What Should Children Read?

Has Fiction Any Value Other Than Entertainment?

WOODS HUTCHINSON January 1 1919

What Should Children Read?

Has Fiction Any Value Other Than Entertainment?

WOODS HUTCHINSON January 1 1919

What Should Children Read?

Has Fiction Any Value Other Than Entertainment?

WOODS HUTCHINSON

TO the serious-minded the value of fiction as a diet would seem about equivalent to that of froth as food. They will assure us that we might as well endeavor to grow fat by snuffing up the east wind, like the Scriptural wild ass of the desert, as to build up mental or bodily power upon a diet of fiction. But some of the apparently most useless things in the world are the most necessary to life. We cannot eat froth or digest the air that its bubbles contain, but nearly half the bulk of our most important single food, bread, the Staff of Life, is composed of it. A loaf is a bubble of flour froth and owes much of its digestibility and wholesomeness to the spongy, porous form which its gas content gives it. Plants cannot eat air, yet one of the principal aims of scientific tillage is to keep the soil bed well stirred up so as to be porous and full of air down to the very tips of the roots of the crop, so that chemical and bacterial changes, without which no plant can live, can take place freely.

Food for the fancy may neither directly strengthen the intellect nor enrich the memory, but neither of the latter can either grow or keep healthy without it, any more than other living things can without the sunshine and fresh air —those most ethereal and unsubstantial of things.

A dwarfed and starved imagination is almost as bad for the health and future efficiency of its possessor as a crooked spine.

One of the most extraordinary things about our amazing system of education is that, while it concentrates its gravest and most ponderous attention upon the memory, the reason and the intellect, il ioaves the cultivation of the imagination largely to chance. The stories which the child hears in the home and on the streets, the romantic and highly improbable accounts of his own adventures which he constructs and recites to his fellows, th'dime novels and the ponny-dreadfui. fhe stories o. Indians

and pirates and detectives that he smuggles into his desk and under his pillow—these are the only food which the worshippers of the Three R’s provide for the development of his noblest faculty. What wonder that he gulps them down with ravenous indiscrimination as a thirsty child would muddy water, or a starving one half-cooked food.

From the point of view of bodily health as well as mental efficiency, you might as well let your liver go to sleep as your imagination. Only get a child or a man to read and enjoy reading, and form the habit of it, and you have taken the longest single step toward leading him to think and to act for himself.

It is not a question of whether we will feed this faculty of ours or not, but simply on what and how it will feed itself. If it cannot get wholesome food it will eat garbage, but primarily and fundamentally it prefers sound food, and nothing but the absence of it will drive it to devour trash and offal.

Happily in childhood. Nature provides food for the imagination in such profusion that all our stupidity and perversity can scarcely succeed in starving the flame. The glory in the grass, the wonder in the flower, the light that never was on sea or land, touches and gilds the smallest and commonest of everyday things about us. No matter whether the things themselves are attractive, or even useful or not, their mere existence is gilded by the magic of our childish vision until it becomes a source of pleasure in itself. As Stevenson, with that wondrous insight into the very heart of the child mind, sang:

“The world is so full of a number of things,

I’m sure we should all bí“ as happy as | kings.”

And, heaven be praised, we are, unJ less some “grown-up” positively goes j out of his way, whether by endeavor or j neglect, or scarcely less often by well

meant interference and instruction, to prevent it! His delight in myth and legend and fairy tale, which is just beginning to be recognized even by educators, is nature’s royal road to learning, wondrous romances which he will construct either of his own adventures, presumably in some previous incarnation, or of the habits and doings of some imaginary friends and playmates of his who come to him in the dusk! His vivid transformation of a walking-stick into a prancing charger, of a couple of chairs on the nursery floor into the Flying Dutchman, and fat old Fido into any kind of ravenous beast required by the artistic necessities of the situation, from a Jabberwock to a “pole-bearer,” all show his power of developing his highest single faculty—that of putting two things together and out of them creating a new and different third.

Even here his unspoiled taste is sound. He would rather have stories of birds and butterflies and flowers and grass and trees, of sun and wind, than stories of ghosts and demons and gods and goddesses. Give him plenty of happy, breezy, wholesome and intrinsically true stories of the living world about him, and he will not crave, in fact will be positively repelled by, those morbid echoes of jealousy, murder and lust which play so large a part in myth and legend and folk-story and Old Testament story.

While many of these myths and legends are of the keenest interest and enjoyment to the child, I frankly confess that I cannot help feeling that their indiscriminate use can easily become a -¡urce of harm and that they should be most carefully selected and modernized for the use of the child. Most of them are tinged with that profound melancholy of the earlier ages of mankind which still exists in savages.

A large minority of these myths and stories, whether Greek, Norse or Hebrew, are unfit to be told to a cleanminded child, and another considerable percentage of them are so utterly unjust and unfair as to shock his native sense of right and justice. The story of Hector and Achilles for instance, of Esau and Jacob, or of Baldur and Loki take an immense amount of decidedly sophisticated explanation and befogging before he can be induced to regard them as fair or even decent.

I can conceive of no better means of riveting in his mind the firm conviction that trickery will always vanquish honesty, favoritism conquer merit, and error be stronger than truth than an indiscriminate course of these tales and stories.

But when the magic carpet of reading is placed at his command, his immediate

surroundings become too limited, too prosaic, and he begins to fly hither and thither, sitting cross-legged upon it to the uttermost parts of the earth; he sails the Spanish Main, leaps over reeking bulwarks and steps over stones slippery with blood, with his bosom friends and ideals, the pirates.

