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SUGGESTED LITERATURE PROGRAM
(for the Elementary School)
Compiled by the SSPX

The books selected for this program fulfill three requirements:

  1. They are interesting to read. "A good book is a magic gateway into a wider world of wonder, beauty, delight and adventure." (Gladys Hunt). Sometimes it is the story itself which is fascinating, sometimes it is the characters which are capturing our imagination and sometimes we are enjoying the book because we are transported to a faraway place we would never know otherwise.

  2. They are well written. Their authors manifest excellent gifts of imagination coupled with a superior grasp of language use and pleasing style. Fine literature must cause the following: "Vocabulary is built, reading and spelling skills are greatly aided, and repeated exposure to various models of good writing help the reader learn to put his or her own thoughts into an effective written form." (Elizabeth Wilson)

  3. They convey ideals in harmony with our Catholic Faith. Sometimes the author is Catholic and the story will stir within the reader love for supernatural virtue as in Fabiola. Often the author is not Catholic but nevertheless writes so as to promote good natural virtues. When a child identifies with a character who manifests courage, kindness or honesty, all these qualities are reinforced in the child’s soul. "A good moral education addresses both the cognitive and affective dimensions of human nature. Stories are an irreplaceable medium for this kind of moral education —that is, the education of character." (Vigen Guroian)

The LIST is only a suggestion. A book suggested for 7th grade will likely be suitable for 8th grade and vice versa. Other books may be substituted if need be. Some of the titles are old "classics" (Winnie the Pooh, The Wind in the Willows, Treasure Island, etc…). Some are from recent authors (Charlotte’s Web, The Good Master, The Door in the Wall, etc…). We included two series about the "wild west" (The Little House on the Prairie and Little Britches) so that children will appreciate their American roots. Some books have one central theme which is developed throughout the book (family life in Cottage at Bantry Bay, choice of a vocation in Shadow of a Bull, zeal for the Faith in the Outlaws of Ravenhurst), some others have several ideas in the same story.

The reviews have been written by a variety of teachers. Some are more complete than others. However, they should all be helpful. We hope that this list will be improved with the help of teachers and parents. We conclude with these words of the famous Father Francis Finn, SJ: "One of the greatest things in the world is to get the right book into the hands of the right boy or girl. No one can indulge in reading to any extent without being largely influenced for better or for worse."

CLICK HERE TO SEE BOOK REVIEWS CITED ON THE GOOD BOOKS FOR CHILDREN PAGE

CHILDREN'S LITERATURE:  K – 2nd Grade

Nursery Rhymes

No pre-school or kindergarten is complete without a good Mother Goose, a generous collection for the teacher, with all the old songs that we ever heard of, and some that we do not know, like Whittington's Bells. Long before the child's hands are strong enough to hold a volume of any size, or his eyes ready to focus on pictures, the routine of bathing and dressing and eating is enlivened by rhymes, chanted, recited or sung. Was there ever a child who would not chuckle over, "This little pig went to market" or "Dance, Thumbkin, dance", who would not find the putting on of shoes less tedious with, "Shoe the old horse, shoe the old mare"; would not forget that he was tired of poached egg, when each spoonful approached ceremoniously with "Knock at the door, peep in, lift the latch and walk in!"

The practice of avoiding friction wherever possible in training up the young in the way they should go has saved much wear and tear on the nerves of both teacher and child. Here Mother Goose is an ever present help. Not only is the attention of a rebellious little individual diverted from destructive activity, frustrated energy is turned eagerly and positively to the enjoyment of droll situations and dramatic happenings, and incidentally to the learning of new words and lively expressions. For instance, when a child fell, one mother, in order to cheer him up chanted to him: "Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty has a great fall etc...." Immediately tears gave place to laughter.

When people tell me that children do not care for this kind of thing, I remember that a writer once suggested the source of the trouble when he said: "Do you know what is wrong with people who never read nursery rhymes? I will tell you. When little boys and girls grow bigger and older, they should always grow from the outside, leaving a little child that once they were within them. But some unlucky people grow older from the inside, and so grow old through and through. "

Nursery rhymes are alive and sparkling, not by grace of the printed page, but because they come by human speech passed along from one generation to another, a sort of daisy chain linking the human family in loving enjoyment of living and playing together.

