Transcript: Leland Jacobs on Children's Literature 1 | Jun 22, 1988

A man walks into a university auditorium as a crowd of students applauds.

A title reads “Leland Jacobs on Children’s Literature. Part 1.”

Jacobs walks up to a podium and faces the audience. He’s in his late seventies, clean-shaven, with white hair combed back. He’s wearing a dark gray suit, white shirt, and gray tie.

He says I SUPPOSE, LIKE ME, SOME
OF YOU HAD EXPERIENCES AS
UNDERGRADUATES WHERE IN
TERMS OF A COURSE YOU ONLY
REMEMBERED ONE THING.
JUST ONE THING STAYED WITH
YOU OUT OF THE WHOLE COURSE.
THAT WAS TRUE WITH TWO COURSES
WITH ME, ONE OF THEM WAS IN
TESTS, HOW TO GIVE TESTS.
THE WOMAN PUT ON -- GAVE US
TESTS AND THEN SHE PUT ON THE
BLACKBOARD ALL THOSE
FORMULAE, WHICH I COPIED, NOT
UNDERSTANDING A WORD, AND THEN
I WAS SO FRIGHTENED BY THE
COURSE THAT I TOOK AN
INCOMPLETE AND THEN WHAT WAS I
TO DO, HAVING AN INCOMPLETE?
THE TIME WAS GIVING OUT.
AND SO I COPIED ALL THE STUFF
I HAD WRITTEN IN THE NOTEBOOK
AND SENT IT TO HER AND SAID,
I THOUGHT THIS WAS FOR THE
COMPLETION OF MY WORK, AND SHE
GAVE ME A B, AND I WAS VERY
HAPPY TO HAVE IT.
BUT WHAT I LEARNED OUT OF THE
COURSE WAS, WHEN YOU'RE GIVING
A STANDARDIZED TEST, IT'S
PROBABLY WISE TO USE
A STOPWATCH.
THAT'S ALL I REMEMBER
OF THE COURSE.
[laughter]
NOW, IN THE COURSE -- I
TOOK ONE COURSE IN SPEECH,
AND IT'S GOING TO
SHOW UP TODAY.
I ONLY HAD ONE
COURSE IN SPEECH.
AND OUT OF THAT COURSE, THE
ONLY THING I REALLY REMEMBER
IS THAT WHEN GIVING A TALK,
NEVER START WITH AN APOLOGY.
BUT, YOU SEE, BEING A LITERAL
MINDED PERSON, 'AN' MEANS ONE.
THEY DIDN'T TELL ME I
COULDN'T START WITH THREE.
SO THIS AFTERNOON, I START
WITH THREE APOLOGIES.
THE FIRST OF IT IS THAT I HAVE
BEEN A COLLEGE PROFESSOR FOR
LO THESE MANY YEARS, AND I CAN
HIT 50 MINUTES RIGHT ON THE
NOSE WITHOUT A BELL.
[laughter]

As he speaks, images from a few of the people listening flash by. They look delighted and amused.

