Transcript: Leland Jacobs on Children's Literature 2 | Jun 29, 1988

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

A title reads “Leland Jacobs on Children’s Literature. Part 2.”

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 EVERY TEACHER I KNOW,
KNOWS EXACTLY WHAT
SYLVIA ASHTON-WARNER
KNEW IN
SPINSTER,
THAT IN TEACHING THERE
AREN'T YESTERDAYS SO MUCH
AS THERE ARE TOMORROWS;
AND ONE TEACHES NOT TO,
BUT REAL TEACHERS TEACH
TOWARD, TOWARD OUTCOMES.
AND PEOPLE ARE
ETERNALLY ASKING ME,
WHAT ABOUT THE
THEMES IN STORIES?
OH, NONSENSE, THEY'RE NOT
WRITTEN AROUND THEMES.
THEY'RE WRITTEN
TOWARD OUTCOMES,
LITERARY
OUTCOMES, THREE:
THE OUTCOME OF
ENJOYMENT,
THE OUTCOME OF
ENTERTAINMENT,
THE OUTCOME OF
RECREATION.
AND WE TALK ABOUT
ENJOYMENT FIRST.
I DON'T KNOW THAT IT'S
TRUE HERE BUT IN MY PART
OF THE WORLD ALMOST
AUTOMATICALLY
WHEN A TEACHER READS
A STORY TO CHILDREN,
IT ALMOST AUTOMATICALLY
COMES OUT,
DID YOU LIKE IT?
THAT'S THE QUESTION.
DID YOU LIKE IT?
IT'S A RIDICULOUS
QUESTION, LITERARILY.
IF THEY'D BEEN
CLIMBING THE WALLS,
YOU SHOULD HAVE
QUIT LONG AGO.
[laughter]
IF THEY ARE NOT CLIMBING
THE WALLS AND YOU SAY,
DID YOU LIKE IT?
AND THEY SAY, NO.
UNDOUBTEDLY YOU CHOSE
IT BECAUSE SOME WAY
IT WAS SPECIAL TO YOU,
AND THEN YOU'RE TEMPTED,
MORE THAN TEMPTED, YOU'RE
QUITE LIKELY TO SAY,
WELL, DIDN'T YOU NOTICE THE
PRETTY DESCRIPTIONS IN IT?
DID YOU NOTICE HOW THIS
CHARACTER BEHAVED?
SO THAT THE NEXT TIME YOU
SAY, DID YOU LIKE IT?
THEY YELL YES AS FAST
AS THEY CAN BECAUSE
IT SAVES 20 MINUTES
OF ARGUMENT.
IT PERJURES THEIR SOULS
LITERARILY AND THEY TEND TO
GROW UP - AND THIS IS AN
OVERSTATEMENT, OF COURSE,
BUT THEY TEND TO GROW UP
TO JOIN GREAT BOOK CLUBS
WHERE YOU KEEP
ARISTOPHANES,
THE FROGS,
IN THE LIVING ROOM, AND
THE WHO-DONE-ITS THAT
YOU REALLY ENJOY AND
READ UP IN YOUR BEDROOM.
I MEAN, GIVE ME
LOW LITERARY -
I CAN WORK BETTER
WITH HONEST,
LOW LITERARY TASTE,
THAN I CAN WITH ERSATZ
HIGH LITERARY TASTE.
NOW, YOU MAY THINK THIS
IS PURELY A SEMANTIC
DIFFERENCE, BUT I DON'T
KNOW HOW TO SAY IT
ANY DIFFERENTLY, SO
I'LL SAY IT TO YOU.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN
LIKING LITERATURE AND
ENJOYING LITERATURE IS
THAT YOU TAKE JOY
IN WHAT THE AUTHOR
IS DOING TO YOU,
WHETHER YOU
LIKE IT OR NOT.
LET ME GIVE YOU A
COUPLE OF EXAMPLES.
I ENJOY READING
FAULKNER.
BUT I FIND SOME OF
FAULKNER SO DIRTY
THAT I FEEL I OUGHT TO
SIT IN A BATHTUB
AND READ A PAGE AND
THEN SCRUB A PAGE.
[laughter]
BUT GLORY, GLORY, HE
WANTED ME TO FEEL THAT WAY.
THAT WAS THE INTENT!
AND I FELT IT AND
HE DID IT TO ME.
IF IT'S JUST A
MATTER OF LIKING,
THEN THEY CAN GROW
UP TO READ THE STUFF
THAT YOU FIND ON YOUR
BOOK RACKS LIKE ON OURS.
BECAUSE THEY LIKE IT.
THEY HAVE NOT BEEN TAUGHT
TO TAKE JOY IN BEING MOVED.
ANYBODY IN THIS AUDIENCE
WHO'S CRIED WITH A GROUP
OF KIDS OVER THE ENDING
OF
CHARLOTTE'S WEB
KNOWS WHAT I'M
TALKING ABOUT.
[laughter]
YOU DON'T LIKE TO CRY
PARTICULARLY BUT, OH,
THE JOY OF IT.
TO TAKE JOY, NOT IN
SOMETHING THAT'S PRETTY
NECESSARILY, THOUGH
SOME OF IT WILL BE,
BUT TO TAKE JOY IN
BEING MOVED BY WHAT
THAT WRITER HAS
BEEN ABLE TO DO.
SECOND IS
ENTERTAINMENT.
BUT ENTERTAINMENT IS A
MATTER OF HOST AND GUEST,
ISN'T IT?

