Book Review: A First Reader

A First Reader:  Intended For Those Who Are Beginning The Study Of Esperanto, by E.A. Lawrence

As someone who has read a fair amount of books about Esperanto and how the language is taught [1], and who will no doubt read plenty more, I often find it interesting what materials are focused on reading.  As a first reader, it would appear that this book, originally published in 1907, was meant primarily for an audience of children.  As Esperanto has been taught in schools as a bridge to learning other languages, for which it is admirably suited, and as it is a fairly straightforward language, this is a book that is aimed at those people who are learning Esperanto when they have barely learned to read.  This is fairly obvious when one looks at the contents of what is included in the book, as there is a great deal that is included that would be of great interest to many children but would be of interest to few adults.  As I happen to be an adult fond of age-inappropriate reading, I found the book to be enjoyable and charming, and quite an enjoyable read, although it was a bit humbling to struggle with the vocabulary given the fact that the subject material was so elementary.

Although the book is very short at barely over 60 pages in this facsimile edition, the contents are varied despite its small size.  These contents are:  a guide to the contents, Alpa Rozo (Alpine Rose), a short story with an analysis designed to help the reader memorize the affixes, an original story in Esperanto, Kio Okazis Al Henchjo, which is a rigmarole with a lot of play between transitive and intransitive verb forms, La Letero al la Rekruto, an Indian beast fable called Bagh la Tigro, some Jinbles, a humorous selection from Punch Magazine called The New Bilingualism, the hymn Espero with translation, the poem Guadeamus, a few other songs and poems in Esperanto (“La Celo Esperanta,” “Nova Kanto,” and an Esperanto version of God Save The King, which was amusing to sing along with in my head).  In addition to this the book contains an excerpt from A Christmas Carol for Tiny Tim’s Christmas Dinner, an article about Kristnasko en Svedujo (Christmas in Sweden), Mi Mem, a letter in Esperanto with English translation from Zamenhof on the birth of Esperanto (Naskigo de Esperanto) along with an Esperanto version of the familiar “Plena Gramatiko” showing the sixteen rules of basic Esperanto grammar.

There are a few insights that can be gained from this book and its contents despite its size.  For one, the book has a wide variety of content that would be of interest to the young–the fact that it includes two Christmas excerpts would suggest this, given the fact that Christmas is not nearly so entertaining after children realize how much they have been lied to about the event, and the fact that Jesus Christ was born months earlier in the year during the time at or around the Feast of Trumpets/Yom Teruah.  That aside, the book includes a beast fable from India about a tiger as well as quite a bit of poetry, and these are the sorts of stories that are far more popular for younger readers than for older ones.  Given that this book is an exercise in pedagogy, designed for those who are learning Esperanto and having their first familiarity with the language as a living literary culture, the fact that the book includes a selection from “A Christmas Carol” as well as original Esperanto literature, and literature from Western and non-Western sources is itself admirable and worthwhile, setting a good precedent for students of the language to recognize its suitability for original and translated literature as well as for education to young and old alike.  Even if I am not fond of some of the content to be found here, the larger picture is quite a worthwhile one that can be wholeheartedly celebrated even by a curmudgeon like myself.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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