The Books We Let Our Children Read

Dear Reader,

I have touched in a number of ways on what books are appropriate for children and which ones aren’t. Here, for instance, is a recent post debating (with myself) why some things in books bother me and others don’t. Now as I work my way through Charlotte Mason’s fifth volume, Formation of Character, I find that she also (no surprise) addresses this issue.

In that previous post one of the issues I pondered was how much we should expose our children to ideas or world views or value systems which are not our own. For example, in the book Hoot my friend was horrified at the relativism, how the children do wrong things in a  good cause and that the book seems to approve these actions. I, on the other hand, loved the book and it never occurred to me my children would pick up relativistic values from it (and I am not at all sure they did).

Charlotte seems to address just such topics in this quote:

“How many parents see to it that their sons and daughters read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest this one novel Pendennis before they go to college or otherwise go out into life? It is stupid to disregard such a means of instruction . . . ‘But,’ says a good mother, ‘I disapprove of novels for another reason besides that they are a waste of time. I have striven to bring up my family in innocence, and wish to keep them still from that very knowledge of life which novels have to offer.’ There is a good deal to be said for this point of view; but the decisions of life are not simple, and to taboo knowledge is not to secure innocence.” (p.237)

I love this bit especially: “but the decisions of life are not simple.” Because they are not. Nor can we protect our children from the nastiness of life. Of course, this does not mean that one does not take into account their child’s age and situation, but I also think there is good reason to allow our children to first encounter they grayness of life and all its complications through fiction. Let them begin to think about issues of right and wrong and where the lines are while it is all pretend, because at some point they will meet such decisions in real life as well.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Leah Wall on May 11, 2013 at 4:27 am

    Thank you for this article! It’s just what I was thinking of today – I don’t know if Charlotte addresses this or not – but I have been thinking of it in relation to the arts. I recently took my children to a very well done & well-known ballet with a story that doesn’t necessarily reflect our worldview. But it is very clearly presented, the “adult” themes handled so gently, that it offers a stepping stone for my children to begin to think and have access to these concepts that are so different than their own.
    Art (and literature) is able to transport us to another world where we can exercise our own worldview in a foreign situation – it gives us a chance to stretch and strengthen.
    I am sometimes uncomfortable expanding their knowledge but I know that it is the safest way – and what a good reminder: “but the decisions of life are not simple, and to taboo knowledge is not to secure innocence.” I love that quote!
    Thanks for the reminder!


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