Children’s Books that Weren’t

…Charlotte Mason wrote, “a special literature for children is probably far less necessary than the booksellers would have us suppose.” (Vol. 3, p. 122) She goes on to say that children of eight or nine would delight in books written for adults, such as Rasselas, Eothen, and the Fairie Queen. I think she changed her mind on that a bit later. I know I found Eothen a complete failure with children of eight or nine or even ten, but the same children loved Eothen when they were in grade ten.

Consider: “A Critical History of Children’s Literature” by Cornelia Meigs, Anne Thaxter Eaton, Elizabeth Nesbitt and Ruth Hill Viguers. “
Some of the first books published in English for children were like “Booke of Curtesys” published by Caxton in 1477. Cornelia Meigs says of Caxton, who published one of the first known books for children, the Booke of Curtesys, in 1477: “Caxton seems to have subscribed at once to that instinctive adult belief, showing itself as soon as books for children began, that the young should read only what would instruct and improve them. Even from that period of the middle and later fifteenth century we have a list of similarly edifying and duly neglected works- John Russell’s “Boke of Nurture” (between 1460 and 1470), Peter Idley’s “Instructions to His Son” (mid-fifteenth century), and “The Babees Book”, This last a translation from the Latin and ment for young gentlemen and not for those of such tender age as the title suggests. … Thus began the long succession of books of edification and admonition which in different forms were to be thrust upon childhood year after year, generation after generation. Nothing could be more immovable or more dismaying than this settled conviction, this stubborn blindness to the fact that children take what they like while admonition blows its windy breath in vain. Never, so it seems, did it occur to Caxton that in Malory he had a finer guide to courtesy and manners than any number of rhymed instructions to youth could ever bring forth.”

Caxton published Malory’s “Le Morte Darthur”. About it, Meigs writes, “Composed in an age even franker than our own in its manner of speaking of sex, these stories of Malory’s, as they cam from his hand, cannot be called wholly suitable writing for children. But as they have been edited by Sidney Lanier or retold by Howard Pyle, as they may very well be edited again for younger readers in the light of the discovery of an older version, they are the basis of narratives many times repeated. They are, moreover, the prime source of our own idea of medieval chivalry, of that essence of romance and courage and high action which appeals to young readers of all ages. Even those who have never read any of the tales direct know who Arthur was and what was the quality of his greatness, who Launcelot was and how high-minded were his bravery and his ambition. Even with retelling at second or third hand, there is always a response to that thrilling sense of what great deeds were done in England once upon a time.”

This Critical History of Children’s Literature notes that children chose their own literature from adult books. Adults, noting what the children were enjoying, would edit the books. Sometimes the adults were publishers. Sometimes they were parents, who edited extemporaneously as they read aloud.
Some examples: “The Principall Navigations, Voiages and Discoueries of the English nation made by Sea or over Land, in the most remote and farthest distant Quarters of the earth at any time within the compass of these 1500 yeeres”, by Richard Hakluyt; North’s English translation from the French translation by Jacques Amyot, Bishop of Auxerre, “The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romaines, Compared together by that Grave Learned Philosopher and Historiographer, Plutarke of Chaeronea”; John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress”; Defoe’s “The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner”; Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travel’s”, to name just a few from the first few chapters of the book.

From the introduction: “Here is something new and enchanting, a history of children’s literature. But what, after all, do we mean by that term? Is it that literature written especially for the young– the fairy and wonder tales, the nursery rhymes and songs, the dull books of etiquette and admonition and moral persuasion, the stories of school or playing field or of far-flung adventure? It is all of this, to be sure, but it is far more. It is the whole vast body of literature that children have adopted, commonly to share with their elders, but sometimes to monopolize. It is, quite literally, their literature. For it is, in the end, not the parents, the teachers, the preachers, not even the authors, but the children themselves who determine what their literature is to be. Over the years they have followed their own rules or, better yet, their instincts; they have rejected most of what was deliberately concocted for them, and embraced what was not; and over the years their judgment has been vindicated. It is because the writers of this book have accepted, and even concurred in, this judgment, that they have given us our first critical and comprehensive history of children’s literature.”

