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"either" and "neither." Very likely she will decide to say them
"eyether" and "nyether," as her teacher does.

It takes the children so short a time to elevate the teacher to the rank
of final arbiter in their intellectual world. So soon, they follow her
footsteps in preference to any others along the ways of education. Not
only do they pronounce words as she pronounces them; in so far as they
are able, they define words as she defines them. In due course, they are
a bit fearful of any knowledge obtained otherwise than as she teaches
them to obtain it. Is there one of us who has attempted to help a child
with "home lessons" who has not been obliged to reckon with this fact?
Have we not worked out a problem in "bank discount," for instance, for a
perplexed youthful mathematician, only to be told, hesitatingly, "Ye-es,
you have got the right answer, but that isn't the way my teacher does
bank discount. Don't you know how to do it as she does?" Or, with a
young Latin "beginner" in the house, have we not tried to bring order
out of chaos with respect to the "Bellum Gallicum" by translating, "All
Gaul is divided into three parts," to be at once interrupted by, "Our
teacher translates that, 'Gaul is, _as a whole_, divided into three
parts.'" If we would assist the children of our immediate circles at all
with their "home lessons," we must do it exactly after the manner and
method ordained by their teachers.

This condition of things ought not to be displeasing to us, for the
reason that, in the main, we have ourselves brought it to pass. The
children, during their first days at school, are loyally ready to force
the views of their fathers and their mothers, and their uncles and
aunts, upon their teachers; and their teachers are tactfully ready to
effect a compromise with them. But, before very long, our reiterated,
"Your teacher knows; do as she says," has its effect. The teacher
becomes the child's touchstone in relation to a considerable number of
the "array of subjects" taught in a present-day school. School-teachers
in America prepare themselves so carefully for their duties, train
themselves to such a high order of skill in their performance, it is but
just that those of us who are not teachers should abdicate in their
favor.

However, since we are all very apt to be in entire accord with the
children's teachers in all really vital matters, our position of second
place in the minds of the boys and girls with regard to the ways of
doing "bank discount" or translating "_Gallia est omnes divisa in partes
tres_" is of small account. At least, we have a fuller knowledge of
their own relations with these mathematical and Latinic things than our
grandparents had of our parents' lessons. And the children's teachers
know more about our relations to the subjects taught than the teachers
of our fathers and mothers knew respecting the attitudes of our
grandfathers and grandmothers toward the curriculum of that earlier
time. For the children of to-day, unlike the children of a former time,
talk at home about school and talk at school about home. Almost
unconsciously, this effects an increasingly cooperative union between
home and school.

"We are learning 'Paul Revere's Ride,' in school," I heard a small girl
who lives in Boston say recently to her mother.

"Are you, darling?" the mother replied. "Then, shouldn't you like to go
some Saturday and see the church where the lanterns were hung?"

So much did the child think she would like to go that her mother took
her the next Saturday.

"You saw the very steeple at which Paul Revere looked that night for the
lanterns!" I said, when, somewhat later, I happened to be again at that
child's home.

"Twice," she replied. "I told my teacher that mother had taken me, so
she took all of us in my room at school on the next Saturday."

Perhaps the most significant influence of the American home upon the
American school is to be found in the regular setting apart of an hour
of the school-day once, or twice, or even three times a week, as a story
hour; and the filling of that hour with the stories, read or told, that
in earlier times children never so much as heard mentioned at school by
their teachers. It is indeed a pleasant thought that in school-rooms
throughout the land boys and girls are hearing about the Argonauts, and
the Knights of the Round Table, and the Crusaders; to say nothing of
such famous personages in the story world as Cinderella, and the
Sleeping Beauty, and Hop-O'-My-Thumb. The home story hour is no less
dear because there is a school story hour too.

The other afternoon I stopped in during the story hour to visit a room
in the school of my neighborhood. The teacher told the story of Pandora
and the tale of Theseus and the Minotaur. A small friend of mine is a
member of the "grade" which occupies that room. At the end of the
session she walked home with me.

