A recent study showed that the number of children reading books is significantly down. The reason given, of course, was the rapidly expanding use of the computer and the internet. Most children find the electronic media more exciting. The instinctive skill of the young in these new fields, aligned with peer conformity, quicken the inclination to be trendy, to flash the hottest and smallest gadgets available. Fielding the intrigues of living online appears to outshine the more subdued strategies and charms of a book.
Excitement levels and orthodoxy are not the only reason for the downturn in children’s reading. For several declining decades public educators have black listed most classical children’s literature. European fairy tales, the old legends of Grimm and Peraultt, have been tagged politically incorrect; insensitive, or have succumbed to some other illogical and derogatory hoax.
Charges of incorrectness from the educational community have actually been generated by the moral nature of the traditional stories. Traditional is code for the biblical teaching of right and wrong. Virtue and innocence are clearly good and often need to be rescued by the handsome prince or a knight in shining armor. Clarity of moral absolutes frightens the vendors of our failed educational system, but assures the keen interest and attention of every precious child.
Hearing sterile accounts of purple cows or the dismal protests of Tammy’s Other Daddy are not only boring to kids, but are obvious instructional manuals in humanistic drivel. What Children remember and respond to is based solidly on the epic struggle between right and wrong, the world-class absolutes of biblical truth and foundations of Western civilization. So, the first step in teaching the love of literature is to read the old fairy tales, out loud, from infancy until little ones can recite them backward and forward! Kids love repetition. Even before they know word meanings they can grasp concepts that rouse and delight.
A second step calls for a similar diet of G.K. Chesterton, George MacDonald, Edith Nesbit (the Railway Children) Kipling, Aesop, and many other wonderful story tellers. The reason for the durability of these authors is, once again, seen in the foundation of moral absolutes that are the basis of their works. When the good and the right are finally victorious over evil and darkness, who can be interested in any lesser cause or concocted tale? The singular epic battle is the basis of all keen interest.
My own work in curriculum development has consistently shown that classical literature holds its enduring and treasured rank because of this basic truth. To mention just a single example, the nineteenth century, McGuffey Readers still maintain an amazing popularity. Why? Because they are based on a phonetic pattern, a challenging vocabulary and they contain exciting stories about the importance of good, old right and wrong.
The Bible itself is a proper source for reading enchantment. Epic stories abound of creation, redemption, solemn accountability, judgment and reward. Stories of love and war, sacrifice and betrayal have set the literary standard for anticipation and excitement. The parables of Christ provide the model for teaching on any level. The modern propensity to fear and abandon worthwhile ethical instruction has become a primary cause for the loss of interest in reading books of excellence.
Read to children in their infancy until well beyond the time they, themselves, are reading. Select the truly great tomes and tales of Western literary treasure and, with one’s own, crucial, added ingredient of literary love, the children will become book lovers themselves.