The library shelves are a shotgun full of liberalism and political correctness aimed squarely at your child’s mind. Gone are the days when a parent could safely take children to the library and let them run loose in the children’s stacks, as my mother did back in the 1950s. She has reminded me many times of how I would gleefully run down the stairs to the children’s section, and how we would haul stacks of books home with us. I was an early reader, she said, because of that experience.
I love the library! Don’t get me wrong; for an educated library customer, a library can be an invaluable resource. But that’s the problem: a small child cannot function as an educated library customer. They simply do not have the experience and knowledge required. And that’s where you, the parent, need to step in.
A momentary gasp, and a feeling of intimidation at the task ahead — that’s what I expect from you at this point. In my own mind, the vista of shelf after shelf of good, questionable, or downright wicked reading material is a daunting sight. How on earth can one sort it out? It’s the same with bookstores; they’ve created truly inviting (at least to small kidlets) reading areas, where children can relax and curl up with a “good” book. But is that book good?
Before I scare you away completely from these venues (and I recognize that I might, given the seriousness of this subject), I’d like to say that exposure, even multiple exposures, to less than sterling children’s literature is not going to permanently harm your child. In fact, sometimes children can possess, and have acquired from you, the parent, a marvelous pair of “reality” glasses that put the dysfunctional and traitorous tendencies of some books into sharp focus. But you have to work to put those glasses over his or her eyes; and that work starts in earliest childhood, before they actually get to the point where you are taking them to the library and letting them loose.
Lay the groundwork when you’re pregnant with your first child, if you can. It’s possible to jump into the middle of this and succeed, but it’s a whole lot easier if you start early. Remember, this is a process you participate in, and not a completed list of approved books, although I hope to be able to provide that in the future. In this article I will touch on family histories, board books for infants and toddlers, and picture books. Books for the older child will come in a later article.
The first question a parent might ask themselves in this process is: What is most important to me in a children’s book? Is it the the quality of writing? The art work? The worldview? Different parents are going to have somewhat different answers to that question, but for those of us who love God and love our European heritage, there are probably a few obvious answers to those questions.
Most likely my readers will be concerned with the quality of the writing and artwork (and I am a great fan of quality in both), but wish to have their children grow up understanding and loving their God, and their European Christian heritage. What to do next?
A good place to start might be by looking at what qualities you wish your children to develop as well. Do you wish for courage? Look for books that focus on European heroes and cultural icons. Do you wish for understanding of culture and family history? Folk and fairy tales can fill in there, but spending some time writing down the stories your grandmother and grandfather told you about the old country will be a valuable exercise when your child wishes to know what made the place they came from special, not to mention why they came here and the struggles and triumphs, however large, however small, they experienced. Or perhaps the stories go way back here in America, because your ancestors are part of the founding stock. Gather the family stories and legends, perhaps in a handwritten book or a scrapbook layout with pictures, if available, of the family members who were there when the story took place.
But start early; people pass on and stories get forgotten, and details become fuzzy unless they’re written down. I wish my father had been more willing to have his family stories written down, but I think he was more afraid that someone in the family would be offended, rather than that someone would be remembered.
Remember, in everything, family is gold. And everything your ancestors and family members did for God is pure gold, refined in the fire. Do not neglect to include these stories in your memoir; they give much for a child to admire. Again, remember: “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged,and the glory of children is their fathers” (Proverbs 17:6, ESV). How can they really understand their history, if the stories of their fathers’ good deeds for God are hidden from them?
This can be an ongoing project, and one that can be handed down to your own children as they become adults. The only rush on this is saving the stories before the people disappear.
But I digress. Let’s go back to the beginning, considering books already published.
Many children teeth on board books, those sturdy little tomes dedicated to single subjects, with colorful illustrations or photographs and large text. These can be valuable introductions to subjects such as colors, clothing, TRUCKS (just ask the small boys in your household), and holidays. These books are easy to screen for appropriate content; a quick glance is enough to tell you if the illustrations are multi-racial and multi-cultural, or consistent with your heritage. More subtle concerns might be pictures portraying baby girls in TRUCKS…we all know that TRUCKS are the realm of boys. Of course, I’m joking around a bit here. I do guarantee that a board book with trucks in it will be monopolized by the tiny guys, while the girls will be focused on something ever so much prettier.