Jacobs continues
AND THE ONLY THING I ASK OF
YOU THIS AFTERNOON IS THAT,
THOUGH YOU ARE PLANNING NEXT
WEEK'S MENU, OR THE GUESTS
YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE OVER THE
WEEKEND AND WHAT YOU WILL
SERVE THEM, JUST PERIODICALLY
NOD YOUR HEADS THIS WAY,
THAT'S WHAT DOES IT FOR
THE COLLEGE PROFESSOR.
THE SECOND IS THAT I
AM A LUMPY SPEAKER.
NOW, IT'S AN OVER
SIMPLIFICATION, BUT A VERY
USEFUL ONE TO ELEMENTARY
SCHOOL TEACHERS, TO SORT OUT
THE KIDS WHO ARE SPLITTERS
AND WHO ARE LUMPERS, AND LIKE
YOUNGSTERS, YOU AND I HAVE
A PREFERRED LEARNING STYLE.
WE EITHER LIKE TO LEARN IN
A SPLITTY WAY OR WE TEND TO
LEARN IN A LUMPY WAY.
NOW, SPLITTERS ARE PEOPLE WHO
LIKE TO TAKE A QUESTION,
A PROBLEM, A HYPOTHESIS, AN
ASSUMPTION, AND BUILD IT
LOGICALLY, STEP BY STEP
BY STEP TO A CONCLUSION.
AND LUMPERS LIKE TO THROW OUT
A GREAT GOB OF STUFF AND THEN
BEGIN TO PULL IT TO
PIECES TO SEE IF IT WORKS.
IF YOU WANT TO TEST YOURSELF
IN TERMS OF YOUR COLLEGE
BACKGROUND, IF WHEN YOU WERE
ASKED TO WRITE A PAPER AND
SUBMIT THE OUTLINE WITH IT,
YOU MADE SOME KIND OF AN
OUTLINE AND KIND OF FOLLOWED
IT AND WROTE THE PAPER,
YOU'RE A SPLITTER.
BUT IF, LIKE ME, YOU WROTE
THE PAPER AND WENT BACK AND
DISCOVERED WHAT THE
OUTLINE WAS, YOU'RE LUMPY.
THE THIRD APOLOGY IS THE
MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL.
I'M AN OLD MAN.
I WAS REARED IN THAT ERA WHEN
YOU SPOKE ABOUT MANKIND.
[laughing]
AND YOU SAID,
CHAIRMAN.
FOOTNOTE, NATIONAL COUNCIL
OF TEACHERS OF ENGLISH NOW
SAYS, MISS SO-AND-SO CHAIR,
Mr. SO-AND-SO CHAIR, I
REFUSE THAT, YOU KNOW?
I KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN
A CHAIR AND A HUMAN BEING.
I DON'T CARE FOR THAT.
I WILL TOLERATE CHAIRPERSON
A LITTLE BIT BUT, YOU SEE,
MY LIPS AND TEETH AND TONGUE
ARE LIKELY TO SAY 'HE' WHEN
REPRESENTING BOTH SEXES,
BECAUSE I WAS BROUGHT UP
THAT WAY.
NOW, I'M TRYING TO CHANGE.
I PROBABLY SHALL
SLIP THIS AFTERNOON.
WHEN I DO, GET YOUR HAND RIGHT
UP IN THE AIR BECAUSE THE ONLY
WAY IT WILL EVER CHANGE IS FOR
ME TO REPEAT IT AND SAY IT
RIGHT AND GET THOSE LIPS,
TEETH, AND TONGUE DOING IT
IN THE RIGHT WAY.
I'M A LUMPY SPEAKER.
I'M GOING TO TALK 50 MINUTES
AND I AM GOING TO TRY TO AVOID
BEING -- WELL, YOU KNOW WHAT
THEY CALL US WHEN WE...
[laughter]
SO HERE'S WHAT I'M GOING
TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT.
COMPREHENSION OF LITERATURE.
NOW, I'M A VERY
BAD PICTURE TAKER.
I TAKE BAD PICTURES.
I USUALLY GET THE THUMB OR THE
LEGS OR THE FEET OR HALF A
PERSONALITY OR SOMETHING OR
OTHER, BUT I DO UNDERSTAND
THAT IF YOU'RE GOING TO
BE A GOOD PICTURE TAKER,
FIRST YOU'VE GOT TO
GET STUFF IN FOCUS.
YOU GOT TO GET THE BEARINGS OF
THE THING, AND SO TO TALK TO
YOU ABOUT THE COMPREHENSION OF
LITERATURE MEANS THAT I'VE GOT
TO TALK ABOUT THE BEARINGS