“They begin their chronicle with Celtic legends and tales, with the Arthurian legend so wonderfully re-created by Sir Thomas Malory, with Plutarch’s Lives, with the stirring history of distant voyages retold by Hakluyt, and with Pilgrim’s Progress. Now all of these stories and books have this in common. That they were not designed for the young at all. But very early the children took them over and made them their own, forced their elders, indeed, to revise and recast them in suitable form. This set the pattern for later generations, the pattern for almost the whole of English and American literature down to our own day [1953]. For, with important exceptions, that literature has not consciously recognized a dividing line between the young and the old, but has tended to see the world as a whole. It has not so much consciously, as instinctively, yielded to the clams of the young, recognized that they were entitled to enter into the world of the imagination, and made the pathway easy.”

“Had this not been the case, children would have been badly off (as they were in most Continental countries) for not until well into the nineteenth century was there a deliberate and successful effort to provide literature for children. Most of those books which we regard as classics of children’s literature were written without children in mind and were taken over by them with cheerful disregard of what they could not understand. None of these were aiming at children: Hakluyt, whose stories have stirred the imagination of the young for three hundred years, nor poor John Bunion, languishing in his gaol [jail] in Bedford, nor Daniel Defoe, old and cantankerous, nor harsh and embittered Swift. Thackeray thought of his Henry Esmond as “a book of cut-throat melancholy”; but children did not find it so, and generations of boys and girls have admired Esmond and his gallant exploits.”

“And Sir Walter Scott, for whom was he writing, this Greatheart of the North? Who read Ivanhoe and Quentin Durward and Rob Roy year after year, who but boys and girls? Those who have not read Scott at fifteen will probably never read him. And so, too, with the incomparable Jane Austen, with the Bronte Sisters– is not Wuthering Heights among the most popular of girls’ books? Or we can turn to the greatest of all, Charles Dickens who, except in his “Child’s History of England”, did not not consciously write for children but who, next to Hans Andersen and Mark Twain and Louisa Alcott, perhaps is the most widely read and the most dearly beloved of children’s authors. It is the children who weep over little Nell, who rejoice in David’s good fortune and when he finds a home with Betsy Trotwood, and who insist every year on the reading of A Christmas Carol.” “This History makes clear how the Victorian era introduced new elements, and new departures, how it witnessed the beginning of literature written especially with children in view, and written not only to edify but to entertain. It rejoiced in the contributions of that wonderful galaxy of women, Mrs. Gatty, Mrs. Ewing, Mrs. Molesworth, and Charlotte Yonge. It saw Captain Marryat and other reviving the art of Hakluyt and Defoe, and Charles Kingsley, better remembered for Westward Ho! than for his novels of social reform. It saw too, in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the verses of Edward Lear, the triumph of nonsense, of a peculiar madness which no other people but the English have ever matched.”

“But at the same time, as if in reaction from this direct catering to the needs and desires of the young, came the beginnings of a change in the great tradition of literature. George Eliot and Anthony Trollope did not write for the young, nor were their books (perhaps The Mill on the Floss is an exception) welcomed by the young. Nor will children read those other giants of the late Victorian era, Meredith and Hardy and Henry James. Already we see in these that indifference to the needs of the young, that complexity of though and manner so disconcerting to them, that awareness of evil so alien to children– all of those literary characteristics so prominent in the literature of our own day and so largely responsible for the growing divorce between the literature for adults and for children.”

“Yet the distinct tradition of writing the sort of literature which appealed to children as well as to adults continued to flourish through the Victorian age and into the twentieth century. It inspired Robert Louis Stevenson, the Stevenson not only of Treasure Island and Kidnapped but of a Child’s Garden of Verses. It was maintained by Kipling, the Kipling of the Jungle Books and Kim and Captains Courageous. It presided over the writing of Conan Doyle, over his historical romances like The White Company and over the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Every normal boy is a Baker Street Irregular. ”

“In a different way, too, such a tradition inspired a number of authors who dedicated themselves almost exclusively to the service of children. Barrie is not quite of this company, though it is children who read him now, not adults. But Kenneth Grahame is, Grahame who was content to recall the Golden Age of childhood and whose every book was a classic. And so, to, is Andrew Lang, who made fairy tales live again and who is surely on of the greatest of all benefactors to the children of the world.” …..

