In the discussion of books and audiobooks for my sister – and I will work on that list for the blog over the weekend, but these things are a huge labor of love, which I have not had time for – I mentioned to a friend that the Swallows and Amazons had been a favorite when I was a kid, and it might be right up his sons’ alley. He and I have chatted many times about books, children, boys (he has several) and the education system. Both of us worry about our sons in an increasingly ‘girls world’ but this post isn’t about that, per se. It’s what happened when he looked up the book in his public library’s online card catalog. It wasn’t there. There was a movie (which I didn’t even know existed, and I’m now torn between wanting to see, and not wanting to see how they maimed a beloved memory) but absolutely no paper copies. He had to request it on inter-library loan in order to find out what I was recommending to him.
I know, having been a librarian in a small library, the pain of deciding what can be weeded, what needs to be replaced, and balancing the old favorites with space for new fresh titles. It’s not easy, some days. Children’s beloved books, in particular, get battered and beaten quickly, with the older plainer covers falling unnoticed into retirement behind trendy dustjackets. Librarians have to pull out the old and put in the new. I know this! But as a reader, it’s difficult to see that classics I loved and grew up with are just not available (or not easily) to young readers. It’s not about the language – to select almost at random, George McDonald’s Princess and the Goblin in original written dialect would be hard for a young reader. English has drifted since it was written. But Arthur Ransome’s series of stories about independent children having adventures all summer long, mucking about in boats and playing at pirates? That’s evergreen, and too recent to be lost to diminishing vocabulary and literacy skills.
Even more worrying, I came across mention of a trend in libraries that dictates their books in juvenile or YA collections shall not be too old – not the individual book, but when the story was published. This is deeply concerning to me as a mother, as it cuts my children-readers off from sources of history in other places than their schoolbooks, which are biased. I know that is a flat fact, so eliminating all fiction of the past as well? When it was written it was not history. It’s a marvelous way to bring history to life, and should be approached as such. If there is concern over the way certain topics are handled? Instead of pretending that never happened, by burying the evidence, as it were, let us instruct the young minds to compare now to then. Which is better? Will they not learn more in this manner?
Whitewashing the classics, or simply disappearing them, is no way to treat books. We know that readers have more ’emotional intelligence’, empathy, and are better able to connect to other people. Readers are, at the level of immersion and enjoyment it takes to make reading an integral part of your personality, not shallow consumers of only the latest titles. So we would think that the avid reader, consuming as broad a swathe of books as they can manage – I remember checking out of the library twice weekly with as many books as I could carry! – is getting both the classic and the newest release. That it is the old which forms along with the new into this synthesis of the perfect human fiction reader that is more socially ept than the non-reader. Classics still have value, and losing them to the war on history is a tragedy.