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

Jacobs continues I THINK WE HAVE BEEN
TEACHING KIDS WRONG
IN TERMS OF THE
COMPREHENSION OF LITERATURE
ABOUT WHO'S HOST
AND WHO'S GUEST.
WHO'S THE HOST?
THE READER IS THE HOST.
THE BOOK ISN'T THE HOST.
THE BOOK DOESN'T
ENTERTAIN YOU.
YOU ENTERTAIN THE BOOK.
AND TO TEACH KIDS THAT
EVERYONE DOESN'T WARM UP
AT THE EXACTLY
THE SAME POINT,
SO YOU MAY HAVE TO GIVE
IT A LITTLE EXTRA TRY.
TRY A SECOND PAGE,
A THIRD PAGE,
AND THEN YOU GOT A PERFECT
RIGHT TO SAY NO MORE.
OH, SOME PEOPLE SAY, BUT
ONCE YOU START A BOOK,
YOU OUGHT TO FINISH IT?
REMEMBER THE LITTLE
GIRL IN THE BOOK
THAT THE TEACHER MADE
HER READ ABOUT PENGUINS
WHEN SHE WANTED
TO QUIT?
REMEMBER HER
BOOK REPORT.
THIS BOOK TOLD ME
MORE ABOUT PENGUINS
THAN I'M INTERESTED IN.
[laughter]
SURE WE QUIT.
TO TAKE TO
ENTERTAINMENT.
THAT WE ENTERTAIN THE BOOK
BY BRINGING MEANING TO
AND TAKING
MEANING FROM IT.
AND THE THIRD
IS RECREATION,
ONLY I WANT TO CHANGE
THAT WORD TO RE-CREATION.
I SUPPOSE YOU READ IN THE
MAGAZINES ONCE IN A WHILE,
AS I DO, SOMETHING
ABOUT CREATIVE READING.
I HAVEN'T THE GHOST OF AN
IDEA WHAT CREATIVE READING IS.
IT'S THERE.
I DON'T CREATE.
CREATIVE WRITING, AH,
YES, BUT IN READING,
I RE-CREATE.
THERE IT IS.
AND IF IT'S WELL WRITTEN,
I'M GOING TO GET -
IN STORY, I'M GOING
TO GET SOME PIVOTS
THAT HOLD IT TOGETHER.
SOME PIVOTAL POINTS THAT
IN MY READING OF IT
ARE GOING TO HOLD THAT
THING FROM BEGINNING
TO MIDDLE TO END.
BUT ARE MY PIVOTS
NECESSARILY GOING
TO BE THE SAME PIVOTS
AS ANYBODY ELSE'S?
NO.
AND THAT'S WHY, WHEN
WE DISCUSS IT IN TERMS
OF THE RE-CREATION
WITH CHILDREN,
WE'VE GOT TO TALK ABOUT IT,
NOT IN TERMS OF ONE RIGHT
ANSWER, BUT IN TERMS OF
SHARING HOW WE GOT THOSE
PIVOTS AND SHARING IN
SUCH A WAY AS TO WHAT
OUR PERCEPTIONS
OF IT ARE.
ONCE MANY YEARS AGO WHEN I
WAS TEACHING AT THE HIGH SCHOOL
LEVEL THERE WAS AN EXPERIMENTAL
GROUP IN MICHIGAN.
I HAD TO GO AND VISIT
SOME HIGH SCHOOL ENGLISH
TEACHERS ONCE A MONTH,
AND THERE WAS ONE ROOM
THAT WAS SO DEADLY THAT
I JUST DREADED TO GO.
OH, FOR WEEKS ON THE FRONT
BLACKBOARD THERE WAS
A DEFINITION OF A SIMILE AND
ONE EXAMPLE OF A SIMILE,
AND HYPERBOLE AND ONE
EXAMPLE OF HYPERBOLE,
AND METAPHOR AND
ONOMATOPOEIA,
AND WHEN SHE
GAVE THEM A TEST,
SHE COUNTED IT WRONG
IF THEY DIDN'T GIVE
THE SAME EXAMPLES AS
SHE HAD ON THE BOARD.
IT WAS A DEADLY ROOM.
AND THEN ONE DAY I
WALKED TO THE DOOR,
JUST DREADING TO GO IN.
THE KIDS WERE SO JOVIAL
I WAS SURE THERE WAS
A SUBSTITUTE TEACHER,
BUT THERE WASN'T.
[laughter]
SHE HAD ASKED THEM TO
READ LAMB'S
DISSERTATION
ON ROAST PIG
AND IT HAD
TICKLED THEIR FUNNY BONES.
NOW SHE DID
EVERYTHING SHE COULD
TO KILL THEIR ENTHUSIASM.
[laughter]
SHE GAVE THEM A 10-ITEM
TRUE AND FALSE TEST
TO SEE IF
THEY'D READ IT.
AND THOSE LITTLE TRICKY
THINGS, YOU KNOW,
LITTLE TRICKY THINGS SO
THAT THE KIDS LEARNED
TO READ IN THOSE
