BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS for children
some people read books and some people don't. That is a fact the world over, and it makes no difference what country, nation, or “racial group” you think of, providing, of course that written material is available to them. Those who read can hardly imagine life without books, and those who don't read find it difficult to understand the person who can put his nose in a book and keep it there for two or three hours without dying of sheer boredom. But this doesn't mean that some people are born to be readers and some are not. Reading books is rather like eating oysters—it's an acquired taste, and you can't really say that you don't like oysters until you've tried them once or twice and given your palate a chance to make up its mind. Most of us can't afford to develop a passion for oysters in our children, but giving them the opportunity to form the reading habit is a different matter.
You might counter this by saying that school gives the child a chance to become fond of books. Not always. Reading in schools is usually reading for a purpose: it is something the child is expected to learn, but not necessarily to enjoy. A friend of mine once told me about a little boy (he went to school and had learnt to read) who used to come and play with her children. Often she would find him sitting beside the bookcase looking with a kind of suspicious awe at the books, but he never made any attempt to take one off the shelf, and when asked if he would like to take one home he said that his mother wouldn't let him because it might get torn or dirty.
A pretty feeble reason for denying her child a harmless pastime that would cost her less than sending him to the pictures every wet Saturday afternoon, creates less “mess” than most other things a normal child wants to do, and would help him indirectly with almost every branch of his school-work.
Most teachers would agree that a child who does some reading in his spare time can cope with his schoolwork more easily than a child who does not. But I think, for the primary school child anyway, that the pleasure of reading, rather than its educational value, should be stressed. If the book is enjoyed, any information it contains will be absorbed effortlessly.
For those of you who allow your children to have books, if and when they want them, either their own or library copies, all this will seem so elementary as to be a waste of printers' ink, but the following list of titles and authors may be of some help in choosing Christmas presents or when looking for something in the junior library. All the books mentioned should be available in libraries and on sale in good book-shops. For the sake of my own convenience I have divided the books roughly into four age-groups but it must be understood at the outset that this division is purely arbitrary and that children differ greatly in their reading ability. For instance, some of the books listed for the oldest group might in fact be too difficult for some children in standards five and six and on the other hand might be appreciated immediately by some children in the younger groups. Another point worth mentioning is that most children can understand and enjoy books which they couldn't possibly cope with by themselves if an older person will read them aloud.
I've yet to meet a young child who doesn't like looking at pictures. This is one of the main reasons for the popularity of comics. (Incidentally, a child who enjoys a good comic, that is, one with some body to it, will usually enjoy a well-illustrated book with a fast moving story.) I must admit that of all the books I read when preparing this page I enjoyed the pre-school and primers group the most. The best of these have gay cover designs (the cover is most important to the young child who cannot read, because it takes the place of the title), are delightfully illustrated, and the language is clear, straight-forward and forceful. Some of the stories are little more than explanations of the illustrations. Good examples of the picture book are The Sleepy Little Lion by Margaret Wise Brown, which is illustrated with large close-up photographs of a baby lion, and Watch the Pony Grow by William Hall, where each paged illustration is just a little larger than the previous one, till on the last page the pony is found fully grown. Children love this kind of device, also pop-up pictures, and if I were trying to interest a young non-reader in books I think I would start off with this one. Moving on to picture-books with longer stories there is a range of subjects to suit
all tastes. For children interested in animals there are the Angus books by Marjorie Flack, the well-known little Beatrix Potter books, and the more sophisticated Winnie the Pooh stories by A. A. Milne. For children who have a passion for engines and steam-shovels and such things, there is an excellent series about The Little Red Engine by Diana Ross, beautifully illustrated, and the great favourite Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton. Some children prefer stories about other children like themselves and there is a recently published Little Golden Book Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans, that has become immensely popular. Tastes may differ, but stories where something or somebody gets into trouble and gets out of it again are always enjoyed, most of all Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman, stands out on its own as an example of this kind of story. It is an old-timer, first published in 1899, but it has everything that will always appeal to the very young, striking illustrations, clear simple English, lots of trouble and excitement (tigers) and a safe happy ending (dinner).