OUT OF WHICH COMPREHENSION
OF LITERATURE GROWS.
AND AS I SEE IT, IT STARTS WAY
BACK AS TO WHAT YOU BELIEVE
READING IS, AND YOU WILL NOT
UNDERSTAND MUCH OF ANYTHING
THAT I SAY UNLESS YOU TAKE
MY DEFINITION TO START WITH.
NOW, YOU CAN FIGHT WITH
THE IDEAS ALL YOU WANT TO.
I CAN'T GIVE YOU A TEST AND MAKE
YOU GIVE ME BACK MY ANSWERS.
I WOULDN'T WANT TO ANYWAY.
I DON'T BELIEVE IN
THAT KIND OF TESTING.
ALL IT DOES IS TEACH PEOPLE
TO PLAY GAMES, LIKE MY GOOD
FRIEND WHO HAD A TRUE AND
FALSE TEST AND SHE DID NOT
BELIEVE THE ASSUMPTION IN
IT, AND SO SHE WROTE
'TRUE FOR PURPOSES OF
THIS EXAMINATION ONLY'.
[long laughter]
MY DEFINITION OF READING HAS
TO GO FASTER THAN THESE OLD
LIPS WILL SAY IT, FOR IF YOU
ASK ME WHAT READING IS, TO MY
WAY OF THINKING, READING IS
BRINGING ME TO AND TAKING ME
FROM SQUIGGLY
LITTLE BLACK MARKS.
AND THE BRINGING AND THE TAKING
GO TOGETHER SIMULTANEOUSLY.
AND WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN IN
TERMS OF THOSE LITTLE BLACK
MARKS IN TERMS OF WHAT
SOMEBODY CHOSE TO PUT DOWN ON
PAPER IS TREMENDOUSLY
DEPENDENT UPON WHAT I BRING AS
A PERSON TO THOSE LITTLE BLACK
MARKS THAT CAN BE INTERPRETED.
AND SO THE LITTLE GIRL DOWN IN
FLORIDA IS ONE EXAMPLE, WHOSE
FATHER WORKED FOR THE ATLANTIC
COASTLINE AND WHOSE BREAKFAST
WAS SERVED IN TERMS OF WHAT
WAS GOOD FOR THE ATLANTIC
COASTLINE, AND WHO, AT THE
SUPPER TABLE CONFERENCING,
TALKING.
THEY TALKED AN AWFUL LOT ABOUT
WHAT THE ATLANTIC COASTLINE
WAS DOING, AND WHEN SHE READ
IN HER GEOGRAPHY BOOK, THE
AUSTRALIAN COASTLINE IS
REGULAR, SHE TOLD THE TEACHER
THAT SHE HAD FOUND OUT THAT
THE TRAINS RUN ON TIME
IN AUSTRALIA.
WHAT SHE BROUGHT WAS HER LIFE,
HER MEANING, TO WHAT WAS IN
THE SQUIGGLY
LITTLE BLACK MARK.
AND THE LITTLE BOY IN IOWA
WHOSE AUNT TOLD HIM SHE WAS
BRINGING HIM A TOWBOAT FROM
THE EAST COAST COULD NOT IN
ANY WAY FIGURE OUT AND WAS
TERRIBLY DISAPPOINTED IN WHAT
HE GOT, BECAUSE HE WAS QUITE
SURE THAT THERE WAS SOMETHING
VERY SPECIAL ABOUT A
T-O-E-BOAT AND SHE DIDN'T
BRING IT.
READING IS BRINGING MEANING
TO AND TAKING MEANING FROM,
AND THE KEY IN BOTH
CASES IS MEANING.
AND SO, THE LITTLE ONE WHO
READ IN THE PRE-PRIMER SO
BEAUTIFULLY, SEE FATHER, SEE
MOTHER, SEE DON, SEE JOAN,
C-C-C-O-O-O, SO SHE READ IT
AND THE TEACHER SAID, OH,
THAT'S LOVELY, AND STARTED TO
CALL ON THE NEXT CHILD, BUT
SHE SAID, NOW, WAIT A MINUTE.
I HAVE TO ASK A QUESTION.
AND THE TEACHER SAID, A
QUESTION ABOUT THIS PAGE?
[laughter]
AND SHE SAID, YES.
THE TEACHER SAID, THERE
CAN'T BE ANY QUESTION.
YOU HEARD ME SAID
YOU READ BEAUTIFULLY.
SAID I HEARD IT.
I DID, BUT I GOT A QUESTION.
SAID, WHAT COULD
THE QUESTION BE?
SHE SAID, RIGHT ON THE PAGE,
SEE FATHER, THAT'S ONE.
SEE MOTHER, THAT'S TWO.
SEE DON, THAT'S THREE.
SEE JOAN, THAT'S FOUR.
C-C-C, THAT'S THREE.
AT WHOM AM I NOT
SUPPOSED TO LOOK?

