BOOKS are as much a part of the furnishing of a house as tables and chairs, and in the making of a home they belong, not with the luxuries but with the necessities. A bookless house is not a home; for a home affords food and shelter for the mind as well as for the body. It is as great an offence against a child to starve his mind as to starve his body, and there is as much danger of reducing his vitality and putting him at a disadvantage in his lifework in the one as in the other form of deprivation.
There was a time when it was felt that shelter, clothing, food and physical oversight comprised the whole duty of a charitable institution to dependent children; to-day no community would permit such an institution to exist unless it provided school privileges. An acute sense of responsibility toward children is one of the prime characteristics of American society, shown in the vast expenditures for public education in all forms, in the increasing attention paid to light, ventilation, and safety in school buildings, in the opening of play grounds in large cities, in physical supervision of children in schools, and the agitation against the employment of children in factories, and in other and less obvious ways.
Children are helpless to protect themselves and secure what they need for health of body and mind; they are exceedingly impressionable; and the future is always in their hands. The first and most imperative duty of parents is to give their children the best attainable preparation for life, no matter at what sacrifice to themselves. There are hosts of fathers and mothers who recognize this obligation but do not know how to discharge it; who are eager to give their children the most wholesome conditions, but do not know how to secure them; who are especially anxious that their children should start early and start right on that highway of education which is the open road to honorable success. There are many homes in which books would find abundant room if the heads of the families knew what books to buy, or had the means to put into the hands of the growing child the reading matter it needs in the successive periods of its growth.
This condition of eagerness to give the best, and of ignorance of how or where to find the best is the justification for the publication of this set of books. The attempt has been made in a series of twelve volumes to bring together in convenient form the fairy stories, myths, and legends which have fed the children of many generations in the years when the imagination is awakening and craving stimulus and material to work upon;—that age of myth-making which is a prelude to the more scientific uses of the mind and of immense importance in an intensely practical age;—a group of tales of standard quality and an interest and value which have placed them among the permanent possessions of English literature.
A careful selection of stories of animal life; a natural history, familiar in style and thoroughly trustworthy in fact; an account of those travels and adventures which have opened up the earth and made its resources available, and which constitute one of the most heroic chapters in the history of the long struggle of men to possess the earth and make it a home for the highest kind of civilization; a record of heroism taken from the annals of the patriots and of those brave men who, in all ages, ranks of society and occupations, have dared to face great dangers in the path of duty and science, with special attention to that everyday heroism in which the age is specially rich and of which so many good people are grossly ignorant; a survey of scientific achievement, with reports of recent discoveries in knowledge and adaptation of knowledge to human need; a group of biographies of the men and women—mostly Americans—who are the most stimulating companions for boys and girls; a volume on the Fine Arts dealing with music, painting, sculpture, architecture, in a way to instruct young readers and making accessible a large number of those songs which appeal in the best way to children in schools and homes; a collection of the best poetry for the youngest and oldest readers, chosen not only for excellence from the standpoint of art, but deep and abiding human interest; and a volume devoted to the occupations and resources of the home, addressed to parents no less than to children, with practical suggestions about books and reading, games and amusements, exercise and health, and those kindred topics which have to do with making the home wholesome and attractive.
These twelve volumes aim, in brief, to make the home the most inspiring school and the most attractive place for pleasure, and to bring the best the world has to offer of adventure, heroism, achievement and beauty within its four walls.
Special attention has been given to the youngest children whose interests are often neglected because they are thought to be too immature to receive serious impressions from what is read to them. Psychology is beginning to make us understand that no greater mistake can be made in the education of children than underrating the importance of the years when the soil receives the seed most quickly. For education of the deepest sort—the planting of those formative ideas which give final direction and quality to the intellectual life—there is no period so important as the years between three and six, and none so fruitful. To put in the seed at that time is, as a rule, to decide the kind of harvest the child will reap later; whether he shall be a shrewd, keen, clever, ambitious man, with a hard, mechanical mind, bent on getting the best of the world; or a generous, fruitful, open-minded man, intent on living the fullest life in mind and heart. No apology is offered for giving large space to myths, legends, fairy stories, tales of all sorts, and to poetry; for in these expressions of the creative mind is to be found the material on which the imagination has fed in every age and which is, for the most part, conspicuously absent from our educational programmes.
America has at present greater facility in producing “smart” men than in producing able men; the alert, quick-witted, money-maker abounds, but the men who live with ideas, who care for the principles of things, and who make life rich in resource and interest are comparatively few. America needs poetry more than it needs industrial training; though the two ought never to be separated. The time to awaken the imagination, which is the creative faculty, is early childhood; and the most accessible material for this education is the literature which the race created in its childhood. The creative man, whether in the arts or in practical affairs, in poetry, in engineering or in business, is always the man of imagination.
In this library for young people the attempt has been made not only to give the child what it needs but in the form which is most easily understood. For this reason some well-known stories have been retold in simpler English than their classic forms present. This is especially true of many tales for any young children reprinted by special arrangement from recent English sources. In some cases, where the substance has seemed of more importance to the child than the form, simpler words and forms of expression have been substituted for more complex or abstract phrases, and passages of minor importance have been condensed or omitted.
The aim in making the selections in this set of books has been to interest the child and give it what it needs for normal growth; the material has been taken from many sources old and new; much of the reading matter presented has been familiar in one form or another, to generations of children; much has appeared for the first time within the last ten years; a considerable part has been prepared especially for the Treasury and a large part has been selected from the best writing in the various fields.
It is the hope of the Editor that this “Treasury” or “Library” will justify its title by its real and fundamental service to children and parents alike.