Friday, September 11, 2009

No Twaddle Allowed

I love books and I love reading books to my children. When Sam was quite young, it was so fun to sit him on my lap, him helping to turn the board-book pages. As he got older, we started reading books with real pages and while the length of the books and total number of words per page increased, the content did not improve. They left me wanting more and I felt he could handle more. There are so many silly, (dare I say?) dumb children's books out there. The children's books I am speaking of would probably be included in Charlotte Mason's definition of "twaddle". My (humble) definition of twaddle is books and speech that insult a child’s intelligence and interest.

Finally, it occurred to me to move away from the picture books. We started reading books like Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, The Voyage of Doctor Doolittle, The Enormous Egg and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This was certainly an improvement. He was entertained. I was entertained. He always begged for me to read more. We were happy.

Fast forward a couple more years. I can hardly stand to read picture books to my children anymore. I do it, of course. Any love of books will serve a child well and Sadie is still a little bit young to follow lengthy stories and plots, although I know she's listening while she plays. Every once in awhile she pipes up with a question or comment. There are some well-written children's picture books out there, but they are hard to come by if you ask me. It seems that the sillier they are, the more popular they are. And, this trend seems to be continuing with books targeted at late-elementary school age children. My goodness.

Thankfully, there is so much wonderful (real) literature for children out there I feel as if I'm a child in a candy store having to choose only a certain number of pieces out of thousands of choices (all chocolate, mind you).

Two books we recently finished which go along nicely with the subject of early American history (which we are studying this year) are The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare (thank you, Kimberlee)...

and Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink (thank you, Cinde).

These books are full of rich adventure, history and language. You do not need to be studying early American history to enjoy these. In fact, even if you are reading them for history purposes, you won't feel like you are. These books are wonderful. We highly recommend them both.

I want to read living books to my children. I want them to see a larger picture, to think beyond themselves and their little worlds. I want to read them stories that show courage, honor, ingenuity, perseverance and, most of all, compassion. Instead of them pretending to be animals that can ride bikes or children that are forever messy, I delight when I hear my kids pretending to build a claim shanty (and refer to it as such) or when I see Sam fashioning a bow and arrow from tinker toys (to hunt animals for survival).

Sam heading off outside with his tinker toy bow and arrows (it really worked). Lacking a quiver, he used his back pocket.

We need to give our kids some credit and leave the twaddle behind. You and your children will enjoy reading so much more.

Some other books we've enjoyed this past year are...

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George (I cried)
Julie of the Wolves also by Jean Craighead George
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls (I cried again)
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (abridged version) original by Jules Verne This was Sam's choice. This abridged version's language was dull as all get out to me, but Sam evidently didn't mind it and loved the book.
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I'm open to suggestions, folks. What books do you recommend? Pin It


  1. Shakespeare; Maniac Magee; The Penderwicks; Cheaper By The Dozen; Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH; Because of Winn-Dixie; The Indian in the Cupboard; There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom.

    Will that do you? Need more? Okay...

    Sarah, Plain and Tall; The Saturdays; Pinky Pye; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle; A Wrinkle in Time; Meet the Austins.

  2. I so agree, at least in thought. My actions are not showing this as much, but we're working more towards hearing the story, using imagination, rather than providing all the details in a picture or (eek) a movie/tv show. It really takes away from the potential for growth & imagination. The story stops there. Some of the 'marketed' books are so bad. If we are at a bookstore, and Jack asks to read one, I simply say no, and tell him its a silly book. (Twaddle) Playful is one thing but mind-candy must be limited just like edible candy.

  3. Black Ships Before Troy and The Wanderings of Odyssey (abridged by Sutcliff) are excellent... she manages to get a lot of Homeric language across. Across the wine-dark sea, I mean. Likewise, the Gilgamesh trilogy by Zemen is fantastic.

    See Mama JJ's list for some of the nicest. "Danny the Champion of the World" by Dahl is one of our hands-down favorites. Others would be "The Hobbit," "Journey from Peppermint Street" by De Jong, anything by E. Nesbit or Enright, and about 300 others. I'm still in love with picture books, especially anything retold by Eric Kimmel or drawn/told by Barbara Cooney (Roxaboxen! Miss Rumphius!) or Trina Schart Hyman. Francis's Canticle of the Sun is gorgeously translated in "Circle of Days" by Rylant. And don't forget "The Ox Cart Man" by one of our great poets.

    "Eating the Plates" is the best Thanksgiving book EVER. ... sorry you asked yet?

  4. This is too funny. Jim is reading The Sign of the Beaver (a few chapters a night) to Gavin (7) at this very moment. Wendell (14) has read it himself numerous times but still hangs on to every word. What a great book.

    I totally agree that childrens books are getting more and more silly. I don't mind reading to kids but for pete's sake give us a book that has a story/plot with at least a bit of meaning. I'll put together a list of suggestions when I have more time.

    Aunt V

  5. A few years ago, I went through our bookshelves and hauled off every item that was "twaddle". Once it was out of the house, I only replaced it with quality books - most of which books written 40 or 50 years ago. This way my children could read whatever they wanted from the bookshelves and I knew it was something that wasn't twaddle.

    Last school year we read lots of history books: Treasure Island, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Johnny Tremain and Dual in the Wilderness. This last one surprised me because I didn't think I'd like it much, but I was reading ahead because I enjoyed it so well.

    I highly recommend every family having three resources for searching out good books: Honey for a Child's Heart; The Book Tree; and Books Children Love.

  6. What squash website????
    Anywho, my kids loved the my side of the mountain girl is way into birds and nature and has a BIG imagination....which is a blessing. We also listen to a lot of books on tape (cd) in the car and in the evenings....last Christmas we were gifted the Chronicles of Narnia Series and loved it. We have since lent it out to three times to friends. Good...Books.... Rule!

  7. We've read many of those you listed. My 6yo dd's favorite book is "Charlotte's Web" but we couldn't get through "Stuart Little".

    We are getting to know the Peppers. I picked up "Five Little Peppers and How They Grew" along with "Five Little Peppers Midway" for $1 at a garage sale this summer - love them.

    We also really like "Heidi" and are starting to collect some of the pre- and post- "Little House" books about Laura's mom and Laura's daughter.


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