PEOPLE'S CLASSROOMS,
NOT FOR THE BIG IDEAS, BUT
FOR THOSE LITTLE THINGS
THAT MAY APPEAR
ON THE TEST,
AND THEN THEY MISS ALL THE
BIG IDEAS BECAUSE
THEY'RE HUNTING UP THOSE LITTLE
THINGS THAT MAY BE PUT ON.
AND THEN SHE ASKED THEM
ALL THE DICTIONARY
DEFINITIONS OF THE WORD SHE
TOLD THEM THEY DIDN'T KNOW.
OH, WE DO THAT
ALL THE TIME.
IN FIRST GRADE
WE DO IT.
AFTER WE STIR UP THE
APPERCEPTIVE MASS AND
TALK ABOUT MOTIVATION,
THEN WE SAY HERE ARE
THE WORDS YOU
DON'T KNOW.
[laughter]
THEN SHE CAME TO THE
CLIMAX OF HER LESSON.
WHAT'S THE FUNNIEST PART
OF THE
DISSERTATION
ON ROAST PIG, AND BOY STOOD
UP AND READ AND LAUGHED,
THE CHILDREN
LAUGHED, SHE SAID, NO.
[laughter]
OH, IT'S AN
EXTREME EXAMPLE,
BUT IT PROVES
MY POINT.
HAVE YOU EVER SEEN
SOMEBODY IN A CLASSROOM
AND YOU SAY, WELL, WHAT
DO YOU THINK, TOMMY?
AND TOMMY TELLS YOU AND
THE TEACHER SAYS,
WELL, YES, PERHAPS.
PERHAPS.
WHAT DO YOU
THINK, MARY?
OH, YES, YES.
THAT'S THE SAME THING.
THAT'S THE SAME THING.
BUT IN LITERATURE, YOU GET
OUT ALL THE POSSIBLE WAYS
THAT PEOPLE HAVE
BEEN ABLE TO VIEW IT,
AND OUT OF THAT INTERPLAY
MAY COME THE POSSIBILITY
THAT SOMEBODY WHO DIDN'T
SEE MUCH ALL OF A SUDDEN
SEES MORE IN THAT
RE-CREATIVE PROCESS.
AND TO TEACH THEM
TO RE-CREATE IT.
NOW, LET'S COME A
LITTLE BIT CLOSER.
COMPREHENSION OF STORY
STARTS WITH, WELL,
WHAT'S THE STORY?
SINCE I'VE
BEEN RETIRED,
I'VE WORKED A VERY
LOT OF SCHOOLS,
MAYBE 20 OR MORE SCHOOLS,
DIRECTLY WITH THE CHILDREN
ALL THE WAY THROUGH ON
READING AND WRITING -
READING LITERATURE
AND WRITING.
AND THEY GOT
TO GO TOGETHER.
MY DEFINITION OF A
STORY IS CHARACTER,
A CHARACTER OR MAYBE
AN “S” AFTER IT.
A CHARACTER COPING
IN TERMS OF A QUEST.
A CHARACTER COPING
IN TERMS OF A QUEST.
YOU SAY, WHERE'S
THE PLOT?
HA, IT'S RIGHT THERE.
STORY STARTS WITH
CHARACTER, NOT WITH PLOT.
EVERY TIME MY FRIENDS WHO
WRITE FICTION GET STUCK
IN THEIR PLOT, IN
THE COPINGS,
WHAT DO THEY HAVE TO DO TO
GET IT STRAIGHTENED OUT?
NOT STICK WITH
THE PLOT.
GO BACK TO THAT
CHARACTER.
HOW IS THAT
CHARACTER MOVING?
AND IT'S IN
TERM OF A QUEST.
AND SOMETIMES THAT
QUEST, MY GOOD FRIENDS,
CAN BE A
PHYSICAL QUEST.
THE ACTUAL MOVEMENT
OF A JOURNEY,
AND IT CAN BE AN
EMOTIONAL QUEST,
AND IT CAN BE
A SOCIAL QUEST.
AND IT CAN BE A
PSYCHOLOGICAL QUEST.
AND SOMETIMES IT CAN
BE A SYMBOLIC QUEST.
BUT ALWAYS IN
TERMS OF A QUEST.
AND THOSE QUESTS,
MY FRIENDS,
IF THEY ARE WELL DONE,
ARE THE STUFF OF LIFE
THAT WE DEAL WITH FROM THE
TIME WE ARE VERY SMALL
TO THE REST OF OUR DAYS, FOR
SOMEHOW IN THE LARGER SENSE,
THAT QUEST DEALS WITH THE
STUFF THAT WE ARE SEEKING,
QUESTING FOR, WHETHER
WE'RE 7 OR 70:
LOVE,
AFFECTION,
BELONGING,
ACCEPTANCE.
AND IT'S DONE IN TERMS
OF SOME KIND OF A MOTIF,
AND I'M SURE THAT NORTHROP
FRYE IS RIGHT WHEN HE SAYS,
LITERATURE
BEGETS LITERATURE,
FOR THE MOTIFS DON'T
CHANGE ALL THAT MUCH.
THEY'RE USED OVER AND
OVER AND OVER AGAIN,
BUT THEY'RE USED IN
