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BLOWING OUT THE BOY'S BRAINS
BY FRANKLIN K. MATHIEWS
CHIEF SCOUT LIBRARIAN, BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA
HAT 1,500 School Children Did between Friday and the Following Monday" and "The Hobbies of 933 Boys were the captions of two charts that attracted universal attention at the Rochester, New York, Child Welfare Exhibit recently held. In both cases reading claimed the largest percentage of time. That is most gratifying; but it must be understood that practically in all surveys of children's reading made by librarians and teachers almost without exception the unwelcome fact is disclosed that the books of the "underground library" are as influential as those circulated by public means.
Happily, though, the volumes of the dime or the nickel novel are fast disappearing from this private circulating exchange. Through the good influences of the public libraries and schools and the successful competition of the "movies "the "yellow-back" is being hard hit. But, alas! the modern "penny dreadful ” has not been banished quite so completely as at first appears. latest appearance is in the disguise of the bound book, and sometimes so attractively bound that it takes its place on the retail book-store shelf alongside the best juvenile publications.
In making a survey of children's reading in a certain Southern city recently, in the very best book-store I found the famous Frank Merriwell nickel novel series bound in cloth and selling for fifty cents. And I happen to know that the author of this series, under another name, is writing other books for the same publishing house. The fact of the business is that the passing of the half-dime novel has meant lean times for the authors of this type of reading. I have it upon very good authority that the circulation of the leading nickel novel has been reduced from 200,000 to 50,000 a week. Consequently these writers must find a new market for their output; and this is supplied for the most part by some of those publishers whose books are written by authors whose motives and methods are similar to those of the original producers of slot-machine juveniles.
The public will, I am sure, be interested in knowing just how most of the books that
sell from twenty-five to fifty cents are, not written, but manufactured. There is usually one man who is as resourceful as a Balzac sofar as ideas and plots for stories are concerned. He cannot, though, develop them all, so he employs a number of men who write for him. I know of one man who has a contract to furnish his publisher each year with twenty-five books manufactured in this way. Another author manufactured last year more than fifty. By such methods from year to year the popular-priced series are kept going, the manager of the writing syndicate being able to furnish the publisher upon demand any kind of a story that may be needed.
In almost all of this "mile-a-minute fiction " some inflammable tale of improbable adventure is told. Boys move about in aeroplanes as easily as though on bicycles; criminals are captured by them with a facility that matches the ability of Sherlock Holmes; and when it comes to getting on in the world, the cleverness of these hustling boys is comparable only to those captains of industry and Napoleons of finance who have made millions in a minute. Insuperable difficulties and crushing circumstances are as easily overcome and conquered as in fairy tales. Indeed, no popular character of history or legend or mythological story was ever more wise, more brave, more resourceful, than some of these up-to-the-minute boy heroes are made to appear in the Sunday supplement juvenile stories.
I have just been reading a book of this type in which the captain of a new submarine craft is represented to be a boy of sixteen ; though so young, he had," so the author says, after a stern apprenticeship, actually succeeded in making himself a world-known expert in the handling of submarine torpedo-boats." Continuing, we are told that with this brilliant young genius there are two other sixteen-year old boys, and it is (here I quote from the book) "rumored, and nearly as often believed, that these three sea-bred young Americans know as much as any one in the United States on the special subject of submarine boat building." In a previous volume of the series, "these three young friends secured the prize medal at Annapolis, where for a brief
BLOWING OUT THE BOY'S BRAINS
Because these cheap books do not develop criminals or lead boys, except very occasionally, to seek the Wild West, parents who buy such books think they do their boys no harm. The fact is, however, that the harm done is simply incalculable. I wish I could label each one of these books: "Explosives! Guaranteed to Blow Your Boy's Brains Out."
One of the most valuable assets a boy has is his imagination. In proportion as this is nurtured a boy develops initiative and resourcefulness. The greatest possible service that education can render is to train the boy to grasp and master new situations as they constantly present themselves to him; and what helps more to make such adjustment than a lively imagination? Story books of the right sort stimulate and conserve this noble faculty, while those of the viler and cheaper sort, by overstimulation, debauch and vitiate, as brain and body are debauched and destroyed by strong drink.
