What We're Reading (June edition)...

It’s the last week of school, and we’re just days away from the start of the summer break! The year has flown by, and we are grateful for all our ILS families and students helping to make this a most wonderful year.

As we head into summer, we’re sharing the last edition of "What we're reading..." for the 2018-2019 school year! Don’t worry, we’ll continue to post over the summer, and as always, we hope that you’ll continue to share any articles or news that you’ve found interesting that we should include in an upcoming edition.

Want to join us for some summer reading?

This summer, ILS is pleased to host a Summer Book Club! Parents and friends of ILS are invited to join us each month as we read and gather to discuss a short selection. Please use the form below to let us know if you will be able to attend one or more of these discussions!

Join us on Thursdays at 7 pm. Reading selections and options to order, included via the links below.

June 13: The Golden Key by George MacDonald 
July 11: Revelation by Flannery O'Conner 
August 8: Leaf by Niggle by J. R. R. Tolkien (copies available in the ILS office)

Let us know if you can join us!

On average, American kids spend the equivalent of a part-time to full-time job entertaining themselves on screens, as I noted recently. That’s a huge loss of the far more useful, fun, and interesting things they could be doing with all that time instead. It doesn’t just hurt the kids (and adults) by making them more anxious, cruel, addicted, depressed, and stupid, but it also deprives us of needed development towards our full potential, and hurts our neighbors and country.

When we use our leisure time well, we often use it to help others, in ways big and small. Joining Cub Scouts, for example, will ensure a troop exists near more people, and needier kids will benefit more from the availability of that kind of social infrastructure. The same for attending church. Merely being outside playing increases the likelihood that kids passing by will join in. It can jumpstart a lifestyle habit that leads to better health, possibly for a lifetime, and more friendships, which helps sustain them during the hard times we all face sooner or later.

The more people get together in person, the stronger their relationships are, and the more those relationships can fill people’s needs privately and locally, and thus reduce the demand for a big government. In short, the antidote to big government is personal relationships, and our society’s screen addictions are a relationship killer.

So if we want to be doing our part to govern ourselves and our families, and thereby reduce the pretexts for government to micromanage us and our neighbors, part of that involves not allowing screens to substitute for personal relationships. It means managing them as part of our time diets, rather than letting them control us. Addiction is the antithesis of self-control, and only self-controlled people can preserve America’s unique culture of self-government.
— Joy Pullmann, "7 Strategies for Creating a Successfully Low-Screen Summer for Your Family"

If I were not a Christian, Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad books would be my holy scripture. When I meet a sane adult, I assume his sanity comes largely from having heard Frog and Toad stories in his youth. Yesterday, I read my sophomore humanities students four stories from a Frog and Toad anthology. It would be impolite to assume you, noble reader, are not intimately familiar with all the Frog and Toad stories, but, in case too many years have elapsed between today and your last reading, I will briefly describe the four stories I read to my sophomores...
Like many children’s books from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, Frog and Toad stories involve the two titular characters overcoming common problems which arise from vice. “Cookies” is about gluttony, “The Lost Button” is about anger, “Tomorrow” is about sloth, and “A Swim” is about pride. In each story, the only way to beat vice is through some form of suffering. Good things do not happen in Frog and Toad stories apart from suffering, self-denial, or self-control.

Not every children’s book from these decades involved the same kind of lesson-learning, but a great many did. The formula was quite simple:

A happy child encounters some moral or material problem.

The child does not believe he can conquer the problem and becomes unhappy.

Parents and friends help the child conquer the problem and the child is happy again.
— Joshua Gibbs, "Why We Need Frog and Toad More Than Ever"

J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings has sold around 150 million copies worldwide, which makes it one of the bestselling fiction novels of all time. Some even claim it is the greatest book of the twentieth century. While Tolkien’s Middle-earth novels continue to grow in popularity, many scholars still refuse to take them seriously. Most critics not only disregard, but despise them with a fiery passion. Critics of the younger generation focus on the supposed social problems in Middle-earth, such as racism or sexism. But the most astounding criticisms come mostly from the older generation of literary critics, who claim that Tolkien’s writing is just awful. Edmund Wilson argues in “Oo, Those Awful Orcs” that The Lord of the Rings is nothing but “juvenile trash.” In the introduction to Bloom’s Critical Modern Interpretations: J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Harold Bloom claims that Tolkien’s writing style is “stiff, false archaic, and overwrought.” Bloom is “not able to understand how a skilled and mature reader can absorb about fifteen hundred pages of this quaint stuff.” These criticisms are as absurd are they are comical. If anything, The Lord of the Rings is anti-racist and anti-sexist and beautifully written. Of course, the merit of any work is, in essence, subjective and tastes differ. But what is the cause of both the contemptuous criticisms and unwarranted indifference toward The Lord of the Rings?

Realism has taken over literature; fantasy—and other genres—have been deemed childish garbage. Ursula K. Le Guin blames the modernists for this. In her article “The Critics, the Monsters and the Fantasists,” she writes,

The modernists are largely to blame. Edmund Wilson and his generation left a tradition of criticism that is, in its way, quite a little monster. In this school for anti-wizards, no fiction is to be taken seriously except various forms of realism, which are labelled ‘serious.’ Universities have taught generations of students to shun genres, including fantasy (unless it was written before 1900, wasn’t written in English, and/ or can be labelled magic realism).
— Lauren Stengel, "Why We Need Fantasy LIterature"

You may have seen the meme. Two mothers sit on a bench with their respective children. One mother is reading a book, and her kid is, too. The other pair is lost in their phones. The phone mom looks at the other woman and asks, “How do you get your child to read books?”