It is not so easy to reel off titles for the standards one and two child. As far as reading ability goes he is not much more advanced than the picture-book plus story stage, and the illustrations are still as important as the script, but his comprehension and grasp of detail in stories which are read to him is sometimes surprising. The Barbar series by Jean de Brunhoff, and the Orlando series by Kathleen Hale are both very popular, and far from being confused or bored by the number of minor characters and their many activities, children seem to delight in remembering the outlandish names and who did what, and love to identify them in the heavily detailed illustrations. It is also surprising how much they can appreciate a sophisticated and subtly humorous story like The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf (Ferdinand is a fine bull who preferred flowers to bull-fights) so long as the vocabulary is not beyond them. But I think the most popular books are still those like Little Black Sambo with a central figure with whom the child immediately identifies himself, and who wins through at last against overwhelming odds. Tim to the Rescue by Edward Ardizonne is such a book, and The Little Steamroller by Graham Greene, with its brilliantly coloured illustrations is another. Small boys seem to have no difficulty in imagining themselves as steamrollers who chase smugglers.
In the early standards, children become more interested in people of other lands, and will enjoy books like The Chinese Children Next Door by Pearl Buck, Riki the Eskimo by Penelope Gibson, Mitla and Lupe by Jose Sancha, and Living in a Maori Village by A. W. Reed, illustrated by Russell Clark. This is not to imply that Maoris fall into the category of “people of other lands”! But the Maori as he was is so different, culturally and socially, from the Maori as he is, that reading about the former is very much like reading about a stranger who has oddly familiar characteristics. Young children live in the present—today is more important than yesterday and tomorrow can hardly be imagined—and unless they are actually told about it or read about it, they can never lay claim to their historical past. I would hate to think that there are any Maori children, no matter how greatly they benefit from a European way of life, who are not aware that New Zealand history contains a pre-European era. In those days, historical knowledge was preserved and passed on to each succeeding generation by word of mouth, but the old schools have long since disappeared and with them most of the old teachers, and the Maori of today who wants to know how his ancestors lived, what they did and what they believed, must turn to books—ironically a product of the civilisation that has made him so different from the Maoris he will read about. Now all this points to one thing—children's books about Maoris must be good. Only the best will do. Some of the ones I have read, and I was disappointed to find so few, are good, but others could be better. I don't know why, but all of them with one exception are about early or pre-European Maoris. Besides Living in a Maori Village,” there is Pitama by John L. Ewing, and How the Maori Lived, Wonder Tales of Maoriland, The Coming of the Maoris to Aotearoa, Myths and Legends of Maoriland, all by A. W. Reed. Of these, Pitama, the story of the storming of Kaiapoi pa, comes nearest to the usual adventure story, but I have been told that the Wonder Tales are very much liked too. In my opinion the best of all is The Book of Wiremu by Stella Morice, a book that is well on the way to joining the small group of New Zealand classics. It is a beautifully written story in clear simple English with a faint Maori idiom, about a little Maori boy (of the present day) who lives in the country with his uncle that's all, no battles, no fireworks, no mystery. The author breaks all the rules but still succeeds, that's how good it is.
Returning to the standards three and four group, we find that illustrations are becoming fewer and less important but animals that behave like humans are still very popular. A reliable librarian informed me that this age-group just love reading about pigs! Why, I can't imagine, but if you have a child like this, The Four Pigs by Alison Uttley, and Freddy's First Adventure by Walter R. Brooks are sure to please. There is one book I would specially recommend, Charlotte's Web by E. B. White. It is about a small girl who makes friends with a group of farmyard animals, especially the pig and a large grey spider Charlotte. The characterisation, the development of the fast moving plot, the humour and pathos, and the easy style are as good as those found in a first-class adult novel. Like all good children's books the adult who undertakes to read it aloud will enjoy it almost as much as the child listening. Compared with this, Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson is only a second-best, but still worth mentioning. Then of course, there are the famous Doctor
Dolittle books by Hugh Lofting, about a group of animals who enjoy the most fantastic adventures, like going to the moon. And the ever-popular Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. But when it comes to stories about wild animals in their natural habitat I think Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Books remain unsurpassed. Once a child has read himself into the world of Mowgli, the little Indian who was brought up by the wolf pack, he will never forget it—it becomes part of his imagination. These books are worth buying as the child will return to them again and again. The last book I want to mention for this group is also outstandingly good. The Boy who was Afraid by Armstrong Sperry is the story of a Polynesian boy who lived on a South Sea island in pre-European days. Strongly recommended for children who have a fear of the sea.
There are many more books worth considering but both my space and ideas have run out. If the few I have dealt with are not enough, I am sure that any librarian or good bookseller will be only too pleased to suggest some others.
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The Maori race is represented on the National Historic Places Trust by Canon Paora Temuera, of Otaki. The purpose of the trust is to preserve and record sites and buildings, and objects of local or national importance.