Discerning Children’s Books

One of our older daughters started reading the classic book The Incredible Journey when she alerted her mother and me to something in the book.  Right before the book begins, there’s a selection from a poem by Walt Whitman entitled “Song of Myself”:

I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain’d,
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or industrious over the whole earth.

The author of the book, Sheila Burnford, no doubt inserted this poem at the beginning in order to make a statement about the differences between human beings and animals.  Whitman was himself something of a humanist and a universalist, his worldview (and presumably that of Burnford) on full display.  The book is a tale of fiction about two dogs and a cat making their way home across the Canadian wilderness.  It’s a fairly popular tale, having sold over three million copies according to the back cover.  The 1993 film Homeward Bound was based upon it.

That a popular children’s book could contain such a strong dose of humanism right before the opening chapter suggests that the vast majority of parents didn’t discern what their children were reading all of these years since it was originally published in 1961.  But then again, a poet like Walt Whitman is just another figure in Americana, right?  Kudos to our daughter for having that level of discernment at such a young age.  It’s just another reminder to be careful about the books our kids consume, even (and perhaps especially) the ones which are considered classics.

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