"Tell me a story?" she asked, when, sitting cozily by the fire, we were
having tea.

"What one should you like?" I inquired. "The story of Clytie, perhaps,
or - "

"I'd like to hear the one about Pandora - "

"But you have just heard it at school!" I exclaimed.

"I know," she said; "but I'd like to hear you tell it."

When I had told it, she begged me to tell another. Again I suggested
various tales in my repertory. But she refused them all. "Tell about the
man, and the dragon, and the ball of string, and the lady - " she began.

And once more when I interposed, reminding her that she had just heard
it, she once more said, "Yes; but I'd like to hear it again."

Some of the children whom I have in mind as I write go to private
schools and some of them go to public schools. It has not seemed to me
that the results obtained by the one type of school are discernibly
different from those produced by the other. In the private school there
are fewer pupils than in the public school; and they are more nearly
alike from the point of view of their parents' material wealth than are
the pupils in a public school. They are also "Americans," and not
"foreigners," as are so many of the children in city public schools, and
even in the public schools of many suburbs and villages. Possibly owing
to their smaller numbers, they receive more individual attention than
the pupils of the public school; but, so far as my rather extensive and
intimate acquaintance with children qualifies me to judge, they learn
the same lessons, and learn them with equal thoroughness. We hear a
great deal about the differences between public and private schools, and
certainly there are differences; but the pupils of the public and the
private schools are very much alike. It is considerably easier to
distinguish a public from a private school than it is to tell a public-
school child from a private-school child.

[Illustration: THEY HAVE SO MANY THINGS!]

There are many arraignments of our American schools, whether public or
private; and there are many persons who shake their heads over our
American school-children. "The schools are mere drilling-places," we
hear, "where the children are all put through the same steps." And the
children - what do we hear said of them? "They do not work at their
lessons as children of one, two, or three generations ago did," is the
cry; "school is made so pleasant for them!"

Unquestionably our American schools and our American school-children
have their faults. We must try to amend both. Meanwhile, shall we not be
grateful that the "steps" through which the children are put are such
excellent ones; and shall we not rejoice that school is made so
"pleasant" for the boys and girls that, unlike the children of one, two,
or three generations ago, they like to go to school?


V


THE CHILD IN THE LIBRARY


One day, not long ago, a neighbor of Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson,
of honored memory, was talking to me about him. Among the score of
charming anecdotes of the dear Colonel that she told me, there was one,
the most delightful of all, that related to the time-worn subject of the
child in the library. "As a family, we were readers," she said. "The
importance of reading had been impressed upon our minds from our
earliest youth. All of us liked to read, excepting one sister, younger
than I. She cared little for it; and she seldom did it. I was a mere
child, but so earnestly had I always been told that children who did not
read would grow up ignorant that I worried greatly over my sister who
would not read. At last I unburdened my troubled mind to Colonel
Higginson. 'She doesn't like to read; she doesn't read,' I confided. 'I
am afraid she will grow up ignorant; and then she will be ashamed! And
think how we shall feel!' The Colonel considered my words in silence for
a time. Then he said: 'There is a large and finely selected library in
your house; don't be disturbed regarding your sister, my dear. She will
not grow up ignorant. You see, she is exposed to books! She is certain
to get something of what is in them!'"

Colonel Higginson's neighbor went on to say that from that day she was
no longer haunted by the fear that her sister, because she did not read,
would grow up ignorant. Are many of us in that same condition of feeling
with respect to the children of our acquaintance, even after we have
provided them with as excellent a library as had that other child in
which they may be "exposed to books"? On the contrary, so solicitous are
we that, having furnished to the best of our knowledge the best books,
we do not rest until we are reasonably sure that the children are, not
simply getting something from them, but getting it at the right times
and in the right ways. And everything and every one conspires to help
us. Publishers issue volumes by the dozen with such titles as "The
Children's Reading" and "A Guide to Good Reading" and "Golden Books for
Children." The librarian of the "children's room" in many a library sets
apart a certain hour of each week or each month for the purpose of
telling the children stories from the books that we are all agreed the
children should read, hoping by this means to inspire the boys and girls
to read the particular books for themselves. No effort is regarded as
too great if, through it, the children seem likely to acquire the habit
of using books; using them for work, and using them for recreation.

