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From time to time, librarians cull the stacks. They make decisions about what books to keep and which ones to pitch, donate, or move elsewhere. I am always curious about how they decide which of the old books are classics and deserve to stay on the shelf and which ones do not.
A friend of mine recently spent some time sorting through the children’s section of her small-town local library. One of the titles she decided to remove was the ominously titled, Billy Finds Out by Edna Trickey. In case you are wondering (as I did), apparently Billy found out that if the church building burns down, the church still exists, because the church is the people, not just a building. Not exactly the direction I imagined for a book of that title, but I’m glad it turned out okay for Billy.
Another children’s book, culled from the collection by my friend was You and The United Nations, by Lois Fisher, published in 1947. Fisher begins by explaining that “if you move back far enough, you get perspective” and that the world in action is mostly fighting. “Once upon a time there were many different peoples, separated by little fences. These fences were made up of mountains, rivers, oceans, jungles, and deserts. The fences were nailed together with prejudice, ignorance, and fear. Each nation thought IT was the most important.” However, as technology advanced quickly in just one century to include airplanes, radios, and jets, all of these nations became close neighbors. Then, according to Fisher, people began to think about how they could live together as world citizens, which is how the United Nations began. Initially, it was just an idea, but then people “put their thoughts into action.” She explains the formation of the organization to promote peace and cooperation around the world and explains the various parts of the U.N. in a way that is accessible to elementary aged children.
Fisher also makes this commentary on wars and fighting: “Of all living things, men and ants are the only ones who go in for organized destruction of their own kind. Ants will continue to practice the art of war. But men have the power of reason. Men should know enough to fight their real enemies-ignorance, hunger, disease. It is plain silly to fight each other.”
After many conversations about our own country and the current escalations of violence this week, I had another conversation about the fighting within the denomination of the Reformed Church in America. There certainly is a great deal of fighting going on. But when Fisher published this little children’s book in 1947, there was a great deal of fighting as well. It does seem silly to fight each other, in many respects. So often I hear people talk about how much smarter and more intelligent we are in the 21st century, usually encapsulated in a phrase that sounds something like, “but NOW we know…”
Do we? Or are ignorance, hunger and disease (or a virus) still the “real enemies” and it is “plain silly to fight each other?”