He covers one eye and peeks around theatrically.

[laughter]

He continues
AH.
AH, WE LAUGH.
BUT YOU KNOW WHAT, SHE WAS
BRINGING MEANING AND TAKING
MEANING AND THEY
JUST DIDN'T JIVE.
NOW, OF COURSE, MY DEAR
FRIENDS, IF YOU'RE GOING TO
BRING MEANING AND TAKE
MEANING, YOU'VE GOT
TO TEACH DECODING.
DON'T MISUNDERSTAND ME.
WE'VE GOT TO TEACH DECODING.
BUT WE OUGHT TO TEACH IT
IN A MEANINGFUL SITUATION.
NOW WHEN I STARTED TO TEACH IN
THAT ONE-ROOM COUNTRY SCHOOL
52 YEARS AGO, I'D ONLY BEEN
TO COLLEGE FOR ONE YEAR AND A
SUMMER, AND WHILE THEY HAD
TAUGHT ME A GREAT MANY THINGS,
I WAS ON MY OWN IN LOTS OF
WAYS, AND I HAD FIVE BEGINNERS.
AND IT WAS THEN THAT I LEARNED
NOT TO TRUST TEACHER'S MANUALS
VERY FAR.
THAT THEY ONLY HELP YOU WITH
THE OBVIOUS, AND WHEN YOU'RE
IN TROUBLE, THEY
DON'T HELP YOU AT ALL.
[laughter]
AND SO IT WAS THE
DAYS OF PHONICS.
ALL PHONICS FOR BEGINNERS.
AND THEY TOLD ME IN THE
TEACHER'S MANUAL THAT I OUGHT
TO STIR UP THE APPERCEPTIVE
MASS AND GET TO MOTIVATING.
AND WE HAD A CLOCK, NOT AN
ELECTRIC CLOCK, AND SO THE
FIRST THING IN THE TEACHER'S
MANUAL SAID, NOW YOU SAY BOYS
AND GIRLS, WE GOT A LITTLE
HELPER IN OUR CLASSROOM WHO
TELLS US WHEN TO COME IN
AND WHEN TO EAT OUR LUNCH,
AND WHEN TO GO HOME,
AND WHAT IS IT?
AND SOME WAY I HAD THE NOTION
WITH MY FIVE BEGINNERS THAT IF
I ASKED VIOLA, WHO WAS THE
BRIGHTEST OF THE FIVE, THAT
THE REST AUTOMATICALLY KNEW.
I JUST TOOK IT FOR GRANTED
THAT IF VIOLA WHO WAS BRIGHT
KNEW, THEN THE
OTHER FOUR KNEW TOO.
AND VIOLA SAID THE CLOCK
AND THEY ALL NODDED.
SO THAT WAS FINE.
THEN THEY SAID, BECAUSE I WAS
TO TEACH THEM 'TUH' THAT DAY,
NOW JUST LISTEN TO THE LITTLE
HELPER AS TO WHAT THE LITTLE
HELPER SAYS.
AND THE MANUAL TOLD ME THEY
WERE GOING TO SAY 'TUH',
SO I CALLED ON VIOLA WHO SAID
THAT CLOCK SAID TICK TOCK.
THE NEXT BRIGHTEST AGREED.
THEY ALL AGREED WITH VIOLA.
THEN I SCRAMBLED TO
THE MANUAL, HA HA.
I WAS ON MY OWN.
SO I TOLD THEM
TO LISTEN AGAIN.
[laughter]
AND THEN I PULLED MYSELF UP
TO MY FULL HEIGHT IN PURE
DESPERATION AND TOLD
THEM THEY WERE WRONG.
IT DIDN'T SAY
TICK TOCK AT ALL.
IT SAID 'TUH'.
[laughter]
AND THAT NIGHT WHEN VIOLA GOT
HOME AND HER FATHER SAID,
OH, VIOLA, WHAT DID
YOU LEARN TODAY.
SHE SAID, I LEARNED
TO READ 'TUH'.
[laughing]
BRING MEANING, IT'S AWFUL HARD
TO TAKE VERY MUCH MEANING
OUT OF 'TUH'.
NOW, DON'T MISUNDERSTAND
ME, SOME KIDS ARE
GOING TO NEED PHONICS.
BUT ANYBODY PUTTING ALL THEIR
EGGS IN ONE BASKET WITH
YOUNGSTERS WHO ARE LEARNING
TO READ ARE GOING TO FAIL.
YOU BETTER BE GIVING SOME LOOK
AND SAY, YOU BETTER BE GIVING
THEM SOME CONTEXT CLUES.
YOU BETTER BE GIVING THEM SOME
PHONICS AND LET THEM GET INTO
THAT MAGICAL MOMENT WHEN ALL
OF A SUDDEN THOSE SQUIGGLY
LITTLE BLACK MARKS AREN'T
SQUIGGLY LITTLE BLACK MARKS AT
ALL ANYMORE, BUT ARE STUFF
TO TAKE MEANING FROM,
AND THEY AREN'T ALL