Certainly our labors in this direction on behalf of the children are
amply rewarded. Not only are American children of the present time fond
of reading - most children of other times have been that; they have a
quite remarkable skill and ease in the use of books.

A short while ago, spending a spring week-end with a friend who lives in
the country, I chanced to see a brilliant scarlet bird which neither my
hostess nor I could identify. "It was a redbird, I suppose," I said, in
mentioning it later to a city acquaintance.

"What _is_ a redbird?" she asked. "Is it a cardinal, or a tanager, or
something still different?"

"I don't know," I replied. "Perhaps," I added, turning to her little
girl often who was in the room, "_you_ know; children learn so much
about birds in their 'nature study.'"

"No," the child answered; "but," she supplemented confidently, "I can
find out."

Several days afterward she came to call. "Do you remember _exactly_ the
way that red bird you saw in the country looked?" she inquired, almost
as soon as we met.

"Just red, I think," I said.

"Not with black wings?" she suggested.

"I hardly think so," I answered.

"P'aps it had a few _white_ feathers in its wings?" she hinted.

"I believe not," I said.

"Then," she observed, with an air of finality, "it was a cardinal
grosbeak; and the other name for that _is_ redbird; so you saw a
redbird. The scarlet tanager is red, too, but it has black wings, and it
isn't called a redbird; and the crossbill is red, with a few _white_
feathers, and _it_ isn't called a redbird either. Only the cardinal
grosbeak is. That was what you saw," she repeated.

"And who told you all this?" I queried.

"Nobody," the little girl made reply. "I looked it up in the library."

She was only ten. "How did you look it up?" I found myself asking.

"First," she explained, "I picked out the birds on the bird charts that
were red. The charts told their names. Then I got out a bird book, and
looked till I found where it told about those birds."

"Do you look up many things in the library?" I questioned.

"Oh, yes," the child replied.

"And do you always find them?" I continued.

"Not always by myself," she confessed. "Everything isn't as easy to look
up as birds. But when I can't, there is always the librarian, and she
helps; and when she is helping, 'most _anything_ gets found!"

The public library of my small friend's city, not being the library I
habitually used, was only slightly familiar to me. Not long after I had
been so earnestly assured that the scarlet bird I had seen was a
redbird, I made occasion to go to the library in which the information
had been gathered. It was such a public library as may be seen in very
nearly every small city in the United States. Built of stone; lighted
and heated according to the most approved modern methods; divided into
"stack-rooms" and "reading-rooms" and "receiving-rooms" - it was that
"typical American library" of which we are, as we should be, so proud. I
did not ask to be directed to the "children's room"; I simply followed a
group of children who had come into the building with me.

The "children's room," too, was "typical." It was a large, sunny place,
furnished with low bookcases, small tables, and chairs. Around two
walls, above the shelves, were pictures of famous authors, and
celebrated scenes likely to be known to children. At one end of the room
the bird charts of which I had so interestingly heard were posted,
together with flower charts and animal charts, of which I had not been
told. At the other end was the desk of the librarian, who so helped
young investigators that, when she helped, _anything_ got found.

I seated myself at the little table nearest her desk. She smiled, but
she said nothing. Neither did I say anything. The time of day was just
after school; the librarian was too much occupied to talk to a stray
visitor. I remained for fully an hour; and during that hour a steady
stream of children passed in and out of the room. Some of them selected
books, and, having obtained them, departed; others stayed to read, and
others walked softly about, examining the pictures and charts. All of
them, whatever their various reasons for coming to the library, began or
ended their visits in conference with the librarian. They spoke just
above a whisper, as befitted the place, but I was near enough to hear
all that was said.

"We want to give a play at school the last day before Christmas
vacation," said one small girl; "is there a good one here?"

