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Harold Bloom on the importance of reading children's literature

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

Harold Bloom recommends 41 stories and tales and 83 poems for children in his book, Stories And Poems For Extremely Intelligent Children Of All Ages. He characterizes the essence of these recommendations as "a prolongation of time all of us still wish to possess."

Having said that, Harold Bloom also reminds us why we lose that grip on reality, on the continuation of time, when we read what he calls "nonsense writing" because it obstructs our relationship with time; it severs life's being and becoming so that the continuity of time possesses no unified, universal form and is presented to us, because of "nonsense writing" like a thousand different things with no lasting effect.

Harold Bloom writes:

"Anyone, of any age, reading this will see quickly that I do not accept the category of "Children's Literature," which had some use and distinction a century ago, but now all too often is a mask for the dumbing down that is destroying our literary culture.

Most of what is now commercially offered as children's literature would be inadequate fare for any reader of any age at any time. I myself first read nearly everything I have gathered together in this book between the ages of five and fifteen, and I have gone on reading these stories and poems from fifteen to seventy.

If anyone finds a book that does not yield immediately to their understanding, I would urge them to persevere. It is by extending oneself, by exercising some capacity previously unused that you come to a better knowledge of your own potential.

I am old-fashioned and romantic enough to believe that many children, given the right circumstances, are natural readers until this instinct is destroyed by the media. The tyranny of the screen threatens any order in which literary value or human wisdom can be preferred to the steady flow of information.

It may be an illusion to believe that the magical connection of solitary children to the best books can endure, but such a relationship does go so long a way back that it will not easily expire.

The romance of reading, like all experiential romance, depends upon enchantment, and enchantment relies upon the potential of power rather than upon complete knowledge.

You are unlikely to fall in love with someone, however charming such a person maybe, if you have known one another all your lives. What you can know fully will not induce you to fall in love, so that falling in love with a book is not wholly unlike falling in love with a person.

Reading well makes children more interesting both to themselves and others, a process in which they will develop a sense of being separate and distinct selves. To be alone with a true book is to be able to see more about who you are.

Where shall we find ourselves more truly and more strange? Ideally, in family and in friends, or at last, if possible, in life partnerships. Yet there are so many shadows, so many difficulties, in all human love that something deep within us may go on feeling lonely.

The child alone with her or his book is, for me, the true image of potential happiness, of something evermore about to be. A child, lonely and gifted, will employ a marvelous story or poem to create a companion for himself or myself. Such an invisible friend is not an unhealthy phantasmagoria, but the mind learning to exercise itself in all its powers."

These excerpts are taken from Harold Bloom's Stories And Poems For Extremely Intelligent Children Of All Ages.


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