There is the greatest fun in pointing up familiar things and everyday occasions with verses of this kind, which, because of the pattern of words and the singing of rhymes, are easily and happily tucked away in the memory.

A teacher once said (I think it was during the second World War): "The only thing I can be sure of is that we must give them beauty in every form we can discover. For my own part, I am teaching every class as if it were for the last time."  It seems a far cry from Mother Goose and poems in praise of everyday things to civilian morale and the welfare of children in time of war. But if poetry is a part of one's own inner resources, what could be more natural than to share its "merry serviceableness" ? Not every child will respond: some may not have the kind of perceptiveness that poetry requires. But I think it a pity to leave out of any child's experience the chance to discover what delight and comfort it can be.

Meaning, per se, is a rather secondary consideration in our choice of poetry for sharing, for it is one of the subtlest and most valuable properties of great poetry that it speaks to the feelings rather than to the intellect. What for the moment has no applicable meaning for the child, because of his limited experience, is often committed readily and joyously to memory for the music of the words and the haunting quality of the images. Years later, it will flower in all the nobility of its intention, to illuminate and enrich experience. James Stephens' The Poppy Field, for instance, suggests a more penetrating sense of relative values than will concern the small listener, but a seed is dropped, along with the flowers. This is one of the concrete reasons why we feel that poetry is an essential to the full development of the child's spiritual faculties: memory is in the early years both receptive and tenacious, and if it is stored with "images of magnificence" there will be the less room for what is cheap and ugly. Then, too, familiarity with the language of genuine poetry gives breadth and color to the child's speech, and this in itself stimulates a sharpened perception of external beauties and spiritual truths.

POETRY

A Child's Garden of Verses is a volume that must stand upon a shelf apart; it has to stand alone, for there exists in no language any book that may be placed beside it. None but Robert Louis Stevenson has left behind him, in one small rhyming volume, the key to that locked door which lies between most men and the impenetrable garden of their childhood. There seems to be three main impulses that stir a poet when he sings of children or of childhood. The first is love —the love of one child or the wide love that embraces all children. The second is Childlikeness —for there remains alive in many of us (thank God) an indestructible child which will at times play pranks or burst into song. The third is memory - memory so keen that we, in certain moods, reconquer our childhood's very self.

In this wonderful book, it is as if we were listening to the voice of a child who becomes our playmate all through these lovely poems: "Of speckled eggs the birdie sings and nests among the trees" —we prepare to run out and play with our little friend, but he has already left the garden and wandered away to the sea: he beholds ships and hears the children sing in distant lands... So we take refuge in a homelier scene. "When I was sick and lay a-bed, I had two pillows at my head..." Yes, we have all known this. Leaden soldiers or china dolls, we have all peopled the hills of the bed and found comfort in the pleasant land of counterpane: "I was the giant great and still, that sits upon the pillow-hill, and sees before him, dale and plain, the pleasant land of counterpane. "

We have begun to discern the music; as we turn the pages to and fro, fresh pulsations and fresh rhythms seize us. Listen, here is a windy night: "Whenever the moon and stars are set, whenever the wind is high, all night long in the dark and the wet, a man goes riding by. Late in the night when the fires are out, why does he gallop and gallop about?"

How the child loves the wind! "I saw you toss the kites on high, and blow the birds about the sky; O wind, a-blowing all day long, O wind, that sings so loud a song!"  By this time we know how to sing with our playfellow: "Green leaves a-floating: castles of the foam, boats of mine a-boating —where will all come home?" He loves the wind, but he loves the water too. "Winds are in the air, they are blowing in the Spring, and waves are on the meadows like the waves there are at sea. Smooth it slides upon its travel, here a wimple, there a gleam. O the, clean gravel! O the smooth stream!"

This child has two kingdoms: the narrow world of home, familiar, kind, and the wide world of his dreams. He was born to rove, the sort of fetter of home can only bind the fragile limbs, they cannot restrain the ardent spirit. While around the fire his parents sit, away behind the sofa back he lies in his hunter's camp, singing: "These are the hills, these are the woods, these are my starry solitudes." The home is dear, its security enfolds him. Dear is the hearth; he sings of "Happy chimney-corner days, sitting safe in nursery nook..." —the firelight flickers through his songs: but from the lights and shadows of home he escapes passionately to the wide world beyond: "The lights from the parlour and kitchen shone out, through the blinds and the windows and bars; and high overhead and all moving about, there were thousands of millions of stars."