The librarian promptly recommended and put into the child's hands a
little volume entitled "Fairy Tales a Child Can Read and Act."

A boy, entering rather hurriedly, asked, "Could I have a book that tells
how to make a wireless set - and have it quick, so I can begin to-day
before dark?"

It was not a moment before the librarian found for him a book called
"Wireless Telegraphy for Amateurs and Students."

Another boy, less on pleasure bent, petitioned for a "book about Abraham
Lincoln that will tell things to put in a composition on him." And a
girl, at whose school no Christmas play was apparently to be given,
asked for "a piece of poetry to say at school just before Christmas."
For these two, as for all who preceded or followed them, the librarian
had help.

"How wonderful, how unique!" exclaimed an Italian friend to whom I
related the experiences of that afternoon hour in the "children's room"
in the library of that small city.

But it seems to me that the wonderful thing about it is that it is not
unique; that in almost any "children's room" in almost any public
library in America practically the same condition prevails. Not only are
"children's rooms" of a very fine order to be found in great numbers;
but children's librarians, as sympathetic and as capable as the
librarian of my small friend's library, in as great numbers, are in
charge of those rooms. So recognized a profession has theirs come to be
that, connected with one of the most prominent libraries in the country,
there is a "School for Children's Librarians."

The "children's librarians" do not stop at assisting them in choosing
books. The story hour has come to be as important in the "children's
rooms" as it is now in the school, as it has always been in the home.
Telling stories to children has grown to be an art; there is more than
one text-book laying down its "principles and laws." Many a librarian is
also an accomplished story-teller, and in an increasing number of
libraries there is a story hour in the "children's rooms." Beyond
question, we in America have taken every care that our public libraries
shall mean something more to the boys and girls than places in which
they are merely "exposed to books."

American children read; it is doubtful whether any other children in the
world read so much or so intelligently. In our public libraries we plan
with such completeness for their reading that they can scarcely escape
becoming readers! At home we keep constantly in mind the great
importance of inculcating in them a love of books and a wontedness in
their use. To so many of their questionings we reply by advising, "Get a
book about it from the library." So many of the fundamental lessons of
life we first bring to their attention by putting into their hands books
treating of those lessons written by experts - written, moreover,
expressly for parents to give to their boys and girls to read.

A few days ago I received a letter from a mother saying: "Do you know of
a book on hygiene that I can give to my children to read - a book on that
subject _for_ children?"

Within reach of my hand I had such a book, entitled "The Child's Day," a
simply, but scientifically, written little volume, telling children what
to do from the hour of rising until the hour of retiring, in order to
keep well and strong, able to do good work at school, and to enjoy as
good play after school. It was a book that a child not only could read
with profit, but would read with pleasure.

At about the same time a father said to me: "Is there any book written
for children about good citizenship - a sort of primer of civics, I mean?
I require something of that kind for my boy."

A book to meet that particular need, too, was on my book-shelves.
"Lessons for Junior Citizens," it is called. In the clearest, and also
the most charming, form it tells the boys and girls about the
government, national and local, of their country, and teaches them their
relation to that government.

It is safe to say that there is practically no subject so mature that it
is not now the theme of a book, or a score of books, written especially
for children. Every one of the numerous publishing houses in the United
States issues yearly as many good volumes of this particular type as are
submitted. A century ago a new writer was most likely to win the
interest of a publisher by sending him a manuscript subtitled, "A
Novel." At the present time a beginner can more quickly awaken the
interest of a publisher by submitting a manuscript the title of which
contains the words, "For Children."

"Authors' editions" of books we have long had offered us by publishers;
"_éditions de luxe_" too; and "limited editions of fifty copies, each
copy numbered." These are all old in the world of books. What is new,
indeed, is the "children's edition." We have it in many shapes, from
"Dickens for Children" to "The Children's Longfellow." These volumes
find their way into the "children's rooms" of all our public libraries;
and, quite as surely, they help to fill the "children's bookcases" in
the private libraries to be found in a large proportion of American
homes. For no public library can take the place in the lives of the
children of a private library made up of their "very own" books. The
public library may, however, often have a predominant share in
determining the selection of those "very own" books. The children wish
to possess such books as they have read in the "children's room."

