A reader with the binary name of ‘the Deuce’ writes:
Here’s something right up your alley. I’d love to see a list of books you’d recommend to read with ones kids for this purpose [of inculcating proper and worthy emotional reactions], at different stages in their growth. I’ve got a baby boy (pictured), and looking around at this rot, I know I’m going to need all the help I can get.
Let me jot down a short list of what I have read to the boys that I enjoyed reading, which I think taught a right message, or at least did not teach a wrong one.
Let me recommend everything by Dr Seuss, except for THE BUTTER BATTLE BOOK, and THE LORAX, which I regard as grotesque propaganda.
Dr Seuss is a genius, sparkling with wit and imagination, and, best of all, as a grown-up you will not get weary rereading and rereading him. (In case you do not know yet, children have much more stamina than grown-ups, and do not weary of hearing the same thing endlessly repeated.)
The morals of Seuss are always simple and solid: don’t be as stubborn as the Zax, for example, but be as stubborn as Marco fishing at McElligot’s Pool. Always pick up after yourself as the Cat in the Hat. Be as true to your word as Horton the Elephant, but not as generous as Thidwick the Moose. If you err, as did King Derwin of Didd, say you’re sorry. Be imaginative. Be creative. Go beyond Z.
For slightly older, let me recommend any of the Oz books by L Frank Baum, with the exception of the first one, THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, which I think is inferior in quality. The books are charming, endlessly inventive, but there is nothing in them to shock or scandalize child or parent. Dorothy never acts ‘edgy’ or even disrespectful.
The moral of Oz is one so often repeated in our day it has become overused and even corrupt, but, nonetheless, it is still a good one: judge men not by their outward appearances and oddities.
In the same category I put CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, and Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series.
The morals in Lewis work on several levels, both plain and subtle, and he deals with the kind of things most children’s books shy away from, such a treason and death. Prydain is a solidly crafted series, and the heroes are shown as possessing the typical boyscout virtues of being trustworthy, loyal, helpful, and so on.
I will also recommend a sadly overlooked gem of a book by Carol Kendall called THE GAMMAGE CUP. I had liked it as a child, but, upon rereading, I thought it a superior work of craftsmanship.
Again the theme hardly needs repeating in our modern times, but the book is a paean to non-conformity, but also a warning against complacency. Sometimes old enemies do appear again. In this book you can read about my hero and idol, Walter the Earl, the quixotic antiquarian of Slipper-on-the-Water.
Older yet, I enjoyed reading the short stories of Bertrand R. Brinley in THE MAD SCIENTIST’S CLUB.
These scientifically minded kids of the Club are slightly less honest than boyscouts, since they frankly are pranksters, and the grownups in the stories are usually comedy relief and figures of fun, but all stories them emphasize hard work and inventiveness, and the boys have an old fashioned decency I find refreshing.
I was very pleasantly surprised that my boys at a young age could follow and understand both A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Dickens and TREASURE ISLAND by Stevenson.
I was disappointed that when I read them DOCTOR DOLITTLE by Hugh Lofting, they seemed uninterested.
I was disappointed that when I tried reading A WONDERFUL FLIGHT TO THE MUSHROOM PLANET by Eleanor Cameron, I found the work to be of such inferior quality that I did not finish it. It was the opposite of my experience with the Carol Kendall. I may give the sequels a try, though, since I am sure my memory of how good they were cannot be that wrong, or my taste as a child that bad.
When they reached the age they could read for themselves, I continued to read to them at bedtime, it being nearly the only time I have to see them all day. My crowning moment as a Father was when I read to them A PRINCESS OF MARS, and so my boys have been exposed to science fiction, and will never be muggles again.
The moral of A PRINCESS OF MARS, of course, is that true love conquers all; not even the wide abyss of interplanetary space can keep true hearts apart, nor death itself; and that you should kill anyone standing between you and your princess with a longsword or radium pistol.
And to keep your word, and to know that even men who seem to be monsters, like Tars Tarkas, can be faithful friends if treated kindly and nobly.
Currently I am reading SKYLARK OF SPACE by E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith, and I think the moral of that story is always double check your figures with a slide-rule.
Let me ask any reader who would care to comment, what stories for children of various ages portray examples of the proper moral and emotional reactions children should learn, to love the lovely and hate the hateful, to admire what is fair and flee what is foul? (Don’t suggest any books where vampires or other blood-sucking undead are portrayed as romantic.)