‘We all want to change the world’

I was young and idealistic, once. Now, I am old and… still idealistic, but a lot more realistic. I have realized that if you want to ‘change the world’ – it tends to be one diaper at a time. And yes, often the diaper is full, and you’re not necessarily going to get any thanks for sorting it out. It’s just that someone has to do it, and if I don’t step up, who the hell am I to expect someone else to? It might be an unpleasant jackass needing an ambulance through their own stupidity (or not needing one and calling us out anyway) but it could a kid or the sweetest granny on the island. We don’t know but we step up… The world has a fair number of us. I’ve often been pleasantly surprised at this streak in humans – often ones you how the hell they can even feed themselves, let alone give to others. That sort of hero is not the best – just ordinary doing the best. Not saving cities or continents – just one person at time. We’re just why I think actually humans are worth caring about: because although there are sadists, self-centered little jackasses, those who destroy… there are those who build, who will give you a hand when you need one, and those who will risk their lives for others, those who will take on the might of the state, even though they know it can crush them like an ant.

The diaper metaphor is appropriate though, in another way. One of ways of the shaping the world… comes down to shaping the generations that follow on from us. And yes, governments and various ideological groups want to grab this lever. Sometimes they do. The thing is, it’s not really as effective as mum and dad do – although it can be a war between them and the parents. Parents – no matter how good, don’t always win, but do, often enough to upset those authorities. I am all for upsetting them. Your kids do reflect you genetically, so there’s a chance they will, socially and culturally. I’m amused to find both my sons far more traditional and financially conservative than I was, in many ways. And both stepping up, which makes me very proud.

I’d love to know what the experience of keeping a pet has on children. Sadly: There are people who really shouldn’t have care of animals – or children. But plenty of kids got their first taste of responsibility caring for a dog or cat or hamster. Barbs and I thought raising a dog would be good training. So: we got a bull-terrier cross keeshond. And then a St. Bernard cross Old English. This is called ‘learning the hard way’! At least with our children we had similar genetic material to start with (which didn’t always make it easier – they were both as stubborn as the bull-terrier side, and much brighter than the hairy beast.)

So: what do we – as parents (and grandparents) do to win this? Well: be there is always a good start. They do role model off you from an early age, and that may be enough. I know of several kids (besides ours) whose lives Barbs and I changed hugely, and for the better (a few of those keep touch). A nudge at the right time, changed their course. And, of course, because of what I am and what I do, believe books can have a huge impact: again, right time, right place, right book… Tolkien and C.S. Lewis must have changed so many worlds – one reader at a time. I’ve tried too – Quite a lot of my work is YA (um, which I enjoy reading).

So: how about it, folks: what books do you think the next generation should be shaped by? Recommend.

Bert update. He had a lovely long run (maybe half a mile? – not bad for a dog that could barely shuffle when I started) and taught several sea-gulls their place yesterday. As for me: I’m keeping it together, struggling on. Not easy, but we try.

23 thoughts on “‘We all want to change the world’

  1. Well, you have the standard Lewis and Tolkien, of course, and it would be bad to not at least mention Brian Jacques.

    For the middle grades, however, I would like to put in a good word for Lloyd Alexander, particularly the Chronicles of Prydain (which deserves a good TV adaptation, and probably won’t get one), and for high schoolers, David Drake’s Lord of the Isles series and The Sea Hag.

    1. Drake’s stuff is definitely good, especially for anyone who may have to make decisions on war.

      I think his Reaches trilogy is probably the best case study in the costs of even just wars, and why they may still need to be fought.

      But definitely should be an older audience. I’m not saying there aren’t younger people who can handle it; I think I discovered his books in middle school, but that is not something one should just expect out of someone.

    1. For boys, of course, Pyle’s King Arthur is excellent, but I feel like it was not a great influence on me as a girl; I developed a tendency to identify with femmes fatales like Vivian. Of course, I could say something similar about Emily of New Moon and her Poor Misunderstood Genius schtick. Sometimes the poison’s in the dosage and sometimes it’s in the personality receiving the dose.

      1. And as a tomboy, I identified with the heroes (who were mostly men) rather than the seductresses.

        I think that, at heart, tomboys are just girls who approve of the male code of conduct (as it appears to youngsters), which is not the same thing as wanting to be men. It makes more sense to them to look for codes of honor there (since the honor codes of adult women are a bit more hidden to youngsters).

        1. I did a fair amount of identifying with the guys in books as a matter of course, but that particular King Arthur made the bad girls and their power over men compelling to me in a not-wholesome way.

    2. Pyle is great for developing your vocabulary; both my kids read and enjoyed King Arthur in elementary school. Plus the illustrations are wonderful.

  2. In terms of books for the next generation, I’m a bad judge because I was considered a fairly advanced reader with un-girlish tastes, but a few suggestions:
    -Just-So Stories, but only with Kipling’s illustrations
    -First Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
    -Long Vacation by Jules Verne
    -Anne of Green Gables and possibly Jane of Lantern Hill (while skipping pretty much everything else LM Montgomery wrote).
    -The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings
    -The Saturday Club
    -O. Henry stories
    -possibly the Good Master by Kate Seredy
    -Marguerite Henry’s horse books but only with the Wesley Dennis illustrations.
    -Sherlock Holmes stories (I favor Memoirs of; read it for fun in middle school)
    -Pride and Prejudice for teenagers, perhaps
    -Scarlet Pimpernel
    -There was some story of an inner city high school teacher who had surprising luck teaching the Count of Monte Cristo to his students. He used Dumas’s biracial background and Dumas’s father the general as a talking point (maybe as much to get it past the authorities as to get the kids interested), but apparently the revenge angle and the sheer soap opera did the rest of the work.

