Thursday, May 15, 2014

Little Hands, Little Books, But Not Just Little Words

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.)

Pennsylvania wild rabbit

     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.

redware plate with Easter bunny

     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

back of cross stitch

Beatrix Potter's little books    
     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.

cross stitch rabbit ornament

Further Reading

“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,
Karen Andreola

A Special Note
We are in the process of linking to Amazon for financial affiliation. Dean is still looking for work. 


  1. May greetings, Karen! The world is so lovely in May.

    Imaginative language is a joy. I remember my daughter's use of the words exuberantly and delicious when she was a very little girl. For some reason, a young child's proper use of the suffix ly thrills my mind. HA - these days it thrills my mind to hear an adult's proper use of said suffix!

    May your visit with your grandsons be filled with delight.


  2. My daughter and I have both noticed the wonderful language in many of the English children's storybooks. Quite different than the Dick and Jane books.

    Although I have a nostalgia for them since that is what I used to learn to read. ;)

  3. This is great! Miss Potter (the author and the film) are the best!

  4. How fun to see all of your rabbits! You included so many fun and interesting stories and excerpts in the Parent's Reviews. I really enjoyed my copies years ago when my children were younger, and still look at them from time to time. I highly recommend them.

    Dianne L

  5. We all learn something from the beautiful language of well-written true!!! I can think of example after example...this is such a beautiful post - all the bright colors & cheery rabbits! Thank you for sharing.

    Prayed that your husband would fine employment soon!!

  6. We always spoke to our children using real words and not baby talk and I always have read good books, with real words to them. They all have big vocabularies, and now my granddaughter is gaining in her verbal skills at almost four years old. It thrills my heart.

    I am thankful to have learned to avoid Twaddle when my children were young. You are to thank for that Karen, along with your purple book.


  7. I always liked the part in "Peter Rabbit," when Peter was caught in the fence and the birds came and "implored Peter to exert himself." - Karis

  8. This is so magnificently true. It's really sad how limited the vocabulary has become for too many.

  9. There are always so many things I want to chat about when I read one of your posts! It makes me wish to pull up a chair at your table and sip tea from one of your lovely tea cups and have a heart-to-heart.

    (I confess that sometimes I have so much to say, that I can't decide and then just slip away without commenting. But I never read a post here that does not stir my thoughts.)

    I love all the photos you've used throughout this little chat.

    The stories of Beatrix Potter are timeless and have found a way into our family's history. My husband was given The Tale of Peter Rabbit on his first day of school. I've read the stories to all of my children. My bedroom of my youngest had touches of Beatrix Potter decor when she was younger, and she has saved some of those things for her own future children.)

    Of course, the main point of this post is one with which I wholeheartedly agree! Interesting and beautiful words are not wasted on children! Instead, they are stimulating and life-giving.

    (See...I knew I'd go on and on.)

  10. I read this post and I nod my head...I too love words, and I've long bowed to those who have the gift of trailing words together in the most wonderful manner. Presently, I enjoy Seigfrid in the series, All Creatures Great and Small. Oh, what I would not do to have his delighful expressions and words!

  11. I was delighted with this post. I am just beginning my homeschooling journey with my little ones, age 3 and age 10 months. My just turned 3 year old loves Beatrix Potter stories. For awhile, her favorite story was Ginger and Pickles. She has quite the vocabulary and it is a joy to watch her develop and pick up new phrases and words from her stories.
    The BBC has a wonderful animated Beatrix Potter collection that weaves 2 stories together at a time and is true to her word and illustrations. It is a favorite for my daughter to watch in her very limited screen time. I also came across a video in the library of a professional ballet company that told the stories through dance. It was amazing! The costumes were incredible and I wondered how the dancers could do all they did with them on. I don't have the details, as it has been 2 years since I had seen it, but well worth searching for. Just wanted to share these treasures that go well with Beatrix's well loved stories.

    Mrs. Lind

  12. Dear Ladies,
    Your comments make me smile.
    I am always happy to read your contributions to Moments with Mother Culture - and happy to get a peek into your lives and thinking.

    I, too, like the Miss Potter film - and wish it was a series.

    We enjoyed Peter Rabbit and his fellow neighborhood creatures in book form and by video but I hadn't heard of a ballet. It sounds artsy and interesting.

    Seigfrid never fails to entertain me with his choice of words. He throws his weight around with them, compliments with them, and values his work by them - elegantly. James, by contrast, writes himself in as a plain talker - but sincere. Dean and I are watch the series now and again.

    Thanks for the chat,
    Karen A.

  13. Dear Karen,

    Would it be safe here to say that the mama enjoys Beatrix Potter just as much {if not} more than her children?

    This was one of the first living story books I read to my children and it was through Beatrix Potter that I discovered just how much I love words!

    I recall sometime in one of your books that you mentioned keeping a "word journal". Is that correct? Anyhow, I opened the pages of a composition book a number of years ago and took this advice. Each time I would sit down with the children or on my own to read big books or little books I would write a new word that I didn't know, or either a word that I liked in the pages of the notebook. {I know have a long list}

    This did two things for the children and I:
    1. it opened up our minds to new and exciting words
    2. I discovered to a deeper level that not only did I enjoy words, but I enjoyed writing them down in sentences.

    Proudly, I'm in my fourth year of a Charlotte Mason Education and my stale mind is growing with the big words!

    Isn't it something what a few "little words" can do?!

    A fine post today!

  14. As always, Karen, your posts are pleasing to the eyes and to the soul. Thank you.

  15. Dearest Karen,
    I just LOVE to connect with your "cherishabubbly" thoughts and wisdoms!
    Beatrix is one of my favorite of all time heroes and I have her all over my home!
    Thanks for always posting sweet uplifting tools for thought!!
    (with very lovely images too)

    < {cherishabubbly} = doubly cherished in a bubbly sort of way> ;-D hee

    Many many blessings love and hugs, Linnie

  16. Oh, I love many things about this post--- we love rabbits here too (I've called my daughter 'bunny' since birth!) and we have 3 dutch lop rabbits in a hutch outside.

    I agree with your thoughts about the specialness of language and discovering a new word that sounds so interesting and exactly captures a feeling or description. I love when my daughter pulls out a new word that I didnt know she'd latched onto. Lately everything is 'gorgeous.' Love that ;)