Today we thumbed through “The Daring Book for Girls,” and that’s always a good read: tying knots, changing a tire, building fires, carving willow whistles, basically everything a young lady needs to know. My husband had a similar, though much more hard core book in his childhood. It belonged to his grandfather, who had been given it as a young child, and it included fascinating small projects for children, like how to trap and kill a mole, then make gloves out of its fur. Sadly, this project is overlooked in the Daring book.
We’ve also started reading Beatrix Potter to the girls. As far as kids lit goes, its pretty exciting stuff: kittens getting kidnapped by rats, who try to make them into yummy puddings, and groovy stuff like that.
When it comes to children’s books, old school, or old school style, is the way to go. Most children’s books today are rarely, if ever, hardcore. Everything remotely controversial or upsetting has been pulled from them like weeds. Rats trying to bake kittens in a pudding-how horrible! It will give the children nightmares. Better to just read them fluff about petting puppies, and set them up gluing macaroni to empty, free-trade coffee cans. There’s nothing wrong with these things, but there’s nothing right or interesting about them either.
Our whole children’s book collection is old school. We like our children’s books to have somewhat of an edge, something the recent kids books just don’t seem to have. I can’t stand all that syrupy stuff- all those weird, staged parent/kid heart to hearts. I mean, shouldn’t we just be talking to our kids, rather than reading them stories about parents talking to their kids? Shouldn’t we be reading them books that feed their imaginations, that challenge them? Don’t we want our kids to be brave, adventurous, independent? I do.
When I was a kid my favorite book, the one I asked for over and over, was “The Maggie B” In it, a little girl speaks to the North Star one day,
“North Star, star of the sea
I wish for a boat named after me
to sail away, alone and free
with someone nice for company.”
She sails away with her baby brother James (he’s the “nice company”), sails the boat all by herself, trimming the sails and netting fish for a yummy stew. At some point the weather changes and they are hit with a fierce storm, but Maggie never loses her head. She saves that boat, beats the storm. In the morning the sun comes out and she’s back to sailing “away alone and free with someone nice for company.”
There are no parents in this book, no adults of any kind, no crying, no “Mummy will come and fix” business. Maggie battling the elements, Maggie doing it all herself, without written instructions, parental supervision, and gratutious praise. What an splendid creature!
I didn’t live by the sea as a child (as most people don’t), I didn’t know anyone who owned a boat, but when I read that book, I would dream and dream about sailing.
When I was a teenager I moved to a coastal town with some friends to find work for the summer. I’d still never sailed, but I marched up to the biggest passanger sailboat in the Harbor and asked for a job. My interview went something like this:
Capt: Do you have any sailing experience?
Capt.: Do you think you could pass the drug test?
Capt: Great, you can start tomorrow.
So I learned to sail, and it was really, really hard, but wonderful. Four years later, right after I graduated from college, I was hired to sail a boat all the way across the Atlantic, just a Capt, a first mate, and me. Like Maggie, we hit a fierce storm, and like Maggie we kept our heads and made it through. Like Maggie we fished, and ate what we caught, we kept our boat clean, and we marvelled at all the amazing things we saw, all alone, alone and free.
I’m not saying I wouldn’t have done these things if I hadn’t read that book as a child, read it hundreds of times, but- actually no- no, I am saying I wouldn’t have done those things if I hadn’t read that book. No one ever took me sailing, I had to dream about it, had to find a way myself, like Maggie. That’s what I want for my girls, I want them to read about kids doing exciting, daring, adventurous things, without help or reward. I want them to have dreams bigger and braver than I can even imagine. Isn’t that the greatest gift I can give them?