Thisby Thestoop and the Black Mountain

It’s fair to say that I read a good number of books children’s books. Having kids of my own, I like to pilfer their shelves from time to time. In our house, we like to stock “the classics” as a sort of quality guarantee. Since children’s books became a genre there have been writers who have tried to cash in on the children’s market as a way to make a quick buck with little effort. Reading “the classics” means that you get the best books from every era without having to wade through the formulaic twaddle, most of which has mercifully been forgotten over the years.
It’s a different story with modern children’s books. Picking up a new children’s book means taking a chance on wasting your time, and the modern children’s book publishing machine loves tried and true formulas. After the success of Harry Potter we got books about schools for magical/mythological/specially talented kids who are sorted into groups based on their personalities. After The Hunger Games took off, we’ve have had m…

Parenting Advice from Susan

I just read Hogfather by Terry Pratchett as a quick, fun read in between longer books. As with all of Pratchett's books, it manages to be at the same time funny and profound. This go round finds Death (you know, tall guy with scythe, TALKS IN ALL CAPS) having to play the role of the Discworld's version of Santa Claus, the Hogfather, while his granddaughter, Susan Sto-Helit, tries to track down the baddies that are attempting to make an end of the jolly fat man.

Susan also happens to be a governess, though she says that "if she did indeed ever find herself dancing on rooftops with chimney sweeps she'd beat herself to death with her own umbrella." Along the way, I was able to glean some surprisingly great parenting advice from her experience as a governess. Enjoy.

On Baby Talk

She looked around. Her door had been pushed open and a small figure stood there, barefoot in a nightdress.
She sighed. "Yes, Twyla?"
"I'm afwaid of the monster in the cellar, Thusan. It's going to eat me up."
Susan shut her book firmly and raised a warning finger.
"What have I told you about trying to sound ingratiatingly cute, Twyla?" she said.
The little girl said, "You said I mustn't. You said that exaggerated lisping is a hanging offense and I only do it to get attention."

On Children's Literature
There were lessons... These were going a lot better now she'd got rid of the books about bouncy balls and dogs called Spot. She'd got Gawain on to the military campaigns of Tacticus, which were suitably bloodthirsty but, more importantly, considered too difficult for a child. As a result his vocabulary was doubling every week and he could already use words like "disemboweled" in everyday conversation. After all, what was the point of teaching children to be children? They were naturally good at it.
I love this advice because I've found it to be personally true with my own children. Children need to read things that are above their level in order to grow. Or, as Charlotte Mason always said, children need to not read twaddle.

J.R.R. Tolkien echoes this same thought in one of his letters:
Life is rather above the measure of us all...We all need literature that is above our measure--though we may not have sufficient energy for it all the time. But the energy of youth is usually greater. Youth needs less than adulthood or Age what is down to its (supposed) measure...Therefore do not write down to Children or to anybody. Not even in language...A good vocabulary is not acquired by reading books written according to some notion of the vocabulary of one's age-group. It comes from reading books above one.

On Skipping
"I was just skipping--"
"Quite. Real children don't go hoppity-skip unless they are on drugs."
He grinned at her.
"If I catch you being twee again I will knot your arms behind your head," said Susan levelly.
He nodded, and went to push Twyla off the swings.

And finally, on another note Susan also gives what is perhaps one of my favorite quotes on education.

On Education

Getting an education was a bit like a communicable sexual disease. It made you unsuitable for a lot of jobs and then you had the urge to pass it on.


Erica said…
The whole thing about children's literature reminded me of The Tales of Beedle the Bard. There is a character who was so horrified by the wizarding fairy tales that she had to change them to make them more suitable for children.

"'And Wee Willykins kissed and huggled the hoppitty pot and promised always to help the dollies and never to be an old grumpy-wumpkins again.'
Mrs. Bloxam's tale has met the same response from generations of Wizarding children: uncontrollable retching, followed by an immediate demand to have the book taken from them and mashed into pulp."
Suburbanbanshee said…
Of course real children skip. It's what you do when you're not allowed to break into a run, but you want to go faster than a speedwalk. I had a fair turn of speed at both a skip and a hop, so there, Terry Pratchett.

Of course, boys don't get to have fun with a skip's swishing their pleated skirts around, unless they're Scottish and made to wear the kilt; so perhaps the secondary aesthetic appeal of skipping is less for them. But Catholic schoolgirl plaid jumpers/skirts are ideally designed for maximum skipping.