FRESH WAYS BECAUSE
YOU'VE CREATED A
NEW CHARACTER.
AND THOSE MOTIFS CAN
BE IN TERMS OF A QUEST,
AN ACTUAL JOURNEY, OR THEY
CAN BE A TEST OF A HERO,
CAN'T THEY?
THINK OF THE
STORIES YOU KNOW.
AND THE QUEST COULD
BE THE TEST OF A HERO.
OR IT COULD BE THE
TRIUMPH OF AN UNDERDOG.
OR IT COULD BE THE
SUCCESS OF A VENTURE.
OR IT COULD BE AN EXCHANGE
FROM ONE ROLE IN LIFE
TO ANOTHER ROLE IN LIFE.
OR IT COULD BE THAT
GOODNESS IS REWARDED.
OR IT COULD BE A
TRIANGLE SITUATION.
OH, YOU SAY, NOT IN
CHILDREN'S STORIES.
OF COURSE.
TRIANGLE SITUATIONS AREN'T
RESERVED FOR THOSE STORIES
ABOUT TWO MEN AND A WOMAN,
OR TWO WOMEN AND A MAN.
NO.
A LOT OF STORIES YOU
KNOW FOR CHILDREN
ARE TRIANGLE SITUATIONS.
GOOD GUY, BAD GUY,
INTERMEDIARY,
SOMETHING LEFT.
OR IT CAN BE
TRANSFORMATION WHERE
LITERALLY YOU'RE IN ONE
FORM AT ONE POINT
IN THE STORY AND TOTALLY
TRANSFORMED FROM A TOAD
TO A PRINCE IN ANOTHER.
OR IT CAN BE THE QUEST IN
TERMS OF LOSS AND RECOVERY.
OR IT CAN BE
RESCUE FROM EVIL.
THINK OF
NARNIA.
OR THE USE OF
A TALISMAN.
OR THE TWIST OF FORTUNE,
OR THE TEMPTING OF FATE
AND ITS OUTCOMES.
OR THE USE OF MAGIC
NUMBERS LIKE THREE AND SEVEN.
BUT ALWAYS, ALWAYS THESE
MOTIFS INTERPRETED IN TERMS,
IF IT'S WELL DONE,
ON THAT LARGER STUFF
OF LIFE THAT WE'RE
ALL QUESTING FOR.
NOW, OF COURSE, IN
MATURE ADULT NOVELS,
IT TAKES ONE FORM OR
ANOTHER WITH YOUNG CHILDREN.
LIKE IN THAT LITTLE BOOK
CALLED
WHOSE LITTLE BIRD AM I?,
WHICH I HAVE USED
WITH NURSERY SCHOOL
AND KINDERGARTEN
MANY, MANY TIMES.
A PICTURE OF A
PINFEATHERY,
CRUMPLED UP LITTLE
BIRD AND IT SAYS,
WHOSE LITTLE BIRD AM I?
AND I NEED THE BOOK.
I REALLY OUGHT TO LEARN
IT; BUT IT KEEPS SAYING,
YOU'RE NOT MY LITTLE
BIRD, SAID THE STORK.
YOUR BEAK ISN'T
LONG ENOUGH.
AND THEIR FACES
BEGIN TO GET LONG.
YOU'RE NOT MY LITTLE
BIRD, SAID THE OWL,
YOU DON'T LIKE
TO EAT MICE,
AND THEIR FACES
GET LONGER.
NOT BECAUSE
THEY'RE STUPID,
BUT BECAUSE
THEY KNOW.
AND WHEN YOU COME TO
THE END AND IT SAYS,
YOU'RE MY LITTLE BIRD AND
YOU LOOK JUST RIGHT TO ME,
AH, THEY SIGH
RIGHT OUT LOUD.
WHY?
BECAUSE WAY BACK OF IT
ALL, HERE'S THE QUEST.
HERE'S THE QUEST FOR THAT
WHICH MUST SOMEWAY
WHEN YOU'RE YOUNG, NOT
ON A MORALISTIC SENSE,
AND IF IT SAYS AND
THEREFORE, BOYS AND GIRLS,
DON'T YOU SEE, BE GOOD,
BE TRUE, BE BEAUTIFUL,
OH, THAT'S...
[laughter]
THE GOOD WRITER FOR
YOUNG CHILDREN TRUSTS
AND THE SIGH PROVES IT.
YOU JUST READ, OKAY?
CHARACTER COPING IN
TERMS OF A QUEST.
AND THE SECOND THING IS
THAT THIS CAN BE DONE
WITH THE SAME STUFF,
EITHER REALISTICALLY,
OR ROMANTICALLY,
OR FANCIFULLY.
YOU CAN USE THE
SAME STUFF OF LIFE
AND MAKE IT AS
IF IT HAPPENED.
OR AS IF IT IS IMPROBABLE
BUT IT MIGHT HAVE HAPPENED.
OR IN TERMS OF FANCIFUL,
IT DIDN'T HAPPEN AT ALL
BUT YOU BELIEVE IT DID.
AND YOU CAN USE EXACTLY
THE SAME STUFF IN DOING IT.
AND WHEN WE SAY ROMANTIC,
THIS IS IN THE REALM
OF THE IMPROBABLE.
THE CLASSIC EXAMPLE TO
