real “doll houses.” A member of the staff devised and cleverly executed the idea of representing the early settlers by six colonial types, viz., the Spanish, French, Cavalier, Dutch, New England and Quaker types. Some of the special scenes illustrated are labelled “Priest and soldier plan a new mission,” “Indians selling furs to Dutch trader at Fort Orange” and “The minister calls on the family.”
The study of geography is aided by means of small models of miniature homes of primitive peoples; as for instance, an Eskimo village with its snow igloos, the tents of the Labrador Eskimos, the permanent home of the Northwestern Eskimos, and the houses and “totem poles” of the Haida Indians. Some of the more civilized nations are typified by a “Lumber camp in a temperate zone,” and by a series of “Dolls dressed in national costumes.”
The library of the Children’s Museum now numbers about six thousand volumes, and, contrary to the general impression, is not composed entirely of children’s books, but of a careful selection of the best recent books upon natural history in the broadest use of the terms. The range is from the simplest readers to technical manuals.
The library is thus unique in its way, supplementing the work of the museum in various ways, such as the following:
1. Providing books of information for the museum staff in describing the collections, and preparing lectures for children.
2. Furnishing information to visitors about specimens models or pictures in the museum, and giving opportunity to study the collections with the direct aid of books.
3. Offering carefully chosen books on almost all the subjects of school work, thus forming a valuable “School reference library,” at the same time showing parents and teachers the most helpful and attractive nature books to aid them in selecting such as best suit the needs and tastes of children or students.
Although it is not a circulating library (for many of the books need to be on call for immediate use), there are, of course, many interesting stories of heroes, scientists, explorers, statesmen, and other great leaders among men, of great events in history, of child life in different countries, of birds and animals, and the great “world of outdoors.” A constant effort is made to foster a reading habit in the children, even though the time for reading is very limited. Last summer some simple bookmarks were printed, by the use of which many children have been encouraged to read books continuously. The reverse side of some of the bookmarks show that individual children have read eight or ten books through recently.
In place of the “Story hour” which is so popular in children’s libraries, the Children’s Museum provides daily half-hour talks, illustrated by lantern slides, which are given in the lecture room. The subjects are selected with relation to the school program, and include a variety of nature topics, the geography of different countries, history and astronomy. Twice a week a lecture is given on elementary science, and is illustrated by experiments.
On some of the holidays such as Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays the lecture is naturally devoted to the national hero, whose birthday is thus commemorated. This year there were so many children who wanted to learn about Washington that the lecture was given nine times during the day. On Lincoln’s birthday there were several repetitions of the lecture, and the library was thronged with readers all day, at least one hundred children reading stories about him. The children looked with interest at the picture bulletins, comparing the pictures with those they had seen in the lecture. Hundreds of patriotic poems were copied during the month, the number being limited only by lack of space and writing materials.
During the March vacation there were so many visitors that special lectures were given each day upon some subject pertaining to nature. It is proposed this season to give additional special lectures appropriate for “Arbor day” and “Bird day,” and probably one with relation to the “Protection of animals.”
Lectures are occasionally given for the benefit of Mothers’ Clubs, and members of the clubs accompanied by their children are shown the objects of interest in the museum. The library is also visited, and picture bulletins and books are enjoyed by mothers and children together. Last winter several Nature books were loaned for a special exhibit of Christmas books, which was arranged for a regular meeting of the Mothers’ Club at a neighboring school.
A part of the museum equipment of especial benefit to boys in high schools is the wireless telegraph station, which was set up and is kept in working order by boys. It furnishes a good field for experimenting in sending and receiving wireless messages, and a good many boys have become so proficient that they have been able to accept positions as wireless operators on steamers during summer vacations.
The museum has considerable loan material, consisting of stuffed birds, boxes containing the life histories of common butterflies and moths, also minerals, charts, etc., which are loaned to public and private schools whenever desired.
The question is frequently asked “What influence does the museum exert on the minds of growing children?” “Does it really increase their powers of observation and broaden their horizon?” The relation between the members of the staff and many children becomes quite intimate, and although all attendance is entirely voluntary, it is often continued with brief interruptions for several years.
