At some point last year, on the shelf at my library where they sell unwanted books cheaply, I spent $1.50 for a green leather-bound Volume One of The Young Folks Treasury published in 1919 by The University Society. It is in wonderfully good condition, with a cover as smooth as the day it was printed and but a little worn at the corners. One page out of 538 is torn, and the black and white illustrations are still charming and clear. I could not believe my good fortune, and indeed was somewhat angered at how the library had set it out where any child or careless adult could grab and abuse it. This tome has survived ninety-two years with admirable hardiness for the purpose of mankind’s enrichment, and it deserves to be treated with respect.
Making it more special to me is that this volume—one of a series of twelve, it claims—is devoted to fairy tales, fables, and poetry. Designed to be read by parents to their children, the book collects all the most famous and beloved nursery rhymes, nursery tales, childhood poems, simplified fairy tales, older poetry, fables (Aesop’s and East Indian’s), and a wonderful assortment of folk tales from around the world. If for nothing else, the book has use as a capsule of the stories children were told in the early part of the 20th century.
I was also impressed by the introduction written by Hamilton W. Mabie. In this era of transition into digital media and eBooks, and the threat of replacement of literature by movies, video games, and possibly even bloggers, I think it is important to keep his words close in mind. As an uncle of three kids with boundless energy, I see their potential and yet worry that our culture does not nurture them well. Children need to be trained to focus, to concentrate, and it is not good to feed them constant sensory distractions of many kinds all at once from the day they are born. But sitting down with a book in your hands and reading, whether for fifteen minutes or an hour or three hours, demands that the reader gather his mental faculties together and think. Engage. Converse with the author. Be patient. What are we doing to ourselves when we leave physical books to lie unopened and spend uncounted hours staring at the lights of our computer screens and television sets? What are we doing to our children if they are raised this way, knowing naught else, and what of our future?
Books are as much a part of the furnishing of a house as tables and chairs, and in the making of a home they belong, not with the luxuries but with the necessities. A bookless house is not a home; for a home affords food and shelter for the mind as well as for the body. It is as great an offence against a child to starve his mind as to starve his body, and there is as much danger of reducing his vitality and putting him at a disadvantage in his lifework in the one as in the other form of deprivation…
Children are helpless to protect themselves and secure what they need for healthy of body and mind; they are exceedingly impressionable; and the future is always in their hands. The first and most imperative duty of parents is to give their children the best attainable preparation for life, no matter at what sacrifice to themselves…
These twelve volumes aim, in brief to make the home the most inspiring school and the most attractive place for pleasure, and to bring the best the world has to offer of adventure, heroism, achievement and beauty within its four walls…
No apology is offered for giving large space to myths, legends, fairy stories, tales of all sorts, and to poetry; for in these expressions of the creative mind is to be found the material on which the imagination has fed in every age and which is, for the most part, conspicuously absent from our educational programmes.
America has at present greater facility in producing “smart” men than in producing able men; the alert, quick-witted, money-maker abounds, but the men who live with ideas, who care for the principles of things, and who make life rich in resource and interest are comparatively few. America needs poetry more than it needs industrial training; though the two ought never to be separated. The time to awaken the imagination, which is the creative faculty, is early childhood; and the most accessible material for this education is the literature which the race created in its childhood. The creative man, whether in the arts or in practical affairs, in poetry, in engineering or in business, is always the man of imagination.
- Hamilton W. Mabie, “General Introduction” to The Young Folks Treasury