ME IS
TREASURE ISLAND:
A MAGNIFICENT
EXAMPLE OF ROMANCE.
SO IS SHEILA BURNFORD'S
INCREDIBLE JOURNEY: ROMANCE.
ROMANCE DOESN'T MEAN LOVE
STORY IN THE TRADITIONAL SENSE
AT ALL AS
A LITERARY WAY.
IT MEANS THE IMPROBABLE
WHERE YOU SEE IT
THROUGH RATHER ROSE
COLOURED GLASSES,
NOT TOO HEAVILY TINTED.
NOT TOO HEAVILY TINTED,
BUT A LITTLE BIT
OF ROSE COLOURED GLASS.
IN CONTRAST TO THAT
WHICH REALISTICALLY,
PROBABLY COULD HAPPEN IN
YOUR BLOCK ON THE STREET.
SECOND THING BEYOND WHAT
STORY IS THAT I'D LIKE
TO SAY IS, THAT WE NEED TO
HELP CHILDREN TO GET
AT THESE STORIES IN TERMS
OF THREE LEVELS OF MEANING.
AND THE FIRST LEVEL
IS THE VERBAL LEVEL.
AND THE SECOND LEVEL IS
THE BEHAVIOURAL LEVEL.
AND THE THIRD LEVEL IS
THE TRANSCENDENT LEVEL,
AS I DEFINE THEM.
AND PLEASE NOT
TRANSCENDENTAL.
I AM NOT A
TRANSCENDENTALIST AT ALL.
PLEASE, NOT THAT.
TRANSCENDENT.
I USED TO CALL IT MORAL
AND SPIRITUAL BUT PEOPLE
MISINTERPRETED THAT MORAL
THING TO MEAN MORALIZING,
AND I HATE MORALIZING
STORIES BECAUSE
THEY'RE ALL
WRITTEN BACKWARDS.
YOU SKEW EVERYTHING TO GET
TO THAT MORALISTIC ENDING
THAT YOU'VE GOT TO PROVE.
ANYWAY, IT TALKS
DOWN TO CHILDREN.
IF YOU HAVEN'T TOLD IT
WELL ENOUGH THAT YOU DON'T
HAVE TO TELL THEM WHAT
YOU TOLD THEM AT THE END,
YOU DIDN'T TELL IT WELL
ENOUGH IN THE FIRST PLACE.
[laughter]
THE VERBAL LEVEL IS THE
MOST URGENT ONE
IN THE BEGINNING BECAUSE
IF YOU SHUT THE BOOK
AT THE BOTTOM OF THE FIRST PAGE,
THEY HAVEN'T KEPT YOU GOING.
THEY'VE GOT TO WRITE IN
SUCH A WAY THAT YOU WANT
TO GO ONTO PAGE 3,
PAGE 4, PAGE 5, PAGE 6.
THIS IS WHERE THE SERIAL
WRITERS ARE PRETTY GOOD.
THEY'RE VERY BAD
CRAFTSMEN IN WRITING,
BUT THEY'RE PRETTY
GOOD PSYCHOLOGISTS.
OH, SOME OF YOU READ
THE BOBBSEY TWINS,
MORE THAN ONE.
AND SOME OF YOU READ
NANCY
DREW
AND
HONEY BUNCH.
MM-HMM.
YOU SAY, OH,
ISN'T IT TERRIBLE.
FOR HEAVEN SAKES, NEVER TELL
THEM THEY CAN'T READ THOSE.
ONLY TELL THEM THAT THEY
CAN'T READ GOOD BOOKS.
BECAUSE YOU TELL THEM
THEY CAN'T READ THEM,
THEY'LL GO AND FIND
THEM SOMEWHERE.
YOU WOULD, TOO.
YOU KNOW, TABOOS?
WHEN A GROUP TRIED
TO PERSUADE US
NOT TO HAVE JAMES
BALDWIN'S NOVELS IN ANY
OF THE BOOKSTORES IN THE
COMMUNITY LIVING NEXT TO ME,
THERE WERE TWO OR THREE
OF THEM I HADN'T READ,
AND SO WHERE
DID I BUY THEM?
OVER THERE WHERE THEY WEREN'T
SUPPOSED TO SELL THEM.
THERE IS SOMETHING IN US
THAT SAYS IF IT'S TABOO.
WHEN WE WERE
IN HIGH SCHOOL,
WHY THE PRINCIPAL DID IT,
HE STOOD UP IN ASSEMBLY
ONE MORNING AND SAID, NOW,
IF ANY OF YOU ARE CAUGHT
READING
THE SHEIK
IN THE CLASSROOM,
YOU WILL BE EXPELLED.
WE HAD NEVER
HEARD OF THE BOOK.
[laughter]
BUT GUESS WHAT?
THE SENIORS POOLED THEIR
MONEY AND BOUGHT ONE
AND YOU READ IT WITH THE
UNDERSTANDING YOU WOULD NOT
READ IT ANYWHERE EXCEPT
IN THE STUDY HALL.
WE WERE INNOCENT KIDS.
SMALL TOWN.
WE COMBED EVERY PAGE AND
WE'D SAY TO OUR FRIENDS,
YOU THINK THIS IS
THE PART THAT...?