The experience of one young man may be cited to demonstrate how the advantages offered by the museum are put to definite use, while friendly relations continue for a period of years. When quite a small boy, a frequent visitor became interested in collecting butterflies and moths, learning how to mount them carefully, and using our books to help identify his finds. As he grew older, he commenced experimenting in a small way in wireless telegraphy, inviting the members of the staff, separately, to go to the basement and listen to the clicking of his little instrument, which was the beginning of successful work in that direction. Throughout his high school course he continued to experiment along wireless lines, doing very creditable work. Upon his graduation, he received an appointment as wireless operator on a steamer. In this capacity he has visited several of the Southern states, Porto Rico, Venezuela, and portions of Europe. He has improved his opportunities for collecting while on his various trips, as a creditable little exhibit, called the “Austen M. Curtis Collection of Butterflies and Moths” in the Children’s Museum, will testify.
Some definite advantages gained in another field are worthy of mention. Last summer one of the high school boys commenced during the vacation to read all he could about astronomy; as the summer advanced, another boy became interested in the subject also, especially in the study of the constellations. Diagrams and star maps were carefully made and the names of all the important stars noted. In the fall a little club of eight or ten boys was formed. The members meet almost every pleasant evening at the home of the founder of the club and make use of two telescopes which have been secured to the roof. (Incidentally, may we add, that one of the boys with considerable pride recently showed the books on astronomy in the library to his aunt who was visiting from another city.) No astronomy is at present included in the public school course, with the exception of a little elementary study in the grammar school, so that an opportunity is here provided to supplement school work.
Children frequently make long visits, sometimes spending the greater part of a day, and bringing their luncheon with them to eat in the park. Sometimes whole families come together, father or mother, or both, accompanying the children. Frequently the little “mother” of the family who is having temporary care of four or five little ones, is not much larger than her little charges, and yet is anxious to read some of the books. Under such conditions, when the little folks become too restless to remain longer in the library or museum, the privilege of reading in the park is occasionally permitted, the book being returned to the library before leaving for their homes.
The publication of a monthly paper was started in 1902 as a means of communication with the general public and especially with schools. In April, 1905, the Children’s Museum united with the larger Museum of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, in publishing the Museum News. This journal is sent not only to every public and private school in Brooklyn, but to every museum in this country and abroad; to every library in Brooklyn, and to libraries generally throughout the country.
An excellent “Guide to the trees in Bedford Park” has been printed in a separate leaflet, being at first a contribution to the Museum News. It may be noted here that a series of lectures upon Trees will be given at the Children’s museum commencing April 11th by Mr. J. J. Levison, arboriculturist, the author of the “Guide”; and that a fine collection of the best tree books may always be consulted in the library.
In connection with the “Hudson-Fulton Celebration” in the fall of 1909, a handsome “Catalogue of the historical collection and objects of related interest at the Children’s Museum” was prepared by Miss Agnes E. Bowen. It furnishes a concise outline of American history, is printed in attractive form, and illustrated by photographs of the historical groups already mentioned. Special picture bulletins were also exhibited in both museum and library, and objects having relation to Hudson and Fulton and their times were indicated by a neat little flag. It is perhaps needless to add that many teachers and children found great assistance by consulting the “Hudson-Fulton Bookshelf,” and that the museum exhibit was very attractive to the general public.
The library has prepared various short lists from time to time whenever needed, but has thus far printed only one. This was prepared at the request of the Supervisor of Nature Study in the Vacation Schools of Greater New York, and is a short annotated list entitled “Some books upon nature study in the Children’s Museum Library.” The list will be sent free to any librarian or teacher upon application.
The Children’s Museum is open daily throughout the year, the hours on weekdays being from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and from 2 to 5:30 p.m. on Sundays. The library is open on the same hours as the museum with few exceptions, such as Thanksgiving Day, Christmas, and the Fourth of July, and Sunday afternoons during the summer, from June 15th to September 15th.
To sum up, the Children’s Museum constantly suggests the added pleasure given to each child’s life by cultivating his powers of observation, and stimulating his love of the beautiful in nature by means of attractive exhibits, half-hour talks, and familiar chats with groups of children. The library calls attention of individual children and classes to the flowers, birds and trees through its picture bulletins and numerous books; and children are urged to visit the Aquarium, the Zoological Gardens at Bronx Park, and see the natural beauties of Forest Park, whenever opportunity offers.
