“Of Books, Children, and Parents,” Ensign, May 1971, 31
Few activities create a warmer relationship between child and grown-up than reading aloud. A child finds it very pleasing to be read to and to have the undivided attention of an adult. When an adult reads aloud to a child, he soon understands what delight and joy it gives the child. And if the adult is completely honest, he will admit he enjoys it just as much himself. Perhaps this is the first reason why parents should be concerned about their child’s reading experiences.
Reading is not an antidote for thwarting social illness. It is not a tool with which to conquer space. It is not a thing we do to children. A child needs to be plunged into the world of literature in order to experience sound, emotion, and self. There is a certain urgency in young parents cuddling their children in the first year of life and sharing with them the cadence of Mother Goose rhymes, the rhythm of simple poetry, and the vigor of prose. To what end? Surely not to give them instruction.
It is true that the experience of hearing good literature, of seeing one’s parents read, of participating in family-in-the-round creative dramatic activities based on “Henny-Penny” or “Jack Be Nimble” will go a long way toward giving children a head start in learning to read.
But the primary purpose of reading to your child early in his life is not to provide quantities of anything for his future learning; rather, it is to insure a quality experience in your earliest parent-child relationships. The fact that he will be preparing himself for the later discipline of having to read is secondary. Reading experiences for children in the first three years of their lives must not be for instructive purposes; they should be for the opportunity of mother, father, and child’s sharing time, sound, and delight with one another.
There will be those who will correctly say that it is possible to start a child before the age of three in the learning-to-read process. For some very few children this is possible. The danger is that in the position of instructor, the mother often bases her love and acceptance of the child not on the fact of his being, but on the success of his learning. This is called conditional love. “If you learn for me, I will love you” is the message. Jesus never gave love in return for performance. Neither should we.
A child’s sense of self-confidence, so vital to his growing up emotionally healthy, may be destroyed in his first four years of life. It can also be enhanced in these years. Often the choice rests with the parents. Many parents, in their zealousness to insure their child’s later academic success, may plunge him too early into learning tasks beyond his reach.
After a child has learned the basic skills of reading (methodology notwithstanding), it is imperative that he be introduced to the literature of his language. To learn to read and then to read only to fulfill an assignment is sad. To learn to read and then to read only some of the errant nonsense presently found in certain “reading programs” that teach the children a predetermined sequence of skills from stories that make a mockery of language by their disregard for the importance of literary content is pitiful. In all great literature, in superb children’s literature, too, there is that which vibrates the soul, which enables man and child to enter into the lives and thoughts of others in a way not afforded by those who would engage children in the art of linguistic acrobatics as a substitute for literature.
In George Durrant’s article “A Gift from Heaven” [Ensign, March 1971, p. 5], an Air Force pilot, now a prisoner in Vietnam, uses the few lines allotted him after thirty-five months in prison to urge his waiting wife to spend her time in study. My heart was touched as he said, “Marge, I’ve thought you might enjoy a class at the university. Consider children’s literature, art and music appreciation. …”
I vividly recall the counsel of Elder Ezra Taft Benson on February 28, 1971, at the quarterly conference of the Bonneville Stake as he urged all assembled to attend to our families and indicated that it was a primary parental obligation. Such was the major leitmotif of President David O. McKay’s tenure on this earth. Thus too did President Harold B. Lee express himself when he placed the home above even Church organizations as the place where the quality of life may be improved. He said, “It seems clear to me that the Church has no choice—and never has had—but to do more to assist the family in carrying out its divine mission … to help improve the quality of life in the Latter-day Saint homes. As important as our many programs and organizational efforts are, these should not supplant the home; they should support the home.” (Ensign, March 1971, p. 3.)
Few schools have planned literature programs for children, and so each parent (even the least educated) must feel responsible for introducing the literature of the native language to his children. I can think of no finer way to open or close the family home evening than with parents and/or children reading from a memorable piece of suitable children’s literature. Dinner time can become for both large and small families exactly the right place for reading to our children. The growth of love and compassion, virtues of the Master, may be cultivated in literature that speaks to the heart. For, after all, what the intellect may not quite grasp, the heart can know. Literature in poetry, haiku, folk stories, and fiction may direct a child to understand both his own motivations and the behavior of others, may lend him different eyes to look through, and may enable him to see himself and his friends in a fresh light.