[laughter]

He giggles and says
WE NEVER DID FIND IT.

[laughter]

He continues
BUT FORBIDDING
IS JUST TEMPTING.
IN GOOD BOOKS
FOR CHILDREN,
THE CHARACTER IS NOT
DESCRIBED AS HE WAS HONEST
OR HE WAS GOOD,
OR HE WAS BAD.
BUT THROUGH THE LANGUAGE,
THROUGH THE BEHAVIOUR,
IT IS SHOWN SO THAT YOU
MAKE THE GENERALIZATION
AS THE READER, AND THEY SHOW
IT THROUGH THE BEHAVIOUR.
SO IT IS AROUND EACH PAGE
AND ITS JOB IS TO INVOLVE YOU,
BECAUSE YOU GET INVOLVED
THROUGH CHARACTER.
SOME OF YOU KNOW THE STORY
OF THE CAMEL WHO TOOK A WALK.
ONCE UPON A TIME THERE
WAS A LADY CAMEL WHO ONE
MORNING SAID TO HERSELF,
I THINK I'LL TAKE A WALK.
AND SHE STARTED
AND THE LADY CAMEL
WENT SWINGING
DOWN THE PATH.
WAY, WAY DOWN AT
THE END OF THE PATH,
THERE WAS A TIGER WHO
SAW THE LADY CAMEL,
AND THE TIGER
SAID TO HIMSELF,
AT THAT MOMENT WHEN
THE LADY TIGER COMES
TO THE PLACE WHERE THE
PALM TREE CASTS ITS SHADOW
ACROSS THE PATH, I'LL SPRING
ON HER AND I'LL EAT HER UP.
AND THE LADY CAMEL CAME
SWINGING DOWN THE PATH.
FOOTNOTE.
HOW MANY OF YOU ARE
ON THE TIGER'S SIDE?

[laughter]

He raises his hand inquisitively, and then continues
SO YOU DON'T WHAT TO KNOW
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE TIGER.
YOU WANT TO KNOW ALREADY
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE LADY CAMEL,
THE INVOLVEMENT
COMES THROUGH CHARACTER.
YOU KNOW THE REST
OF THE STORY?
WELL, I HAVEN'T
TIME TO TELL YOU.
OHHHH!
I WISH I DID.
IT'S A LOVELY STORY.
WELL, UP THE TREE THERE
WAS A LITTLE MONKEY,
AND THE MONKEY SAW WHAT -
I'M GOING TO ABBREVIATE IT -
SAW WHAT WAS IN THE
TIGER'S MIND.
AND THE MONKEY SAID AT
THE MOMENT WHEN THE TIGER
SPRINGS ON THE LADY CAMEL,
I'LL DROP A COCONUT ON
THE TIGER'S HEAD, AND
THE LADY CAMEL CAME
SWINGING DOWN THE PATH.
AND UP THE TREE A WAYS
THERE WAS A SQUIRREL
WHO SAW WHAT WAS IN THE
MONKEY'S MIND AND SAW
WHAT WAS IN THE TIGER'S
MIND AND THE SQUIRREL SAID,
AT THE MOMENT WHEN THE
MONKEY DROPS THE COCONUT
ON THE TIGER WHO'S ABOUT
TO SPRING ON THE LADY CAMEL,
I'LL DROP AN ACORN
ON THE MONKEY'S HEAD.
AND WAY IN THE
TOP OF THE TREE,
THERE WAS A
LITTLE BLUE BIRD.
AND THE LITTLE
BLUE BIRD SAID,
AT THAT MOMENT WHEN THE
SQUIRREL DROPS THE ACORN
ON THE MONKEY WHO'S
DROPPING THE COCONUT ON
THE TIGER WHO'S ABOUT TO
SPRING ON THE LADY CAMEL,
I'M GOING TO SWOOP DOWN
AND PECK THAT SQUIRREL
RIGHT ON HIS HEAD.
AND THE LADY CAMEL CAME
SWINGING DOWN THE PATH,
CLOSER AND CLOSER
AND CLOSER.
NOW, IF YOU HAD
LOOK AT THIS TIGER,
YOU WOULD HAVE SEEN THAT
THOUGH HE SEEMED TO BE ASLEEP,
HIS EYES WERE OPEN JUST
LITTLE TINY SLITS WATCHING.
BUT THE LADY CAMEL CAME
SWINGING DOWN THE PATH
CLOSER AND CLOSER TO WHERE
THE PALM TREE CASTS ITS SHADOW.
ALL THE ANIMALS WERE
SILENT AS IF EVERYBODY
BUT THE LADY CAMEL KNEW
WHAT WAS ABOUT TO HAPPEN.
AND THE TIGER WAS READY.
AND THE MONKEY WAS
READY WITH THE COCONUT,
AND THE SQUIRREL WAS
READY WITH THE ACORN,
AND THE LITTLE BLUE BIRD
WAS READY TO SWOOP DOWN.
AND THE LADY CAMEL CAME
CLOSER AND CLOSER,
AND CLOSER.
[chuckling]
AND SUDDENLY
SHE STOPPED.
THREW BACK HER HEAD,
YAWNED, AND SAID,
OH, UM, I THINK I'VE
GONE FAR ENOUGH.