WORK WITH CHILDREN AT THE COLORED BRANCH OF THE LOUISVILLE FREE PUBLIC LIBRARY
Many of the generally accepted methods of children’s libraries have been adapted to work with colored children, whose particular interests are described in the following article by Mrs. Rachel D. Harris, contributed to the Library Journal for April, 1910.
Mrs. Rachel D. Harris was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1869, and was graduated from the Colored High School in 1885. She taught in the public schools for fifteen years, and was appointed assistant in the Colored Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library when it was opened in 1905. At the time this article was written she was in charge of the library work with colored children.
About five years ago, when it was proposed to establish a branch for colored people, it was regarded apprehensively by both sides. We knew our people not to be a reading people, and while we were hopeful that the plan would be a success, we wondered whether or not the money and energy expended in projecting such an enterprise might not be put to some other purpose, whereby a good result could be more positively assured.
The branch, however, was opened in the early part of the autumn of 1905, in temporary quarters–three rooms of the lower floor of the residence of one of our own people. We began with 1,400 books, to which have been added regularly, until now we have 7,533 volumes on the shelves of our new building, which we have occupied since October, 1908.
The problem at first which confronted us was: How to get our people to read and at the same time to read only the best. We used in a modest way the plans of work already followed by successful libraries–the story-hour, boys’ and girls’ clubs, bulletins, visits to the schools, and public addresses.
A group of boys from 9 to 14 years of age, who visited our rooms frequently, was organized into the Boys’ Reading Club. Their number increased to 27 earnest, faithful little fellows, who were rather regular in attendance. They met Friday afternoon of each week, elected their own officers, appointed their own committee on preparation of a course of reading for the term, the children’s librarian always being a member of each committee appointed. There were only a few boys in this number who had read any book “all the way through,” except their school books.
The first rule made for the club was, that at roll-call each boy should respond by giving the title, author and a short synopsis of the book read the preceding week. This proved to be the most interesting part of the meeting, and was placed first on the program to insure prompt attendance. Often the entire period was taken up with the roll-call, the boys often calling for the entire story of a book, the synopsis of which appealed to them. This method was thought to be a good way to get the boys interested in the books on our shelves.
Our first course in reading was Lamb’s “Tales from Shakespeare.” Much profit was derived from the discussion brought about by assigning each character to a different boy and having him give his opinion of the same. We modified the program to include several debates during the term, using the “Debater’s Treasury” for topics. The following year we read the plays “Merchant of Venice,” “Macbeth,” “Midsummer night’s dream.”
A large per cent of this first club are still patrons of the library. Six of the original number are now in college, and most of those remaining are connected with the Boys’ Debating Club.
Shortly after the organization of the Boys’ Club the girls of the sixth, seventh and eighth grades insisted upon having a club, and a Girls’ History Club was organized with about 30 girls.
At the urgent request of some pupils of the freshman and sophomore classes of the High School a club was formed for them, and also one for the members of the junior and senior classes for the study of mythology. Very few of the members of any of these clubs had read much beyond their class books and the same general plan was followed in each, with the result that the library has been successful in creating a love for the reading of books that are worth while.
The story-hour has outgrown itself and our limited supply of assistants. We started with a very small group of little folks, and now we tell stories to between 150 and 180 children each week in our building. The story-hour begins at 3 p.m., and children who are dismissed at 1:30 p.m., come directly from school and wait patiently till the children’s librarian returns from her station work at 3 p.m. The majority of our children have never had stories told to them, their parents being compelled to work out from home all day, and during the evening they have not the time, though they may have the stories to tell, and the little ones have been deprived of every child’s birthright–a generous supply of good stories. Boys and girls from the High School have begged for permission to come to the story-hour, and have come from long distances to hear the stories and enjoy them as much as the younger ones do.
Last year when we decided to tell stories from English history to this mixed group of little folks we felt that probably the stories would not be received with the same interest as were the stories of the previous year. Strange to say, these stories appealed keenly to the children, and our number increased weekly and interest did not wane. Many copies of English histories were placed on our shelves, and these were eagerly read. Even now it is difficult to find an English history in our children’s room.