Perfect love requires feelings and knowledge beyond those that most of us enjoy in our brief lives. The experience of literature thrusts the reader into realms beyond his own meager possibilities.
This list of exceptional books for children could become the nucleus for your home-literature experiences. They need not be bought; use your public library. In Europe, information may be obtained from Professor Dr. Richard Bamberger at the Institut fur Kinder, Jugend-und Volksliteratur, Fuhrmannsgasse 18a, 1080 Wien.
Marguerite de Angeli, Book of Nursery and Mother Goose Rhymes (Doubleday, 1954)
Randolph Caldecott, Caldecott Picture Books (Frederick Warne & Company, 1878)
Tasha Tudor, Mother Goose (Henry Walck, 1944)
Kathleen Lines, Lavender’s Blue (Oxford University Press, 1954)
C. B. Falls, A B C Book (Doubleday, 1923)
Wanda Gag, The A B C Bunny (Coward-McCann Company, 1933)
Bruno Munari, A B C (World Publishing Company, 1960)
H. A. Rey, Curious George Learns the Alphabet (Houghton-Mifflin Company, 1963)
Brian Wildsmith, A B C (Franklin Watts, 1963)
Francoise, Jeanne-Marie Counts Her Sheep (Scribner’s, 1951)
Helen Borten, You See What I See? (Abelard-Schuman, Ltd., 1959)
Sesyle Joslin, What Do You Say, Dear? (William R. Scott, 1958)
Leo Leonni, Little Blue and Little Yellow (Ivan Obolensky, Inc., 1959)
Leo Leonni, Swimmy (Pantheon Books, 1963)
Leo Leonni, Frederick (Pantheon Books, 1967)
Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Peter Rabbit (Warne & Co., 1901)
Marie Hall Ets, Gilberto and the Wind (Viking, 1963)
Ezra Jack Keats, The Snowy Day (Viking, 1962)
Janice May Udry, A Tree Is Nice (Harper & Row, 1956)
Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are (Harper, 1963)
Virginia Lee Burton, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (Houghton-Mifflin, 1939)
Watty Piper, The Little Engine That Could (Platt & Monk, 1954)
William Cole, Oh, What Nonsense! (Viking, 1966)
Walter de la Mare, Peacock Pie (Knopf, 1961)
Aileen Fisher, Listen, Rabbit (Crowell Co., 1964)
Laura E. Richards, Tirra Lirra (Little-Brown, 1932)
Augusta Baker, Talking Tree (Lippincott, 1955)
Richard Chase, The Jack Tales (Houghton-Mifflin, 1943)
Arthur Rackham, The Fairy Book (Lippincott, 1950)
Peter C. Asbjornsen, East of the Sun and West of the Moon (Macmillan, 1953)
Robert Lawson, Rabbit Hill (Viking, 1944)
Hugh Lofting, The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle (Lippincott, 1922)
George Selden, The Cricket in Times Square (Farrar-Straus-Giroux, 1960)
E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web (Harper, 1952)
A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh (Dutton, 1926)
C. Collodi, The Adventures of Pinocchio (Grosset & Dunlap, 1946)
Rachel Field, Hitty: Her First Hundred Years (Macmillan, 1929)
Carol Kendall, The Gammage Cup (Harcourt, 1959)
Mary Norton, The Borrowers (Harcourt, 1953)
Virginia Sorensen, Miracles on Maple Hill (Harcourt, 1956)
Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods (Harper, 1953)
Meindert DeJong, The Wheel on the School (Harper, 1954)
Eleanor Estes, The Moffats (Harcourt, 1941)
Antone de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince (Harcourt, 1943)
Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels (E. P. Dutton, 1952)
John R. R. Tolkein, The Hobbit: Or There and Back Again (Houghton-Mifflin, 1938)
L. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz (Macmillan, 1962)
Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Knopf, 1964)
James M. Barrie, Peter Pan (Scribner’s, 1950)
L. M. Boston, The Children of Green Knowe (Harcourt, 1955)
Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time (Farrar-Straus-Giroux, 1962)
C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Macmillan, 1950)
Scott O’Dell, The Black Pearl (Houghton-Mifflin, 1967)
Elizabeth Coatsworth, The Cave (Viking, 1958)