Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Is New Always Better?

I've been discussing the differences between old books and new books. Let me defend myself at the outset by saying that I do not have an attachment to old things just because they're old. I have owned my share of antiques in the past, but like new furnishings as well. We have driven many old cars, but there's nothing like a  new one. If it weren't for present ingenuity, I would not be making these comments to you at all because I  could not manage a computer without the advances of modern technology.

Haven't we all heard people say, "They just don't make things like they used to." In the world of children's  literature, truer words were never spoken. Once when I was picking up some books that a local elementary school library was discarding, the librarian asked curiously, "Why do you want these out-of-date science  books?" I wasn't trying to be pert, but said the first thing that popped to mind, "Can you tell me how much new information has been discovered about butterflies in the last 50 years, that an elementary student needs to read about?" It puzzles me that educators think all their information is only good because it is "brand new" and have no regard for the thousands of years of human discovery contributing to our latest bits of knowledge.

Here are a few superficial things to ponder. I don't necessarily think there is anything wrong with judging a  book by its cover, but even looking within, let's just consider the difference in new children's books compared to those published in the past.

Modern photography definitely produces true-to-life, vivid, and accurate representations. On the other hand, the time and effort put into the drawn, pen-and-ink, woodcut, cross-hatched, or watercolor illustrations embellishing children's books of the past are not only charming, but feed the imagination. My experience with children is that they are not in the least put off by even simple sketches, but seem to relish and be inspired by them.

Today's children's books of all kinds tend to have two page spreads with a central image surrounded by factoids. These blurbs furnish the information necessary to enhance the picture. Gone are the narrative accounts, the lively and engaging stories written by an author whose passion for his subject cannot be disguised. Rather, we have no idea who said these bits of information as they are detached from any personal source. Have we forgotten that children accept information more readily when it comes from a  trusted person?

Here's just one comparison of a "new" versus an "old" science book for children:

{Things with Wings, Carson Creagh (Time Life, 1996)
is full of two page spreads like the one below}

{Here are just the facts, isolated from one another, all true, but disjointed}

{Ruby Throat, Robert McClung (William Morrow 1970)
tells the story of one hummingbird}

{The setting is described, you can almost feel the fresh spring breeze,
smell the apple blossoms}

{Here are some "facts" padded in ideas a child can relate to and remember--
he's held a penny in his hand and can try to imagine a bird weighing that little}

Do you see what I'm getting at? Do you think a child will acquire more of a relationship with Ruby Throat or the anonymous hummingbird? Do you think a child gets more of an idea of a hummingbird's life from Mr. McClung or The Nature Company?  In other words, are the ideas in the old book sufficiently inspiring to draw the child to connect with them enough to acquire information or will the various compiled data of the newer book last him a lifetime? Lastly, which book do you think will prompt a child's jumping for joy when they actually meet a hummingbird in the real world?

For the joy of reading,



  1. I have 3 children... The youngest and the oldest fit the description as wrote...however my middle child, for whatever reason, gravitates away from the story mixed with facts, he wants the meat without the gravy so to speak...but that's why we homeschool...

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