I could be wrong, but I think we won’t be starting a movie list anytime soon. Just a little matter of so many irons on the fire being a few too many. Probably shouldn’t have brought it up. I feel like the parent who forgets to spell out C-A-N-D-Y and causes a ruckus.
But it’s worth thinking about what a young child’s imagination needs. I keep going back to G. K. Chesterton’s invaluable reminder that a child, unlike an adult, finds everything intense, fascinating, and amazing.
…when we are very young children we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales—because they find them romantic. (The Ethics of Elfland, in Orthodoxy, which rates a post of its own.)
A child (say, 6 and younger) has no need for special effects, mind-numbingly complicated plots, desperate situational scenarios, or other ploys to capture his attention. He doesn’t even really need fairy tales of the kind we sometimes discuss here, but rather, nursery tales like Jack and the Beanstalk (a favorite of Chesterton’s).
Day-to-day dilemmas are so very overwhelming to him. What he needs most are stories that assure him of a few things.
First, that he’s not alone — others miss the school bus because they can’t tie their shoes in time (well, that is a 20th century problem, maybe, now that we have velcro and homeschool) or get into trouble for forgetting to lock the chicken coop door.
Second, that within himself he will find the answers to these seemingly insurmountable problems that the adults in his life find such a source of impatience. This is what growing up is all about, pretty much. (That and figuring out that others have their needs and point of view and, in short, exist.)
Most of you probably already know about the Pippi books, and I’m fine with them. They aren’t my favorites — the antics somewhat take over, and she’s so very detached from others that some children get anxious (our Sukie couldn’t handle the father separation, touchingly).
What are really worth getting, though, are Astrid Lindgren’s other books, especially the Noisy Village ones, Emil’s Pranks and the other Emil books, which seem to be out of print, Karlson on the Roof, and many others. You can read about Lindgren and see her books on this site, where I got the image below.
Lindgren’s books are rollicking good fun for everyone. I just think we’ll do a better job of giving our younger children what they need, developmentally, if we are all having fun doing it! Everyone will enjoy listening to Emil in the Soup Tureen. I guarantee it.
Keep these two points in mind — the fact that children’s problems are (or should be, if we are doing our job) little — little to us, big to them — and that they mightily enjoy seeing children overcome their own little-yet-big problems. That’s a good standard by which to consider whether a movie is appropriate entertainment for them.
In books and movies alike, the subject matter is best for little kids when it’s about the kind of antics and naughtiness that kids get into, all in a setting that projects the idea that adults are taking care of them, after all.
The best of these will also give the adults food for thought. I’ve often pondered the value of Swedish village life while reading Emil out loud — where the family is a safe place for a child, even if the parents get angry, and the neighbors keep an eye out for kids running on roofs.
I talk about videos for little kids in this post, and there are some good suggestions in the comments as well. But we’re not going to talk about movies right now :)
Here’s one (not Lindgren but similar in feel) that will appeal to the 4-on-up range (I love it, myself):