A remarkable feature of the work at our branch is the small amount of fiction read, only 45 per cent. We had a decided advantage here, because our children had never learned to read fiction. Having read but very little, their power of concentration was small, and the book that contained a story that “went all the way through” did not appeal to them. Their great regard for “teacher’s” opinion helped us at the library to please them by giving them non-fiction. For instance, when the boys came, as most boys do, with a request for a story about Indians, we gave them Grinnell’s “Story of the Indian,” or Wade’s “Ten Big Indians,” the binding and high sounding title of which would attract them, and they would find their way to the shelf where the Indian books were and would read nearly all we had there. They were then prepared to thoroughly enjoy our Indian stories in fiction.
Ours is an emotional race, and as religion appeals much to this element in our nature, our parents have always been church- goers, and the reverence for sacred things which our children manifest is inherent. Therefore it is no cause for wonder that the stories of the Old and New Testament find children anxious to read them.
Our children read more biography than would be supposed. That book that will tell them about a boy who, though poor and otherwise handicapped, struggled, overcame and became famous, appeals to them; therefore “Poor boys’ chances” and Bolton’s “Poor boys who became famous” are called for constantly. There are few of our boys and girls who will not gladly take a copy of the life of Abraham Lincoln, or Booker T. Washington and read them over and over, their parents often having them read the same to them also. The self-made element in the lives of these men strikes a responsive chord in the hearts of our young people. They are easily led from the lives of these to the life of Napoleon, Edison, Washington and others.
During the school months the tables of our reference room are usually crowded. The pupils of the High School, near by, often deluge us, after the closing of school, with anxious requests for information on every topic from “the best mode of pastry making to Halley’s comet.”
The Library Board has been generous in granting our request for more and more books. Our supply, however, is still far too small for the demand made upon it, our circulation having increased from 17,838 to 55,088 for the present year. We have two library stations and 35 class room collections, all demanding more books.
When we look back now at the time of our beginning we see that our fears were unfounded. Our people needed only an opportunity and encouragement. The success of the branch has exceeded the hope of the most sanguine of those interested in its organization, and we feel justly proud of the results attained.
THE FOREIGN CHILD AT A ST. LOUIS BRANCH
Present-day conditions in a branch library in a crowded district of a large city are pictured in the last paper to be included in this compilation, with special emphasis on the necessity of understanding the traditions and customs of foreign peoples in order to know how to appeal to them. It was read by Miss Josephine M. McPike before the meeting of the Missouri Library Association at Joplin, Missouri, in October, 1915.
Josephine Mary McPike was born in Alton, Illinois, and studied in Shurtleff College, Upper Alton, and in the University of Illinois. She became a member of the staff of the St. Louis Public Library in 1909. In February, 1917, she resigned from the position of First Assistant at the Crunden Branch to become the librarian of the Seven Corners Branch of the Minneapolis Public Library.
Crunden branch is the kind of place, the thought of which makes you glad to get up in the morning. It is an institution a state of mind. And as we workers there feel, so do the people in the neighborhood. We have heard over and over again the almost worn-out appellation “The people’s university”; Crunden has a different place in the thoughts of its users. It is really the living-room of our neighborhood–the place where, the dishes having been washed and the apron hung up, we naturally retire to read and to muse.
True, it is a large family foregathered in this living-room of ours, much greater in number than the chairs for them to sit upon, but, as in all large families, there is much giving and taking. In the children’s room, crowded to overflowing, the Jewish child sits next to the Irish, and the Italian and the Polish child read from the same book. Children of all ages; babes from two and a half years to boys of twenty who spend their days in the factory, and are still reading “Robinson Crusoe” and the “Merry adventures of Robin Hood.” There too, sometimes comes the mother but lately arrived from the “Old Country,” wearing her brightly colored native costume. Unable to read or to write, she feels more at home here with the children whom she understands, and beams proudly to see her little “Izzey” reading “Child life” or “Summers’ reader.”
Some social workers report that their greatest difficulty in dealing with the children of the tenement district is absolute lack of the play spirit. Our observations have been quite to the contrary; in all of the children there is a fresh and healthy play- fulness–indeed, we feel at times that it is much too healthy. Our constant attendance is needed to satisfy them all, insatiable little readers that they are.