[laughter]

[long applause]

Jacobs continues
YOU SEE WHAT
THAT IS?
YOUR INVOLVEMENT
WITH HER.
SOME WAY YOU'VE JUST HAD
TO SEE THAT SHE GOT.
AND THE NICE THING ABOUT
THAT STORY IS THAT
WHAT IT DOES IS WHAT
MARGARET WISE BROWN
CALLS THE UNEXPECTED
INEVITABLE.
[laughter]
THE UNEXPECTED INEVITABLE.
AND THEN THERE'S THE
TRANSCENDENT LEVEL
AND THESE ARE THE BOOKS
THAT MAKE THE GREATEST
DIFFERENCES IN OUR LIVES.
THEY ARE THE BOOKS THAT
SOMEHOW GO BEYOND THE PAGE.
THESE ARE THE BOOKS
THAT YEARS LATER,
WHEN YOU SEE THEM
ON THE SHELVES,
YOU MAY HAVE FORGOTTEN WHO
THE MAIN CHARACTER'S NAME WAS,
AND ACTUALLY HOW IT
HAPPENED IN SEQUENCE,
BUT THAT SOMEHOW OR OTHER,
THERE IS A RESIDUE OF MEANING
THAT SOMEWAY LIGHTED
UP SOMETHING IN YOU
THAT HAD BEEN A DARK PLACE
IN YOUR EXPERIENCE BEFORE.
THESE ARE THE GREAT
BOOKS IN OUR LIVES.
OH, ALL BOOKS
COULDN'T BE LIKE THAT.
IF THEY WERE, WE
COULDN'T STAND IT.
WE'VE GOT TO HAVE SOME
THAT ARE LIGHTER THAN THAT.
AND THAT'S WHY BIG KIDS
OUGHT TO HAVE A CHANCE
TO READ THE NEW PICTURE
STORYBOOKS THAT THEY
HAVEN'T SEEN BECAUSE
THEY'VE GROWN OLDER,
AND SO IF THEY CAN'T
LOOK AT THEM FREELY,
THEN YOU SEND THEM DOWN
AND HAVE THEM HELP
THE LIBERIAN UNPACK THEM SO
THAT WHILE THEY UNPACK,
THEY CAN LOOK AND
STILL BE BIG KIDS.
OR ELSE YOU TEACH THEM TO
READ THEM TO GO DOWN
AND HELP IN FIRST GRADE
AND THE KINDERGARTEN WHEN
THEY NEED HELP, SO THEY
CAN LOOK AT THEM AND
GET TO KNOW THEM
BECAUSE THEY CAME AFTER
THEY WERE PASSED THE
PICTURE STORYBOOKS.
WE COULDN'T LIVE WITH
IT IF IT WAS ALL
THAT KIND OF READING.
BUT THESE ARE THE ONES THAT
SOMEHOW ILLUMINATE THINGS.
IF YOU'LL PARDON THE
PERSONAL EXAMPLE,
I WAS BROUGHT UP IN THAT
ERA OF PURITANISM WHEN
I WAS SUPPOSED TO
BELIEVE THAT “M” IS
FOR THE MILLION
THINGS SHE GAVE ME.
“O” MEANS ONLY THAT
SHE'S GROWING OLD.
“T” IS FOR THE TEARS
SHE SHED TO SAVE ME,
AND “H” IS FOR HER
HEART OF PUREST GOLD.
AND THOUGH I DID LOVE MY
MOTHER IN MANY, MANY WAYS,
I HAD THOSE MOMENTS WHEN
I DIDN'T AND I FELT
VERY GUILTY ABOUT IT.
BECAUSE I'D BEEN
TAUGHT, YOU SEE,
“M” IS FOR THE MILLION
THINGS SHE GAVE ME.
AND THEN I READ
OF HUMAN BONDAGE.
I DON'T KNOW THE NAME
OF THAT YOUNG MAN
IN THAT STORY ANYMORE.
I DON'T REMEMBER MUCH
EXCEPT THAT I DO KNOW
THAT ALL OF A SUDDEN
SOMETHING THAT HAD BEEN
UNILLUMINATED IN MY LIFE,
NOT IN A MORALISTIC SENSE,
BUT IN A TRANSCENDING
SENSE THAT ALL OF A SUDDEN
IT CAME TO THAT LOVE AND
HATE AREN'T SEPARATE COINS.
THAT LOVE AND HATE ARE TWO
SIDES OF THE SAME COIN.
JUST THE SAME FOR US AS
TEACHERS THAT THEORY