The child knows how to escape from solitude: "When at home alone I sit and am very tired of it, I have to just shut my eyes to go sailing through the skies." A seeker of delight, he finds it everywhere; alone, he founds a kingdom down by a shining water-well, singing: "I made a boat, I made a town, I searched the caverns up and down. This was the world and I was the king; for me the bees came by to sing, for me the swallows flew." Was ever a child so happy? All the beauty of life out of doors kindles song in him; he sings of the grass: "Through all the pleasant meadow-side, the grass grew shoulder-high, till the shining scythes wed far and wide and cut it down to dry." He sings of the hayloft: "O what a joy to clamber there, O what a place for play, with the sweet, the dim, the dusty air, the happy hills of hay." And when he parts from such joys he parts tearless, exultant: "And fare you well forevermore, O ladder of the hayloft door, O hayloft where the cobwebs cling, good-bye, good-bye, to everything."

What child ever opened a wider heart to the good joys of God's earthly bounty? He sings of, "Happy hearts and happy faces, happy play in grassy places." —he proclaims his faith in happiness: "the world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as Kings." O joyful child! Like the soldier he hid underground. "He has lived, a little thing, in the grassy woods of spring. He has seen the starry hours. and the springing of the flowers." —he has heard "Under the May's whole heaven of blue, strange birds a-singings or the trees, swing in the big robber woods, or the bells on many fairy citadels..."  He is so happy that he cries to the other children of the world: "Little Indian, Sioux or Crow, Little frosty Eskimo, Little Turk or Japanese, O don't you wish that you were me. "

FAIRY TALES

The great Jesuit priest Father Daniel Lord explained how his mother introduced him to all the wonderful books of childhood: "She read me all the good stories: Grimm's, Andersen's... What time it must have taken to read me all she did! And what patience! mine was a childhood punctuated with frequent but not desperately serious illnesses. My throat had its yearly spell, and as I lay and languished with croup and sore throat and wearisome convalescence, she read me intelligently and delightfully the world's masterpieces." Reading aloud stimulates the children's interest in learning. A learned Carthusian monk gave this sound advice: "the contact of the child mind with the adult mind, through affectionate story telling and play, is a most important stimulant to mental growth. Evidence points out that this is not merely a hurrying up of growth which would take place anyway in due season. It is a real contribution to the child's intelligence. Should it be entirely lacking in the formative years of infancy and childhood, the child would not attain the mental level to which he might otherwise have risen."

Fairy tales have an important formative value for the mind of children, especially for their imagination. Once again, we must give our children good literature in order to cultivate their souls on the natural level. "Grace does not destroy nature, but elevates it." says St. Thomas. Fairy tales are made of the same permanent stuff, laughter and pain, desire and satisfaction, love and hatred etc... that constitutes human life. These books, when read to children, open doors into more aspects of human personality that of which their infant philosophy had dreamed. Little boys and girls do not learn from abstract theories or general principles but from concrete examples and particular incidents. Priests know this fact very well: often after a sermon the only thing that struck the mind of their young listeners was the saint's story they told to illustrate their point, while the other considerations have quickly been forgotten.

As G. K. Chesterton says, "There is the lesson of Cinderella, which is the same as that of the Magnificat, exaltavit humiles. There is the great lesson of Beauty and the Beast; that a thing must be loved before it is loveable. There is the terrible allegory of the Sleeping Beauty, which tells how the human creature was blessed with all birthday gifts, yet cursed with death; and how death also may perhaps be softened to a sleep".

"By portraying wonderful and frightening worlds in which ugly beasts are transformed into princes and evil persons are turned to stones and good persons back to flesh, fairy tales remind us of moral truths whose ultimate claims to normativity and permanence we would not think of questioning. Love freely given is better than obedience that is coerced. Courage that rescues the innocent is noble, whereas cowardice that betrays others for self-gain or self-preservation is worthy only of disdain. Fairy tales say plainly that virtue and vice are opposites and not just a matter of degree. They show us that the virtues fit into character and complete our world in the same way that goodness naturally fills all things." (Vigen Guroian)

But even apart from the educational value of stories, they should also be enjoyed just simply because they are enjoyable. An irrepressible desire which dominates the human heart at every age is the thirst for happiness. God Himself imprinted this desire in our hearts, that longing for eternal bliss which we will one day enjoy with Him in Heaven. God wants us happy! "Rejoice in the Lord always: again I say rejoice" (Phil. 4:4). Children, especially, feel this thirst for happiness. For their physical and moral development, they need to play, to enjoy themselves and to be happy. Good books fill children with gladness. They just love to hear a good story. The works of Hans Christian Andersen, Charles Perrault and the brothers Grimm are a goldmine for the teacher.

