of grades 4-6 can proceed to introduce their students to the world of great reading. After all, reading good books is the surest way to achieve good writing skills. 

P.S. By the way, are you one of those people who must be first to discover something. You definitely don't like to "follow the crowd". This principle often deprives you of genuine pleasures. So give it up. No one can be first at everything. Give Harry a try.

P.P.S. For those who arbitrarily condemn the Potter books,consider the following:

1. You cannot have a valid opinion if you have not read them. You might benefit from knowing the basic plot: Harry Potter is a gifted child being sent to an English boarding school for the usual 7 years to learn how to use his gifts responsibly. He is a year older in each book. 

2. All fiction is fantasy, whether you read romances, adventures, science fiction,  or mysteries.

3. In my opinion, the key to worthwhile fiction is a positive attitude towards life. We all face adversity at one time or another. It is our willingness to challenge it,  to try and overcome it that makes life worth living. Depressing fiction does nothing.  I've asked everyone, do you know a pessimist who accomplished anything. I have yet to get a yes answer. Interesting!

4. How foolish of adults to think that children don't know the difference between fiction and reality. We all have read the Greek Myths, a marvelous series of stories developed by the Greeks to explain nature's phenomena. Of course, we  know that lightening is not Zeus's thunderbolt.

If you are afraid of thunder, reread Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving. Thunder is just the elves bowling.  Get the idea?  So relax and enjoy a good story, well and imaginativly told.

5. By the way, for those of you who panic at the use of the word wizard, may I remind you that we all admire and respect The Wizard of Menlo Park - i.e. Thomas Alva Edison. His discoveries and inventions revolutionized life as we know it.



We would be delighted to hear from you with suggestions, questions or comments. Our e-mail address is: BooksInk@aol.com. We look forward to your correspondence.

 

 

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