Thursday, September 20, 2012

What is real

I was thinking about one of my favorite childhood books: "The Velveteen Rabbit". It's one that my mother claims when I was three, I begged her to read it to me over and over again. I remember being captivated by stories that were heartwarming and sometimes funny. I loved great illustrations and there's even a photo of me at age two, lying on a brown shag carpet, reading a hand-illustrated Encyclopedia.

I seem to remember a children's book by maybe Hans Christian Andersen?? That also had simple illustrations combined with poetry that captured my imagination. I can't say I was one of those kids who read all the goofy books, and even now when I buy a child a book, I select those special stories that I remember, or ones with excellent illustration. I loved the Miss Spider's Tea Party and bought it for several youngsters I know.

What got me thinking about children's books is I wonder if our passion for reading begins at an early age with the types of books we are exposed to (or not at all). Some coworkers today were having a conversation where one girl was trying to give away a page holder. Another girl said something negative about reading, and girl #1 replied, "Reading feeds your mind."
"Oh, don't tell me you're one of those people," the second girl said.
"What is that supposed to mean?" replied the first.
"I don't read enough books that I need something to hold the pages."

Then the conversation become dumbed down and I tuned out. I really hate to hear perceptions about not only books, but readers themselves. The only difference between watching a movie and reading a book is that a reader uses more of their imagination. They are different forms of entertainment, but there's something so unique about books because you aren't limited to what the director wants to give to you. A book allows you to imagine the characters the way you want to, see the world differently than how others do, and hit rewind over and over with a slant of the eyes.

Maybe we should avoiding giving children the dumbed-down version of books. I was sucked in early on with books that not only made me laugh, but cry. Stories with depth; and in today's age with video games, cell phones, and computers taking the place of books, it's never been more important. I think it's great when a movie based on a book inspires a generation of kids to get into reading, but on the other hand, I'd like to see parents put that inspiration in their kids early on. It's one quality I adore in my nephew; he absolutely loves to read. And I, without a doubt, love to buy him books.

The Velveteen Rabbit

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

 "It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

 "I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive.

 But the Skin Horse only smiled.

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