Civilized Reader

What Should Children Read?

In recommending books to be read by young people from the age of seven to the age of twelve, this critic’s problem is not paucity, but plenitude. For the number of good books for young people is large, and it increases every year. So I set down here brief remarks about a select few books … Read more

Louisa May Alcott’s Little Men

To use the phrase of St. Thomas Aquinas, farming and education belong to the category of “cooperative arts.” The farmer does not himself produce the harvest, but provides the cultivation of the soil, the sowing of the seed, the tending of the crop, and the labor of reaping. Mother Nature’s fruitfulness produces the abundance of … Read more

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Stowe’s great American novel, a bestseller in 1852, exposes the dehumanizing evil of slavery for the vicious crime and sin it is—the evil of reducing human beings to animals and objects. In the novel she introduces a host of characters who represent the various views of slavery prevalent in nineteenth-century America. In many ways the … Read more

Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales

Proverbs, folk tales, and fairy tales provide a great source of the world’s accumulated wisdom and perennial philosophy. To read Andersen’s fairy tales is to rediscover the adventure of the human story, to experience the sweet taste of goodness, and to marvel at the miraculous nature of reality. In “The Travelling Companion” Anderson portrays good … Read more

Melville’s Billy Budd

Evil assumes many forms and shapes and changes its wardrobe from age to age.  In classical mythology it assumes the shape of the Gorgon’s Head, the repulsive head of Medusa with the locks of serpents—evil so loathsome that men who gaze at the monster turn into stone. Evil in its ugliness also wears the appearance … Read more

Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen’s genius comprehends the subject of marriage and the book of love in all its intricacy, practicality, goodness, and mystery. Her novels center on the importance of marriage as one of life’s most important choices and life’s greatest source of happiness—“all the best blessings of existence” to use a phrase from Emma. In Emma … Read more

Henry Gilbert’s Robin Hood

“‘Methinks this is no common man, this Robin Hood. Almost it seems that he doth right in spite of the laws, and that they be wrong indeed if they have forced him to flee to the greenwood and become outside the law.’” —Richard the Lionheart Of the many images that might come to mind when … Read more

Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels

With imaginative power and biting satire Swift exposes the madness and folly of learning divorced from morals and of reason devoid of feeling and charity—the cold rationalism of the Enlightenment. In “a Voyage to Lilliput” six-inch creatures, not only tiny in size but also petty and small-minded in thought, possess advanced knowledge of mathematics and … Read more

Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s School Days

“After all, what would life be like without fighting, I should like to know? From the cradle to the grave, fighting, rightly understood, is the business, the real, highest, honestest business of every son of man. Every one who is worth his salt has his enemies, who must be beaten, be they evil thoughts and … Read more

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden

“But if you stay in a room you never see things.” Something magical occurs when a child who remains indoors goes outside to play. Something amazing happens when a lonely child discovers a friend and delights in companionship. Something great follows when a loving father or mother surprises a child with a gift and the … Read more

Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio

How does a wooden puppet become a real boy? How does one tame a wild boy full of spirit? When does a boy become a man?  What is the art of educating the young to become refined and civilized?  Pinocchio shows that the wooden puppet—stubborn, slothful, and  thankless–deserves the honor of boyhood when he acquires … Read more

The Arabian Nights

“Be sure that you wake me an hour before the dawn, and speak to me in these words: ‘My sister, if you are not asleep, I beg you, before the sun rises, to tell me one of your charming stories.’ Then I shall begin, and I hope by this means to deliver the people from … Read more

A Tuscan Childhood

If our children are ever to fight the deracination of modern life by being builders of Catholic culture, they must first be romanced by it, must learn what it can look like and feel like and, yes, especially after another long Lent, even taste like.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s A Wonder Book

“They are three very strange old ladies,” said Quicksilver, laughing. “They have but one eye among them, and only one tooth.  Moreover, you must find them out by starlight, or in the dusk of evening; for they never show themselves by the light either of the sun or moon.” What do the beauty and color … Read more

All Happy Trails Lead West

A lot of good books have come out of the West.  They have been written by men and by women and may be read by girls and by boys.  It is no wonder that so many appear on John Senior’s list of the thousand or so good books that youngsters should read before they get … Read more

A Poet of the Passion of Christ

To T. S. Eliot, the poet’s function is a kind of mediation between experience and language. In great poetry, he suggested, “there is always the communication of some new experience, or some fresh understanding of the familiar, or the experience of something we have experienced but have no words for, which enlarges our consciousness or … Read more

Hilaire Belloc, Cautionary Tales and Bad Child’s Book of Beasts

I remember the first time I read John Senior’s Death of Christian Culture. That it ended with a reading list was, well, something of a surprise. There was everyone you would expect—Dickens and Scott, Austen and Wister—and some I had never met. But what struck me the most were the unknown titles from authors I … Read more

Russell Kirk on the Moral Imagination

In the franchise bookshops of the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred eighty-one, the shelves are crowded with the prickly pears and the Dead Sea fruit of literary decadence. Yet no civilization rests forever content with literary boredom and literary violence. Once again, a conscience may speak to a conscience in the pages … Read more

Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows

“The clever men at Oxford Know all that there is to be knowed. But they none of them know one half a much As intelligent Mr. Toad!” A human being can be at home in the world just as he can feel a sense of comfort and belonging in his own household, or a person … Read more

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