Public libraries as literary gatekeepers

I don’t have time to write anything lengthy today, but I wanted to share two enormously interesting articles about public libraries and the gatekeepers who determine what the library should and should not stock. Both of these are about Anne Carroll Moore, the first children’s librarian at the New York Public Library, who absolutely loathed quite a few children’s books that we now regard as classics.

This piece is on Moore’s hatred of Goodnight Moon, and how her decision to withhold her blessing prevented that book from being a commercial success. I can’t say that I knew much about Margaret Wise Brown before, but apparently she had quite a progressive attitude about children’s intellectual development.

This piece gets into Moore’s upbringing and her problems with Stuart Little.

There are a lot of different philosophies regarding what libraries should stock and whether activist librarians should attempt to shape the values of their time. This is especially true for children’s librarians, who are perhaps the only ones working with clients that remain impressionable.

Moore was insistent that children should only have access to the very highest quality of literature available. And she had clear standards regarding what she considered quality literature. She did not want to stock books written by authors who tried to situate themselves within the emergent psychology of children.

Nowadays, we have gatekeepers with the opposite standards as Moore – they promote overtly political books, usually written at the lowest reading levels, lacking in vocabulary words, and often offering contrarian narratives about historical events.

Outside of all of this, there are people who believe that libraries should be full of whatever could be potentially appealing to anyone at all. If kids want to read treacly books recounting their favorite television cartoons, they should have those. If women want to read soft-core porn romances about Amish people, they should have those.

I find this an endlessly fascinating topic.

American History for homeschoolers (elementary)

I am in the process of preparing for our daughter’s upcoming academic year. For us, that begins in April – a totally arbitrary date that corresponds to when we relocated to Florida. We are planning on switching to American history from world history this year.

We have covered world history in previous years using Susan Wise Bauer’s The Story of the World series and activity books. I think these are excellent resources for world history for very young children when supplemented with top-notch children’s literature. While she does address American history in the series, it absolutely is not a quality substitute for studying American history (and your state history!) in depth.

I have had reservations about recommending SWB for other reasons every time I mention what we use to homeschooling friends. Frankly, she went so deep into social media mob identity politics on her pages that I couldn’t stand following her anymore. You don’t find much of that in SOTW – perhaps because identity politics is such a new fad, and she hadn’t discovered it yet – but I would hesitate to buy a revised copy of Well-Trained Mind (her homeschooling companion book) or any new version of SOTW, if they ever get around to issuing new editions. Just my two cents.

After reading about what a disinformation campaign the New York Times 1619 Project – which is being directed at K-12 education programs – has become, I am making an extra effort to research the backgrounds and potential agendas of any author I include in our homeschooling curriculum. Fortunately, most revisionist history children’s authors love to write about their political agendas on Twitter. (What a time to be alive.) It’s not that I only want to supply our daughter with resources I “agree” with – to me, contrarian perspectives are an opportunity to discuss why we believe what we believe. But I do want content that is accurate and based on primary sources.

A History of US (Oxford University Press)

Oxford University Press has published a children’s series for American history by Joy Hakim called A History of US that is excellent. It’s a relatively pricey set, as far as children’s books go, but it is quite exhaustive and written in language that children can easily process. I was surprised to learn that Oxford is getting into children’s books, but I’ll take it.

I think to use this as a bona fide history spine, you’d need to read small chunks and devote two academic years to it. Maybe do American history through Reconstruction one year and then work until present-day in the next year. Kind like a college course, but drawn out for children.

Folk Songs

One of my goals for the new year is to work more songs into our homeschooling routine (folks songs, hymns, and so on). I have been searching and searching for collections of American folks songs from the colonial period to the early 20th century with lyrics. You’d be amazed at how difficult that is. If you do searches for books and audio of folk songs, most of the time you are going to get hippies singing about smoking weed instead of When Johnny Comes Marching Home.

My mother sent us Wee Sing America, which has a lot of great songs and the lyrics so children can follow along. This is great for very young children. I’m luckily at the point where our daughter is young enough to enjoy a silly chorus of children but intellectually advanced enough to appreciate a serious consideration of historical events. The authors have some other collections of folk music and Bible songs, which we will probably buy too.

If anyone knows of some good, traditional folk music collections, please send them my way. Wee Sing doesn’t have some songs I wanted to include, like Oh Shenandoah, but I can probably find nice versions on YouTube.