If you take gasoline and feed it to an automobile a drop at a time, you get splendid results, because you have confined and directed it with intelligent care and caution. Take the same quantity of gasoline and just pour it out and you either don't get anywhere or you get somewhere you don't care to go. Here is an apt illustration of the proper use of the elements that must enter in to make good books for boys. For, let it be understood, the good book for the average boy must be one that, as the "Century Magazine" says, is "wholesomely perilous." And what is meant is this: the red-blooded boy, the boy in his early teens, must have his thrill; he craves excitement, has a passion for action, "something must be doing" all the time; and in nothing is this more true than in his reading.
The difference between a "Treasure Island" and a modern "thriller" in its many editions is not a difference in the elements so much as the use each author makes
of them. A Stevenson works with combustibles, but, as in the case of using the gasoline, he confines them, directs them with care and caution, always thinking of how he may use them in a way that will be of advantage to the boy. In the case of the modern "thriller" the author works with the same materials, but with no moral purpose, with no real intelligence. No effort is made to confine or direct or control these highly explosive elements. The result is that, as some boys read such books, their imaginations are literally "blown out," and they go into life as terribly crippled as though by some material explosion they had lost a hand or foot. not only will the boy be greatly handicapped in business, but the whole world of art in its every form almost is closed to him. Why are there so few men readers of the really good books, or even of the passing novels, sometimes of real worth? Largely, I think, because the imagination of so many men as boys received such brutal treatment at the hands of those authors and publishers who give no concern as to what they write or publish so long as it returns constantly the expected financial gain.
The natural thing would be for me to tell you the titles of these books. Space will not permit. It would take pages to give the titles even of those that have been published in the last three months, which, with scores of others, will make up the annual supply for the holiday season, when these books are sold by the million. And the very fact that so many are used for Christmas gifts makes all our children liable to this pernicious influence. Indeed, at that time tens of thousands of them will be distributed through Sundayschools at the annual children's Christmas festival, and it is very possible that you will yourself purchase them for your own children, since they are on sale everywhere, even many of the denominational publishing houses listing them in their catalogues.
How shall we find a way out? It cannot be said too emphatically that, if supervision be given, it is comparatively easy to win children from any form of these sensational books. Boys read these books because they have in them just those elements that appeal so much to boys. But that is not to say that boys will not read better and the best books.
I discovered a striking instance of this as told by a bookseller in South Carolina. I found in his store a table of nickel novels.
He said that the sale of these had in the last few months fallen off ninety-five per cent, and he also told me, with considerable pleasure, the cause. The sale of the modern " "'penny dreadful" had been made among the mill boys of his town, but recently the mill-owner had engaged a Young Men's Christian Association secretary to work among his boy employees.
This welfare worker, recogniz
ing the worth of boys' reading, has promoted a system of traveling libraries through the several mills, with the result that the nickel novel has become a thing of the past. And it is always so. A multitude of as successful experiences might be cited.
What about the bookseller, then? I would answer with confidence that the average bookseller is not disposed to promote the sale of pernicious or wicked books. In a number of instances booksellers have told me that they would remove from their stock any book I thought objectionable. Not long ago the manager of the book section of a department store in a New England town read an article condemning cheap and poor children's books. He realized that it was exactly the kind of books that he was selling mostly. Through a friend he sent some of these books to the local children's librarian, whose report, of course, confirmed his fear that they were not wholesome. Since then he has not pushed so hard the sales of such books, and has paid more attention to the better books for children.
So we must look further, but not far-only to the other side of the counter. The chief reason why so many of these trashy books are circulated through the retail trade is be
cause they are so cheap. The "weakness" is not with the boy's taste, but with the parent's pocketbook; the fault lies not so much behind the counter as in front of it. But help is near to meet this weakness and correct this fault. Many of the reputable publishers are placing in competition with the trashy books reprint editions of some of their very best juveniles, all of them written by those modern authors whose books are so popular with all boys. These retail for fifty cents. Printed from the original plates, they are in every way practically equal to the editions which sold on first publication at prices ranging from one dollar to one dollar and fifty cents. So widely have these reprint books been distributed through the retail trade that they may be found wherever books are sold.
