The Family and Children’s Literature – Velma Richmond
Failure to read children’s literature is not a typical explanation for today’s decline of the family and corollary economic, social, and religious ills. Yet pedagogical studies show that the child read to at home has significantly greater likelihood of succeeding in school, and thus in life, not least in creating a family. The reasons are obvious: greater verbal knowledge, exposure to a range of experiences in stories from different cultures, skill in listening and interacting with others, and development of capacities to be quiet and thoughtful without depending on a barrage of noise, moving pictures, and punching letters. There is also evidence that early delight in reading is essential to future efforts and acquisition of deeper understanding. However, “The Children's Hour” celebrated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow has become all too rare. Earlier generations retold great medieval literature—knights, ladies, dragons, giants, quests and religious belief—viewed as most suitable—stories for children from the childhood of the nations.
A prime example is Chaucer, whose Canterbury Tales refashioned the best narratives available, imagined a group to tell and to listen, and created pilgrims from every estate who journeyed to the shrine of St. Thomas Becket during their “pilgrimage of life.” The Man of Law’s Tale, one of three romances favored for children, records family experience, betrayal and hardship, yet perseverance that leads to a happy ending. It is also records the spread of Christianity from Rome to the East and to England. Chaucer teaches and pleases.
J. R. R. Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories” identified the distinction of fantasy / romance as the “Consolation of the Happy Ending,” the ‘eucatastrophe, a denial of universal final defeat, evangelium, a sudden glimpse of Joy beyond the world.’ An answer to the great question asked by children, “Is it true?” Reading can be for today’s families the Holy Grail.