But the question of discipline becomes a real problem only in dealing with the mass spirit of the gang. There is one more or less notorious gang in the neighborhood which is known as the “Forty Thieves.” To gain admittance into this friendly crowd it is necessary for the applicant to prove to the full satisfaction of the leaders that he has stolen something. En masse they storm into the children’s room, in a spirit of bravado. We gradually come to realize that at such a time as this the library smile–that much used and abused smile–touches some of the boys not at all, and the voice of authority and often the arm of strength are the only effective methods. We believe that we have found a most satisfactory way of meeting this situation. The children’s librarian induces all of the older boys to come down stairs to a separate room and for a half hour tells them tales of adventure and chivalry, thus quieting the children’s room and directing the energy of the boys into more peaceful channels. This story in the evening takes the place of the story hour for older children during the daytime, which on account of the scarcity of boys and girls of suitable age has been discontinued.
The younger children still have their fairy stories told them, and there, ever and anon, the frank spirit of the family manifests itself. That child who all through one story hour sat weaving back and forth muttering to herself, and when pressed for an explanation, remarked that she “was counting ’til you’re done”–is a happy and independent contrast to the usually emotional type that embraces and bids its indescribably dirty and garlic tainted little brothers–“Kiss teacher for the nice story.”
The young library assistant comes to Crunden branch graciously to teach–she stays humbly to learn. Full of new theories and with a desire to uplift–a really sincere desire–she finds in a short time much to uplift her own spirit. Since ours is a polygot neighborhood consisting mostly of Russians, Jews, Poles, and Italians, with a light sprinkling of Irish, it brings us into contact with such different temperaments that before we can attempt to satisfy them we must needs go to school to them. We know to some extent the life of our American child and with a little thought we can usually find the way best to appeal to him. But the peoples who have come from across the water have brought with them their traditions and their customs, and have each their own point of view; and it is with these traditions and customs that we must become familiar and sympathetic in order to understand the little strangers. There is the eager, often fearful Jewish child; the slower, stolid Pole; the impulsive Italian; each must be approached from a different angle and each with a different inducement. At first this task is rather appalling, but gradually it becomes so interesting that from trying to learn from the child in the library we listen to the mother in the home, and often to the father from the factory; and from these gleanings of their life in the home and their habits of thought we try to understand the nature of the strange child and grope about for what he most needs and how to make the greatest appeal to him.
In the last two or three years the children’s librarian has herself gone after each book long overdue, and with each visit she has seized the opportunity not only to recover the book, but to become acquainted with the mother and to gain her often reluctant confidence. Most of the readers live in tenements, many of which open into one common yard. The appearance of the library assistant usually causes much commotion, and she is received often not only by the mother of the negligent child but also the mothers of several other children as well–and, the center of a friendly group, she holds conversation with them. By this time the library assistant is well known in the neighborhood, and unlike the collector and the curious social uplifter who are often treated with sullenness and defiance, she receives every consideration and assistance. Now at Yom Kipper, Rosh Hashana, Pasach and other holidays, we are invited to break matzos and eat rare native dishes with the families of the children. We find the home visit invaluable. The Jewish, the Italian, and even the Polish mother gains confidence in us, tells us all the family details–and feels finally that we are fit persons to whom she may entrust her children.
Probably our most attractive-looking child is the Italian, a swarthy-skinned little creature, with softly curved cheeks, liquid brown eyes and seraphic expression–that seraphic expression which is so convincing and withal so misleading. Child of the sun that he is, his greatest ambition in life is to lie undisturbed in the heat of the day and so be content. He has learned to take nothing seriously, the word “responsibility” has no meaning for him. Nor has the word “truth.” With his vivid imagination he handles it with the lightest manner in the world, he adds, he expands, he takes away in the most sincere fashion, looking at you all the while with babyish innocence. He is bewildering! His large brown eyes are veritable symbols of truth; to doubt him fills you with shame. I say he is bewildering; never so much so as when, for no apparent reason, he changes his tactics, and with the same sweet confidence absolutely reverses his former statements. What can we do with him? There seems to be no appeal we can make. He swears by the Madonna! He raises his eyes to Heaven, and when he finally makes his near- true statement, he is filled with such confessional fervor that to reward him seems to be the only logical course left. He is certainly a child of nature, but of a nature so quixotic that we are non-plussed.