Just as I am closing this article there comes to my desk a letter from a scoutmaster in Lansing, Michigan. To the letter a postal card is attached signed by the sheriff stating that information is wanted relative to the whereabouts of Guy Arthur Phinisey, who left his home in Lansing, Michigan, on September 2, 1914," etc. In the letter of the scoutmaster I find these significant words: "From the information I have received there seems to be no reason for his leaving home of his own accord. He has a good home, and his parents seem quiet but thrifty. The only possible clue I can find is 'cheap reading.'"
Of course not every boy who indulges himself in "cheap reading" will be so affected, but who of us is wise enough to know which one it is that will be so influenced?
JUNIOR CITIZENS IN ACTION
BY LYMAN BEECHER STOWE
HE Junior Municipality idea devised by William R. George and described in The Outlook about a year ago has now accomplished definite results. The idea, in brief, consists in having a Junior government, elected by the boys and girls between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one, in duplication of the regular or senior government-that is, every adult official in the government has a boy or girl understudy. These Junior understudies have as many
duties and as much authority as their principals choose to confer upon them. The plan has now been in operation for a year in the two small cities of Ithaca and Cortland, New York. In Ithaca Mr. George himself has supervised it, while in Cortland it has had no regular supervision. In Ithaca not long ago the Junior Chief of Police asked the senior Chief what he could do to help him. More in jest than earnest, the Chief replied that he could capture a forger that the department
JUNIOR CITIZENS IN ACTION
had been after for six months. This was at three o'clock in the afternoon. By ten o'clock that night the boy police had located the forger, and the next day he was captured. One of the Junior officers was a special delivery mail carrier in the post-office. This boy made up a dummy special delivery letter addressed to the forger. This letter he took to the house in which the boys suspected the man was hiding. A woman living on the ground floor stated that a man and a woman were living upstairs. The woman upstairs denied that any man lived with her, but confirmed the boys' suspicions by trying to get them to leave the letter with her. They immediately reported the circumstances to the Chief of Police; he sent officers to search the house, and the man was found. A little later a Junior police officer caught a prowler in the early morning stealing milk bottles which had just been left by the milkman. This strapping youth, instead of calling for a policeman, took the culprit personally to the police station. At another time the Junior Mayor came across an insane woman who was about to throw herself off a cliff. He called a policeman, and with him took the woman to the police station, and thence to the City Hospital, and finally to a State asylum. At times, when there have been large crowds to handle, the Chief of Police has on his own initiative sworn in boy officials to help in preserving order.
Some boys from well-to-do families in Ithaca stayed away from school at frequent intervals and submitted excuses which, on investigation, were found to have been forged by other boys. Finally the father of one of the boys went to the Superintendent of Schools and asked that his boy and the other offenders be turned over to the Junior Court for correction. As the Superintendent was at his wits' end, he most gladly agreed to try the experiment. Accordingly, the boys were indicted by a Grand Jury of boys and tried before the boy Judge. They waived their right of trial by jury. As it was in each case the first offense, the boy Judge merely required them to report every other day for two weeks to the Junior probation officer, with the understanding that their probation period would be indefinitely extended if their conduct reports were not satisfactory. whole group, both those who had forged the excuses and those who had used them, reported regularly and satisfactorily for the required two weeks, and were then dis
charged by the Court, with a warning as to the greater severity of the treatment which would be meted out to them if they offended again. There has been no further trouble with these boys.
A number of boys between the ages of eight and fifteen were arraigned before City Judge Crowey as chronic truants. He promptly turned them over to his understudy, the Junior City Judge, to handle as he saw fit. The young Judge made some reliable boy who attended the same school responsible for the attendance of each truant. These boy guardians were of sufficient size and strength to carry their point by physical persuasion in case of necessity, but they were never obliged to resort to force. The Junior truant officers came one day upon a truant camp where the chronic evaders of the privileges of public education met in fraternal gatherings. The young officers caught two of the delinquents after a chase of almost a mile, and marched them to their home. Here their mother tearfully explained that they could not go to school because they had no shoes and stockings. That put a very different face on the matter, and the boy officers did not press the case until the truants had been furnished with shoes and stockings, gladly furnished by more fortunate youths. After that official compulsion was superfluous. More and more of the truant work is now being turned over to the Junior Court.