GOING TO GET IT ONE WAY.
GIVE THEM SOME OF EACH AND
THEN PRAY AND HOPE THAT THAT
MAGICAL MOMENT COMES
FOR EACH OF THEM.
AND WHEN IT DOES COME,
REMEMBER TO TEACH THEM WHAT
FRANK SMITH SAYS IN ONE OF
HIS BOOKS, THAT YOU NEVER USE
PHONICS UNLESS YOU
ABSOLUTELY NEED THEM.
IF YOU TEACH THEM PHONICS,
THEN TEACH THEM NOT TO USE
THEM UNLESS YOU'RE STUCK.
OTHERWISE YOU GET TO BE A
SLOW, OVER CAUTIOUS READER
THAT'S A BETTER
PROOF-READER THAN A READER.
ALL PROOFREADERS MUST HAVE
BEEN TERRIFIC IN PHONICS.
[laughing]
OF COURSE TEACH
THEM TO DECODE.
BUT THE DECODING IS
ONLY STEP NUMBER ONE.
IT'S THE REAL READING
READINESS, MY FRIENDS,
THAT'S WHAT DECODING IS.
READING READINESS SO THAT YOU
CAN GET TO BRINGING MEANING
TO AND TAKING MEANING FROM.
IT'S THE JOB OF COMPREHENSION.
AND REMEMBER, TOO, THAT AS YOU
TEACH THEM TO BRING MEANING TO
AND TAKE MEANING FROM, THAT
THE UNIT OF THOUGHT IN ENGLISH
IS THE SENTENCE, AND THAT
WORDS TAKE THEIR PRECISE
MEANING IN TERMS OF THE
CONTEXT OF A SENTENCE.
IF AT THIS MOMENT I WERE
CAPABLE OF FLASHING A VERY
COMMON WORD UP HERE ON THIS
BOARD FOR YOU, YOU'D ALL KNOW
IT, BUT YOU WOULD ALL BRING
DIFFERENT PERCEPTIONS OF IT IN
THE ABSTRACT HERE BY ITSELF.
AND THE WORD IS CAT, AND SOME
OF YOU WOULD SEE A HEINZ 57
VARIETY ANIMAL THAT
MEWS AT YOUR BACK DOOR.
AND SOME OF YOU WOULD SEE
PERSIANS AND SIAMESE.
AND SOME OF YOU, IF YOU WERE A
ZOO KEEPER'S CHILD, WOULD SEE
LIONS AND TIGERS, AND SOME
PEOPLE LIKE ME, WHO IS A NASTY
PERSON, MIGHT SEE A WOMAN
WHO LIVES TEN DOORS DOWN
ON THE RIGHT.
[laughter]
UNTIL YOU GET THAT WORD WITHIN
THE CONTEXT OF A SENTENCE,
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
AND WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF A
SENTENCE, WHEN A LITTLE KID
SAYS KITTY, THE KITTY JUMPED
OVER THE FENCE, BUT THE BOOK
SAYS KITTEN, WHY ARE YOU
MAKING SUCH A FUSS ABOUT IT?
YOU GOT 13 YEARS TO TAKE CARE
OF THAT “Y” AND CHANGE IT TO
E-N.
WHY DON'T YOU PAT THEM ON THE
BACK AND SAY, GO IT, KID, GO IT.
UNLESS YOU'VE GOT A PRECISE
DIFFERENCE IN MEANING AT THAT
PARTICULAR POINT.
THE SECOND THING IS, IN TERMS
OF FOCUS AND BEARINGS IS,
THAT WE READ FOR TWO
WAYS OF KNOWING.
WE READ TO THE AIM OF READING
DISCURSIVELY, AND WE READ TO
THE END OF READING
NON-DISCURSIVELY.
AND THE READING OF DISCOURSE
IS THE READING OF FACT AND
INFORMATION AND JUDGMENT, AND
OPINION, AND IN THE WORST
SENSE OF THE WORD, PREJUDICE
AND MIS-INFORMATION THAT
SOUNDS AS IF IT WAS THE FACTS.
AND WITH THIS MATERIAL, IT
JUST HAS TO BE BUILT LOGICALLY
AND LINEARLY.
IT HAS TO BE BUILT FROM A
PROBLEM, A STATEMENT, A
QUESTION, AN ASSUMPTION, A
HYPOTHESIS, TO A CONCLUSION.
AND YOU CAN TAKE ONE PIECE OF
IT OUT AND LOOK AT THAT ONE
PIECE IN THE TOTAL ARGUMENT,
LIKE A PIECE IN A JIGSAW
PUZZLE, AND LOOK AT ITS
MEANING AND PUT IT BACK IN,
AND HAVE ENRICHED THE WHOLE
