If you can imagine this, when I was a child, a little Golden book cost $0.25. My grandmother used to slip a quarter into her letters to our family for me, and it was a treat to go to the local “dime store” (also a phenomenon of past days) to buy a new book. Along with Christmas and birthday gifts of books, this surely was the beginning of my habit of book collecting, and fed my growing love of stories.
One practice we can adopt to involve our children in reading books, in addition to reading to them, is to see that they have their own private library. Children prize what is their own possession. Whether it’s a bookcase that matches their bedroom furniture, or boards and bricks, it is worth making room for a place for books. Children need to learn to care for, arrange and order these books for themselves. When the shelves become overcrowded, let them do the weeding, selecting which to part with or store away in specially labeled boxes to hold this treasure till they leave home. I am currently helping my fourth child pack before her wedding, and, as with her older siblings, a significant number of boxes containing her personal library are departing with her.
In a day of disposable everything, books never lose value. They are a legacy to share with future generations. Think of the toys and clothes that have been outgrown, broken, forgotten, discarded. Excellent books outlast every fad and fancy of childhood and live on in their hearts forever.
I once thought the local public library was the repository of all that was good and beautiful in literature, but, unfortunately, demand for the popular drives what ends up on those shelves as space necessitates weeding. A personal collection, however, is not tied to that standard and never goes out of style. Each child’s collection is a reflection of his or her own tastes and personality. Interests change over time, of course. One way to develop a child’s discernment is to give them the very best in children’s literature. Children who love books of enduring quality, of superior literary content, instinctively know which to keep, while unimaginative, trendy, and twaddly books aren’t generally cherished enough to pack away and are happily tossed into the “give away” box.
It rests with us to whet their appetite by providing them with the classic children’s books, and read them to them. Every toddler should have copies of Marguerite de Angeli’s Mother Goose, poetry by A. A. Milne, A Child’s Garden of Verses by Stevenson, A Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Madeline and other timeless favorites of previous generations just for starters
As they grow, the collection should expand to include The Wind in the Willows, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Secret Garden, Heidi, Treasure Island and other enduring tales that they will read over and over again throughout their lives with increasing pleasure. The list of classics is long enough that most children usually don’t work their way through them all before they move to adult literature, but these books are special for this very reason – they can be enjoyed at 10 or 60.
Summer vacation is the perfect time to introduce new titles and here’s a short list of my lifetime favorites still in print:
Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer
The House of Sixty Fathers by Meindert DeJong
The Avion My Uncle Flew by James Fisher
Caddy Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy
Little Britches by Ralph Moody
Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen
The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth Speare
The Chestry Oak by Kate Seredy
With long summer days ahead, I hope you have not packed your children’s freedom from school hours so full there is no space and time for reading. Remember that a child with a book is not just passing the time, but learning life. Purchasing personal copies is an incalculable investment. Let them prize their books. Let them put their name inside. Let them live in stories so these books continue to live in them.