Sometimes a child has still another similar reason for wishing to own a
certain book. Only the other day I had a letter from a boy to whom I had
sent a copy of "The Story of a Bad Boy." "I am glad to have it," he
said. "The library has it, and father has it. I like to have what the
library and father have."

Parents buy books for their children in very much the proportions that
parents bought them before the land was dotted with public libraries.
Indeed, they buy books in larger proportions, for the reason that there
are so many more books to be bought! The problem of the modern father or
mother is not, as it once was, to discover a volume likely to interest
the children; but, from among the countless volumes offered for sale,
all certain to interest the children, to choose one, two, or three that
seem most excellent where all are so good. A mother of a few generations
ago whose small boy was eager to read tales of chivalry simply gave him
"Le Morte D'Arthur"; there was no "children's edition" of it, no "Boy's
King Arthur," no "Tales of the Round Table." The father whose little
girl desired to read for herself the stories of Greece he had told her
put into her hands Bulfinch's "Age of Fable"; he could not, as can
fathers to-day, give her Kingsley's rendering, or Hawthorne's, or Miss
Josephine Preston Peabody's. Like the father of Aurora Leigh, -

"He wrapt his little daughter in his large
Man's doublet, careless did it fit or no."

At the present time we do not often see a child wrapped in a large man's
doublet of a book; even more seldom do we see a father careless if it
fit or no. What we plainly behold is that doublet, cut down, and most
painstakingly fitted to the child's little mind.

Unquestionably the children lose something by this. The great books of
the world do not lend themselves well to making over. "Tales from
Shakespeare" are apt to leave out Shakespeare's genius, and "Stories
from Homer" are not Homer. In cutting the doublet to fit, the most
precious part of the fabric is in danger of being sacrificed.

But whatever the children lose when they are small, they find again when
they come to a larger growth. Most significant of all, when they find
it, they recognize it. A little girl who is a friend of mine had read
Lambs' "Tales." The book had been given to her when she was eight years
old. She is nine now. One day, not long ago, she was lingering before my
bookcases, taking out and glancing through various volumes. Suddenly she
came running to me, a copy of "As You Like It" in her hand. "This story
is in one of my books!" she cried.

"Yes," I said; "your book was written from this book, and some of those
other little red books there with it in the bookcase."

The child went back to the bookcase. She took down all the other volumes
of Shakespeare, and, sitting on the rug with them, she spent an utterly
absorbed hour in turning over their leaves. Finally she scrambled to her
feet and set the books back in their places. "I've found which stories
in these books are in my book, too," she remarked. "Mine are easier to
read," she added; "but yours have lovely talk in them!"

Had she not read Lambs' "Tales" at eight I am not certain she would have
ventured into the wide realms of Shakespeare at nine, and tarried there
long enough to discover that in those realms there is "lovely talk."

Occasionally, to be sure, the children insist upon books being easy to
read, and refuse to find "lovely talk" in them if they are not. It was
only a short time ago that I read to a little boy Browning's "Pied Piper
of Hamelin." When I had finished there was a silence. "Do you like it?"
I inquired.

"Ye-es," replied my small friend; "it's a nice story, but it's nicer in
my book than in yours. I'll bring it next time I come, so you can read
it."

He did. The story was told in prose. It began, "There was once a town,
named Hamelin, and there were so many rats in it that the people did not
know what to do." Certainly this is "easier to read" than the forty-two
lines which the poem uses to make an identical statement regarding the
town named Hamelin. My little friend is only six. I hope that by the
time he is twelve he will think the poem is as "nice" as, if not "nicer"
than, the story in his book. At least he may be impelled by the memory


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Online LibraryElizabeth McCrackenThe American Child → online text (page 6 of 9)