The Rover Boys series includes around 30 books, originally published in the first two or three decades of the 20th century. They are represented fairly heavily in the third level of our home school curriculum’s reading plan — approximately ages 8-11.
Being of a certain vintage, they contain all the prejudices and stereotypes of the era in which they were written. In this particular volume, written during the First World War, Germans and German-Americans are regarded suspiciously by the main characters, who disregard their basic civil rights without conscience. There is also a very troubling “eye for an eye” morality promoted throughout the book.
With these potential drawbacks, why even bother with such stuff? Part of the answer is self-explanatory upon even a cursory reading of one of these books compared with something more contemporary written for the same age group. Here is a not unusual excerpt from Rover Boys on a Hunt:
The man was of medium size, with dark hair and dark eyes, and as he wore a dark grey overcoat and a slouch hat, the cadets immediately put him down for the individual mentioned to them by the storekeeper.
And here is a similar representation from one of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, also targeted at 8-11 year-old boys:
I couldn’t tell if Mom was trying to trick me into lying or WHAT, but there was no way I was going to break my honesty streak over something as dumb as THIS.
The sentence above is the longest one I could find in a brief search. The one from the Rover Boys book was one of many similar examples. The complexity and nuance of sentence structure from the Rover Boys series simply cannot be found in contemporary books for this age group. And since this is what our boys read, this is what their writing looks like, too.
Vocabulary in Rover Boys books is also a cut above anything more modern. Here is just a small sampling of vocabulary words from a couple of the books:
ballast, commence, cumbrous, entreaty, epitaph, fissure, impudent, magistrate, piteous, solemn, venerable, vivacity, wry
It is not uncommon for these words to come up in conversation with the boys, and I see them crop up with good regularity in their writing, as well.
Beyond these more scholastic concerns, there is also the issue of morality and character. While I don’t think the tit-for-tat exchanges that are all too common in the Rover Boys books are an example of a consistent, livable morality, there is much to be said for the presentation of bravery, selflessness, self-reliance, discipline, and honesty in these books. Basic biblical ethics is (more or less) on display consistently throughout.
In contrast, the Wimpy Kids books contain frequent examples of ethical inconsistency and feature a main character with a wildly oscillating moral center. Like much of contemporary juvenile literature, these books aim to present to their young readers the world as it is in lieu of framing for them a view of the world as it could (and should) be.
I am much more inclined to present to my children books with positive role models for them to emulate rather negative ones for them to laugh at. The latter is all right in small quantities for its entertainment value, but it is the former that most definitely exemplifies what I believe should comprise the bulk of the children’s reading.