AND PRACTICE ARE NOT
TWO SEPARATE COINS.
THEORY AND PRACTICE ARE
TWO SIDES OF EXACTLY
THE SAME COIN.
AND WHEN YOU SAY I
DON'T WANT THEORY,
I WANT PRACTICE.
NONSENSE, YOU
CAN'T HAVE IT,
BECAUSE WHATEVER YOU DO IN
A CLASSROOM GROWS OUT
OF SOME KIND OF A THEORETICAL
CONSTRUCT THAT YOU MAY
NOT HAVE VERBALIZED BUT
IS THERE JUST THE SAME,
AND NOT IN TERMS OF
BEHAVIOURAL OBJECTIVES.
OUT
OF HUMAN BONDAGE, THERE
WAS THIS TRANSCENDENT QUALITY
THAT MAKES IT A GREAT.
WHEN I WAS TEACHING,
THERE WAS A FIGHT BETWEEN
CATHOLIC AND PROTESTANTS
IN A SMALL TOWN
IN MICHIGAN, AND I WAS
A SECOND-YEAR TEACHER.
AND HERE WERE THREE OF US
ONLY 20 YEARS OLD ON A FENCE.
AND BY SHEER
CHANCE, I READ
DEATH COMES FOR
THE ARCHBISHOP.
AND ALL OF A SUDDEN THERE
CAME AN ILLUMINATION
OF THESE DIFFERENCES THAT
I HAD BEEN ABLE SINCE
TO PUT TOGETHER FOR MYSELF
BECAUSE THAT MOMENT
OF ENLIGHTENMENT, NOT
BECAUSE THEY MORALIZED,
BUT BECAUSE THROUGH
THE INSIGHTFULNESS
OF MY COMING TO THE
EXPERIENCE IN MY MIND,
I TRANSCENDED THE PAGE.
COMPREHENSION OF
STORY, MY DEAR FRIEND,
BELONGS IN THESE REALMS.
AND WE TALK TO
CHILDREN ABOUT THEM,
WHAT THEY'VE READ,
AND THEY TALK TO US,
AND HOPEFULLY THEY
WILL TELL US THAT THIS
TRANSCENDENT LEVEL,
THOSE BOOKS THAT
MEAN SO MUCH TO THEM.
BUT IT IS ONLY GOING TO HAPPEN
IN THOSE CLASSROOMS WHERE,
LIKE MARY APPLEGATE
SAYS ON ONE OF HER PAGES
“IN HELPING
CHILDREN WRITE.”
IT ONLY HAPPENS WHERE
CHILDREN DARE
TO TELL THEMSELVES
AS THEY ARE.
AND ABOUT THE FIFTH
PAGE IN HER BOOK,
SHE SAYS, A CHILD WILL NO
SOONER SHARE THE TREASURES
OF HIS MIND WITH THE TEACHER
WHOM HE DOESN'T TRUST,
THAN A SMALL BOY WILL
SHARE THE TREASURES
OF HIS TROUSERS POCKET
WITH A STRANGER.
BUT, AH, THOSE WONDERFUL
MOMENTS IN THE CLASSROOM
WHEN A LITTLE KID
COMES TO YOU AND SAYS,
I HAVE READ SO AND SO, AND
THEN CAN TALK TO YOU
OUT OF THE DEPTH OF THAT
EXPERIENCE IN TERMS
OF THE ILLUMINATION
THAT HAS COME TO HIM.
SOME PEOPLE LIKE TO
TELL OTHER PEOPLE
WHAT THE GREAT
BOOKS ARE.
NO.
WE MAKE THE GREATNESS
IN TERMS OF WHO WE ARE.
AND WHERE'S THE MUSIC, IN
THE PIANO OR IN THE PIANIST?
OR IS IT IN THE
INTERACTION OF THE TWO?
IF WE REALLY GET TO
THE COMPREHENSION
OF LITERATURE, WE
KEEP IT BELIEVABLE.
WITHIN WHAT IT IS
SUPPOSED TO BE DOING.
AND IT ISN'T TO MAKE
US BETTER PEOPLE
IN THAT SENSE
OF THE WORD.
IT IS TO MAKE US BIGGER
PEOPLE WHO CAN WALK TALLER
BECAUSE SOMEHOW OR OTHER
WE HAVE COME IN CONTACTS
THROUGH BRINGING MEANING
TO AND TAKING MEANING FROM
THOSE SQUIGGLY
LITTLE BLACK MARKS.

[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 2