Monday, August 6, 2007

Introducing Children to Chesterton

"Introducing Children to G.K. Chesterton" by Nancy Carpentier Brown
Reprinted with Permission from the Catholic Home Educator, Winter 2003, Vol. 10, No. 1 pgs. 11-14

“Daybreak is a never-ending glory; getting out of bed is a never-ending nuisance.”

So said the great English writer, G.K. Chesterton. As soon as I read this, I knew I liked Chesterton, and after reading some of his work, I wished I could be his friend.

Chesterton was born in 1874 and died in 1936. He left behind 100 books, 200 short stories, five plays, the Father Brown mysteries, five novels, and over 4000 columns from the newspapers he wrote for. His writings are enjoying a revival today because of their importance to our current times. Chesterton stood for truth, family, virtues, home, chivalry, honesty and importantly, defended the Catholic Church.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton loved children, and the feeling was mutual. Chesterton retained a child-like quality all his life. He was interested in all subjects, saw each day as a new miracle, and kept a sense of wonder and awe for the world and its Creator. Children have the same sense of awe and wonder, because for them, the whole world is new. When a child sees his first butterfly, he is amazed. Chesterton identified with a child’s ability to look at life as ever new, he loved stories about triumph, valor, glorious battles where the victors were always on the side of right and good. He was witty and quickly gained the confidence of his young friends. He played with them, he listened to them, and he loved them.

So, what can you do if you’d like to introduce your younger children to Chesterton? I found that although Chesterton played with children, wrote stories, plays, poems and songs, and even put on puppet plays for children, most of his writing for children was private correspondence, remaining unpublished to this day. So what can we do?

I would suggest a few possibilities. First of all, we should be reading G.K. Chesterton ourselves, as home schooling parents. Chesterton’s defense of home, motherhood, education in the home and the value of children should be required reading for us. For helpful suggestions on a reading plan, see the American Chesterton Society’s web site, or request their catalog. The aim of the American Chesterton Society is to promote and encourage a revival of Chesterton’s work in the home, the school, and the university. The Chesterton Society has a tremendously helpful website, with many interesting articles. Next, begin to talk about Chesterton at home with your children. Tell them about the Chesterton book you are currently reading, and why you find it enjoyable. Read them quotes you find amusing, and see if they understand the joke. If your children have entered the age where they like mysteries, tell them about Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries. For a child’s introduction to Father Brown, I would suggest the audiotape, by Jim Weiss, called Mystery! Mystery! There are three mystery stories on the tape, one of which is The Blue Cross, by Chesterton. It is done very well. (See below.)

A movie was made long ago of the same story about the valuable cross. The movie was called The Detective and is in glorious black and white. There is no violence, no morally objectionable scenes, and the bad guy ends up converting in the end! In the movie, Alec Guinness plays Father Brown. Many of you will have heard the now-famous story about Mr. Guinness’ conversion, due to his wearing the priestly costume when this story was filmed. My 6 and 10 year olds enjoyed this movie with me. The video of this film can be found at your libraries or video rental facilities, at your local Catholic bookstore, or through Ignatius Press.

Once, while visiting a major Catholic University’s bookstore, I looked in vain for any book written by G.K. Chesterton. The clerk, who searched the computer inventory for me, informed me that not one of Chesterton’s books was available at that bookstore. I found that sad. So I was glad to find Chesterton’s name in the Kolbe curriculum, the teens are introduced to Chesterton in the 12th grade, when they will read Orthodoxy.

The novels of Chesterton are, in my opinion, for the older teen and adults only. They are difficult to understand and need a more mature mind to appreciate the depth and mystery of the stories. However, I have introduced my children to A Man Called Thursday, by telling them about the funny names, and briefly outlining the story for them.

The essays of G.K. Chesterton are also for the older teen. His conversion to the Catholic Church and other Catholic defense essays, such as “Why I am Catholic,” “The Well and the Shallows,” etc., are excellent reading materials for the older teen/adult. For the younger child, you may just want to tell them that Chesterton became a Catholic when he was 48.

If your child is in that phase where he is enamored with the idea of having a club or group of some sort, it is the perfect time to tell him about Chesterton’s Junior Debate Club. Chesterton and about ten other friends formed the club to exercise their minds and try out new ideas. Their club branched out and they eventually had a library, a naturalists’ club, a chess club and a magazine to publish their own works. Children can relate to the desire to form a group and perhaps they will be inspired to form their own Junior Debate Club.

Children are also interested to know that Chesterton loved St. Francis of Assisi, and chose him as his Confirmation patron saint. Chesterton’s love of St. Francis began when he was very young, and his parents read him a book about the life of St. Francis. The love he had for the saint was life-long. It is encouraging as a parent, too, to hear a story like this. We never know what book we’ve read to our children that may have a long-lasting effect on their life. But we should keep in mind that it should be a good book that we do read to them!

So even though G. K. Chesterton doesn’t have books specifically written for children, I would strongly recommend introducing your children to him now, while they are young. As they grow, add more of his work. If they do come to know and love Chesterton when they are young, they will certainly want to read his books as they mature. Reading Chesterton and his clear thinking, his love of truth and the Catholic faith is encouraging to adults as well as to older teens. Many people have never read Chesterton and to them, may I say, it’s time to begin! Chesterton’s writing is funny, encouraging, and truthful. You will find yourself saying, “Yes! That’s exactly what I was thinking!”

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it’s been found difficult, and left untried.”

“If there were no God, there would be no atheists.”

“The only defensible war is a war of defense.”

“Angels fly because they take themselves lightly.”

“The truth is the modern world has had a mental breakdown.”

“I actually prefer weddings to divorces, and babies to Birth Control.”

“They talk of free love, when they mean something quite different, better defined as free lust."

“They insist on talking about Birth Control when they mean less birth and no control.”

“To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.”

“Break the conventions: keep the commandments.”


American Chesterton Society
4117 Pebblebrook Cir.
inneapolis, MN 55437

Excellent source for books, videos, audio tapes of Chesterton’s books, Chesterton gift items, etc.

Ignatius Press
P.O. Box 1339
Ft. Collins, CO 80522

Ignatius publishes a number of books by and about Chesterton, including anthologies of his writing, audio and video tapes, and a new book by Dale Ahlquist, G.K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense.

Gilbert! magazine
3050 Gap Knob Road
New Hope, KY 40053
(800) 343-2425

Their web site also includes Chesterton T-shirts and other items.

Jim Weiss, Storyteller tapes
Greathall Productions, Inc.
P.O. Box 5061
Charlottesville, VA 22905

Dramatizations of Father Brown stories.

Nancy Brown writes from Antioch, Illinois. She has been homeschooling her two daughters for 8 years. She blogs at Flying Stars

1 comment:

Rachel said...

Great quotes! I chuckled to myself out loud.