“What an astonishing record it is when viewed as a whole, this record of children’s literature stretching from the Arthurian legends to Lord Jim. It is a record that cannot be matched by any other country or by any other literature. France offers us the magic stories of Perrault and much later, the fabulous world of Jules Verne; Italy submits Pinocchio; Switzerland the lovely tales of Spyri and Malot; Germany the folk tales collected by the brothers Grimm. Norway the fairy tales of Asbjornsen and Moe; and Sweden the wonderfully imaginative stories of Selma Lagerlof; and Denmark, of course the greatest of all, the tales of Hans Christian Andersen. Yet nowhere is there anything to compare with the English achievement.”

“Nowhere, that is, but in America, which inherited and enlarged the tradition that served children. Call the roll of American writers from Franklin to Howells and from Bryant to Carl Sandburg; almost all of them wrote for children or wrote books which children have taken over. … Most of the poets of the American Golden Age wrote what served the needs of children or what children took as their own. Whittier, Longfellow, Lowell, and Holmes belong to both categories, those poets whose benign countenances stared out at us in the amiable game of authors once so popular. Much of Whitman was unsuitable to the young, but he was the poet of the young, nevertheless, the kind of poet they could understand. A bit later it was the gentle Sidney Lanier who somehow found energy for The Boy’s King Arthur” and “The Boy’s Froissart” and even “The Boy’s Percy”. Emily Dickinson wrote for children, as did Stephen Crane and, in a sense, William Vaughn Moody, while the best poems of those “minor” poets, Eugene Field and James Whitcomb Riley, are all of them about children and some of them, like “Little Boy Blue,” destined to live long.” …

Something else that I think makes these works intended for adults by adopted by the children especially valuable to read is their outlook. Because they were written for adults, they have a grown up point of view, a mature way of looking at life and people. They stretch a child in a way that today’s books written for children just don’t, although certainly today’s children’s books are far more amusing and entertaining than yesteryear’s. There’s nothing wrong with reading books for fun, for entertainment. If I am hungry and it’s the middle of the day and I have an otherwise good diet, it’s not particularly harmful if I have a couple of cookies instead of a plate of raw broccoli. But if I eat only sweets because I have never learned to appreciate any vegetables or simple but nourishing foods such as pumpkin soup, roasted vegetables, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes, or a nice bit of roasted fish, then that is a problem.

What children in the past enjoyed, they can be brought to enjoy again (and so can the adults)- stretch them a bit, give them something to grow on. And you come, too.
(Many thanks to my old friend Leslie S. who helped me stretch and introduced me to this book, which I bought for my own).

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Frog Dissection

I am the Mom who proudly and excitedly brought home a baby shark preserved in a jar, which I found for a dollar a thrift shop.

So when I was at the local bookstore and spotted a deep row of these on the shelf behind the cashier, I had to have one:

132 pesos (Philippine pesos), which, because the patron saints of math dummies are smiling on me right now, is the equivilant of 2.64 USD money, which isn’t bad.  It’s real, people, not plastic. It is a real frog skeleton. Probably, we think, it is a Luzon Wartfrog. You can read a lot about them here, but I have my doubts about some of this information. I cannot speak to the entire country, but they sure do not seem to be endangered in my neighborhood.  We can hardly sleep at night for the noise they make after a good rain.  I am afraid to walk on some roads after dark because I am afraid I will step on a frog.
Anyway- the Boy has dissected a few things, clam, shrimp, fish, and he observed the preparation of a monkey corpse for a museum skeletal exhibit.  He will probably do an octopus, but not a frog.  So of course, he needed the frog skeleton.  He’s looked it over, sketched it, and next he’ll look through the following links and make some more observations.  I know it’s not the same as dissecting it, but I have limits and they were kind of crushed with the shrimp.  So this will have to do.

