100 Best Books for Children ~ Kingsley

Numbers 7, 8, and 9 on Baldwin’s The Hundred Best Books for Children list found in The Book-lover are classics by author Charles Kingsley: The Heroes, The Water-Babies, and Madame How and Lady Why.

Charles Kingsley lived in the 1800s and was a clergyman, professor, reformer, and private tutor to the Prince of Wales. He enjoyed writing historical fiction including his version of the retelling of the Greek myths for children, The Heroes.

Many familiar with Charlotte Mason will already be familiar with Kingsley’s works.

Charles Kingsley (1819–75), a scholar and clergyman, is best known for Westward Ho!, a fine historical novel, but his main interest in life was in social questions…. He called for a rebirth of the Christian spirit in both church and state among both employers and workers. But not all of Kingsley’s books were so serious. Westward Ho! is a vigorous tale of patriotic adventure, intrigue and naval warfare set in the days of Queen Elizabeth…. Another story by Kingsley, The Water Babies, is a charming fairy tale about a human child who was equipped with gills for breathing like a fish so that he could, and did, live under water. These two — Westward Ho! and The Water Babies — will probably always be the most popular of Kingsley’s Works.

“Great Stories and Great Story-Tellers,” The Book of Knowledge

The Heroes or Greek Fairy Tales for My Children

The Heroes, as mentioned above, is Kinglsey’s imaginative retelling of the Greek myths for children. It covers the following stories:

  • Perseus.
  • The Argonauts.
  • Theseus.

Now, I love these old Hellens heartily; and I should be very ungrateful to them if I did not, considering all that they have taught me; and they seem to me like brothers, though they have all been dead and gone many hundred years ago.  So as you must learn about them, whether you choose or not, I wish to be the first to introduce you to them, and to say, ‘Come hither, children, at this blessed Christmas time, when all God’s creatures should rejoice together, and bless Him who redeemed them all.  Come and see old friends of mine, whom I knew long ere you were born.  They are come to visit us at Christmas, out of the world where all live to God; and to tell you some of their old fairy tales, which they loved when they were young like you.’

For nations begin at first by being children like you, though they are made up of grown men.  They are children at first like you—men and women with children’s hearts; frank, and affectionate, and full of trust, and teachable, and loving to see and learn all the wonders round them; and greedy also, too often, and passionate and silly, as children are.

As with Hawthorne’s tales, the question of why study Greek myths is one for the ages. Kingsley explains:

You can hardly find a well-written book which has not in it Greek names, and words, and proverbs; you cannot walk through a great town without passing Greek buildings; you cannot go into a well-furnished room without seeing Greek statues and ornaments, even Greek patterns of furniture and paper; so strangely have these old Greeks left their mark behind them upon this modern world in which we now live.  And as you grow up, and read more and more, you will find that we owe to these old Greeks the beginners of all our mathematics and geometry—that is, the science and knowledge of numbers, and of the shapes of things, and of the forces which make things move and stand at rest; and the beginnings of our geography and astronomy; and of our laws, and freedom, and politics—that is, the science of how to rule a country, and make it peaceful and strong.  And we owe to them, too, the beginning of our logic—that is, the study of words and of reasoning; and of our metaphysics—that is, the study of our own thoughts and souls.  And last of all, they made their language so beautiful that foreigners used to take to it instead of their own; and at last Greek became the common language of educated people all over the old world, from Persia and Egypt even to Spain and Britain.  And therefore it was that the New Testament was written in Greek, that it might be read and understood by all the nations of the Roman empire; so that, next to the Jews, and the Bible which the Jews handed down to us, we owe more to these old Greeks than to any people upon earth.

The Heroes
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The Water-Babies

The Water-Babies is a children’s fairy tale about Tom, a chimney sweep, who has a series of adventures as a water-baby (human who has gills and can live underwater). After learning many lessons (such as do unto others as you would have them do unto you), Tom earns the right to become human again.

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Madame How and Lady Why

This was Kingsley’s natural history title told to children. Many of the concepts would now be considered out of date. Subtitled “First Lessons in Earth Lore for Children,” the story-telling form makes the book an interesting addition to a reading list despite any inaccuracies.

By reading the book aloud, you can address current scientific thought. You’ll find a well-researched study guide available at AmblesideOnline.

When I was your age, there were no such children’s books as there are now.  Those which we had were few and dull, and the pictures in them ugly and mean: while you have your choice of books without number, clear, amusing, and pretty, as well as really instructive, on subjects which were only talked of fifty years ago by a few learned men, and very little understood even by them.  So if mere reading of books would make wise men, you ought to grow up much wiser than us old fellows.  But mere reading of wise books will not make you wise men: you must use for yourselves the tools with which books are made wise; and that is—your eyes, and ears, and common sense.

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Additional Resources
Greek Myths

D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths
This is the version we used to introduce the Greek myths.

Westward Ho!
Kingsley’s other well-known title.

Author Notebooking Pages {Free Download}
Use this free set to create an author notebook for our 100 Best Books for Children series.

The Hundred Best Books for Children ~ Introduction
The Hundred Best Books for Children

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