I love books. Especially ones that you find “buried” somewhere like hidden treasure.
I recently scooped up a complete 1954 set of Compton’s Pictured Encyclopedias at an estate sale. Thinking I found a treasure chest of rare gems, I inquired wistfully about the price. “Five dollars.” What? SOLD! The lady jokingly said she preferred her encyclopedias on CDs. True, they take up less space, but the real joy of an encyclopedia is accidentally flipping to a page on Coal, and finding it enjoyable, when you really set out to read about Chocolate. Children, in particular, get hooked by pictoral encyclopedias. What child could resist a picture series entitled, “Six Chapters in the Life of a Cheese?”
The best thing about my 1954 set is the engaging way the entries are written. Written before post-modernism, the information is authoritatively stated and designed to impart responsibility to the reader. The title page offers this objective:
To inspire ambition, to stimulate the imagination, to provide the inquiring mind with accurate information told in an interesting style, and thus lead into broader fields of knowledge, such is the purpose of this work.
Of course, many entries are outdated and even shocking, like the picture of Japanese children being fumigated for lice with DDT, under the entry Parasites (are those children even alive today?).But even these open up great conversation.
Reading encyclopedias aloud to younger children can help to hook them on non-fiction. At that age, the line between fiction and non-fiction can be rather blurry. Under Camping, I read this entry to my kids:
“Horace Kephart, famous authority on camp lore, gives us the key to the problem when he says: “Ideal outfitting is to have what we want, when we want it, and not to be bothered with anything else.”
My son let loose a little chortle, and in all sincerity said, “Well, that’s a horse’s opinion.” I looked blankly at him, then it hit me! Horace…horse. All kinds of treasures are to be found in these books!