SELECTION BY UNDERSTANDING
THAT ONE PART BETTER.
AND THE TEST OF THIS
IS VERIFIABILITY.
CAN I VERIFY IT?
AND ONE OF THE REASONS WHY IN
THIS DAY AND AGE, IN CANADA,
OR IN THE UNITED STATES, OR
ANYWHERE, WE SHOULD NEVER
LEAVE KIDS STUCK WITH JUST A
SINGLE TEXTBOOK BECAUSE WE
MUST TEACH THEM TO VERIFY.
AND THE ONLY WAY TO TEACH THEM
TO VERIFY IS TO PUT OTHER
SOURCES IN THEIR WAY.
THAT'S WHY WE NEED TO HAVE
COPIES OF WHAT YOU SAY ABOUT
THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
HISTORICALLY, AND WHAT WE SAY
ABOUT THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
HISTORICALLY, AND EXCHANGE
BACK AND FORTH SO THAT WE
AREN'T STUCK WITH JUST ONE.
THAT'S WHY YOU MUST NOT
HAVE 30 COPIES OF THE SAME
DICTIONARY IN YOUR CLASSROOM,
FIVE OF THESE, AND FIVE OF
THESE, AND FIVE OF THESE.
YOU SAY THEY MAY NOT AGREE.
THAT'S WHAT I WANT
THEM TO LEARN.
TEACH THEM TO VERIFY.
AND ALL OF THIS IS TO THE END
OF AN INFORMED INTELLECT.
YOU COME AWAY WITH AN INFORMED
INTELLECT FROM DISCURSIVE
KNOWING THROUGH READING.
BUT NON-DISCOURSE IS THE REALM
OF THE ARTS, AND IN TERMS OF
READING, OF SQUIGGLY LITTLE
BLACK MARKS IN THE ELEMENTARY
SCHOOL, IT'S STORY AND POEM
FOR THE MOST PART, AND WITH
UPPER GRADE KIDS,
YOU MAY ADD IN DRAMA.
AND THIS IS NOT
ABOUT FACT AT ALL.
IT'S ABOUT ESTHETIC FEELING.
NOT PSYCHOLOGICAL FEELING.
PSYCHOLOGICAL FEELING IS YOUR
FEELING AS A HUMAN BEING.
ESTHETIC FEELING IS FEELING
LIKE THAT HUMAN BEING IN THE
STORY, NOT BEING
YOURSELF AT ALL.
SITTING IN YOUR OWN CHAIR
IN YOUR LIVING ROOM WITH AN
AIRPLANE FLYING OVER YOUR HEAD
AND MAYBE THE TELEVISION SET
ON IN THE NEXT ROOM, AND
YOU'RE NOT THERE AT ALL.
JUST NOT THERE.
ESTHETIC FEELING.
I KNOW A BOY -- THERE WAS A
BOOK CALLED
HIE TO THE HUNTERS
THAT WAS PUBLISHED BY JESSE
STUART, WHO LIVED ALL OF HIS
LIFE IN THE HILLS OF KENTUCKY.
THIS IS THE STORY OF A HILL
BOY WHO HAD A SPECIAL TALENT.
HE COULD SPIT TOBACCO JUICE SO
EXPERTLY THAT HE DID NOT HAVE
TO SHOOT A RABBIT, HE
COULD BLIND IT AND --
[laughter]
WELL, YOU LAUGH, BUT I HAVE
SEEN GIRLS LEAN AGAINST THE
STORE WINDOWS IN LITTLE TOWNS
IN THE SOUTH AND PUT THEIR
FINGERS TO THEIR LIPS AND
HIT A DIME IN THE MIDDLE
OF THE ROAD.
AND HE WENT TO TOWN ONE DAY
AND TWO BULLIES WERE PICKING
ON A LITTLE TOWN BOY AND HE
USED HIS WEAPON ON THEM AND
THE LITTLE TOWN BOY, WHO'S
FATHER WAS THE RICHEST MAN IN
TOWN, HE SAID HE WASN'T HAPPY.
SO THE HILL BOY SAID,
WELL, WHY DO YOU STAY?
COME AND LIVE WITH PA AND MA
AND ME UP IN THE MOUNTAINS.
AND HE DID.
IT'S A BEAUTIFUL STORY, AND
THERE IS -- WELL, I KNOW A BOY
WHO READ THAT BOOK FIVE
TIMES, HE LOVED IT SO.
AND HE CAME TO ONE SCENE.
IT WAS THE HARVEST MOON, THE
GREAT, WHITE HARVEST MOON WAS
COMING UP.
AND THE FARM FAMILY AND THE
LITTLE BOY TOOK THE LAST OF
THEIR BEST ROASTING EARS OF
THE SEASON OUT AROUND THE
HILLSIDE AND THEY LIT A FIRE