To many of our dark-skinned little friends “Home” originally was the little island across from the toe of Italy. These are, I fear, somewhat scorned by the ones whose homes nestled within the confines of the boot itself. We know how many refugees fled to that little spot in the water, and that dark indeed have been the careers of some of them. Whether the hunted feeling of their fathers of generations back still lurks in these young Sicilians, I do not know, but certainly their first impulse is one of defense. At the simplest question there appears suddenly, even in the smallest child, the defiant flash of the dark eyes and the sullen setting of the mouth. The question–what does your father do?–or, what is your mother’s name?–arouses their ever-smoldering suspicion, and more than likely their quick rejoinder will be–“What’s it to you?” When we explain impersonally that it is very much to us if they are to read our books, and that after all to reveal their mother’s name will be no very damaging admission, the cloud blows over and there is no more trace of the little storm when they indifferently give us all the details we wish. So sudden are their changes and moods, so violent their little outbursts, that we must needs be on the qui vive in our dealings with them. But yet they are so lovable that we can never be vexed with them for long.
It cannot be far amiss to put into this paper a picturesque Sicilian woman who has grown old in years but is still a child in spirit. She loves a fairy story as much as she did sixty years ago, and listens with the same breathless credulity. One night about twilight as I sat on the front steps with her and several little Italian children, listening to her tales of the old home country, there came a silence in our little group. Suddenly Angel Licavoli asked, “Teacher, what is God like?” With a feeling that our friend of riper experience could give us more satisfaction, I repeated the question to her. Her sweet old face surrounded by the white curls was a study in simple faith as she assured us, “Maybe She is like the holy pictures.”
When I approach the subject of the Russian Jew, I do it with a great humbleness and fear lest I do not do it justice. So much have they had to overcome, and such tenacity and perseverance have they shown in overcoming it! Straight from the Pales of Kief, Ketchinoff, and Odessa they come to settle in the nearest to a pale we have to offer. Great has been their poverty; a long-standing terror with them, and along with it in many cases, persecution, starvation, and social ostracism. Poverty in all but spirit and mind. The great leveler to them is education, and it is no uncommon thing for the Jewish father to sacrifice himself in order to better his son, to take upon himself that greatest of sacrifices, daily grind and deprivation. Not only this generation, but the one before and the one before that. They cannot keep up such a white-hot search for learning without sooner or later finding out what is wisdom–real wisdom. Stripped of all but bare necessities, they come to possess a sense of value that is remarkably true. We come into contact then with the offspring of such conditions, simple and direct in manner and having a passionate impersonal curiosity. Always asking, searching for the real things, eager for that which will render them impervious to their sordid surroundings, they have thrown aside all superfluous mannerisms and get easily to the heart of things. Accustomed to the greatest repression, and exclusion from all schools and institutions of the sort, the free access to so many books is an endless joy to them. They browse among the shelves lovingly, and instinctively read the best we have to offer. Tales from the ancient Hebrews, history, travel –these are the books they take. But what they read most gladly is biography. It is just as difficult to find a life of Lincoln on the shelves as it is to find an Altsheler–and of comparisons is that not the strongest? Heroes of all sorts attract the Jewish child, heroes in battles, statesmen and leaders in adventure, conquest, business. If a hero is also a martyr, their delight knows no bounds.
We know now that we need be surprised at nothing; extreme cases have come at Crunden to be the average, if I may be permitted to be paradoxical. We were interested but not surprised when Sophie Polopinsk, a little girl but a short time from Russia, wheeled up the truck, climbed with great difficulty upon it and promptly lost herself in a volume of Tolstoi’s “Resurrection,” a volume almost as large as the small person herself, and formidable with its Russian characters. In telling you of Sol Flotkin I may be giving you the history of a dozen or so small Russian Jews who have come to Crunden. At the age of ten, Sol had read all of Gorki, Tolstoi, Turgenev and Dostoievski in the original and then devoured Hugo and Dumas in the language of his adoption. The library with Sol became an obsession. He was there waiting for the doors to open in the morning, and at nine o’clock at night we would find him on the adult side, probably behind the radiator, lost to us, but almost feverishly alive in his world of imagination that some great man had made so real for him. It was to Crunden branch that the truant officer came when the school authorities reported him absent from his place. It was there, too, his father came, imploring, “Could we not refuse Sol entrance?” The Door man demanded, did we know that at twelve and one o’clock at night he was often compelled to go out and find the boy, only to discover him crouched under the street light with a copy of “War and peace” lovingly upon his young knees? And there are many others like Sol. Is it not inspiring to the librarian to work with children who must be coaxed, not to read good books, but to desist from reading them?
