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Thursday, August 09, 2007

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I Got My Liberal Arts Degree
From ChildCraft U.

Some books, beloved in childhood, don't make the crossing with us into adulthood. I remember reading Curious George aloud to my firstborn for the first time, and becoming quickly horrified, as George was kidnapped from his native habitat by a western imperialist trading in exotic animals, lost in the city, pursued by angry police, and finally dumped at the zoo. Welcome to America.

Others, though anachronistic in the details, are redeemable by virtue of beautiful language, illustrations or theme. For example, my two older sons and I have been reading from Little House on the Prairie this summer, rife with racist references to Native Americans. Since we are reading together, I am able to interrupt the narrative at these places, and talk to the boys about racism, prejudice and the terrible cost of Manifest Destinity, without turning Laura and her pioneer family into a band of plundering villians.

A housefire in the mid-eighties destroyed most of my girlhood artifacts, so my own childhood library is shelved mostly in my memory. I love stumbling across out-of-print titles that I had forgotten I used to own. It's like bumping into a long-lost friend.

I recently spotted this book on a girlfriend's shelf and basically cried until she said I could take it home for a while.

It is the 1976 edition of Look and Learn, from Childcraft. If you had this edition of this book, you would have the Rosetta Stone to my mind.

This was where I learned about architecture,

how to distinguish the MacBean clan tartan from the Stewart,

how to appreciate the great masters,

and the moderns,

and countless other bits of cultivation, from Japanese floral arrangement to formal vs informal table settings, to signs used by hoboes, to silver hallmarks and components of a suit of armor.

It was as good a classical education as you are likely to find. It has made me all that I am today: an excellent dinner companion, a formidable trivial pursuit opponent, and pretty much unemployable.

What book from your childhood would you still pore over? Which ones really shaped the person that you are today?



Blogger Jonathon Morgan said...

I've been loving that more and more, the older Edan gets. I so excited to have an excuse to read "Where the Wild Things Are" or "King Bidgood's in the Bathtub" for the first time in 20 years.

12:43 PM  
Blogger June said...

We had the whole Childcraft set when my brother & I were growing up and we LOVED those things! I'll have to check my parent's attic and see if they still have them!

1:07 PM  
Blogger Prisca said...

Excellent post! You are spot on about re-reading books and finding inappropriate stuff. I can't read the Babar the elephant series for the same darn reason. Colonialism, racism (a later book has a horrible portrayal of cannibalistic 'natives')and sexism are rampant. Even Madeline just doesn't seem right to me. The whole boarding school thing feels like child abandonment. ;)

I found I'm actually enjoying discovering new books more than explaining some of the 'classics.' We just found the whole British 'Clarice Bean' series and that's been a joy for my 6 year old girl. Clarice is an avid reader of fictional 'Ruby Redfort, Girl Detective' novels and the books remind me a bit of Harriet the Spy as well.

1:10 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Rediscovering Horton Hears A Who was a very cool thing.

I remember how importatnt it seemed to my 5 year old mind that Horton heard, and Horton believed, even when no one else did.

2:09 PM  
Blogger Amy U. said...

Actually, I recently picked up the Little House series again, all hardbound into one book. I read these over and over as a kid, and you're right, they have a different quality now that I'm an adult. Still comforting to me, though.

2:37 PM  
Blogger bluebird of paradise said...

mine would be 'the secret garden" i truly fell in love with books. i would stay up all night reading. my nose was always in a book, far more appealing that real life.........

7:36 PM  
Blogger LetterB said...

Oooh "The Secret Garden" - me too. And the Narnia series for sure. And all the OZ books (many of them the first edition ones at my grandmother's place). And a long love affair with our set of 1962 encyclopedia britannica. The "A" volume didn't contain an entry for "Astronaut" but that didn't matter to me. I loved them.

12:11 AM  
Blogger Laylabean said...

Yes, yes, yes!! I had that Childcraft set! I loved the architecture and art pages too, the pictures you posted brought back a flood of memories. I spent last weekend digging around in my parent's house for the set so my girls can read them. No luck yet though, I hope mom didn't throw them out.

Other favorite books were the Little House series (as well), a book called "Katy and the Big Snow" which I read until it crumbled to pieces, and a very troubling story about a babysitter who was also a witch and could do magic by taking off her glasses. Can't remember the title but I remember reading it a lot.

Thanks for the fond memories.

12:29 AM  
Blogger Meghan said...

I had that same set of Childcraft encyclopedias, a hand-me-down from older cousins. One volume, if I remember correctly, was called "Make and Do." God, how I loved those books.

I'm a longtime reader of your blog as well as a native of central Arkansas.

10:20 AM  
Blogger terri said...

oh my....I just went back in time about 25 years!!!

I LOVED those books!

I wonder if my mom still has them. I might have to ask her to dig them up and send them to me. I read those all the time along with a brown, leather-bound set of 1979 World Book Encyclopedias!

2:33 PM  
Blogger Maia said...

Caddie Woodland, Emily of New Moon (I identified with her more than Anne of Green Gables because I am a brunette) my big sister's copy of Little Women, all of Beverly Cleary's Ramona books, Trumpet of the Swan, and recently my husband and I both remembered Mercer Mayer's What Does a Dragon Look Like in this weird instant of mental synch up. It's out of print and I immediately had to search it out and get it for my son.

4:01 PM  
Blogger Roderick said...

Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons (and sequels). Lovely Brit kidlit set in the Lake District in the 1930's. It has children, camping, fishing, sailing, and all sorts of other good things.

If I could only give one book to my kids, ever, that would probably be it.

4:32 PM  
Blogger Wild said...

In an effort to balance my daughter's obsession with all-things-pink, I started reading Pippy Longstocking books to her. She got so into the Swedish adventures, I had to remind her "you are not Pippy" when she copied certain pippy-ish behavior, like jumping from table to chair to sofa to desk (w/o touching the floor).

Growing up, I not only read those same books, but also watched the late 60s series on t.v. - the one filmed in Sweden with English over dubs.

Corinne now owns a couple of Pippy books, the old t.v. shows on vhs, and a Pippy Longstocking doll.

She also recently informed me that she has "grown out of princesses and grown into kung fu."

I agree with you, Kyran, about many of the classics - some are still worth the read with parental explanation sprinkled throughout, and some are better left on the shelf.

11:03 PM  
Blogger littlepurplecow said...

I discovered an appreciation for photography while pouring over National Geographic magazines in my elementary school library. Credit for curiosity and independence came from Eloise.

12:16 AM  

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