Sunday, October 12, 2008

Reading While Rome Burns

If you're wondering what to read to your children as financial markets collapse, Slate has a list.

Frankly, the Ramona books scared me half to death as a little girl. I guess I noticed that while Ramona's parents were fighting, they were also reassuring their nervous offspring that they wouldn't divorce. My parents did the fighting part, but never got around to the latter. I think I was sensing the handwriting on the wall, since they did eventually split when I was 14.

Unlike Ramona, the Little House on the Prairie series never inspired fear; playing Mary, Laura and Carrie was a favorite game of my 2 cousins and I when we were small. Even One enjoyed Farmer Boy, which is set about an hour from where I grew up. One was overwhelmed by the endless lists of delicious food consumed by the characters--a fairly typical reaction for a 6 year old boy, I think.

I have a few additions to the list. Definitely some of the Edith Nesbit stories qualify: for example, in The Railway Children, the father finds himself in jail and mom and the kids pack off to the country to live by a railway station. Much the same can be said for the characters in The Treasure Seekers and Five Children and It (at least to some extent). Finally, the first of the Edward Eager books, Half Magic, also features children in straitened circumstances--their widowed mother works while they spend the summer in magical adventures.

I think what succeeds best in this strange "category" of fiction are the stories that take children out of their everyday circumstances, rather than those that leave children to dwell on them. The Ramona stories are largely about not having enough money; the other stories celebrate people without material wealth who discover themselves wealthy in other, more important ways.

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