I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “Twaddle”. What is this, you may ask? According to Charlotte Mason, a brilliant English school teach from the 1800′s, “Twaddle” is basically dumbed down literature. It is bright flashy pictures and eye candy for our littlest minds. It is books that contain simple, basic structure sentences that don’t make the children think. Some have called it the “junk food” of the literary world. Basically, its the majority of the children’s books in the library; short, simple, and with lots of pictures. According to Charlotte,
“They must grow up upon the best. There must never be a period in their lives when they are allowed to read or listen to twaddle or reading-made-easy. There is never a time when they are unequal to worthy thoughts, well put; inspiring tales, well told” (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 2, p. 263).
Seems kind of harsh eh? I thought so. I mean, they’re BOOKS for heavens sake! Its not like I’m sitting my children down in front of the television allowing them to watch cartoons all day! My kids and I go to the library every Tuesday. I let my son walk through the isles of the children’s section and pick out as many books as he wants, and we find a way to read them all that week. Usually, we read about two or three a day, sometimes more. I’ve always patted myself on the back for this. I knew how important reading to young children was. And mine generally seem interested in what I’m reading. I’ve always figured it was good for their brain development, reading so many books. But in the past week or so, Charlotte’s words have been haunting me, and I’m starting to figure out why.
Do you remember the post I did on simplicity parenting? One part of the book stated that children should be given the best quality, most aesthetically pleasing toys you can find. Not too many of them of course, as this destroys the child’s creativity (And they’re expensive!). But just enough to give them a good selection. He also said in that book that the toys should be simple, leaving much up to the child’s imagination. Cartoon toys or toys from movies are ‘fixed’. The child knows from the television show how that character acts. Therefore, when they play with those toys, there is very little imagination being required. Same with toys that have sound effects or special action modes. That toy can’t become much else than it already is. Toys like those eliminate the need for a child to dig into their imagination….
I am now realizing, it is the same with books! If you go to the library and pick up the average book in the children’s section it will look a lot like this: Bright shiny cover with cartoon animal on the front, two or three sentence pages with a huge picture of said animal taking up the majority of the page, maybe a moral about sharing or being kind tucked in somewhere, and the book is done by page twelve. Yes my friends, most of these books are junk. How did I not realize this sooner? My son usually learns absolutely NOTHING from the books we check out. He almost ALWAYS picks them because he likes the picture on the front. I’m realizing that books should be like the toys I try to keep around. They should be of good quality, classic, and simple (in the way of illustration, nothing too crazy like this week’s “Tyrannosaurus Rex Cotton Tail” book…don’t ask). I mean, if a child has to sit next to you and dream up what the characters look like or what’s happening to them, think of how their imagination will grow! My mom said that she began reading chapter books to my little sister when she was five. These books had very little pictures and required my sister to sit still and pay attention, or she would lose her spot in the story. My mom said she became so obsessed with the story, she would talk about it all day, and constantly begged her to read more. She had to know what would happen next! In the mean time she’d imagine where the story would lead, and make up her own endings. I think its about time I start paying more attention to the quality of books we pick up, so my children are able to do the same.
I think that I should mention, this does not mean I won’t be letting my little ones read picture books. Some of our most beloved books are picture books, like the “Little Bear” series, or “Paddington bear” books, or “Where the wild things are”. I feel like those books are classics and are worth something. There’s always a good lesson to be learned, the illustrations aren’t loud and obnoxious, and they really speak to a child’s imagination. But what I am saying is that the bulk of what the libraries have to offer these days to children, in my opinion, is twaddle. We spend so much time among those books, week after week, and the library has become such a big part of our life, that I feel that this change is necessary for us. I want to emphasize quality. I don’t think I can stand another week reading book after book about how a little boy pooped on the potty, or how a dino just loved his bunny slippers! So we will continue with some quality picture books. But I also want to find ones with fewer pictures, ones that require my son to actually sit still and listen to the story instead of relying on the pictures. Chapter books, I guess. Slowly of course, as he is only three. But that is the goal. I know in my heart this is a change we need to make. But what’s right for my family may not be right for everyone. This post is strictly about my children…me thinking out loud (or in type).
Also, I’ve been thinking about the QUANTITY of books we pick out. Some days we leave with about 25 children’s books to read in one week. I used to get excited, seeing how much my little man liked to read. But when I think about it, having such a huge quantity doesn’t allow him to focus on any of the books. I’m sure reading book after book becomes overwhelming. And how is he to remember or dream about a story if we’ve set out to read 3-5 in a row every day? I don’t think he can. Or my babies, for that matter (though I can honestly say that even though they sit still through the stories, they’re not picking much up yet). So from now on I am going to only let him pick a couple of books a week. That way we can really focus on them, and hopefully he’ll remember the stories for years to come.
Ok, so back to Twaddle. I’ve made a check list of things to ask myself the next time I am in the library:
1. Is this book more about the pictures or the story?
2. Does this book teach any sort of lesson?
3. Does this book inspire? Or perhaps can it take the reader on a ‘journey’?
4. Is this book classic? (As opposed to something from modern pop culture that we won’t remember in twenty years. Think books based off of kids movies)
I really hope this pays off. I think it will. My hope is that I will be able to come back here in a couple months and tell you how my little boy is talking about a particular story all day, asking me what I think will happen (If its a long book, that is). I hope to tell you that he’s acting out scenes from the book, and using his imagination more. And most of all I hope to tell you that his love of stories, and being read to is increasing, and that he looks forward to these types of books. I am very optimistic, and look forward to that update some day.
Till next time!