SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 27, 2013

Anderson: Thankful for the gift of books

Barbara Anderson
The Salem News

---- — Just ahead of Massachusetts’ beginning to collect sales tax from Amazon this month, I ordered “Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims” by Rush Limbaugh, planning to quickly read it then send it to the grandtwins in time for Thanksgiving.

I still think it was a great idea, to create a history book for children using time-travel and a magic horse named Liberty, and this would probably be a fine gift for younger children, but I can’t send it to my 12-year-olds because — how to say this — it’s not quite up to their standards. Maya read the entire Harry Potter series before she was 10; I discovered the first Percy Jackson & the Olympians book (about the modern-day children of the Greek gods) on a sale table and sent it to Aidan, who devoured the rest of the series; we all read “The Hunger Games,” and I sent them James Patterson’s “Witch and Wizard.” All of these are about young people fighting evil, whether Lord Voldemort or a government that has grown too powerful.

I’d also like my grandchildren to see American history through the eyes of a conservative, if only to balance what they’ll eventually learn in college, but, unfortunately, that conservative writer probably shouldn’t be Rush Limbaugh, who somehow made himself the hero on the horse. I say this as an admiring regular listener to his radio show, which is the day job he definitely shouldn’t give up in an attempt to channel J.K.Rowling.

But this book-search exercise got me thinking. The original Thanksgiving story was interesting enough to my generation; I never tired of hearing about Miles Standish, Squanto and Massasoit, Priscilla and John. I read a lot, but was happy with human children like the Bobbsey Twins and later, teenagers Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. My favorite book was “Anne of Green Gables.” None of these, saved on my bookshelves all these many years, appealed to my grandchildren.

And yet they read extensively, first at home then as part of the national Accelerated Reader program in their Nevada middle school. Students read school/town library or their parents’ books, which they can choose themselves. After they read they are asked a series of quiz questions and then are given points dependent on the level of the reading: “The Hunger Games” for instance, is 20 points.

One thing for which I’ve been most thankful is the gift of books, which have given me not only pleasure but a world-view beginning with my very first favorite, “The Little Red Hen.” I never tired of coaxing my mother to read, one more time, the simple story of the hen who couldn’t get anyone in the barnyard to help her plant and harvest the wheat, and was therefore entirely justified in refusing to share the bread with anyone but her own little chicks. This was a good introduction to Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” when I approached adulthood. My parents read me Aesop’s Fables, which were also a series of morality lessons. I read them in turn to my son, who has successfully passed them on.

As we discussed this column, Lance (named from my King Arthur books) reminded me to include the lessons taught by Dr. Seuss and Ray Bradbury, which we both absorbed and have shared with our next generation. However, he now tells me that his favorite childhood book, given to him by his Navy dad, was “The Biggest Glupmaker in the U.S. Navy.” This may be where the kid picked up a valuable “playful with authority” skill that should keep him from being too impressed by government. I’m happy to report that he just enjoyed David McCullough’s “1776,” which should balance Howard Zinn’s negative perspective on American history that he picked up somewhere.

My granddaughter recommends a John Green book about teenagers with cancer, who indulge in the black humor that she enjoys. Aidan is reading about zombies. He tells me that many kids his age are as likely to be playing video games as reading, which does not encourage my happy hopeful theme here. Nevertheless:

The federal “Common Core” education program may encourage reading Barack Obama’s biography and otherwise enhance public school support for Big Government, but it’s important to remember that parents still have some influence. Along with encouraging charter schools and vouchers, we should utilize our power to encourage books that take our children in a different direction.

Note the popularity of the “Hunger Games” books and films, in which young people are learning to fight Big Government, which I learned from Ayn Rand’s “Anthem” in 1961 and my partner Chip Ford learned from “The Sentinel Stars” by Louis Charbonneau in 1963.

Never mind “1984” which just scares us all. We can be thankful that the real 1984 came and went during the Reagan years, and if written today would look more like “The Matrix” movie or any number of anti-Big Government television series. The common culture, which we often deplore, for good reason, does use the drama of revolution to keep all age groups aware of threats to our freedom. This is one thing to be grateful for as we count all our blessings tomorrow.