City Clerk Kerr has given some of the older Junior officers, some of whom are students in the high school and others in Cornell, actual problems to work out connected with the levying and collecting of the city's taxes. Several Junior citizens have been called upon by city officials to inspect and report to them on public works which they lacked the time to look into personally. At a dinner given last spring by the Junior officers to the senior officers many such plans for co-operation were informally discussed. Mayor Tree has at all times welcomed the co-operation of his understudy, the Junior Mayor, and the whole Junior gov
At the conference of the mayors of the State held last spring at Auburn, New York, Mayor Angell, of Cortland, allowed the Junior Mayor to take his place on the programme at one of the conferences and describe the workings of the Cortland Junior Municipality. At the same conference the Junior Mayor read a paper prepared by Mayor
Angell. After the meeting many of the mayors congratulated the young man, and requested fuller information, so that they. might lay the matter before their respective Councils. On his return home the young Mayor repeated his address before the adult City Council at their request.
A little later a Child Welfare Exhibit was given in Cortland, about which a local paper made the following matter-of-fact statement: "In the absence of Mayor W. H. Angell, Henry Van Brocklin, Cortland's Junior Municipality Mayor, presided. The speakers were Dr. Thomas, of the State Department of Health, and Rev. W. W. Way, rector of Grace Episcopal Church." The boy made the opening remarks and greeted the delegates, who came from various parts of the State.
The officers of the Cortland Junior Municipality, on their own initiative, worked up a cleaner-city campaign, which consummated last spring in a successful City Clean-Up Day, which the Junior citizens conducted under the guidance and with the official backing of the regular city officials.
The Junior Common Council meets twice
a month in the regular Common Council rooms and discusses the affairs of the city in the same manner as do their seniors; also a considerable number of the Junior Councilmen attend as guests the meetings of the regular Common Council.
In short, that the Junior Municipality works, and works to the common advantage of the adult government, the boys and girls, and the whole community, has now been demonstrated in practice. The difficulties in applying the idea to larger and more complex communities would obviously be much greater. Mr. George believes the plan might be worked out by district units for great cities. The writer believes, and Mr. George agrees, that adult supervision will be an essential to the permanent success of the idea. Each Junior Municipality, or, in the case of those of small adjacent towns, each group of Junior Municipalities, should be under the general oversight of a paid supervisor. The pay of the supervisor ought to be many times offset by the saving to the city effected by turning so many of its boys from law-breaking to law-enforcement.
THE NEW BOOKS
Political Shame of Mexico (The). By Edward I. Bell. McBride, Nast & Co., New York. $2. This is an interesting account of the history of Mexico for the past four years-from the last days of Diaz to the Mediation Conference at Niagara Falls. The author, as the publisher and editor of two newspapers in Mexico, had the privilege of frequently going behind the scenes, and thus, while his whole narrative is readable, parts of it are of permanent value because of the clear light thrown upon some events of international importance heretofore commonly shrouded in semi-darkness. Particularly informing is the recital of how the decisive battle of the Madero revolution was fought in the Plaza Hotel, New York City, between Francisco Madero, Senior, and his son Gustavo Madero, on one side, and José Yves Limantourthe genius of the Diaz financial programme-on the other, and the recital of the part, conscious or unconscious, that President Taft played, in the overthrow of President Madero.
With many American observers, Mr. Bell believes that the United States will sooner or later be compelled to take control of Mexico, and with a somewhat smaller number of them he believes that it will be feasible for us later to relinquish this control. His diagnosis of the
crying need of the Mexicans is for "a good board of directors to manage the corporation of which they are the stockholders, and a reformed policeman strictly under the orders of the board."
Mexican People (The): Their Struggle for Freedom. By Gutierrez de Lara and Edgcumb Pinchon. Doubleday, Page & Co., New York. $1.50. The authors of this book tell us that it is "the voice of the Mexican people," and certainly it more nearly gives an accurate interpretation of the view-point, hopes, and aspirations of the masses of Mexico, the peons fighting and toiling for freedom under the conflicting leadership of Villa, Zapata, Carranza, and other chiefs, than anything that has come to our notice for many a day. At the same time "the voice," as it is heard in this volume, is more clear-cut and more highly polished than it is in fact, and the message that we here get from Mexico is more direct, more forceful, and more appealing through the fact that the bearers of it-the authors of this volume-are avowed Socialists of the "intellectual " class, who can interpret the desires of the Mexican people more speciously than the people themselves. However, if there is any bias in the book, the authors make no loud pretensions of impartiality, and a