Thursday, 24 March 2016

Quality of Written English/ Swiss Family Robinson

Have you ever noticed how the standard of English in childrens' books has declined over the past 50 years? We have many Ladybird books from the 1960s, where a rich and diverse vocabulary is employed to describe the world around us, important characters from history and a range of other topics. We have some more recent Ladybird books which are verge on the 'twaddle' so much detested by Charlotte Mason - poor quality English, restricted vocabulary and minimal content. This is just one publisher and one example. Is it any wonder that children then have a limited vocabulary and do not naturally develop the expansive skills in written and spoken English that we would require? I have had many trips to the public libraries in the UK, and have been disappointed by the selection, or frustrated by the inane, senseless storylines of some of the books, particularly those aimed at younger children.

This weekend I picked up a copy of The Swiss Family Robinson and started to read it aloud (we try to have a book that we read together as a family). I had read it as a child, but what really struck me reading it as an home educating parent was the richness of the language and the very practical descriptions of how one might survive on a desert island. The father in the story is also clearly a spiritual leader, and each day begins and ends with prayers of thanksgiving, and at intervals he corrects the wrong attitudes of his sons. I was intrigued by this, so read a bit further (using web searches). In fact the author was a Swiss pastor who wrote the story for his sons, deliberately seeking to provide practical lessons in nature and animal husbandry, but also in moral conduct and family responsibilities. Written over 200 years ago, and translated into English a little later, the language is beautiful and poetic, and my sons are captivated.

I just wanted to share this, as it was most refreshing to pick up a book which contains just about everything you could want for three young boys - adventure, survival, practical skills and ingenuity, but underpinning it all, a reverence and honour of the Lord who created it all.

PS: Just read this helpful blog on how to choose the best books for your children


  1. Thank you for reminding me about Swiss Family Robinson.

    Beatrix Potter has wonderful vocabulary. I loved reading her books aloud partly because of the richness of the words.

    There are some gems amongst modern books just as there was much trash among older books but thankfully, much of it hasn't survived. I've been reading children's books, for a book club and have had to reject some older books because of racist attitudes as well as modern books for other reasons.

  2. Thanks Sarah - yes, I'm sure that is the case! I haven't come across any downright racist attitudes in anything we've read yet, but sometimes quaint terms are used such as 'negros', or references to slaves. I use these as discussion points, about how some things were considered acceptable even (or especially) among respectable people. The boys find it absolutely incredible that the slave trade, or apartheid, or segregation ever happened, and don't understand the concept of racism. I want them to realise that these ugly things have and will likely happen, but I would not want to read a book where these attitudes were prevailing or condoned. If there are any likely culprits to avoid, please let me know!

    1. Hi Kondwani,
      The book that I rejected was Bush Maid by Mary Grant Bruce. It seemed to assume that native Australians were there to serve. There are plenty of better books out there!