Call me an Anglophile but I have an abiding interest in English, my mother tongue, and the literature that flowed—and still flows—from it. Which is why I read a book titled English Literature; A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University press, 2010). It was written by Jonathan Bates, a Shakespeare scholar at the University of Warwick.
It is indeed, a short, but extremely lucid, survey of the vast range of English literature, full of interesting ideas and anecdotes touching, for the most part, on well-known writers, but quite a few about whom I did not know. I learned a lot.
The most unusual part of the book is its first chapter, which is about children’s literature. Bate’s premise is perfectly logical; the books we read as children are the books that shape our own literary culture. I have never read a survey of English literature that begins this way.
In my experience, university English professors have not the slightest interest in books for young people. More often than not they have quite forgotten, even deny, they read children’s books. Of course, they did read them—or they would not have become immersed in English literature, which is Bate’s point.
I once worked as a librarian at a college in New Jersey. One day an English professor came to me with much excitement. “We just got the state to approve two reading methods courses as a requirement for elementary teachers!”
“That’s good,” I said. “Did you have to drop anything from the requirements?”
“Just the course in kiddie lit.”
Oh, if every school teacher were exposed, in range and depth, to the world of children’s literature—came to know it, love it, and, most of all, to share it—how much richer would our children’s lives become!