The Nightly Gift to My Children - Livin' the Good Life
Nov. 25th, 2013
04:50 pm - The Nightly Gift to My Children
When I think back on raising my children, the picture that comes to mind most often is of me lying on the bed reading to the children as they sprawled around me. Often I was nursing a baby or toddler to sleep as I read to his intently listening brothers. It is probably the only time in the day when I had the undivided attention of all my children at once. If I didn't have a sore throat that made it harder to read, which I often did, it was a pure pleasure-fest for me and something I looked forward to at the end of each day. This evening ritual was the only time of the day when we were all of one mind, all of one purpose, and reliably all together. That made it special and precious, and it's value immeasurable.
We often read classics, frequently Newberry Award books (newer books), and occasionally I came upon a book quite by accident that ended up being an all-time favorite of mine. One of those was MARTIN PIPPIN IN THE APPLE ORCHARD, by Eleanor Farjeon. I think I read that book three times, once to Nathen and Ely, once to Damian and Gabe, and then finally to Ben. I loved the book so much that I bought it, which was unusual for me. I always just borrowed and returned books from the library. But, this one, I had to own. It's a good thing too, because it went out of print and can now only be found used. It is an old-fashioned book from an earlier era, (Eleanor was born in 1881), and that was one of the things I loved about it. It is a collection of fairy tales strung together by a story of Martin Pippin, the storyteller, and his interactions with six silly "milk-maids" (I told you it was old-fashioned!) as he was telling them the tales. I just read some reviews on the book, and it is recommended for children 12 and older, but even more for adults, as they said that younger people would not be able to sustain their interest. I read it to Nathen and Ely at ages 7 and 9. It definitely kept their interest. One thing I loved about the book was the advanced vocabulary and the way sentences were put together in fascinating ways. I can remember often thinking to myself, "That's an interesting way of saying that!" There are surprises, plot twists, trickery, humor, dark themes, morals, and plenty of silliness to entertain the reader till the very end. I remember thinking, "This author is a genius!" And she showed up everywhere.
Part of my homeschooling "curriculum" included reading and reciting poetry. I'd get anthologies from the library and look for suitable poems for the kids to learn. I became amused by the fact that often my favorite poems would be written by, you guessed it, Eleanor Farjeon. In recent years, I would re-discover a poem or song, like "Morning Has Broken" (made popular by Cat Stevens) or the hymn "People Look East" (which I've incorporated into our Advent celebration) and found that they were written by, you guessed it again, Miss Farjeon. She was born into an English family of novelists and composers and was surrounded by fine literature and authors from childhood. She was a frail and sickly child, so she did not go to school. She spent her days reading and writing in the attic of their home instead of sitting in a classroom. Evidently, she got a more than adequate education, as she became a professional writer of some acclaim.
I consider a book that makes me feel intelligent, stimulated, and emotionally nourished to be a GOOD book. PRIDE A PREJUDICE is such a book. So is MARTIN PIPPIN. I've perused many well-known modern books written for children, and more often than not, they are speaking to children using unnecessarily limited vocabulary, exposing them to boringly mundane experiences, and portraying having negative relationships with both adults and other children as normal. I found myself feeling offended by the points of view of so many of the books, with the notable exception of the CS Lewis and Lloyd Alexander series of both Narnia and Prydain. I tended to bypass popular children's literature altogether and hunt deeper, ferreting out the diamonds hidden on the library bookshelves, not the ones promoted and displayed. After years of reading, I became very picky. Only the best books were selected, because I knew by then that what the children heard was every bit as much "food" as the meals I placed on the table. I wanted them to be nourished by the best thinkers, the best writers, authors with important things to say, and excellent ways of saying them. If my child could hear Martin Pippin tell a masterful tale and be thoroughly engaged and delighted, I knew they were getting something valuable. People often remarked that my children had extraordinary vocabularies, and that surely wasn't because they were mimicking their parents! No, they had the best models in the world teaching them how to listen, understand, and speak with intelligence on a nightly basis.