One series of children’s books I have found that I love are the “If You Lived…” series. These books focus on the details of everyday life during certain periods and among certain groups of people:

If You Sailed on the Mayflower in 1620

If You Lived in Colonial Times

If You Lived in Williamsburg in Colonial Days

If You Grew Up With George Washington

If You Lived at the Time of the American Revolution

If You Were There When They Signed the Constitution

If You Traveled West in a Covered Wagon

If You Were a Pioneer on the Prairie

If You Lived at the Time of the Civil War

If You Lived When There Was Slavery in America

If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad

If You Lived With the Iroquois

If You Lived With the Sioux

If You Lived With the Hopi

If You Lived With the Cherokee

If You Lived With the Indians of the Northeast Coast

If You Grew Up With Abraham Lincoln

If You Lived 100 Years Ago

If You Lived When Women Won Their Rights

If Your Name Was Changed on Ellis Island

If You Lived at the Time of MLK

If You Lived at the Time of the Great San Francisco Earthquake

Some books with projects for kids in them:

Great Colonial America Projects You Can Build Yourself

Colonial Kids and Activity Guide to Life in the New World

History Pockets – Explorers of North America

History Pockets – Colonial America

History Pockets – The American Revolution

History Pockets – Moving West

History Pockets – The Civil War

Great history picture books:

A More Perfect Union: The Story of Our Constitution

Thomas Jefferson: A Picture Book Biography

Duel! Burr and Hamilton’s Deadly War of Words

Conestoga Wagons

Dandelions

A Pioneer Sampler: The Daily Life of a Pioneer Family in 1840

Locomotive

Eli Whitney and the Cotton Gin

Samuel Morse and the Telegraph

Wanted Dead or Alive: The True Story of Harriet Tubman

Walking the Road to Freedom: A Story about Sojourner Truth

A Man for All Seasons: The Life of George Washington Carver

More than Anything Else (About Booker T. Washington)

Duel of the Ironclads: The Monitor vs Virginia

Drummer Boy: Marching to the Civil War

Coming to America: The Story of Immigration

Grandfather’s Story

The Keeping Quilt

The Story of the Erie Canal

The Story of the Titanic for Children: Astonishing Little-Known Facts and Details about the Most Famous Ship in the World

Children of the Great Depression

Children of the Dust Bowl: The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp

Six Days in October: The Stock Market Crash of 1929: A Wall Street Journal Book for Children

World War I for Kids: A History with 21 Activities

World War II for Kids: A History with 21 Activities

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11

Ken Burns Documentaries and Other Movies

I have also been thinking about using Ken Burns’ documentaries in our lessons, though I am going to have to re-watch some of them with a kid’s eye first (for mature content):

Lewis and Clark

The West

The Civil War

Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio

Brooklyn Bridge

Statue of Liberty

Congress

Jazz

The Dust Bowl

Johnny Tremain (Disney)

The King’s Highway

A More Perfect Union: America Becomes a Nation

American Experience: The Pilgrims

American Experience: Murder of a President

Lincoln at Gettysburg

Lincoln and Lee at Antietam (the single bloodiest day in American history)

The Indomitable Teddy Roosevelt

The Gilded Age

Westinghouse: The Life and Times of an American Icon

Florida History

For any Florida homeschoolers out there, the State of Florida has a ton of resources for kids:

Florida history

A list of books on Florida history to check out

Seminole history

The official page of the Seminole tribe

Florida governors

Quick facts about Florida

Florida state symbols

The Capitol

Two science books for young children that I love

Both of these books by Walter Wick (of I Spy fame) are fantastic:

A Ray of Light: A Book of Science and Wonder – This book discusses what light is made of, incandescence, iridescence, the color spectrum, and much more. It’s a delightful little introduction to optics, which is also great if your family loves astronomy.

A Drop of Water: A Book of Science and Wonder – This book covers the water cycle, surface tension, capillary attraction, evaporation, condensation, and the science of bubbles.

Children’s books for gently introducing grammar and figurative language

My mother sent me a package of these books for our daughter for Christmas, and I figured I would share them. These books are beautiful, both in terms of the language and illustrations, and they make grammar seem like a lot of fun.

Books on grammar from Ruth Heller:

Merry-Go-Round: A Book About Nouns

Kites Sail High: A Book About Verbs

Many Luscious Lollipops: A Book About Adjectives

Behind the Mask: A Book About Prepositions

A Cache of Jewels and Other Collective Nouns

Mine All Mine! A Book of Pronouns

Up, Up and Away: A Book About Adverbs

Another good grammar picture book is Hairy, Scary, Ordinary: What is an Adjective? by Brian Cleary

For language generally:

Crazy Like a Fox: A Simile Story

You’re Toast and Other Metaphors We Adore

Stubborn as a Mule and Other Silly Similes

In a Pickle and Other Funny Idioms

The King Who Rained