Some board books approach earliest learning from what claims to be a Christian point of view. While I believe that some overtly Christian themed board books can be good for babies and toddlers, I also think that babyish illustrations trivialize the Word of God, and that talking vegetables are most likely not found in the ranks of the saints. Books that present the stories of the Old Testament and the Gospel clearly seem scarcer than hen’s teeth these days. If you find them, buy several copies, because they might not be in the bookstores for long and teething babies run through books quickly. But do attempt to find books that do not trivialize the Word of God.
Some general thoughts about board books: it’s good to focus on nature and the natural cycles of the world, on families and their individual members (honoring parents and grandparents comes immediately to mind), and to reinforce proper gender roles. It’s most likely damaging to focus on friends-around-the-world and the creation myths of foreign cultures. To each culture their own mythos; our children need to know and love their own from their earliest days onwards. While I have some quibbles about the beliefs of those who practice Waldorf education, the children’s books I’ve seen from their writers and publishers are invariably gentle in tone, colorful and lovely in an imaginative way, without the cartoonish details that some children’s books indulge in. They are very European in character and honor nature and its cycles.
And that brings me to the issue of aesthetics in children’s books, as we are about to enter the realm of the picture book. Art is important, not just as in “fun to look at,” but as in “what you see shapes your mind.” I am convinced that the quality of the art you surround your children with shapes their perception of the world and their recognition of what quality is for their lifetimes. To this end I recommend that SpongeBob SquarePants and his ilk not be brought into your home. I’m sure that many will disagree with me on this point, and even cite their own healthy development after consuming the leftovers of Saturday morning cartoons. But I’m not sure you would find these folks enjoying fine Western traditional art in the museum on Saturday afternoon.
Finding picture books that express appreciation for Europe and its cultures is difficult. But if you haunt the websites that offer Celtic or Scandinavian merchandise, you can sometimes find beautiful books; you may even be able to find them at your local 99 cent store. I’ve found the 99 cent store to offer grand surprises in this arena from time to time. A particularly nice 99 cent store find was The Great Stone Face, a tale by Nathaniel Hawthorne retold by Gary D. Schmidt and beautifully illustrated by Bill Farnsworth (six years of age and up). Its tale of a man whose devotion to his family and his community dominates the desire for wealth and glory is an inspiration to those of us who feel compelled to live simply and focus on those who love us.
When I was little I enjoyed books like the Flicka, Ricka, Dicka series by Maj Lindeman, about three little blond sisters who looked very much alike and who got into pickles where they had to prove their ethical and moral behavior — very Scandinavian, and very much proof of the benefits of homogeneity. When the members of a particular people honor the same rules, life becomes much more pleasant. For those who wish to learn their alphabet and their Scandinavian culture at the same time, a colorful primer like D is for Dala Horse by Kathy-Jo Wargin, illustrated by Renee Grael, is a good choice.
The Elsa Beskow books like Peter in Blueberry Land and Around the Year give you a cozy feeling and focus on the natural cycles of the seasons and a simple, European life. For those who do not find reading about elves and fairies to be offensive, there are some good titles, including the Giant Golden Book of Elves and Fairies, and the Tomten books. Aesop’s Fables for Children, illustrated by Milo Winter, is lovely and teaches wisdom in brief, animal-story snippets. And don’t forget Mother Goose Rhymes, which even come in board book format.
Finding unusual books like these takes a little dedication, but sometimes no more than an internet connection. The Flicka, Ricka, Dicka books are extremely hard to find, except on Alibris.com (note: as Alibris simply represents individual sellers, the timeliness of delivery can vary widely). I’ve found small books on Scottish history at British import stores. It takes an adventurous attitude, and a willingness to put books back on the shelf if they look promising from the blurb on the cover but prove to have a less-than-desired attitude on the inside. Key things to be aware of are the way your people are portrayed: are they shown as oppressors? Put the book down. If your Christian values are decried, put the book down. Is the world portrayed as a rainbow of colors, sexual orientations, religions, and other less than positive imagery? Put the book down.
Even if someone gives you a book as a gift, you have no obligation to share it with your children if it doesn’t meet your standards. Commercially branded books that tie into products and toys might not seem to be bad, but can cultivate a desire to own every single one of the cute little items so carefully produced with your child (and your pocketbook) in mind.
I’m sure this only begins to touch on the many excellent picture books available; it’s up to you to screen them. Remember, look for beauty of image and word, the honoring of your culture and your Christ, and the promotion of wisdom as a life goal for your little ones. These are things you should consider first, last, and always.
Enjoy! In the next article we will go on to early readers and upwards!