AESOP’S FABLES

One of the sad results of modern philosophy is the loss of good old common sense. Man is no longer in touch with reality, with the nature of things. Our children are growing up in an artificial world of TV, videogames and computers. Instead of contemplating the beauty of God's creation, they are fascinated by man's inventions. Through the mass media, they are brainwashed into thinking that there are no longer stable definitions, that what was true yesterday can be false today, in short that the whole world is in constant evolution or rather complete revolution. As examples, we witness the tendency among women to get into positions against their feminine nature, like soldiers in combat troops, or worse we shudder at the increase in unnatural sins amongst men (cf. the "gay" movement).

We see everywhere illogical thinking. We remember a few years ago going near a cave and seeing a sign at the entrance:  $5000 fine for trespassing. Now what was the reason? Well, there was a colony of bats (endangered species) and noise could scare the young and cause their death. And as you all know, there is no fine for the killing of human babies. Now this is one example, among many, of the absurdity of our modern world.

Do not think that the modern mentality does not affect our children. In a subtle way their minds are being corrupted by this pernicious doctrine, i.e., that there is no absolute truth, that everyone can have their own opinion, that man is the measure of reality and not reality the measure of man. Parents should realize the perversion of modern philosophy which leads people to live in a kind of false dream.

How can we preserve the minds of our children from this corruption? The intellect is the noblest faculty of our soul, the one which will one day, as we hope, contemplate the Divine Essence in Heaven. How can parents restore common sense and straight thinking in their children? One of the things which will help towards these goals is Aesop’s Fables.

Fables are different from Fairy tales. As G.K. Chesterton puts it: "There can be no good fable with human beings in it. There can be no good fairy tale without them." In other words, for a fable all the persons must be impersonal, almost like mathematical abstraction. The fox in a fable will move crooked and the sheep will march on, because it is in their very nature. Things are what they are and do not change all of a sudden. The wolf will always be wolfish because that's the way he is. The imprudent lamb should have known better. Some years ago, we read in the papers of people being mauled by grizzly bears in a United States National Park because they tried to pet them. Well they had seen too much TV. A grizzly is not a Teddy bear. This is a perfect illustration of how people can lose the sense of reality.

Through a fable, the child realizes that there is a real world, that there are laws in the world, laws which exist independently of his mind, and which he is unable to change. The fairy tale on the other hand, revolves around human personality (it is also good for children, but for other specific purposes than the fable). If there is no charming prince to find Sleeping Beauty, she will simply sleep. If no valiant knight was there to fight the dragons, we would not even know that there were dragons.

As GK Chesterton points out, fables, unlike fairy tales, are destined to teach us very simple truths like "pride goes before a fall" or "slow and steady wins the race". This is why their characters are always animals, so as to be more themselves and only themselves. A fox is foxy and will therefore move crooked. Do not expect otherwise. He is the symbol of crookedness. Whereas if we had taken men, maybe occasionally a shrewd man would forget his shrewdness and show delicateness. With animals there is not this problem, they perfectly incarnate their particular qualities or defects and nothing else. This is why they are perfect tools to introduce the child to the wonderful world of reality: A mouse is too weak to fight a lion, but too strong for the cords that can hold a lion. A fox who gets the most out of a flat dish may easily get least out of a deep dish. These simple but profound truths are important for the formation of the mind in early childhood.

Fables help the child to acquire common sense, in the same way as observing nature: A cow is a cow and only wants to be a cow. Things (including man) have a fixed nature which does not change. What was true yesterday is still true today and will be true tomorrow. There are certain laws in Creation and you cannot violate them without destroying yourself. (The AIDS disease is a sad illustration of this fact).

When you buy Aesop's fables for your classroom, make sure you choose one with nice illustrations (Some of the recent editions have modern drawings of far less artistic value than the ones of Arthur Rackham or others).