AND THEY SAT WITH THEIR
ROASTING EARS AND LISTENED TO
THE BAYING OF THE HOUNDS AS
THEY CHASED THE FOX
AROUND THE MOUNTAIN.
AND EVERY TIME THAT BOY CAME
TO HIS FATHER AFTER HE READ
THAT, AND HE NEVER ONCE SAID,
GOSH, LOOK AT THOSE CRAZY
HILLBILLIES, NOT ONCE.
HE SAID INSTEAD, GOSH, DAD,
JUST THINK, WE'RE NEVER GOING
TO HAVE THAT EXPERIENCE
OURSELVES EXCEPT THIS WAY.
ESTHETIC FEELING.
AND SEVERAL YEARS AGO I WAS
GOING OUT TO TEACH IN MISSOURI
AND THE GRANDSON WAS OLD
ENOUGH TO BEGIN TO ENJOY
TOM SAWYER AND HUCK FINN.
AND SO ON THE WAY HOME, WE
CAME TO HANNIBAL, MISSOURI,
AND WE SAW TOM'S HOUSE.
AND THEN WE WENT UP WHERE THE
BOYS HAD PLAYED ON THE HILL,
UP TO THE BROW OF THE HILL,
AND THERE THAT MAGNIFICENT
STATUE OF MARK TWAIN LOOKING
AT HIS RIVER, AND WE STOOD
TOGETHER, AND THE LITTLE
FELLOW TOOK MY HAND AND HE
SAID, GRANDPA, I THINK I SEE
A RAFT COMING DOWN THE RIVER.
[laughter]
AND GRANDPA LOOKED
AND YOU KNOW WHAT...
[laughter]
SAW IT, TOO.
ESTHETIC FEELING, AND IT ISN'T
BUILT LOGICALLY AND LINEARLY.
IT IS BUILT FROM A BEGINNING
TO A MIDDLE TO AN END.
WHEN I SAY TO MY FRIENDS LIKE
GLENN BLOUGH, OR SEYMOUR
SIMON, OR MILLICENT SELSAM,
WHO WRITE INFORMATIONAL BOOKS,
WHY DID YOU PUT THAT NEXT,
THEY GIVE ME LOGICAL REASONS.
THEY SAY, WELL, YOU SEE, I'VE
TREATED THIS PART OF THE
ANATOMY OF AN ANIMAL, AND
THIS, AND THIS, AND THIS, AND
THAT, AND I CAN SAY, YES.
BUT WHEN I SAY TO MY FRIENDS
WHO WRITE FICTION AND POETRY,
WHY DID YOU PUT THAT NEXT,
THEIR ANSWER INVARIABLY IS
WHATEVER WORDS THEY USE,
THAT'S WHAT FELT RIGHT
TO COME NEXT.
AND YOU CANNOT TAKE IT TO
PIECES LIKE YOU CAN TAKE
INFORMATIONAL PIECES.
IT DISAPPEARS.
ONE OF MY FAVOURITE POEMS IS
ROSE FYLEMAN'S
THE GOBLIN.
YOU KNOW IT.
A GOBLIN LIVES IN OUR HOUSE,
IN OUR HOUSE, IN OUR HOUSE,
A GOBLIN LIVES IN OUR
HOUSE ALL THE YEAR ROUND.
HE BUMPS AND HE JUMPS AND
HE THUMPS AND HE STUMPS.
HE KNOCKS AND HE ROCKS AND
HE RATTLES AT THE LOCKS.
A GOBLIN LIVES IN OUR HOUSE,
IN OUR HOUSE, IN OUR HOUSE,
A GOBLIN LIVES IN OUR
HOUSE ALL THE YEAR ROUND.
NOW YOU TAKE THAT TO PIECES
LOGICALLY AND LINEARLY
DISCURSIVELY AND ALL YOU'VE
GOT LEFT IS A GOBLIN LIVED
IN OUR HOUSE FOR A
HECK OF A LONG TIME.
[laughter]
AND HE DID SEVEN THINGS.
[laughter]
NO, IT ISN'T THERE.
AND THE TEST, MY
DEAR FRIENDS,
THE TEST IS NOT
IS IT VERIFIABLE.
CAN I FIND THAT
IT'S VERIFIABLE?
UH-UNH.
THE TEST IS
IS IT BELIEVABLE?
DO YOU BELIEVE THAT THERE
WERE THREE BILLY GOATS GRUFF?
BIG BILLY GOAT GRUFF, MIDDLE
SIZED BILLY GOAT GRUFF,
LITTLE BILLY GOAT GRUFF?
DO YOU BELIEVE THAT THEY SAW
SOME VERY TEMPTING GREEN GRASS
ACROSS THE RIVER?
DO YOU BELIEVE THAT THERE WAS
A BRIDGE WITH A TROLL UNDER IT
AND THAT THEY KNEW IT,
AND THAT THEY HAD
TO WORK OUT A SCHEME?
AND DO YOU BELIEVE WAY DOWN
INSIDE THAT YOU WANT THEM TO
SUCCEED SO VERY MUCH, YOU
DON'T WANT THE TROLL TO WIN.