Frog Dissection helps:

Cartoon style coloured drawing of digestive system.

Coloured sketch, less cartoony, different angle from above.

Black and white, major arteries

Black and white sketch, abdominal and chest cavity

Video, internal anatomy of a grass frog:

Part one

Part two

Bones (and brain)

Student guide to Frog dissection

Frog skeletal system with labels (scroll down, there are a couple of weird videos at the top of the page)

I bought two- one for my son, and one for our oldest grandson (age 7).

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12 Copywork Suggestions from The Art of War

Copywork or or short dictation: all these sentences are from The Art of War by Sun Tzu
The short dictation is my own suggest if you are beginning a CM approach with an older student- age 10 or older, who has not done studied dictation before.

1. We attack, and the enemy cannot resist, because we attack his insufficiency; we retire, and the enemy cannot pursue, because we retire too quickly.

2. War should not be undertaken because the lord is in a moment of passion. The general must not fight because there is anger in his heart.

3. In fact, there never has been a country which has benefited from a prolonged war.
4. Generals must be on their guard against blind impetuosity, which leads to death.
5. Generals must be on their guard against over-cautiousness, which leads to capture.
6. Generals must be on their guard against quick temper, which brings insult.
7. Generals must be on their guard against a too rigid propriety, which invites disgrace.
8. Generals must be on their guard against over-regard for the troops; which causes inconvenience.

9. “In the popular estimation of generals, courage alone is regarded; nevertheless, courage is but one of the qualifications of the leader. Courage is heedless in encounter; and rash encounter, which is ignorant of the consequences, cannot be called good.
10. The accompanying warriors must be treated well, so that, while the enemy is beaten, our side increases in strength.
11. Now the object of war is victory; not lengthy operations, even skilfully conducted.
12. The good general is the lord of the people’s lives, the guardian of the country’s welfare

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Minced Pork and Kang Kong

Pork and kang kong

Minced pork and kankong

Adobong kang kong is much like the above recipe but you add about 1/4 cup of vinegar


This was dinner Thursday night and it was easy and pretty tasty. I just read over the above three recipes and then I did this:
Garlic cloves, 3 or 4, start browning in oil

half of a large yellow onion, minced, brown in the oil with garlic

one pound ground pork

about a tablespoon each fish sauce (or soy sauce) and oyster sauce, and about 1/4 cup of vinegar.  Brown together with the pork.

When the pork is brown all the way through, add about 1-2 cups of kang kong stems- you could try thin matchstick slices of bok choy just cooked to crisp tender, or perhaps some very young, fresh green beans.  Many suggest subbing spinach, and while the textures are the same, the flavours are decidedly *not.*

Stir in 1-2 cups of kang kong leaves.  Stir just until wilted then serve.

I ate mine as is with pepper added (fish sauce is salty so you don’t need more salt).   You could serve with rice.


With pictures and more comments:

Minced 4 or 5 cloves of garlic

Put them in some oil in my wok.  I peeled an onion, and cut it in half, and then turned on the stove burner to brown the garlic while I diced half of an onion (it was a large yellow one).

I added the diced onion to the wok, and simmered the onion and garlic while I cut up the kang kong. You separate the leaves and then cut the stems.

Here are the leaves- kind of shaped like arrowheads:

I pulled off all the leaves and put them to one side and then I put about a pound of minced (ground) pork in the skillet with a tablespoon or two of oyster sauce and about the same amount of fish sauce (here in the Philippines it’s called Patis), and some vinegar.  The vinegar is what makes this adobong.  Vinegar is a common ingredient in meat dishes here, because of the warm climate and lack of refrigeration. It hinders the growth of bacteria and stops food from spoiling. It’s also good for your digestive tract.

I tried flipping this pic, but wordpress won’t let me.

