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THE CHILD-MIND; AND HOW TO SATISFY IT

from Children Stories To Tell - For Classes Iv. And V.





"It is the grown people who make the nursery stories," wrote Stevenson,
"all the children do is jealously to preserve the text." And the grown
person, whether he makes his stories with pen or with tongue, should bring
two qualities at least to the work--simplicity of language and a serious
sincerity. The reason for the simplicity is obvious, for no one, child or
otherwise, can thoroughly enjoy a story clouded by words which convey no
meaning to him.

The second quality is less obvious but equally necessary. No absence of
fun is intended by the words "serious sincerity," but they mean that the
story-teller should bring to the child an equal interest in what is about
to be told; an honest acceptance, for the time being, of the fairies, or
the heroes, or the children, or the animals who talk, with which the tale
is concerned. The child deserves this equality of standpoint, and without
it there can be no entire success.

As for the stories themselves, the difficulty lies with the material, not
with the _child_. Styles may be varied generously, but the matter must be
quarried for. Out of a hundred children's books it is more than likely
that ninety-nine will be useless; yet perhaps out of one autobiography may
be gleaned an anecdote, or a reminiscence which can be amplified into an
absorbing tale. Almost every story-teller will find that the open eye and
ear will serve him better than much arduous searching. No one book will
yield him the increase to his repertoire which will come to him by
listening, by browsing in chance volumes and magazines, and even
newspapers, by observing everyday life, and in all remembering his own
youth, and his youthful, waiting audience.

And that youthful audience? A rather too common mistake is made in
allowing overmuch for the creative imagination of the normal child. It is
not creative imagination which the normal child possesses so much as an
enormous credulity and no limitations. If we consider for a moment we see
that there has been little or nothing to limit things for him, therefore
anything is possible. It is the years of our life as they come which
narrow our fancies and set a bound to our beliefs; for experience has
taught us that for the most part a certain cause will produce a certain
effect. The child, on the contrary, has but little knowledge of causes,
and as yet but an imperfect realisation of effects. If we, for instance,
go into the midst of a savage country, we know that there is the chance of
our meeting a savage. But to the young child it is quite as possible to
meet a Red Indian coming round the bend of the brook at the bottom of the
orchard, as it is to meet him in his own wigwam.

The child is an adept at make-believe, but his make-believes are, as a
rule, practical and serious. It is credulity rather than imagination which
helps him. He takes the tales he has been _told_, the facts he has
observed, and for the most part reproduces them to the best of his
ability. And "nothing," as Stevenson says, "can stagger a child's faith;
he accepts the clumsiest substitutes and can swallow the most staring
incongruities. The chair he has just been besieging as a castle is taken
away for the accommodation of a morning visitor and he is nothing abashed;
he can skirmish by the hour with a stationary coal-scuttle; in the midst
of the enchanted pleasuance he can see, without sensible shock, the
gardener soberly digging potatoes for the day's dinner."

The child, in fact, is neither undeveloped "grown-up" nor unspoiled angel.
Perhaps he has a dash of both, but most of all he is akin to the grown
person who dreams. With the dreamer and with the child there is that
unquestioning acceptance of circumstances as they arise, however unusual
and disconcerting they may be. In dreams the wildest, most improbable and
fantastic things happen, but they are not so to the dreamer. The veriest
cynic amongst us must take his dreams seriously and without a sneer,
whether he is forced to leap from the edge of a precipice, whether he
finds himself utterly incapable of packing his trunk in time for the
train, whether in spite of his distress at the impropriety, he finds
himself at a dinner-party minus his collar, or whether the riches of El
Dorado are laid at his feet. For him at the time it is all quite real and
harassingly or splendidly important.

To the child and to the dreamer all things are possible; frogs may talk,
bears may be turned into princes, gallant tailors may overcome giants,
fir-trees may be filled with ambitions. A chair may become a horse, a
chest of drawers a coach and six, a hearthrug a battlefield, a newspaper a
crown of gold. And these are facts which the story-teller must realise,
and choose and shape the stories accordingly.

Many an old book, which to a modern grown person may seem prim and
over-rigid, will be to the child a delight; for him the primness and the
severity slip away, the story remains. Such a book as Mrs Sherwood's
_Fairchild Family_ is an example of this. To a grown person reading it for
the first time, the loafing propensities of the immaculate Mrs Fairchild,
who never does a hand's turn of good work for anyone from cover to cover,
the hard piety, the snobbishness, the brutality of taking the children to
the old gallows and seating them before the dangling remains of a
murderer, while the lesson of brotherly love is impressed are shocking
when they are not amusing; but to the child the doings of the naughty and
repentant little Fairchilds are engrossing; and experience proves to us
that the twentieth-century child is as eager for the book as were ever his
nineteenth-century grandfather and grandmother.

Good Mrs Timmin's _History of the Robins_, too, is a continuous delight;
and from its pompous and high-sounding dialogue a skilful adapter may
glean not only one story, but one story with two versions; for the infant
of eighteen months can follow the narrative of the joys and troubles,
errors and kindnesses of Robin, Dicky, Flopsy and Pecksy; while the child
of five or ten or even more will be keenly interested in a fuller account
of the birds' adventures and the development of their several characters
and those of their human friends and enemies.

From these two books, from Miss Edgeworth's wonderful _Moral Tales_; from
Miss Wetherell's delightful volume _Mr Rutherford's Children_; from Jane
and Ann Taylor's _Original Poems_; from Thomas Day's _Sandford and
Merton_; from Bunyan's _Pilgrim's Progress_ and Lamb's _Tales from
Shakespeare_, and from many another old friend, stories may be gathered,
but the story-teller will find that in almost all cases adaptation is a
necessity. The joy of the hunt, however, is a real joy, and with a field
which stretches from the myths of Greece to _Uncle Remus_, from _Le Morte
d'Arthur_ to the _Jungle Books_, there need be no more lack of pleasure
for the seeker than for the receiver of the spoil.






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