He drops down his head for a moment and then says
AND DO YOU BELIEVE
THEY DID IT?
THE LITTLE GIRL IN AN INNER
CITY SCHOOL WHO HAD NOT
RESPONDED TO ANYTHING UNTIL
SHE HEARD GOLDILOCKS AND THE
THREE BEARS.
SHE SAT RIGHT ON THE
EDGE OF HER SEAT.
AND IT GOES, THIS...
HOW DOES IT GO?
THIS PORRIDGE IS WHAT?

Several people in the audience say
TOO HOT.

Jacobs continues TOO HOT?
SHE GOT OUT ON A LITTLE
ON THE EDGE OF HER SEAT.
THIS PORRIDGE IS TOO --

Several people in the audience say
COLD.

Jacobs continues COLD.
SHE CAME OUT A
LITTLE BIT FURTHER.
THIS PORRIDGE IS JUST
RIGHT, AND SHE ATE IT UP,
AND THE LITTLE ONE JUMPED UP
AND YELLED, “THE GODDAMN PIG!”
[laughter]
[applause]
[laughter]
DID SHE BELIEVE?
YES, SHE BELIEVED.
TEST, IS IT BELIEVABLE.
NOT IS IT VERIFIABLE.
ONE OF MY FAVOURITE STORIES
FOR YOUNG CHILDREN IS
BACKWARD DAY
BY RUTH KRAUSS.
A LITTLE BOY GOT UP IN THE
MORNING AND HE SAID TO
HIMSELF, TODAY'S BACKWARD DAY,
AND HE PUT ON HIS OVERCOAT.
AND OVER HIS OVERCOAT, HE PUT
ON HIS PANTS AND BLOUSE, AND
OVER HIS PANTS AND BLOUSE, HE
PUT ON HIS UNDERWEAR, AND HE
SAID TO HIMSELF, BACKWARD DAY
IS BACKWARD DAY, AS HE PUT ON
HIS SHOES, AND OVER HIS
SHOES HE PUT ON HIS SOCKS.
AND THEN HE BACKED OUT OF HIS
BEDROOM, BACKED BACK DOWN THE
STAIRS, BACKED INTO
THE DINING ROOM.
TURNED HIS FATHER'S CHAIR
BACKWARD TO THE TABLE, PUT HIS
FATHER'S NAPKIN ON THE BACK
OF HIS NECK, AND SAT DOWN.
AND WHEN HIS FATHER CAME INTO
THE DINING ROOM, THE LITTLE
BOY SAID TO HIS
FATHER, “GOODNIGHT, PA.”
AND HIS FATHER SAID,
“GOODNIGHT,” BUT HE TURNED THE
LITTLE BOY'S CHAIR AROUND
BACKWARD TO THE TABLE, PUT THE
LITTLE BOY'S NAPKIN ON THE
BACK OF HIS NECK AND SAT DOWN.
AND TO MAKE THIS 50 MINUTES,
THE MOTHER AND THE LITTLE
SISTER DID EXACTLY
THE SAME TURNABOUTS.
AT WHICH TIME THE LITTLE BOY
GOT UP, TOOK THE NAPKIN OUT OF
HIS NECK AND SAID, I'M SO FULL,
I CAN'T EAT ANOTHER THING.
AND HE BACKED BACK OUT OF
THE ROOM, BACKED BACK UP THE
STAIRS, BACKED BACK INTO HIS
BEDROOM, AND WHEN HE GOT INTO
HIS BEDROOM, HE TOOK OFF HIS
UNDERWEAR, AND THEN HE TOOK
OFF HIS PANTS AND BLOUSE, AND
THEN HE TOOK OFF HIS OVERCOAT,
AND THEN HE SAID TO HIMSELF,
BACKWARD DAY IS DONE, AS HE
TOOK OFF HIS SOCKS AND TOOK
OFF HIS SHOES, AND HE GOT BACK
INTO BED AND HE SAID TO
HIMSELF, WHEN BACKWARD DAY IS
DONE, BACKWARD DAY IS DONE.
AND HE GOT UP AND HE PUT ON
HIS UNDERWEAR AND OVER HIS
UNDERWEAR HE PUT ON HIS PANTS
AND BLOUSE, AND OVER HIS PANTS
AND BLOUSE HE PUT ON HIS
OVERCOAT, AND THEN HE PUT ON
HIS SOCKS AND HIS SHOES AND
HE CALLED DOWNSTAIRS,
“BACKWARD DAY IS DONE.”
AND HE CALLED DOWNSTAIRS,
“WHEN BACKWARD DAY IS DONE,
BACKWARD DAY IS DONE.”
NOW, YOU SEE, I HAD IN MY
CLASSES SOME LITERAL MINDED
PEOPLE WHO WOULD RAISE
THEIR HANDS AND SAY,
IT'S A VERY BAD STORY.
VERY BAD STORY.
AND I WOULD SAY, WHY.
AND THEY'D SAY, BECAUSE --
NOW, LOOK WHAT THEY'RE USING.
WHAT ARGUMENT THEY'RE
USING FOR NON-DISCOURSE.
BECAUSE I DON'T KNOW A FATHER
AND MOTHER WHO WOULD DO THAT.
BELIEVABLE?
VERIFIABLE.
THEY'RE TRYING TO USE
VERIFIABILITY IN A REALM THAT
OUGHT TO BE LEFT
TO BELIEVABILITY.
I HAD AN ANSWER FOR HIM.
I BEAMED ON THEM AND SAID, MY
DEAR, YOU DON'T KNOW ALL THE
FATHERS AND MOTHERS
IN THE WORLD.
THERE COULD BE ONE COUPLE
SMART ENOUGH TO PLAY --
[laughter]
BUT SHOULD I HAVE TO SAY THAT?
NOT IN TERMS OF COMPREHENSION
OF LITERATURE, FOR THE AIM OF
STORY AND POEM IS TO MOVE FROM
A BEGINNING, TO A MIDDLE, OF
AN END, IN SUCH A WAY THAT
YOU ARE AFFECTED OF NOT BEING
YOURSELF BUT LIVING IN THAT
STORY WITH ESTHETIC FEELING
TO BELIEVABILITY,
AND THE OUTCOME.
AH, WHEREAS INFORMATIONAL
READING GIVES YOU AN INFORMED
INTELLECT, STORY AND POEM AND
ALL THE ARTS GIVE YOU WHAT
NORTHROP FRYE SAYS SO
BEAUTIFULLY, 'AN EDUCATED
IMAGINATION', AND LUCKY IS THE
CHILD WHO IS TAUGHT TO KNOW
DISCURSIVELY AND
NON-DISCURSIVELY, SO THAT
HERE'S THE INFORMATION, BUT
HERE NOW, HERE NOW IS THE
FEELING OF WHAT THAT
INFORMATION CAN BE IN THE
LIVES OF PEOPLE.

[Standing ovation]

A title reads “Recorded at York University.”

Producer and Director, Gladys Richards.

A production of TVOntario. Copyright, 1979.

Watch: Leland Jacobs on Children's Literature 1