Little Hands, Little Books,
But Not Just Little Words
We watched three wild rabbits grow up last summer. Mornings and evenings they fed and frolicked at the outskirts of the woods, not far from their mother. They skipped and tumbled off rocks and poked their stubby noses under things and into things – even nosing the sprinkler on the lawn when it wasn’t watering. For obvious reasons I called them the Flopsy Bunnies.
Recently, I noticed the bunnies we have inside the house and that they would do nicely for decorating this post (where I quote from chapter 21 of A Charlotte Mason Companion.)
I’ll let you in on a secret. In my efforts to be interesting, I will polish a post with a word outside of the course of everyday conversation. I'm finicky about words. But I do it also for your entertainment. And, it also helps me present an idea. Even a simple idea, to borrow a phrase of Mr. Darcy, is “brightened by the exercise” of a meaningful word. It goes by principle.
Do we feel dull? Perhaps we are confining ourselves to the narrow playing field of commonplace vocabulary. Such dullness is what’s in store for children when twaddle is set before them.
Twaddle, or over-simplified vocabulary, has a deadening effect on the curious minds of children. It seems to be the human tendency to find language exciting, but this tendency will become latent when schoolbooks stick to words with a quickly digested significance.
Words are wonderful. The Christian handles them with respect.
The Maker of Heaven and Earth chose words to make Himself known to us. When a believer is “in the Word” we are closer to Him (1 John 1). We worship the Lord with our actions, our intentions, our hearts, and with words.
Around the world, wherever Christians have lived in community, the caring work of education has been there, too – first, to teach the Word, and secondly, to contemplate and consider the words and lives of others. “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life.” Proverbs 10:11
We want to read children age-appropiate” books, yet let’s be careful not to stagnate their intelligence by talking down to them with the blandest vocabulary. Rather, we can awaken their intelligence with fitting words that are new and delicious.
There exists no verbal poverty in the stories of Beatrix Potter, for example. Edward Blishen, English teacher and author of the article, “Very Remarkable Words” – in Parents’ Review Vol. 6, wrote:
“Anyone who was brought up on Beatrix Potter will remember how the uncommon words glow in the clear setting of her style. When I first read the speech in Jemima Puddle-duck that begins ‘Before you commence your tedious sitting, I intend to give you a treat,’ I had no firm idea of the meaning of the word, ‘tedious.’ Indeed, the joy of it was that is was not easily capable of firm meaning. It was a word with a tone, a style of its own, to be treasured and used exploratorily thereafter.”
In the article Mr. Blishen goes on to make his case against the twaddle found in so many children’s books. Twaddly books would never dream of using the word “tedious.” Their authors – who probably spend very little time relating to children, confine themselves to grade level vocabulary.
I selected phrases from our copy of The CompleteTales of Beatrix Potter. We’ve had it in the house for more than twenty years. Checking, I was happy to find that this edition is still in print and provided a link. In this large volume Miss Potter’s books appear in the order that they were first published. What I’ve appreciated about this edition is the paragraph of introduction – a sort of biographical peek or background - placed before each tale.
Here are some examples of verbal richness. Apparently Miss Potter was ignorant of strict grade level stipulations. I’m glad, aren’t you?
“It is said that the effect of eating too much lettuce is soporific.” The Tale of The Flospy Bunnies
“And everything was ready to sew together in the morning, all measured and sufficient – except that there was wanting just one single skein of cherry-coloured twisted silk.” The Tailor of Gloucester (a Christmas favorite of mine)
“And while Mrs. Jeremy sat disconsolately on the edge of his boat – sucking his sore fingers and peering down into the water – a much worse thing happened; a really frightful thing it would have been, if Mr. Jeremy had not been wearing a macintosh!”
The Tale of Jeremy Fisher
“Somehow there were very extraordinary noises over-head, which disturbed the dignity and repose of the tea party.” The Tale of Tom Kitten
“Mr. Jackson rose ponderously from the table, and began to look into the cupboards.” The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse (I really “get into” reading this tale aloud.)
“Pigling squealed; then ran back frantically, hoping to overtake Alexander and the policeman.” The Tale of Pigling Bland
Along side, The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter, I have a small collection of the tales in individual books – the way that they were originally designed by Beatrix Potter herself - that is - to fit into the size of a child’s hand. Thus this post’s title: Little hands, little books, but not just little words.
After long months, I’m going to see my busy, boisterous grandsons this weekend. When the boys start to run low on steam (which takes quite some time), I will invite them to sit still with Mimi and pick out one of my little books for me to read aloud. If it’s bedtime I can guess they will be happy to stay up long enough for me to read them all.
“The Art of Beatrix Potter” is an article I preserved in Parents’ Reivew -Volume 4. It is illustrated with line drawings by my daughters Sophia and Yolanda during days-gone-by.
“The Crime in Beatrix Potter’s Plots” is a curious feature of Parents’ Review - Volume 3.
Comments are Welcome,
A Special Note
We are in the process of linking to Amazon for financial affiliation. Dean is still looking for work.