Among the Jewish people the word “radical” is in high favor –it is the open sesame to their sympathy. For the ordinary layman, radicalism, for some unexplained reason, is associated with the words Socialism, Anarchism, etc. The deep dyed conservative, to whom comes the picture of flaunting red at the mention of the word, would be surprised to learn in what simple cases it is often used. We have, for instance, an organization meeting once a week under the head of the “Radical Jewish School.” When the secretary came to us for the first time we asked him what new theory they intended to work out. Their radical departure from custom consisted only in teaching to the children a working Yiddish in order that the Jewish mother might understand her amazingly American child, in order to lessen the tragedy of misunderstanding which looms large in a family of this sort. They are setting at defiance the old Jewish School which taught its children only a Hebrew taken from the Talmud, a more perfect but seldom used language. Not so terrifying that.
Children who are forced to forage for themselves from a very early age, as most of our youngsters are, develop while yet very young a sense of responsibility and a certain initiative seldom found in more tenderly nurtured children. It is the normal thing in the life of a girl in our neighborhood when she reaches the age of eight or nine years to have solely in her charge a younger brother or sister. When she jumps rope or plays jacks or tag she does it with as much joy as her sister of happier circumstances–but with a deftness foreign to the sheltered child she tucks away under her arm the baby, which after six weeks becomes almost a part of herself. Often we will fearfully exhort her to hold the baby’s back, etc. Invariably the child will smile indulgently at us, as at a likeable but irresponsible person, and change the position of the infant not one whit. She is really the mother, she feels, with a mother’s knowledge of what the baby needs; we are only nice library teachers. Their pride in the baby and their love for it sometimes even exceeds that of the mother who is forced to be so much away from the little ones. From five years of age the boys are expected to manage for themselves–to fight their own battles, literally–and to look out for themselves in general. Naturally they possess a self-reliance greater than other children of their age. We come into contact with this in the library in the child’s more or less independent choice of books and his free criticism–often remarkably keen– of the contents. Another place where the children show initiative is in the formation of clubs, which is a great diversion of theirs. Seldom does a week pass without a crowd of children coming to us petitioning for the use of one of the club rooms. Often these clubs are of short duration, but some of them have been in existence for years. Sometimes they are literary, sometimes purely social–but more often dramatic. In the dramatic club the children, starved for the brighter things of life–can pretend to their hearts’ content, and their keen imagination can make it all vividly realistic for them. They choose their own plays, draw the parts, make their costumes and carry out their own conception of the different roles. Astonishingly well they do it too. Is it any wonder that with their drab unhappy lives in mind, fairies and beautiful princesses figure largely? It seems to me that a singularly pathetic touch is the fact that yearly the “Merry Making Girls Club” spends weeks and weeks of preparation for an entertainment given for the benefit of the Pure Milk and Ice Fund for the poor babies of St. Louis, they themselves being the most liable to become beneficiaries of the fund.
A very small thing is sufficient to fire their imagination. The most trivial incident will suggest to them the formation of a club –a gilt crown, an attractive name, etc. An amusing instance has lately come up in this connection. Several boys of about thirteen or fourteen asked the use of one of the club rooms for the “Three C’s.” Very reticent they were about the nature of this organization. Finally amid rather embarrassed giggles the truth came out–a picture show in the neighborhood had distributed buttons bearing the picture and name of the popular favorite, which buttons were sufficient reason to form the “Charlie Chaplin Club.”
When we think of many foreigners of different nationality together, there comes to most of us from habit the idea first suggested by Mr. Zangwill of amalgamation. I think most of us at Crunden do not like to feel that our branch and others like it are melting pots; at any rate of a heat so fierce that it will melt away the national characteristics of each little stranger–so fierce that it will level all picturesqueness into deadly sameness. Rather, just of a glow so warm that it melts almost imperceptibly the racial hate and antagonism.