It is commonly agreed also that both “great” and “good” can only be judged from a certain distance. Contemporary works can be appreciated and enjoyed but not very properly judged, and just as a principle must stand outside what follows from it (as a point to a line), so a cultural standard must be established from some time at least as distant as our grandparents’. For us today the cut-off point is World War I before which cars and the electric light had not yet come to dominate our lives and the experience of nature had not been distorted by speed and the destruction of shadows. There is a serious question—with arguments on both sides surely—as to whether there can be any culture at all in a mechanized society. Whichever side one takes in that dispute, it is certainly true that we cannot understand the point at issue without an imaginative grasp of the world we have lost.
What follows is not a complete list: almost all the authors have written many books, some as good as the ones given; and there are undoubtedly authors of some importance inadvertently left out—but this is a sufficient work-sheet. Everyone will find more than enough that he hasn’t read; and everything on this list is by common consent part of the ordinary cultural matter essential for an English-speaking person to grow in.
Remember that the point of view throughout a course of studies such as this is that of the amateur—the ordinary person who loves and enjoys what he loves—not of the expert in critical, historical or textual technology.
The books have been divided (sometimes dubiously because some stand midway between the categories) into the stages of life corresponding to the classical “ages” of man and in general agreement with the divisions of modern child psychology as explained by Freud or Piaget. And because sight is the first of the senses and especially powerful in early years, it is very important to secure books illustrated by artists working in the cultural tradition we are studying both as an introduction to art and as part of the imaginative experience of the book. This is not to disparage contemporary artists any more than the tradition itself disparages contemporary experiment—quite the contrary, one of the fruits of such a course should be the encouragement of good writing and drawing. A standard must never be taken as a restrictive straitjacket but rather as a teacher and model for achievement. Book illustration reached its perfection in the nineteenth century in the work of Randolph Caldecott, Kate Greenaway, Walter Crane, Gustave Dore, George Cruikshank, “Phiz”, Gordon Browne, Beatrix Potter, Sir John Tenniel, Arthur Rackham, Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth, and many others.
The rule of thumb is to find a nineteenth-century edition or one of the facsimiles which (though not as sharp in the printing) are currently available at moderate prices. What follows is an incomplete work-sheet of unedited notes which may serve as a rough guide.
SENIOR’S INCOMPLETE LIFE-LONG READING LIST
THE NURSERY (Ages 2 – 7)
Literary experience begins for very young children with someone reading aloud while they look at the pictures. But they can begin to read the simplest stories which they already love at an early age.
Aesop. Aesop’s Fables (The translation by Robert L’Estrange is the classic). Andersen, Hans Christian. Fairy Tales. Arabian Nights. There are two classic translations, one expurgated for children by Andrew Lang, the other complete by Richard Burton. Belloc, Hilaire. The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts; Cautionary Tales. Caldecott, Randolph. Picture Books, 16 little volumes (published by Frederick Warne). Carroll, Lewis. Alice in Wonderland; Through the Looking Glass. Illustrated by Tenniel. Collodi, Carlo. Pinocchio. de la Mare, Walter. Come Hither; Songs of Childhood. Edgeworth, Maria. The Parent’s Assistant; Moral Tales. Ewing, Juliana. Jackanapes. Gesta Romanorum. Translated by Swann (scholarly facsimiles). Grahame, Kenneth. Wind in the Willows (illustrated by Ernest Shepherd). Greenaway, Kate. Apple Pie; Birthday Book; Marigold Garden; Mother Goose; Under the Window; The Language of Flowers (Frederick Warne). Grimm. Household Stories. Illustrated by Walter Crane (Dover facsimiles). Harris, Joel Chandler. Uncle Remus. Kingsley, Charles. Water Babies. Kipling, Rudyard. Just So Stories; Jungle Book. Lamb, Charles. Beauty and the Beast; Tales from Shakespeare. Lang, Andrew. Blue Book of Fairies and other colors; five volumes; best illustrated by H.J. Ford (Dover facsimile). Lear, Edward. Nonsense Omnibus; The Owl and the Pussycat. Illustrated by Lear (Warne). Lofting, Hugh. Dr Doolittle’s Circus and others in the series. Milne, A.A.. Winnie the Pooh and others in the series. Mother Goose (Dover facsimiles – illustrated by Rackham; Viking Press). Perrault, Charles. Fairy Tales. Illustrated by Dore (Dover). Potter, Beatrix: Peter Rabbit and 23 little volumes; some available in French, Spanish and Latin. All illustrated by Potter (an important feature of these books is their small size, designed for a young child. Buy the individual books, not all of them collected in one big volume). Stevenson, Robert Louis. A Child’s Garden of Verses (Scribners).