More Rambles | Newberry

More Rambles

So Friday’s column dealt with a man who took us on a journey through books and gave us his opinion of them. Someone has donated a completely different similar book.

This book is prescriptive rather than descriptive. It tells you what you OUGHT to read, or, more particularly, what children ought to read. This, of course, is a pastime which goes back centuries (Mr. Blackburn, our author from Friday, suffered from it throughout his own childhood.) Making sure children read what’s good for them, whether they want to read it or not, has been a passion among teachers and librarians as long as there have been teachers and librarians. (We DID have a speaker at the Newberry once who suggested children should read anything they want to read, and the world will be better off in the long run. It was one of those sage notions everyone nods at and then ignores.)

This book was put together in the 1920s, and published by the American Library Association and Rand McNally in 1926. Carleton Washburne and Mabel Vogel get the credit on the title page but so much work went into it that there must have been a few other members of the committee. The Winnetka, Illinois schools did a survey (they go on for pages about how they did it) to find out what books children LIKE to read, and at what age a child will like a certain book. Basically, they had children who used the library issued forms, with four boxes to check off on how much they did or didn’t like a specific book, and four boxes to check off whether they thought the book was too hard, too easy, or JUST right.

They took with them into the fray a list of books librarians recommended for children of varying ages, AND a few prejudices. (One series of books got a 98.7% approval rate from the children in the survey but were judged too trashy to be included in a reputable list. Alas, the titles do not appear in the book, but it says right here you can get a mimeographed copy from the office in Wilmette.)

They learned a few things. A number of books the librarians recommended very highly got thumbs down from the majority of the kids: Don Quixote, the Rose and the Ring, or Roosevelt’s Letters to His Children. An asterisk has been placed next to the books of High Literary Quality which did make the list, but the authors admit this won’t get you far: only thirty-five books the librarians picked as wonderful got a high approval rating from the readers. (These include Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island, and The Prince and the Pauper, among others.)

They then got into the difficulty ratings and, to make things even more enlivening, contrasted what books the girls liked as opposed to the books the boys liked (Anne of Green Gables and Silas Marner got a high score, but only among the girls, while Gaunt Grey Wolf and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court ran high among the boys but got a cold shoulder from the girls.) The age level is based on their studies, and I can’t argue with statistics, but Beatrix Potter seems to be held back until the reader is in third grade.

Anyway, the GOOD part of this book, and the part on which they wisely spend more time, is the part I always hated in grade school. I’d’ve done wonderfully on the front of the card, but on the back, readers were invited to say WHY they liked the book. The authors note some answers were not very helpful (those would have been mine, variations on “I just DID, okay?”) but others were worth quoting, and they include one quote for each book they list.

“I like it because the overall boys crossed the Atlantic Ocean and they went into a strange country. If you want to know more about it you will find it in the book.”

“The duck shows the bunny her secret.”

“Because I live in the city I like to read about the farm.”

“This book tells you how to care for your body. You should eat good food. This book tells you the building foods.”

“The best story was Mr. Vinegar and his fortune. I will tell you about the story. Mr. Vinegar’s wife was screaming. Guess what she was yelling. She was yelling ‘The door has fallen,’ and it had.” (They didn’t know about spoiler alerts yet.)

This is another book you should obviously take along with you when shopping at the Book Fair. I am myself extremely eager to read some of these books now that I’ve read the review. No, I’m not going to tell you the titles. You might get there first.

Add new comment