    1. Besides The Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Orczy also wrote a number of short detective stories featuring The Old Man in the Corner, which I like 🙂

      Holmes and his contemporaries are best with the original illustrations – they are wonderfully evocative of Victorian London. I’ve very happy to have an Original Illustrated Sherlock Holmes and two volumes of The Rivals Of Sherlock Holmes, also with the original illustrations.

      We also have a Chinese translation of Sherlock Holmes, with new illustrations; the Hound of the Baskervilles appears to be abridged. The new illustrations are, well, interesting, and not at all evocative of a gritty late 19th century city.

      1. Agreed on Holmes and the original illustrations. I’m indulgent of adaptations that decide to go with a different aesthetic as long as they’re entertaining (the Guy Ritchie films for instance, or maybe Murder by Decree) but they invariably don’t feel like the real thing.

  3. The progeny bounced off Heinlein and others. Loved Sherlock Holmes, the original Doyle stories, that is. Also, specifically when at the age I believe you’re asking about loved Timothy Zahn’s Dragonback books. We read the progeny Kipling and others. Some took, some didn’t. I loathed Baum’s prose style, but had to read the Oz books aloud anyway – and those values aren’t awful.

    1. I went through a strange period where we were moving around and the only Oz books I had were Wizard of, Land of, and Glinda of, and weirdly enough, preferred the steampunk adjacent Glinda to the other two.

  4. Kipling, Susan Cooper’s _The Dark is Rising_ series for middle grades and older, Lloyd Alexander, Conan Doyle. I loved Robin Mckinley’s Damar duology (_Hero and the Crown_ and _The Blue Sword_) I also liked Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series, although I’m not sure how well those have aged, and her later stuff . . . got too Politically Correct. Margurite Henry’s horse stories and I second “with the original illustrations.” Stuff about the glory days of archaeology – Heinrich Schlieman, Arthur Evens, Hiram Bingham, the people who put together the initial pieces of the puzzles. (I know it’s not PC, and you’ll probably have to find older books, but focus on the basics and get the nuance later.)

  5. If a boy fires off a gun, whether at a fox, a landlord or a reigning sovereign, he will be rebuked according to the relative value of these objects. But if he fires off a gun for the first time it is very likely that he will not expect the recoil, or know what a heavy knock it can give him. He may go blazing away through life at these and similar objects in the landscape; but he will be less and less surprised by the recoil; that is, by the reaction. He may even dissuade his little sister of six from firing off one of the heavy rifles designed for the destruction of elephants; and will thus have the appearance of being himself a reactionary. Very much the same principle applies to firing off the big guns of revolution. It is not a man’s ideals that change; it is not his Utopia that is altered; the cynic who says, “You will forget all that moonshine of idealism when you are older,” says the exact opposite of the truth. The doubts that come with age are not about the ideal, but about the real. And one of the things that are undoubtedly real is reaction: that is, the practical probability of some reversal of direction, and of our partially succeeding in doing the opposite of what we mean to do. What experience does teach us is this: that there is something in the make-up and mechanism of mankind, whereby the result of action upon it is often unexpected, and almost always more complicated than we expect.

    ― G.K. Chesterton

  6. Laura Ingalls Wilder, just her eight books, not all the stuff that isn’t really hers. Short story land, *Sir Roland and the Knights of the Silver Shield*. And for younger kids, *Sven’s Bridge* and *The Very Last First Time*. Also, *Watership Down*, the book, had a very positive impact on my older son. So did watching the absolute terrible movie made from it and discussing the specific ways in which the movie destroyed certain important good things about the book. He really liked *The Virginian*, with similar caveats about the horrible TV show. Same kid loved Rex Stout and wrote a poem for English class about Archie Goodwin.

  7. Jim Kjelgaard’s dog stories. Walther Farley’s Black Stallion series. Andre Norton, especially the Solar Queen and Time Travelers.

    And I know you didn’t intend Rats, Bats, and Vats for the youth, but my 5th grader, eleven year old (?) was an indifferent reader until I handed it to him with the admonishment of “I’d better not hear you using any of those swear words!” (Don’t throw me into that briar patch!)

  8. Fairy tales! Lots and lots of fairy tales!

    Not just the Pop Top 20!

    So when feminists come saying, say, that a heroine rescuing a hero is a Feminist Take, the children will know that it’s in fact as old as fairy tales.

    I grew up on Andrew Lang’s Coloured Fairy Books (which have their flaws,such as Literary Fairy Tales), and also on Ruth Manning-Sanders’s series.

    (In fine, I want them to read The Princess Seeks Her Fortune and recognize the tales. 0:)

  9. I am with Pam on the Kjelgaard stories. They are still in print too, and they have good prices on paperback copies at the Amish General Store in Muddy Pond. They also have Little Women and other classics of my youth. I recommend all Heinlein’s juveniles, and the Honor Harrington books depending on age. Freddie the pig stories, and Encyclopedia Brown. Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators were great books. Trixie Belden was great. Louis L’Amour is good for tweens as well, my Dad and I went through them all when I was 5th to 9th grade.

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