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Thoughts on Reading for Children

Selected books, commentaries, excerpts and blogs have contributed notably to my own appreciation of what children experience in today’s fast-changing world. Those experiences for children are morphing—indeed racing—into areas not previously part of a child’s milieu. This is almost certainly due to ever expanding and amazing technology, but even more decidedly to attitudes and changes in what society will countenance as normal behavior in people, in groups, and for the discussion here, in children. That this rapid morphing is not likely to retreat or slow down soon is something, I believe, we can all agree upon.

I am confident that children, more than any other group of humans, need to grasp what is expected of them, at home, in school, in play and in ‘quiet time’ as we used to say. How much quiet time/free time kids now have daily is something we can all think about, but my observation is that it amounts to precious little. There are debatable reasons for it: more structured...’teach to the test’…instruction in schools, more time spent on social issues in lieu of the traditional basics, ‘over the top’ sports, TV, smart phones, social media, iTunes, etc. — as addictive entertainment — and, not least, a lack of parental investment (or concern) in just how their kids spend an average day.

Books, as such, have traditionally had tremendous utility, amplifying the use of children’s free time. But the best books will have substance. They ought not to be read mainly for ‘fun’; they should not be discarded to make room for TV/’smart-phone’ time, nor are they necessarily even connected to what they learn at school, though that can be desirable.

So, what are “books of substance”? What role in a child’s world ought they to play? Books are a means for letting kids ‘see’ what no classroom, no TV, no ‘fun and games’ event, no smart phone chat, no text message is capable of, namely, the ability to let one’s imagination roam, and especially, to relieve the child of undesirable pressures and tensions from whatever causes, and to embed in the mind of the child, the notion that books are another safe place away from the meddling of the adult world.

Carl Ewald, a Danish author of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, wrote stories for children with two main goals. First, to depict nature in all its varied forms as it is, without disguising or softening what really takes place, on the reasonable assumption that children will understand. And secondly, to introduce the ideas of Darwinian evolution via natural selection, an idea taking hold among the intellectuals of his day, albeit with fierce resistance from many sides, including the State mandated teaching policies that enshrined the idea of Divine creation.

He used the fable form to make his stories more amenable to children, as was the custom of his day. Nevertheless, he knew that many of these stories would be read to the child by a parent or older sibling, so he constructed his stories to have appeal to them as well. And, purposely, he never mentions the theory of Darwin explicitly, assuming that the sheer sense of the story would be compelling enough. It was an unusual approach, and he carried it successfully into the Danish mainstream of readers’ choice of children’s stories; they were immensely popular.

It didn’t take long before many translations of these stories were undertaken in Europe, including into English. The majority of the latter were done in the early 1900s, and while they served a noble purpose then, my strong feeling is that these translations do not fit the vernacular of today’s English, and so I have devoted myself to adapting them so children, today, will feel comfortable reading them, using expressions and wordings that make sense in 2019. However, many of the stories are original with me; they were not previously translated into English.

Let me know how these stories work at home, in your school, in your library, wherever. Please avail yourself of this website to blog with me or send a comment.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Bill Zucker

October - 2019

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