Since we love having a literature-rich environment in our home, not only for school but also for enjoyment, it is incumbent upon me to evaluate every book before it gets to be on the children’s bookshelf.
There is a very strong tradition in many Christian homeschool curricula to avoid at all costs any types of literature that have questionable plots, characters, or beliefs. It can be daunting to wade through the massive piles of books considered “child friendly” and even more difficult to pull out only those that are going to affirm and establish our family’s belief system in our home. In the same way, we also want to avoid the “formula fiction” genre which pumps out hundreds of books a year that are twaddle through and through. I remember reading the Sweet Valley High series when I was a preteen. For the most part, those books were glorified trash, yet they created an insatiable appetite for more of the same. They were not inherently bad, but they didn’t fill any places in my heart or cause me to reflect and grow in my perspectives about life. From a literature standpoint, many of those types of “quick reads” do not even come close to books like Uncle Tom’s Cabin or The Scarlet Letter – those timeless classics that still force us to face certain realities about the human condition and hopefully ask questions and get answers about the nature of God. The classics will hold a very special place in our home education for years to come.
When I first began considering homeschooling my children, I was determined never to place a Greek myth or a fairy tale in front of them. I had this idea that it would completely defile their young hearts and minds and they would never recover from the destruction of God wielded by these wicked little stories. Since then, we have come to some different conclusions. As far as movies go, we do not allow sorcery or witchcraft at this age – especially when the one using the magic (the fairy godmother in Cinderella) is seen as good instead of evil (as the witches in Snow White and Sleeping Beauty). It is confusing to children to see witchcraft glorified in this way. It is also very difficult to get images out of your mind when you are young, and we do not want to give them nightmares even if the delineation between good and evil is clearly expressed throughout a story. I had not come up with a clear idea of what I would allow for reading, but I was finally enlightened when I read Educating the WholeHearted Child. It defined some of the differences between various imaginative literary genres:
- Fables are short stories which use anthropomorphized animals to express timeless truths and morals (Aesop’s Fables).
- Allegories use symbols to represent “real things, events, ideas, and persons” and are used to instruct (Pilgrim’s Progress).
- Fairy Tales have imaginary elements and characters, but the story is based in a “true-to-life” setting (Hans Christian Andersen, George MacDonald). “In the typical fairy tale, a supernatural world of some kind intersects with the real world in an incredible story. It employs archetypal characters and concepts.” Fairy tales can provide a healthy and creative look at some spiritual realities, but we will have to read them on a case by case basis since young children cannot think abstractly and may become easily confused.
- Fantasy has imaginary characters and an imaginary setting, which basically means that it is completely abstract. For this reason, we will probably avoid fantasy in large part until the children are at the age where they can appreciate the truths represented though they are not based in reality.
- Myths are often derived from oral storytelling traditions. Legends and folklore can be an important part of children understanding their references in literature, however they often are based on ancient false beliefs in false gods, as well as false ideas about mankind. So even though Sonlight included Greek Myths for Young Children in Core B this year, we will be skipping it. There will be plenty of time in highschool to delve into Beowulf and The Odyssey.
I have just started third grade readers with my girls. Throughout the year, we will be getting rid of vocabulary-controlled readers and adding in more and more real books. It is a challenge finding good literature that they can read on their own right now, so I simply have to read it aloud to them. Even now, I have been able to pull some fantastic classic children’s readers from a website that has compiled a list of a thousand of them (1000 Good Books). Though I have a lot to learn about how literature will affect my children’s thoughts about God and life, I am grateful for the opportunity to be the filter that allows in only the best writing. Whatever I feed them now is going to shape the appetite they have for literature throughout their lives. It’s all about spinach and kale for this school, not potato chips and Twinkies.