Vinegar here is puti (white), and usually made from cane sugar. If you want apple cider vinegar it costs more.  Puti was one of our recent vocabulary words.  Philipinos and Americans think about race differently, and it’s really been driven home to me just how kneejerk reactive some of our training here is.  In our language lessons puti was a recent vocabulary word, and the example used in a sentence was “Mga Americanos ang puti.”  Americans are white.   She wrote it out and asked us to read it aloud in English, and my husband and I just looked at each other for a second.  I know we both thought, “We can’t say that!”  It felt appalling.  But you know, most of the Americans here are Caucasian.  Most Americans in the U.S. are caucasian (over 60% if you take out the hispanics who say they are white, over 77% if you include the hispanics who identify as white).   Why is that so hard to say?  There is something really, really wrong with our culture when a simple statement of observable fact, even if a bit fuzzy and too generalized around the edges, feels like saying something bad.  But back to cooking.

While the pork/onion/garlic mixture continued to brown, I cut up the kang kong stems, which are hollow and crisp but tender, not at all tough or chewy, and not stringy..

The stems are thicker than the leaves, so they need to be added first.  You want to know a substitute for kang kong, and I would love to give you one, but it’s tough.  I had my son and husband taste the leaves and stems and tell me what they tasted like, and we couldn’t really come up with a good comparison.  Raw, the leaves are very mild, with the texture of butter lettuce and the flavor of maybe a very mild green or red lettuc.  The stems tasted like grass.  Cooked the way I like them, crisp tender, they were mildly sweet and very delicious- they might be a bit like a combination of very young and tender fresh green beans and bok choy stems sliced thin. Or perhaps asparagus stems hardly cooked at all, but more crispy crunch while still still tender?  The cooked leaves are good but don’t have a strong flavour.  It’s kind of the texture of spinach, but spinach can have a strong or bitter aftertaste, adn these don’t.  My son really hates cooked greens and he didn’t mind eating these.

So once the pork was browned all the way through, I put in the cut up stems and stirred over high heat until they just started to get really bright green, and then I added the leaves and stirred a couple more times and called it done (the leaves cook really fast):

I added some pepper to mine.  Patis (fish sauce) here is pretty salty, so I didn’t add salt.

I tried to rotate this pictures, but the blog just quit running every time I did that, so sideways will have to do (I think it’s my pathetically weak wifi).    This recipe was liked by all of us, and it was pretty quick and easy to make.  Also, the Cherub can eat it because we didn’t use soy sauce.  In the states oyster sauce is often sweetened with corn syrup, but that is not a common sweetener here.

It was also really inexpensive to make.


I think the leftovers would be good inside dumplings (mandu) or as turnovers.

Kang kong is known as water spinach, but it isn’t really a spinach at all.

Ipomoea aquatica is a semiaquatic, tropical plant grown as a vegetable for its tender shoots and leaves. It is found throughout the tropical and subtropical regions of the world, although it is not known where it originated.”

You shouldn’t eat it raw, at least not in most parts of Asia.  It also grows in some parts of the U.S., imported by Asian immigrants.  It’s an invasive species in some areas, but it seems to stay where it belongs in Texas.

There is a kangkong tempura I really, really love, but haven’t made because the leaves do not seem big enough to make it worthwhile, and it’s too hot to make tempura anyway.  We found a buffet just a few blocks from us that serves native Filipino food, all you can eat for just around five dollars a person, and they usually discount the Cherub without us asking. They serve this crispy kangkong and I pretty much fill up on that and their buko (coconut) water based punch.   I will nibble a few other things, but the crispy kang kong is so, so good.  Mmm.


More about kang kong here.


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Frugal Encouragement


If you’re trying to live a frugal lifestyle, it helps to have frugal friends who share your goals and values. Adults are not immune to peer pressure. Friends who go out to eat often (and worse, invite you along Dutch Treat and are surprised when you never come) can make you feel a bit grubby and mean about your lifestyle- or worse, can influence you to break your frugal goals. We’ve certainly found ourselves at a restaurant, dismayed with ourselves and mentally figuring out what we were going to have to cut from our budget to pay for this just because friends had pushed us to join them often and hard enough that we finally caved in to peer pressure.