They are not usually men “of much moral principle,” as Mr. A. Ward apologetically remarks, but they are not a pin worse, even in the yellowest of the yellow-backs, than the gentlemen adventurers of the sixteenth century, and they are three whole grades in the rogue’s gallery above any god or goddess yet invented. The same is true of the Boy Outlaw and the Terror of the Everglades. The heart of these swashbuckling heroes is always in the right place, even if their heads and heels indulge in some strange capers. The desperado who is the bravest, the most generous, the most faithful to his friends, and most magnanimous to his enemies, the most chivalrous to women and the kindest to the poor, is the one who emerges triumphant in the long run, eight times out of ten.

No less romantic and less vivid are the imaginings of the mind of the girl, but her fancy takes a gentler and softer turn. The dignities and delights of housekeeping and of home making, the care of wondrously beautiful and brilliant children, the charm of diamonds and silk dresses and beautiful carriages and princely romances. Later the discovery, the wondrous revelation of the prince beautiful, with the raven locks and the marble brow and the soulful, piercing eyes. He will probably have a snub nose and freckles and hair like a shoe-brush when he comes, but he will be the prince beautiful just the same. It is not too much to say that a boy’s ideals, his standards, his notions of what success really consists in and what is best worth while, his attitude toward women, his attitude toward the nation and the race is as largely moulded and determined by the fiction that he reads and delights in as by any other single factor.

The same is equally true of the girl and her ideals. They both will dream dreams and build castles in the air, and construct their ideals out of some sort of material. The question is, What kind of raw material are you furnishing for the fabric of these visions? Or are you letting them go out into the highways and hedges and glean for themselves? It is as cruel and as injurious to deprive a growing boy or a budding girl of an abundance of sound, wholesome, enjoyable fiction as it is to debar them from butter on their bread and sugar on their porridge.

Seasonable Receipts

SPICED PRUNES

2 cups cooked prunes

% cup chopped cranberries

Vá cup juice in which prunes were cooked

2 tablespoons sugar

Juice of 1 orange

Few gratings orange rind

Vá teaspoon cinnamon

Stone prunes, cut in small pieces, add other ingredients and simmer twenty minutes. Serve with cold meats.

LIGHT FRUIT CAKE

2 eggs or the whites of four

1 cup sugar Vá cup butter Vá cup milk

2 cups flour

2 cups raisins seeded and cut 1 teaspoon baking powder 4 tablespoons lemon peel

Cream the butter and sugar, add the raisins and peel. Sift the flour and baking powder together. Beat the eggs light and acid to the milk. Add the flour and eggs and milk alternately to the sugar and butter. Bake in a moderate oven.

CRANBERRY PIE

1 Vá cups cranberries Vá cup raisins 1 cup sugar Vá cup water

Cook until the fruit is soft and slightly jellied, line a pie dish with paste, turn in the cooked fruit and cover with strips of paste or with a whole crust, or bake without a top crust and when done cover

with a meringue, (stiffly beaten egg white) and brown in the oven.

BAKED CRANBERRY PUDDING 2 cups soft stale bread crumbs V4 cup butter 1 cup chopped cranberries

1 cup sugar

Vá cup Sultana raisins Vi cup boiling water

Mix crumbs with melted butter; add cranberries, sugar and raisins and put into a greased baking dish; add water and bake in a slow oven one hour. Serve warm with a caramel sauce.

ECONOMY CAKE

! Vá cups brown sugar

2 tablespoons butter or dripping 1 package seeded raisins

> j teaspoon ground cloves 1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups cold water

Boil together for five minutes and cool. When cold stir in 3 cups flour sifted with 1 teaspoon soda.

NUT BREAD

Vá cup sugar

2Vá cups flour 4 teaspoons baking powder Vá teaspoon salt 1 scant cup milk 1 cup shelled walnuts Vá cup chopped dates.

Beat the egg, add sugar and milk. Sift two cups of the flour with the salt and baking powder. Combine the two mix-

tures. Add the dates rolled in the remaining flour and the nuts. Bake in greased pans or baking powder tins. If baking-powder tins are used the bread cuts in attractive, round slices.

MINCE MEAT 4 cups cooked beef, chopped 2 cups chopped suet 8 cups chopped apples

1 cup brown sugar

2 cups molasses

1 cup chopped cranberries iy2 pounds seeded raisins 1 pound currants

1 pound shredded citron

2 tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon cinnamon 1 tablespoon mace 1 teaspoon clove 1 teaspoon allspice Vi teaspoon pepper

Í quart boiled cider, grape juice or syrup from sweet pickles

Mix and cook slowly about two hours, stirring frequently. Store in jars or in a stone crock.

Women in Reconstruction

The Women’s Department of the Canadian Reconstruction Association has published a most interesting pamphlet on Women and Reconstruction. It is an appeal for the co-operation of Canadian women in solving economic and industrial problems, and an examination oí the relationship of homes to national business. The writer says: “Expectation of intelligent help from Canadian women in the problems of reconstruction is justified. . . .It is a natural conviction that enfranchised Canadian women will apply themselves intelligently and with energy to the basic economic problems of national existence, production, the development of natural resources, the compensating balance of industries, national solvency, export trade, education and a fair economic standard of living for all, which cannot be secured except through the solution of the first named problems. It is only through the help of women that the future can be made secure.”