In Gratitude For Public Libraries

Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.  —Anne Herbert

I would like to take a moment to say thanks… for public libraries. Public libraries give all people access to the wealth of human understanding without asking anything in return. Obscure and out of print books, books too expensive for most people to own, books on any and every subject one could desire to learn about are freely lent for only a promise to bring them back. This is extraordinary! The support of a public library is one of the most important things a community can do and thankfully is a high priority. The existence of such wonderful places, though, seems to imply a responsibility for those of us blessed enough to have access to the books, music, journals, museum passes and such that the library provides. We have no excuse for not continually seeking self improvement. If we fund libraries through our taxes and then never use them we are impoverishing ourselves on a human level.

 A man who I belive to be a hero of educational philosophy, Mortimer Adler, educated himself at the New York Public Library after dropping out of school to go to work at the age of fourteen. He went on to become the only person to earn a doctorate degree from Columbia University without having the benefit of a bachelor’s degree, and then went on to dedicate his life to making a liberal education as widely possessed as possible. He founded the Great Books movement and contributed to the compilation of the Great Books of the Western World series, which put most of the most influential western books up until his time in one set– many of them accessible to the masses for the first time. None of this would have happened without the public library.

Residing quietly in our cities are repositories of the seeds of greatness. Libraries are unassuming places, never ostentatious, not resorting to flashy lights and catchy jingles to lure patrons. The library is there waiting to welcome all who desire knowledge and to share freely the wealth contained therein; jewels laid bare for the taking– jewels with the remarkable property of belonging to all who desire them and having the capacity to be possessed fully by many at once. There is great treasure available to us for the asking, the only price being the effort we put forth to acquire this treasure. Thank you, fellow citizens, for funding the public library. You are doing an immeasurable service to humanity.



Engaging the Sensitive Period for Language

According to Montessori, there are “sensitive periods” in which the child is intensely interested in and ideally suited to learn different skills. The earliest and longest lasting of these is the sensitive period for language, lasting from birth to age six. Doman also speaks of the incredible ease of learning language in this period, although he caps the range at age five. Others say that native-level fluency is most easily attained between birth and age three, with the window of ease closing around six or seven years of age. There is a general agreement, however, that earlier is easier when it comes to learning language.

We are fully utilizing this sensitive period with baby D. In addition to the reading cards, we make sure that he hears several languages spoken every day. His dad reads to him in Russian. One of the Russian language books we have is  Voyage of the Dawn Treader from the Chronicles of Narnia series.

I read French language children’s books aloud– this gives me a chance to work on correct pronunciation, also. Our public library has a small but well stocked foreign language section in the children’s department. Here is what we have currently:

It is important to us that he hear language spoken correctly. While his dad has near native level fluency in Russian and Arabic, and very respectable Mandarin, I have what I learned in high school french class. So I am listening to as much spoken French as I can, exposing baby D to recorded spoken French, and pronouncing what I read to him as carefully as I can. We are very happy to be able to open up the world of language for baby D. It will be fascinating to see how his understanding of multiple languages develops.

Mother Goose Uncensored

I recently checked out a book called The Real Mother Goose from the local library. All of the rhymes remembered from childhood were in the book, as well as some that were unfamiliar. Some of them, though, were downright morbid. I had heard about less than child friendly nursery rhymes, but this is the first time I saw them in print. Move over, Little Jack Horner– here is a taste of what lurks in the dark corners of the mind of Mother Goose. First, how about a little story about an old woman and her sons:

There was an old woman had three sons,

Jerry and James and John.

Jerry was hanged,

James was drowned,

John was lost and never was found.

That was the end of her three sons,

Jerry and James and John.

Sleep tight, kiddies! But wait, have you met Solomon Grundy?

Solomon Grundy,

Born on a Monday,

Christened on Tuesday,

Married on Wednesday,

Ill on Thursday,

Worse of Friday,

Died on Saturday,

Buried on Sunday.

That was the end of Solomon Grundy.

Tough break, Sol. There are other such rhymes, which you may be interested in reading. I don’t think I’ll be reciting them to my baby, though!

Beatrix Potter Revisited


Ahh, Peter Rabbit. As a child I rooted for him against the seemingly menacing Mr. McGregor. Having now attempted some gardening of my own, and futily battled against invading rabbits, I have considerably more sympathy for the much maligned Mr. McGregor. Troublesome rabbits notwithstanding, I still bear affection for Peter. I am really excited to introduce my child to the enchanting tales of Beatrix Potter. Not long ago my mother came across my old boxed set of Beatrix Potter stories. The boxes have yellowed, but the books inside look like new.

My father brought these home for me one day when I was about five years old. They really are perfect for little hands and imaginations. The books are all in the same small size as their original publication. Each of the two boxes has a rope handle that makes them easy and fun to carry around. Each side and top of the boxes has one of the beloved original illustrations. Do you remember these?

                                                                                     The gullible Jemima Puddleduck.

                                                    The unlucky Mr. Jeremy Fisher, who is much better off staying home.

Of course Peter Rabbit, as the most famous, gets the tops of the boxes. He can be seen eating stolen carrots at the top of the post. Reading through the stories, I realized that most of the characters suffer unpleasant consequences for poor choices or bad behavior. I hadn’t remembered that from childhood. Do you remember Squirrel Nutkin?

He is pretty much unbearable. While the other squirrels are polite and respectful, Nutkin tries the patience of the old owl with jeers and riddles until the owl decides to skin him. Nutkin escapes, but not before his tail is broken, and he is permanently reformed.

My personal favorite, for sheer “that would never be published today” appeal is The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit.

After forcibly taking a carrot from a good rabbit:

The Fierce Bad Rabbit is enjoying his spoils when a hunter happens by:

This is all that is left of the Fierce Bad Rabbit:

Whew! Don’t steal and bully, kids!

These books are very special to me, and I am glad to have the opportunity to pass them on to my children. Although I don’t know how much my father paid for them, I think it must have been a lot for the time. I can still hear my mother saying, as I carried the boxes around by the rope handles, “Be careful with those books! They weren’t cheap!” Well, Dad, I think you got your mony’s worth.