People can be, well, less than supportive at times, can’t they? This can range from those friendly urgings to spend money you really shouldn’t be spending on stuff you really do not need to buy, to outright criticism. In one place we lived we kept a ‘compost bucket’ under the kitchen sink. Whenever we had compostable scraps we put them in the bucket, and when it was full we took it out to our compost pile to dump it. At one informal gathering of gals from church one of the young wives started complaining about how overboard her mother-in-law went on frugality, and she ended with something like, “I mean, I can see the point of saving money, but when it comes to keeping your food trash in a bucket in your kitchen, that’s just gross.” I blinked a bit- she’d been at my house more than a few times, and pointed out, “We do that, it’s for compost.” She wrinkled her delicate little nose and said pointedly, “Yes. I know.”

Oh.  So it wasn’t a faux pas. It was a deliberate rebuke.

There was a time when her criticism would have embarrassed me and made me ashamed, but happily for me, at this point in my life I was old enough and she was young enough that the only embarrassment I felt was for her own rudeness, and I must admit, I felt more irritation with than embarrassment for her. I have to wonder how negatively she might have influenced anybody else in that room listening to her act as though keeping a compost bucket was akin to letting pet mice romp on the kitchen counters, and spitting on the griddle to see if it was hot enough.

If you need some frugal encouragement, here are some links that might help (you’ll find good tips there, too):


You could try to take your real life friendships to a more mutually encouraging level.  Here are a couple of ideas for how this could work:

1. When you find a post on frugality or with a good frugal recipe or a fun activity that you think your unfrugal friends would enjoy, share it with them- either print it out, or email it to them.  Be careful with this- the idea is NOT to preach- just to share a post you genuinely think they will enjoy on its own merits that also happens to be frugal.

2. Cook one of the meals you find from one of these frugal sources and invite your friends over for dinner.

3. If they are real friends, they just want to spend time with you.  Find frugal activities that your friends will enjoy and be proactive about substituting them for the unfrugal activities they keep inviting you to do.  If they ask you out a lot, invite them to  brown bag -it with you for a picnic lunch at the park or your own backyard.  Or have them over for a baked potato bar or a a soup and salad bar (you make a frugal soup and home-made bread, offer a basic lettuce salad, and invite friends to bring other salad components or soup toppings).  If they invite you to a gym that isn’t in your budget, invite them to go walking with you once a week or a couple of times a month.  If they invite you to go shopping with them, ask them if you can have them over for tea when they are done shopping instead, or say you’ll come if they will go to your favorite store- and take them to  a thrift shop or consignment store.

4.  Be honest with them.  If you have a particular bill you’re trying to pay off- a student loan, a car payment, explain to them that you’ve decided you really need to pay down this particular bill as fast as possible and the best way to do this is to avoid hanging at the mall, going out to eat, ski trips, or whatever outside-your-current-budget idea that your friends long for you to do with them. Don’t be a Debbie-Downer, just laugh and say, “You know what guys, that sounds like fun, you go and have a blast and I’ll be with you in spirit.  But for us,  right now, I really want to push hard and save everything I can to pay off our car so we’re not giving extra money in interest payments to the bank instead of using it for treats for us.  I’m in for stuff that doesn’t cost money for a while.”  And then try and come up with a couple of things that do not cost money, or help you meet your goals frugally- game night at your house, go garage saling together looking for clothes for the kids,  invite a neighbor to go walk with you every morning, volunteer to clean the clothing room at a local pregnancy center and ask if a friend or two want to do that with you, invite a couple families to join you for a park day.

5. Don’t be preachy, boring, or moralizing- be the sort of friends you want to have- don’t guilt trip your friends, don’t be the kind of friend who only talks about one hobby horse, don’t make them feel like you think they are inferior to you because they of how you save money.  That would be as rude and annoying as my young friend of the anti-compost bucket.  Find other subjects to talk about than how you saved money this week if that is not an interesting topic to your friends- presuming these are friends you want to keep- but every once in a while when you do see a great deal on something you know they like, pass it on.

What are some of the ways you maintain friendships with friends who don’t share your frugal goals and inadvertently encourage you to break them?

Where do you find frugal encouragement?

What are some frugal ways you have found to have fun with friends?


Posted in frugalities, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Response

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