“Those who educate children well are more to be honored than they who produce them; for these only gave them life, those, the art of living well.”
So wrote the philosopher Aristotle in the Fourth Century B.C.
Books are indispensable to a sound education, and in light last week being National Library Week, I wanted to look for books for my grandchildren.
A simple internet search turned up The New York Times’ “25 Best Children’s Books of 2020.” I decided to read what the Times had to say. That was my first mistake. In what follows, I survey five of the 25 kids’ books recommended by the Times.
Beginning with the “younger children” section of the list, I found a number of them focus on race—some innocuously, such as The Little Mermaid, by Jerry Pinkney. The Times tells us that, “in Pinkney’s vivid reimagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale, the mermaid befriends a human girl instead of pining over a handsome prince, and all the characters, human and mermaid, are Black.”
But other books for young kids deal with race from a more aggressive (read: Social Justice Warrior) position, such as Class Act, by Jerry Craft. The Times tells us, “A Black student from the Co-op City section of the Bronx attends a private middle school in wealthier Riverdale in this moving and often funny graphic novel about the convergence of an awkward age (13 to 14) with another awkward age (America’s racial reckoning).”
America’s racial reckoning?! For middle-schoolers?! What could go wrong? Only everything.
Not to be outdone in wokeness is Loretta Little Looks Back: Three Voices Go Tell It, by Andrea David Pinkney. The Times writes: “Sparkling with Southern diction and rhythms, and peppered with poems and songs, this novel composed of read-aloud monologues follows three generations of children in one fictional Mississippi family as they survive hardships from sharecropping to voter suppression.”
Voter suppression?! Again, for middle-schoolers?
Race returns as a prominent theme in the Times’s “Young Adult” recommendations, beginning with Dragon Hoops, by Gene Luen Yang. The Times judges the book “full of insight about race and ethnicity, this graphic novel intercuts the thrilling wins and crushing defeats of one high school team with basketball’s own turbulent history.”
In other words, kids can’t just read about sports for the fun of it. They must also be subjected to the author’s “insight about race and ethnicity.” Everything must be a political statement, and nothing must be left to childish fun any longer.
Also intent on draining every last drop of joy from childhood is The Talk: Conversations About Race, Love & Truth, edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson. The Talk promises to subject your kids to “hard conversations” about race as it manifests itself in their “bewildering and hostile” world. According to the Times, “These essays, stories, poems, letters and illustrations work to prepare children for a world that can be bewildering and hostile, while also making plain that the hard conversations we all need to have about race are part of a broader national reckoning.”
A “broader national reckoning”? What does this apocalyptic phrase mean, exactly, and why are kids being dragged into it?
What is most noteworthy—and alarming—about the children’s books selected by The New York Times is their heavily politicized content offered in the service of a “woke” Social Justice Warrior agenda. At a time when national surveys show that most Americans are civic illiterates, the Times seems bound and determined to keep it that way. In this case, the Party slogan from George Orwell’s 1984 comes to mind: “Ignorance is [ideological] strength.”
But there is good news to be found on the subject of children’s books. (You just won’t find it in the Times.)
My internet search also yielded a list of books compiled by Valerie Pfundstein. Among the books in her list, you might want to investigate General Houston’s Little Spy: A Texas Revolution Story is a young adult historical fiction novel written by Cara Skinner.
Another book focusing on the Lone Star State is Texas: Cowboys and Campfires, Nancy Sifford Alana, is a work of historical fiction that introduces kids to Texas history.
A book that will introduce your middle-school kids to the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution is Land of the Free, by Maureen Paterson, herself a teacher.
And high school students will benefit greatly from reading Wilfred McClay’s new book, Land of Hope, which is a much-needed rebuttal to the “America is and has been systemically racist” diatribes of people like Howard Zinn (A People’s History of the United States) and Nicole Hannah Jones (lead author and editor of The New York Times’s deceived and deceiving “1619 Project,” which argues that racism is part of “America’s DNA.”)
Fifth and last among books worthy of your children’s reading is an old favorite, C.S. Lewis’s classic, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. (If your kids think themselves “too old” for this classic, buy them a copy of Lewis’s The Abolition of Man. If you aren’t familiar with Abolition, you’ll be as no less rewarded than your children for reading it.