An Uncle Garry for the Rest of the World
I can remember seeing my Uncle Garry perhaps a dozen times in my life but his influence on me has been far more profound than that number would tell. Garry is my eccentric book uncle. For my lifetime he has lived in BC and has worked for/owned bookstores. Almost every year for Christmas and/or birthdays Garry has given me a book, some of which have shaped who I am.
For Blair from Garry - I hope you enjoy these poems as much as I do, January 1975. For my third birthday I received Dennis Lee's Alligator Pie illustrated by Frank Newfeld (one of the serious omissions in Hunt's book). Those whimsical lines - Alligator pie, alligator pie/ If I don't get some I think I'm gonna die/ Give away the green grass, give away the sky/ But don't give away my alligator pie - still capture how I feel about lemon cake. More importantly, Lee taught me about Canada in a way that no one else did.
Without doubt the most read book of my childhood was a Book of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire's (another omission). I would pretend to go to sleep then a short time later turn my flashlight on underneath the covers to discover and rediscover the stories of Zeus, Hercules, Athena and Apollo. I have read this book more than any other in my life except the Bible.
As a teen I received and devoured T.H. White's, The Once and Future King. I struggled through Hugo's Les Miserable because my uncle sent it to me. I travelled to Africa and the bushmen of the Kalahari with Laurens Van Der Post and through pre war Europe with Patrick Leigh Fermoor. Most recently I've traveled to Tibet's Tsango River through books that my Uncle Garry has given me. I am a reader and my world is bigger for it partly (perhaps largely) because my Uncle Garry has consistently encouraged me and pushed me.
Gladys Hunt is an Uncle Garry who has published. She passionately argues that books give people language they would not otherwise have, brings families together in reading out loud, and expands the mind and spirits of everyone who falls in with the right books. In general, I think she is correct. Her criticisms about TV seem a little over done but with the possibility of being valid. In this she reminds me of Marva Dawn. Her lists also are rooted in a canon of children's literature that might seem to some old fashioned. From my perspective, the lists are expansive enough that the canon that she defines is broad enough to include all kinds of tastes. For a Canadian, some of the lists have a heavy American content. Someone needs to publish an addendum to this book for Canadians so that children can learn a la Dennis Lee what it is to explore our country not someone else's.
Even with these weaknesses, this book strikes me as an important one. There are some faith based statements and a chapter on reading the Bible with children which I think hardcore atheists or secularists might protest but in general Hunt's argument is universal - reading good literature is good for children in many ways. I plan on giving this book to the day care my son attends. I also plan on giving the lists to parents, aunts and uncles of my son so that they can help be Uncle Garry's for him.
I also am contemplating using this in family based ministry. Parents often come to my church to have their children baptised. They want their child to have "values" and think that the church is the place to supply them. How wrong they are. The home is where we are shaped and the reading program that Hunt lays out would go a long way to providing values that are far more robust than the ones that Sunday School could ever hope to provide. Perhaps I need to shut down Sunday School and just open up a library for kids at church. Wonder would happen then?