Obviously, we’d all like to be the parent whose kid reads. It’s like getting an achievement badge from the universe. We also enjoy hearing our kid request more vegetables or declare her love for math. It’s easy to want so many good things for our children that the pressure begins to numb our souls.

After all, no matter what we try, someone on Instagram is doing it so much better. Yet “raising readers” isn’t just another checkbox on some big societal list of things we should do so we can feel like good parents. It is instead an opportunity to live in a way that will free us from the tyranny of artificial parenting pressures. It is a way to not only make our children’s lives better but also our own.

In order to understand this, we must overcome a major hurdle. As a society we’ve absorbed a misguided image of what it means to be “a reader.” We often approach reading in two contradictory ways.

On the one hand, we rely on utilitarian rhetoric. We can’t shake the vague notion that books and reading are somehow inherently good; but we are uncomfortable with existential judgements. Who defines “good?” In national conversations it’s safer to point out how useful reading is. It teaches pre-literacy! It improves children’s grades in school! It helps reduce bullying! It boosts creativity and could lead to better science experiments!

Yet we also believe that reading is a sort of sacred experience that must be approached only as personal entertainment. If an individual likes a given book, then it is a good book—for that individual. Snobs can take their objective literary standards back to the last century because we moderns are busy passing out “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”
— Anna Mussmann, "Hot to Turn Your Children Into Readers for Life"

Summer is coming.

The season for school sports and activities is ending. For most high school seniors, it’s not just the season — it is, in some weird sense, their “career.” As a hockey, soccer, lacrosse player. A violinist, a debater, a singer in the a cappella choir. Unless they have professional aspirations or college commitments, whatever they’ve done outside of school — and for many kids, that thing has become a core piece of their identities — is shifting into a different gear.

It’s no longer going to help get them into college. They won’t step up to a better chair or make varsity. The conveyor belt of achievement has reached its end.

Now all that remains are the kinds of questions everyone comes to eventually: Do you still do your thing — whatever your thing is — when no one is watching? What do you do when it doesn’t matter any more?
— KJ Dell'Antonia, "How High School Ruined Leisure"

Can you comprehend a world without literacy? Think for a moment about a world in which only a small percentage can read and a smaller percentage can read well. If we church musicians also consider music essential to life, should we not also consider music literacy, especially in the form of sightreading, an indispensable skill for any budding, and accomplished, musician?

The Written Sound
Even the oldest students need a break from their hard work every once in awhile, and so I found myself breaking out a picture book detailing the life Guido d’Arezzo to read to my middle schoolers during a recent class. Never heard of Mr. Guido? Well, I’m no authority on the subject, but according to this book, Guido d’Arezzo was the man who invented musical notation. Think of it: for thousands of years, music had existed in every civilization, but it wasn’t until the Middle Ages when a system of notation was invented. Can you imagine your whole musical life consisting solely of improvised or memorized music? Some of you now may be daydreaming of life in the ancient world, but that sounds miserable to me!

Without entering into a detailed account of the history of music and musical notation, suffice it to say we would not have the rich treasury of music we have today if it were not for written music. Can you imagine learning a Bach fugue simply by copying it from your teacher, who in turn learned it from copying his teacher? Could an orchestra make it through even a portion of Beethoven’s Fifth without music on their stands? Would we still remember Mozart in the twenty-first century if only the memory of his works had survived? What would the world be like without written music?

My answer: a dark, dark place.
— Mrs. Marie Greenway, "Musical Literacy, Sightreading, and the Church"

Amongst the greatest gifts a classical school can bestow upon its students is the opportunity to become skilled in the use of words.

“Opportunity,” not “ability,” for no institution nor teacher nor curriculum can make good writers any more than one man can convert another: the student himself must labor to train his hands for the task, and pray for the Muse to animate them. But it is incumbent upon classical schools—which aim to make students more human, tend all their natural capacities into full blossom, unshackle their desires and discipline their wills towards the wise use of leisure time, and enable them to know and live “the good life,” all by nurturing them in wisdom and virtue—to commit a large portion of their and their students’ energies to word-training.

For all these aims are, to varying extents, accomplished through words, whether read, thought, spoken, or written. And this is owing not to the classicist’s arbitrary preference, but to the classical tradition’s recognition of the true nature of a world which was spoken into being by the words of God the creating Father, called into His communion and covenant through the in-Spirited words of the prophets, and renewed in the divine life through the Incarnate Word, His Son. The world and all its creatures, we among them, were given and are sustained in being itself by the words of God—so, analogously yet truly, anything we strive to bring into being will also be made and sustained through our words.
— Lindsey Brigham Knott, "The Use of Words in the Life Well-Lived"

What Makes It Literature?

The word “literature” can refer to anything from leaflets and printed matter to all the works written for others to read. Among its definitions, Webster includes, “Writings in prose or verse, especially: writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest.” I think we can all agree on this. Mainly, I’m thinking about novels here.

Likewise, when I think of literature for children, I think primarily of longer fiction and exclude those shorter books that are meant for reading through in one sitting. However, there are always exceptions, as we shall see.

What Makes It Great?

Literature, to be great, whether written for juvenile readers or for adults, must be well-constructed. The writing must be good, not just technically but also crafted with a clarity of expression that elicits image, action, and emotion in the mind of the reader. It must be enjoyable to read and continue to please upon repeated readings.

A truly great work of literary art will draw the reader into the world of the story, rather than leaving him as an observer. The story involves a complexity that makes this world and its inhabitants believable and multidimensional. This world must reveal organic unity so that it not only makes logical sense but also involves multiple layers, nuance, and even surprise.
— Susannah Pearce, "What Makes Great Children's Literature Great?"