Before I write down what I have to write down, here’s a poem that I did not write:
The most important thing we’ve learned,
So far as children are concerned,
Is never, NEVER, NEVER let
Them near your television set —
Or better still, just don’t install
The idiotic thing at all.
In almost every house we’ve been,
We’ve watched them gaping at the screen.
They loll and slop and lounge about,
And stare until their eyes pop out.
(Last week in someone’s place we saw
A dozen eyeballs on the floor.)
They sit and stare and stare and sit
Until they’re hypnotised by it,
Until they’re absolutely drunk
With all that shocking ghastly junk.
Oh yes, we know it keeps them still,
They don’t climb out the window sill,
They never fight or kick or punch,
They leave you free to cook the lunch
And wash the dishes in the sink —
But did you ever stop to think,
To wonder just exactly what
This does to your beloved tot?
IT ROTS THE SENSE IN THE HEAD!
IT KILLS IMAGINATION DEAD!
IT CLOGS AND CLUTTERS UP THE MIND!
IT MAKES A CHILD SO DULL AND BLIND
HE CAN NO LONGER UNDERSTAND
A FANTASY, A FAIRYLAND!
HIS BRAIN BECOMES AS SOFT AS CHEESE!
HIS POWERS OF THINKING RUST AND FREEZE!
HE CANNOT THINK — HE ONLY SEES!
‘All right!’ you’ll cry. ‘All right!’ you’ll say,
‘But if we take the set away,
What shall we do to entertain
Our darling children? Please explain!’
We’ll answer this by asking you,
‘What used the darling ones to do?
‘How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster was invented?’
Have you forgotten? Don’t you know?
We’ll say it very loud and slow:
THEY … USED … TO … READ! They’d READ and READ,
AND READ and READ, and then proceed
To READ some more. Great Scott! Gadzooks!
One half their lives was reading books!
The nursery shelves held books galore!
Books cluttered up the nursery floor!
And in the bedroom, by the bed,
More books were waiting to be read!
Such wondrous, fine, fantastic tales
Of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales
And treasure isles, and distant shores
Where smugglers rowed with muffled oars,
And pirates wearing purple pants,
And sailing ships and elephants,
And cannibals crouching ’round the pot,
Stirring away at something hot.
(It smells so good, what can it be?
Good gracious, it’s Penelope.)
The younger ones had Beatrix Potter
With Mr. Tod, the dirty rotter,
And Squirrel Nutkin, Pigling Bland,
And Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and-
Just How The Camel Got His Hump,
And How the Monkey Lost His Rump,
And Mr. Toad, and bless my soul,
There’s Mr. Rat and Mr. Mole-
Oh, books, what books they used to know,
Those children living long ago!
So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
And children hitting you with sticks-
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do,
They’ll now begin to feel the need
Of having something to read.
And once they start — oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowly growing joy
That fills their hearts. They’ll grow so keen
They’ll wonder what they’d ever seen
In that ridiculous machine,
That nauseating, foul, unclean,
Repulsive television screen!
And later, each and every kid
Will love you more for what you did.
I’m not about to write a blog about the evils of tv, so like, calm down and stuff. We have two of them and they aren’t going anywhere. But you know, we also have a small but always growing collection of books too. If we are out and my kids ask for candy or toys I can say no without a blink. If they ask for a book though, I am most likely going to say yes. They know my weakness and will exploit it shamelessly.
Our darling daughter and daring youngest son will celebrate their birthdays this week. She will be 1 on Tuesday and he will be 3 on Saturday. We had their party this weekend, and in lieu of more toys or trinkets we asked for books. You can really never have too many books and this idea went over so well that I thought I’d suggest it to others.
But I also feel the need to share some other thoughts. My kids are growing up too fast. I don’t mean in the sentimental way where it feels like time is slipping away and all that. I mean that my oldest is literally growing up too fast. His friends are allowed to play video games we won’t even let him *watch* being played, and they are allowed to watch tv shows that we won’t even consider. Are we too conservative? Are their parents not conservative enough? Who’s to say, really, and that’s not my point anyway.
My point is, that kids need to know who Roald Dahl is long before they are introduced to Call of Duty. Shouldn’t they? I think so. There is something wrong with childhood today. It’s too short and getting shorter. Our kids can control the remote before they know the alphabet. They can navigate the internet before they can read a chapter book. When did that happen? When did we stop valuing literacy above entertainment? When did we stop valuing literacy AS entertainment?
I know that tv isn’t all bad. There are plenty of kids who will never see a library before they start school. There are kids who will never have an adult count or color or sing the abc’s with them. Shows for preschoolers like Sesame Street and Super Why and Sid the Science Kid (love that kid) are better than nothing in the absence of books before school. There are shows like Little Bear that tell imaginative stories shared between sweet friends. I hope that kids who live in homes where there is no sweetness or imagination get to see shows like Little Bear. And let’s be real. We have all kinds of video games in our house and my kids are not strangers to the television. Mateo and Andreas BOTH learned their letters and letter sounds by watching The Letter Factory DVD. Starfall.com and abcya.com are in regular rotation on our computer.
Oh but they love to read. Mateo is on Geronimo Stilton at the moment, and Andreas is reading short, simple, repetitive early readers. Olivier is learning his letters and Rosalie likes to chew on the books. Sometimes she’ll sit and look at the pictures. If I sit down with a book there is pandemonium as my kids make a beeline to sit with me and hear the story. We are currently on our third copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and I’ve already had to tape the cover back together once.
So what? So read. Read with your babies and toddlers and little kids and big ones. Read to them while they’re falling to sleep and when they’re playing and when they’re excited and when you’re in the car. But not if you’re driving. Don’t read while you’re driving.
If you don’t have kids of your own, but you have kids in your life somehow – own children’s books. Have them at the ready when kids are at your house. Give them as gifts at baby showers and birthday parties and Christmas. Ask those children what they are reading and what their favorite book is. Let them tell you stories.
Maybe you are thinking, “but books are expensive. Not everyone can afford to buy books all the time.” No. Stupidity is expensive. Ignorance is expensive. Children’s books are a buck or less at the Goodwill last I checked. And library cards for children are free or $5 or something cheap for the whole entire year. So if you are a parent, or an auntie or uncle, a grandma or grandpa, a friend or a neighbor – invest in the literacy skills of the kids in your life. If you are already doing so, keep doing it. If the kids are shrieking with delight at the flashy toys and video games, and putting the books to the side, keep bringing books. Toys break and video games get boring. The books will eventually get picked up and read.
I still have my collection of Little House On the Prairie books from childhood. I saved them for my kids. The library was my favorite place growing up. I want my kids to love reading because it will take them wherever they want to go. I want them to value stories because I want them to be able to value their own story someday.
So bring on the books. Piles and piles of them. Throw them in mommy’s shopping cart. Bat your eyelashes while waving the book order forms in front of me. There’s no such thing as too many books in this house.
copyright (c) 2013 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved