Mason Crumpacker and the Hitchens reading list

October 11, 2011 • 3:51 am

This is a longish post, but you will want to read it in its entirety. Trust me.

When Christopher Hitchens got the Dawkins Award in Houston, I posted the following report from

Though [Hitchens] was asked a variety of questions from the audience, none appeared to elicit more interest than the one asked by eight-year-old Mason Crumpacker, who wanted to know what books she should read. In response, Hitchens first asked where her mother was and the girl indicated that she was siting beside her. He then asked to see them once the presentation was over so that he could give her a list.

As the event drew to a close, Mason and her mom, Anne Crumpacker of Dallas, followed him out. Surrounded by attendees wanting a glance of the famed author, Hitchens sat on a table just outside of the ballroom and spent about 15 minutes recommending books to Mason.

Here’s a photo from of Hitchens speaking to Mason (note the person behind her holding a cat):

If you read the comments after that original post, you’ll know that Anne Crumpacker, apparently a reader here, added a few observations.  She’s now sent me a scan of the reading list that Hitchens recommended to Mason, as well as a beautiful thank-you note that Mason wrote to Hitchens. I’ve had it forwarded to Christopher via Richard, and post it here with Mason’s permission. Finally, at my request Anne wrote her own account of the incident:

First, the reading list, about which Anne says, “Most of the notes were written by me, but he took my pen to write ‘Tale of Two Cities’ and ‘Sunset at Blandings’.”

And here is Mason’s wonderful thank-you letter, which, unless you’re made of stone, will make you tear up:

Dear Mr. Hitchens,

Thank you for your kindness to me and all of the wonderful books you recommended to help me think for myself. Thank you also for taking my question very seriously. When I was talking to you I felt important because you treated me like a grown up.  I feel very fortunate to have met you.  I think more children should read books.   I also think that all adults should be honest to children like you to me.  For the rest of my life I will remember and cherish our meeting and will try to continue to ask questions.


P.S. I would like to start with “The Myths” by Robert Graves.

What a wonderful and grounded child! Richard told me this about her: “By the way, Mason was one of the children who sat at the front of my lecture on the following day, and one of the children whom I called up on stage, ‘Christmas Lectures’-style, to help me demonstrate the App of The Magic of Reality.”

Here’s a picture of Mason, used with her permission:

Finally, Mason’s mom Anne sends the following account of the episode:

“Mommy, I want to ask a question.”

I looked up from my cheesecake, “Yes?”

“No, I want to ask a question on the microphone.  Can I?”

“I suppose.” Sip of coffee.“Is it a good question?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Is it respectful?”



“Well, how do I do it?”

I’m back to the cheesecake, “You’ll need to find the man with the microphone.”

And then, in one of my more embarrassing parenting moments, my eight-year-old daughter trotted off into the darkened ballroom of approximately one thousand hardcore atheists in pursuit of an answer.  Meanwhile, I was smugly back to dessert, confident that there was no way in hell that she could work her way to “the man with the microphone.”  Now I could listen to the question and answers in peace.  Until a little voice said,

“What books should I read?”

Now, anyone who thinks that a loving mother from Texas would plant her child to ask a question at an atheist convention would either have to be half-crazy or have never been to Texas.

Rick Perry at the Response  (this is where we live).

That is why Christopher Hitchens, asked, “Where’s your mother?’  Because, unlike the blog that broke the story, I was on the other side of that darkened ballroom choking on cheesecake.

But, that is what it is like to be Mason’s mom.

So, where did the question come from?  I know all too well where she got the idea.  Earlier that day she had been in line with me while Mr. Hitchens and Dr. Richard Dawkins were signing books.  Mason is rather impressed with Richard Dawkins for his Growing Up in the Universe series.  She figures he gets “about a million dollars a word for talking.”  However, Christopher Hitchens hadn’t hit her radar yet, but she overheard me praising his closing remarks (04:36) at the Hitchens/ Dembski debate held in the Dallas area in November 2010, “It was just brilliant when you encourage the students to ask questions and read for themselves, “ I sputtered.   Little pitchers have big ears….

The banquet had not been billed as an open Q&A, but I was as excited as everyone else in the room to have “Hitch” answering questions and donning out “Hitchslaps” to absent adversaries, which he resumed after her little question.   Although he offered to talk to Mason alone after the program, I thought this would be forgotten in the hubbub.  However, he didn’t forget and what happen next has sparked such interest that you can actually Google my eight-year-old’s name.  For the record, her father and I never gave our permission for her name, her image, my name, or our hometown to be published.  It just happened and we can only hope that we will be supported by the freethought community and left alone by everyone else.  So far, so good.

The reading list has gone viral over various atheist blogs.  Mason is even been given an alternate Christian reading list in a Calvinist YouTube video from Manchester, England.  We allowed her to respond in the comments. Frankly, she is loving the attention.

[JAC note: I asked Anne if Mason had seen this odious video. Anne responded: “And yes, she has seen the video.  She rolled her eyes and said,  ‘Will you listen to this guy!  He must go to Baylor!’  We let her respond in the comments to the video.  She loved it.”

Here is what Mason wrote on YouTube in response to the video:

“This is why I did not ask YOU!!! All you ever talked about in this vid was Christianity!!!!!! I’ve read the Bible and frankly it’s ALL scary!!! You have to learn that sometimes kids need to boost their intellectual capability and look beyond God! P.S. Mr Hitchens has a WAY, WAY better taste in books ! At least he asked me what I wanted to read!! >:P.] Now back to Anne’s tale:

As for me, I am grateful for this opportunity to respond and clear up a few misconceptions.

The conversation took place on an exhibit table just outside the ballroom as the banquet was coming to a close.  Mr. Hitchens and Mason were eye-to-eye.   I didn’t have a camera,  since I was so surprised by the spontaneity of the whole thing that I had left in my purse under the table in the ballroom, but I grabbed a program and took notes.  There is a perception that Christopher Hitchens gave Mason a list, but it wasn’t like that.  It was far more special and interesting.

I’ll paraphrase as best as I can from memory.  I’ll mess up the details, but I’ll capture the spirit….

“Well, so you like to read?’


“What are you reading now?”

“Harry Potter”

“Good. Which one are you on? Which number?”

“Oh, well, really the Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman.  I like it a lot.”

“Good.  So, is this your first meeting like this?”


“Why did you come?  Curiosity?  Wait, I won’t answer my own question.”

Pause…. “I wanted to hear other great freethinkers because that is what I want to be when I grow up.”

(I jumped in and explained that we are trying to convince Mason that she is a child and can make up her mind later.  We just want her to be a critical thinker for now.)

“Well then, you should better start with some science books.  I hear Richard has written quite a good one.  What is it called?’  Laughter from the small crowd forming…“The Magic of Reality,” someone offered. “and then some Greek and Roman myths.  A man named Robert Graves has a nice collection . I like them for the beauty of the language.”

“I’ve already read those.”


“Yes.”  (Well, no, not really.  She has read many Greek and Roman myths, but not Robert Graves.  She recognized his name because she adores Derek Jacobi in I, Claudius.  Number one fan in the eight-year-old set.  Would love a photo.)

“Do you know your history?  Are you learning it in school?”

“I go to a French school, so it is mostly French history.  Last year we did le Prehistoire.  This year we are doing le Moyen Age.”

“Impressive.  Well, I think you have that covered then.  French?  Any Montesquieu?  No, that probably comes later.” A glance at me,  “Satirical works are good.  Any Shakespeare?“

“Oh, yes!”

“Yes, he’s good…. hmm. Well, let’s add Chaucer then.  So, tell me, do you know how other little girls are treated in the world?”



“Sometimes they are hurt… abused.”

“That’s right.  You may enjoy reading a book by a young lady I know where she talks about that.  Ayaan Hirsi Ali, maybe just the first part where she talks about growing up.”

“Oh, yes.  I know.  My mom is half-way through the Qur’an,”  (I am indeed.  Hopelessly stuck.  Unable to go on.)

“ What else… You’re doing better than I did at your age (ah, flattery!).  How old was I when I first read A Tale of Two Cities?  Yes, that’s good.  Any Dickens really.  Dickens teaches children to love to read.”

“Ok, how about something for a bit of fun.  Any PG. Wodehouse?  No?”

A crowd member offers, “Sunset at Blandings.”

A smile of recognition from Hitchens, “Yes, excellent.”

We get notice that the banquet is about to break up and Hitchens is being helped to his feet.  He looked tired, but was smiling.  I can’t remember what he said to Mason or me in parting, but not wishing  the meeting to end I quickly asked, “Any philosophers?”

“Hume. David Hume, yes, but you’ll have to help her with the language. Good-bye.  Good luck.”

“Could you email me the list?  I have a little girl and we would really love the list.”

“Of course,” and I started collecting emails.  People were taking about my horrible little notes and someone from the Houston Chronicle interviewed me quickly using a cellphone camera.

The next morning Mason and I were “outed” as non-believers.  Me really—Mason is too young to decide.

I’m not a professional writer, just a mom, but if I get to make only one comment it would be this:  There isn’t a magic reading list.  Never was.  Never will be.  The reason what transpired that night was memorable was the wondrous Socratic feel of the exchange.  Here was a man, a great thinker of our time who has spent his life developing and honing his intellect, challenging the next generation to pick up the mantle.  What all these books have in common is they demand us to question, search and engage.  They don’t preach, patronize or indoctrinate.  They are joyful expression of the whole of the human experience.  The very best examples of a life fully lived.

We are about to lose a giant among us, but we, as atheists know there can be no greater Valhalla then to join the great conversation of the philosophers.  We can honor Christopher Hitchens’ life by teaching our children his best virtues: to study broadly, to laugh heartily, to fight ardently, and to question relentlessly.  Books are timeless companions and friends.  Mason will surely spend her life in the company of illustrious authors gone before.  Naturally, she was introduced to many of them that night by a kind man, with flashing eyes, sitting at a table who is about to join their company. 

Note by JAC:  Texas is a hard place to live for atheists and agnostics, so perhaps readers would like to post a brief message to Mason, her mom, or both. If one little girl can be taught to think for herself, so can a million young people.


Many thanks to Anne and Mason for sharing their experience. Oh, and here’s the reading list from

Hitchens’ list of books and authors: Dawkins’ Magic of Reality, Greek and Roman myths, particularly those compiled by Robert Graves, anything satirical, all of  Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, Ayaan Hirsi Ali (author of Infidel and Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations), PG Wodehouse (“for fun”), David Hume, and Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

257 thoughts on “Mason Crumpacker and the Hitchens reading list

  1. It is a really charming story even for a tired cynic such as myself! I think lists like this are very personal & Hitchens is very very well read clearly. I would suggest different things – namely Darwin – but the list such as it is is not important here. The sentiment & willingness of someone famous to engage with a child IS.

    1. He’ll be greatly missed just as he will be greatly received. Good to see life in the old dog and let’s hope he continues to make the odd lecture/talk when he can.

      Lovely article, a bit indulgent by the starstruck mother who is obviously loving the attention, but who can really blame her.

  2. Wonderful stuff.

    It was a lovely gift to Mason; and, I imagine, Mason’s letter is one of the best gifts Hitch could hope for.

  3. What an uplifting post.

    I would say that Hume is a *lot* easier to understand than Chaucer or Shakespeare, though, so I’m not really sure why he commented on his language. Sounds like Mason is well capable, anyway, since she already appreciates the genius of Jacobi in I, Claudius.

  4. What a wonderfully charming personal story from a mom who obviously is quite rightly proud of her daughter.

    I was on the other side of that darken ballroom choking on cheesecake.

    Heh heh heh.

    Hitch is such an interesting person. His reputation is to be blunt and direct, and yet here is is, at an atheist convention, being polite and charming. I wouldn’t have expected him to be anything else, really.

    I’m not a professional writer, just a mom, but if I get to make only one comment it would be this: There isn’t a magic reading list. Never was. Never will be. The reason what transpired that night was memorable was the wondrous Socratic feel of the exchange.

    You may not be a professional writer, but this paragraph alone contains more wisdom than many, many other “holy” books. I do hope that we here from you again.

      1. Oh, piffle! I make misteaks all the time! What is important is that you echoed the essence. The HUMAN MICROPHONE lives!

    1. Sorry I didn’t use an apostrophe in “youre”. Hope that didn’t confuse you with the message I was trying to send.

  5. That is quite impressive and amazing. I wish I was like that at 8! It took me another 12+ years to be even that inquisitive let alone that brave and forward.

    It’s also fantastic to see Hitch still going.

    1. Did you ever have the experience of a parent being supportive of your intellectual predispositions by dismissively commenting about you “having your nose stuck in a book”?

        1. Reminds me of when my son’s grade 8 teacher wrote in his yearbook something to the effect of: “[T], I can’t believe I’m saying this, but try not to read so much”. His father and I were generally of the opinion that he was learning more from the books he was surreptitiously reading inside his desk than he would have from the class lessons anyway.

      1. I was pretty much left to learn on my own. The reality of growing up with a single parent and two older siblings.

      2. I had the lovely experience of a teacher telling my parents I read too much… now granted, I’d hide other books IN the textbooks and get lost from the class lesson. In my defense, I’d already finished every little story in those reading books and usually had some Tolkien tucked away and waiting for a good opportunity.

        Needless to say, I was fortunate enough that the teacher recognized what was happening and recommended me for the gifted program which is now long defunct for that school.

        1. I had a teacher take the book I was reading in front of my textbook and throw it in the garbage in front of the class. Very encouraging.

  6. Fantastic stuff.
    When I first read the list yesterday I thought, “what sort of eight year old would that list be suitable for?”, but reading todays post answers that question.
    What a little treasure!
    I’ll have to encourage my eight year old to catch up with his reading!

    1. You could try reading them aloud (take a look at Jim trelease’s read aloud handbook for the value in continuing to read aloud to your child after they can read for themselves, particularly books that are beyond what they are able to read for themselves)

      1. That’s what I do with my daughter. I just finished reading with her tonight. I’ve been reading Anne of Green Gables, read Watership Down previously and next on the list is Dawkins’ new book.

        It takes time, but I love reading to her. I read a bit above her reading level and it’s great to help her vocabulary and we get a chance to talk about the concepts in the books.

    2. Hi Sigmund,

      While it is natural to hope that ones children are able and eager to absorb Shakespeare at such a young age, one shouldn’t be overly ambitious about this. Encouraging ones kids to be curious and exposing them to thinkers and thoughts that arouse their interest, of course, but there is nothing wrong with kids at this age who are not in the least interested in reading shakespeare. I probably wouldn’t have appreciated it much at this age, I was more of a dinosaur and technology geek. The shakespeare and greek myths came much later, and I mostly read nonfiction and science now. Not every child is like Mason Crumpacker.

  7. We are just waking up and it is amazing to see that this has already been posted.

    Not, by the way, “anything satirical by Shakespeare.” That is a misquote, It is “anything satirical” and “all of Shakespeare.” What child, afte rall wouldn’t enjoy “King Lear” or the Scottish play?

    I was hoping to insert: it is a lesson, not a list. A lesson that we can teach all our children.

    1. I’ll only disagree with your contention that you’re “not a writer”.

      I spend my life trying to make obscure writing lucid.

      You, my dear, are very much a writer.

      1. I agree; you are a wonderful writer, and clearly a wonderful mom. Children don’t grow up with this kind of intellectual curiosity and healthy self esteem by accident. You’ve done something right. As a mom of a 7 year old daughter who also loves to read and who is just now noticing that she is “different” when it comes to her peers’ belief in God, this story really touched me. What a wonderful experience for your daughter. Hitch will be so missed.

      1. Mason loves Rowan Atkinson in Black Adder, but mainly just the medieval episodes when he is sillier. For a while I couldn’t get her to stop singing, “his codpiece made of leather…”
        Just in case she was starting to sound too profound.

          1. Yes, although it’s sometimes a little confused, but always hilarious. My teenage daughter is learning about the Reformation, and I told her one of Blackadder’s better quotations, “If I’d wanted a lecture on the rights of man, I’d have gone to bed with Martin Luther.” That’s from the episode with the baby-eating Bishop of Bath and Wells, a fictional character no less.

        1. They’re all good. My personal favourite is the Elizabethan series.

          For anybody who didn’t notice it, the Prince Regent in the Blackadder clip above is played by Hugh Laurie, better known today as Dr. Gregory House in the eponymous TV series.

    2. And essentials of sexual education (how men work under the influence) are also taken care of!

      ” Port. Marry, sir, nose-painting, sleep and urine. Lechery, sir, it provokes, and unprovokes; it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance; therefore, much drink may be said to be an equivocator with lechery: it makes him, and it mars him; it sets him on, and it takes him off; it persuades him, and disheartens him; makes him stand to, and not stand to; in conclusion, equivocates him in a sleep, and, giving him the lie, leaves him.”

      I don’t think I would have gotten that when I was 9, that’s the beauty of good texts. Unlike films, they open themselves up at the pace of one’s own personal development.

    3. Well done. Teach the kids the skills of critical thinking, who are then able to use these tools to explore, to question, to gain insight and ultimately to decide on the plausibility and rationality of how the world works. But, most of all, to have fun and enjoy.

      I think I was 13 year old before I consciously started looking at critical thinking and rationality.

    4. Anne: I think I just learned how to be a good parent by reading this. Add my voice to the litany of others suggesting that you may, indeed, be a writer. (And your daughter may, indeed, be the most well-adjusted kid I’ve read about in a long time.)

  8. What a nice post. There will be so many bright, free-thinking young people in the future. Let’s not despair. (Feeling quite warm and fuzzy, now)
    Mason has a nine-year-old mutual friend in Denmark, and there are more like them. Good feeling on a cold autumn day.

  9. What two astounding human beings!
    I am envious of both of them.

    Now, we must take care not to place too many unrealistic expectations, nor burdens upon either’s frail shoulders.

    The wondrous circle of life has rarely been more pointedly demonstrated than this.

  10. Mason seems the kind of girl to whom one could say with confidence:
    “No, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus.”
    And Christopher Hitchens the man to say it to her, and elicit smiles and sparkles of curiosity and enquiry and understanding.

    Children need oxygen, not treacle. Thanks for this breath of fresh air!

    Come to think of it, Virginia O’Hanlon was exactly Mason Crumpacker’s age when she wrote her ill-fated letter to Francis Pharcellus Church. What if she’d written to Ambrose Bierce or Mark Twain instead?

  11. Great story. A friend and I were just discussing yesterday books that encourage kids to think for themselves—we have young daughters.

    As there are no history books on this list, I have a recommendation for a kid in French school whose parents are attempting to slog through the Qur’an: The Crusades Through Arab Eyes by Amin Maalouf. This is religious, political, and strategic history as it should be written. It’s a pithy and honest history of a subject that continues to highly relevant. And it can be read in its original French or the very good English translation. It also quotes this gem from 10th c. “Muslim” poet al-Ma’arri:

    The inhabitants of the earth are of two sorts: Those with brains, but no religion, And those with religion but no brains.

    Little has changed over a thousand years.

  12. Mason, I’m guessing you’re probably reading this — so let me offer you my congratulations on creating such a stir. Such is not easy to do, and it’s especially difficult to do so in an honest way that gets people excited about literature and education.

    If you’re enjoying all this attention, you now have an opportunity to leverage this experience in such a way that you can have a bigger voice in the world, for you’ll forever be known as She Who Asked The Hitch For A Reading List.

    But beware! With fame, criticism inevitably follows. Most will be like that annoying preacher man — prepare yourself to be flooded with inquiries as to whether or not you’ve heard of this nifty dude named, “Jesus.” But some will be more directed and personal. Sadly, it’s not unlikely that some whom you had thought were your friends might turn on you, and in subtle and painful ways. (Hopefully, your mother has given you enough guidance to avoid the worst of potential companions so that your friendships might remain intact when all is said and done.)

    Lastly, let me jump on the book-recommendation bandwagon, with three more suggestions.

    And all three of them, strangely enough, I’ll take from the annoying preacher man.

    Lewis Carroll is simply brilliant. You might have already seen the recent Disney adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, which was quite well done, but the original books are even better. And don’t just limit yourself to Alice and Through the Lookinglass — snarf up anything and everything he wrote, especially The Hunting of the Snark.

    Next would actually be C.S. Lewis. I thoroughly enjoyed his Narnia chronicles when I was not much older than you are, and it wasn’t until I re-read them as an adult that the Christian themes became apparent. They’re entertaining stories, not necessarily the greatest ever written, but still quite fun nonetheless. They’re also an excellent (and painless) introduction to the Christian moral mindset, which is something you must have to function in a predominantly Christian society. Parts of the mindset are noble and parts are batshit crazy, but all should be understood.

    And last would be…brace yourself…The Bible.

    Yes, I know. But really.

    The good news is that, approached in the proper way, it can actually be quite entertaining.

    The secret is to not think of it as anything real or serious, but rather as childish fantasy in need of critical review. After all, it opens with a story about an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry giant, and it closes with a horror story about a zombie who likes to have people grope his intestines through his gaping chest wound. And, inbetween, you’ve got talking plants giving magic wand lessons to reluctant heroes, dragons and sea monsters and unicorns, and all the rest of the staples of make-believe.

    By the time you get to it, you should be well versed with what good fantasy literature is like; you’re already more than halfway there, what with all the Rowling and Pullman you’ve been reading. So, when you read the Bible, see how well it holds up against the competition. (And, incidentally, you’ll understand why so many Christians are so upset with Harry Potter.)

    I can see this is getting too long, so I’ll shut up, now. Besides, I’ve got a meeting to go to….



    1. At that age, I was deep into Dr. Doolittle. I always wanted a Pushme-Pullyou.

      No kidding, I once got warned because I was using the library too much — by the librarian!

      1. The Doctor Dolittle books were the first books I ever read on my own! Fortunately, no one cared enough to warn me against reading.

      2. I was well into adulthood before I realized that there weren’t actually pushme-pullyous. I was very sad at the realization.

  13. We can honor Christopher Hitchens’ life by teaching our children his best virtues: to study broadly, to laugh heartily, to fight ardently, and to question relentlessly.

    Well said. Poetic and true.

  14. Lovely story! Kudos to Hitch and to the Crumpacker’s. For all the complaining I do about their obsession with video games, I’m grateful my kids share Mason’s passion for reading. The kids are alright.

  15. I absolutely love this. I’m supposed to be studying for my biology exam in about an hour, and my studying came to a full stop because of this. 😀 Great job.

  16. Hitchens approved of her reading Harry Potter? Strange, since this is what Hitchens had said after the publication of the first Harry Potter:

    “The distinctly slushy close of the story may seem to hold out the faint promise of a sequel, but I honestly think and sincerely hope that this will not occur.”

    Well, it did occur and I doubt Hitchens even understands why it occurred. Probably not a good idea for a child to ask about books to read a person who evidently doesn’t understand children.

    1. Hey, I wasn’t so sure about HP at first either. Who could have known the staying power that Rowling had to maintain a great story through seven books? I’d say many people didn’t know, did you?

      1. Hitchens was too respectful to trash one of Mason’s favorite authors. Sometimes the goal is to get children to love reading and then gently introduce them to other choices. He listened to her first and respected her likes and dislikes. Then he modified his comments to her interests and aptitude.

        1. Exactly. Rowling’s books have ignited the love of reading in a whole generation. How that burning desire is started is less important than the desire itself.

          Well done, Anne.

          Mason, never stop searching for answers and always consider the source. As you so rightly noticed on youtube, not everyone has your interests in mind. Fortunately for you, your mom sounds like a keeper.

    2. I’d wager that Hitchens values reading for its own sake and fully understands that Harry Potter is loved by many, and good or bad, is a gateway to more love of literature. Of course he wouldn’t denigrate it in that situation! His prior critique of HP is obviously one of personal taste, but do you really think he would ever dissuade someone from reading an author they love? Heck, he also personally recommends that everyone read the bible and he scolds those who have not. Yet, he spends much of his time lambasting it.

      Reading always has value, even of lesser works.

      1. And I think he was excited about her reading of P Pullman’s The Subtle Knife- which is a fabulous series for young and old. I would much more have my children be reading HP than Goosebumps or Diary of a Wimpy Kid…

        I was a child like this- I read thru my local branch library by age 9 and had to be taken across town to the main one once a week.. 9 books was my limit and I was waiting with baited breath for library day to arrive as my books were long finished.. I read Michener’s Chesapeake and Alex Haley’s Roots for book reports in the 5th grade. I love momma’s approach and I have hope for the future with the knowledge that there are Masons out there. My two are late bloomers.. but I have faith ;P that they will get there. We are working with our genetic *blessings of ADHD so are not anywhere near Mason’s level of thought process. good job momma!!!! Seriously.

  17. Great job Anne! Like others said, you are certainly a writer and your story is charming. You are obviously doing a fantastic job with Mason. My daughter just turned 8 and she, too, loves to read. Now I’ve got more to add to her bookshelf!

    I am quite envious that you both had such a lovely exchange with Hitchens. I only wish I could have been there.

    Keep up the great work and I do hope this sudden notoriety does no harm to your family. If anything does happen, the atheist and freethought community must stand up and help. It’s getting time for more of us to be out so it’s clear that we are here and we matter.

    Please keep us informed.

      1. Yeah, I was wondering about that. Seeing eye kitteh? I would never think of bringing a pet to an event like that.

          1. Enlarging the photo reveals that it is wearing a vest that says “Service Dog On Duty”. Still curious as to its function.

  18. Touching story, and yes, I am too worried what Mason’s friends accept this news, with the identity and even photograph available on the net. Atheists still have strong social stigma in certain areas, especially for the famous and younger age. Mason is now both, I do hope that everything will be fine with her and her mother.

    Cheers! I remember how we debated Sagan’s death bed rumours, then Dennett’s brush with death, and now this Hitchen’s eventual .. event. One this is clear though, you do not need gods to become compassionate about anything, including and especially death.

    You just have to be that, compassionate. Good people live good life. It is fine to be an atheist till the end.

    1. I told Mason this morning that we are riding a tiger. We will need to be brave and not let go. She was asleep when I wrote the post. She read it this morning. She particularly liked the comparison to Socrates. She understood the reference fully. She said that Socrates was put to death for encouraging children to ask questions and their parents didn’t like it. She said that Socrates chose to drink the poison instead of stopping. Pretty close to correct. I explained that sometimes questions can be dangerous and that is why everyone is so interested. The image of Hitchens teaching an inquisitive little girl is to some people a pretty scary thing because she may end up thinking.

      1. My brother in Houston sends his kids to a religious grade school. Lutheran. Something that he never would have done had he stayed in Minnesota. Parental peer pressure. Hang in there.

      2. It occurred to me that Plato’s Socratic dialogues would be an easier read for Mason than Hume. If the goal is to teach her to think for herself rather than embrace any ism, even atheism, Socrates is a model teacher.

      3. Well, Ms. Crumpacker, I have to be off, but may I suggest that the most important thing to “do” is what you’re doing–treating your child like a first-class citizen, not a second-class one. That may be the most dangerous idea in the world, and it extends from there to the insane squirrel-cage that is egocentrism and concentration of power. I couldn’t help thinking of the Emperor’s New Clothes when I read your story.

        And the way you didn’t worry that your daughter didn’t regurgitate a story with “accuracy” reminded me of Richard Feynman’s stories about his father making up explanations about bird behavior and all sorts of “nature stuff” as they took their walks about the countryside. My grandmother, mostly Cherokee, did this for me, right there on the outskirts of Fort Worth. “Hell in Texas” might be a good bit of reading. I grew up there, mostly about 125 miles SW of Fort Worth, in a little town where a kindly lady ran a library out of her living room. I could get away with reading J. Frank Dobie, as it wasn’t “sissy stuff.” It led me to Roy Bedichek, and into reading about real life, all life. Even actually living it, with All Creatures, Great and Small, as well as the lilies of the fields. Thus, I am at home anywhere, my Texas-borne prejudices sloughed off.

        If Mason wants any books and I have them, I’ll be happy to send them. I have boxes clogged with them. I hope that Mason will find a way to avoid the pitfalls of schooling.

        May Mason persevere! You too!

  19. kids are way smarter than us adults, thank buddha or shiva and the great pumkin.

    It would be great to have Mason talk about her thoughts and feeling on stuff, whatever interests her.

    1. She would relish the opportunity. She is a rather opinionated little girl. We just might need to find an appropriate venue.

      1. It occurs to me she now has the perfect excuse. She’s got an awesome reading list; why not let her post her reviews of the books as she reads them? I suspect such reviews would have wide-ranging popularity.



  20. oh yea,

    “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
    and the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
    and the calf and the lion and the fatling together,

    and a little child shall lead them.

    The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp,
    and the weaned child shall put a hand on the adder’s den.
    They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain:
    for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea”

    [Isa. 11:6, 8-9]

    wot the heck is a fatling?!

    1. “The lion and the calf shall lie down together but the calf won’t get much sleep.”

      Woody Allen, Without Feathers, 1976

  21. I envy you Mason, you’re off to a great start in life, having parents who expose you to great thinkers like Hitchens, and I also encourage you to read all kinds of great books.

    By the way, did you also get to meet the kitteh that was right behind you?

  22. Irony alert! Hitch treating a chid like an adult, in stark contrast to theologians, who treat adults like children.

    1. Indeed.

      Reminds me of this quote attributed to Victor Hugo: “There is in every village a torch: the schoolmaster — and an extinguisher: the parson.”

      What a wonderful story: A precocious and adorable little girl, and an amazing mother.

  23. Father of five girls here: good for you! Mason is a gem and she is lucky to have a nurturing, supportive mom like you!

  24. Wonderful story.
    One quirk I find in the way we (as a community) address the whole “believer” thing is when it’s said that we are non-believers, but our children are not because they are not yet old enough to decide.
    Isn’t that rather silly, when you come to think about it? It’s an appeal to religious thinking, that it should be given some special consideration in the realm of belief and disbelief.
    A child is not born believing in deities, so why should we need to qualify it with an age-based statement in order to sound neutral.
    This is a special case we assign to religion that we don’t to bigfoot, leprechauns, and alien visitation.
    I look forward to the day when that language will have fallen by the wayside, and myths are treated as such.

  25. Mason – Great job! I have two boys, ages 1 and 3. I read to them every day. I will encourage them like your mom encourages you. I hope like crazy that they turn out to be half as good at critical thinking as you are.

    Good luck and congratulations.

  26. Anne, maybe Mason could have her own blog? You’d need to be careful about folks who post replies but I’d love to hear her thoughts on things.

    1. She has asked for a blog. I am a former teacher and would love to help her if someone give me some advice or guidance.

      1. Easy peasy. Just check out and set one up. Here’s one a child does:
        It’s on Blogger, but don’t use that, WordPress is much easier.

        You can set up all sorts of controls about commenting and privacy.

        Good luck with it. Be sure to pass us a link if you do it. It’s a little late for her to be pseudonymous, but it might be a good idea.

  27. Amazing, both Mason and Anne. May you both have great wonderful lives. And I’m terribly envious about Mason getting such a quick start. I had to pester everyone for books, living in very very rural pennsylvania. I told I should read the bible. I did. And what a quick way to lose one’s primitive supestitions. That rather backfired 🙂

  28. Anne – it’s quite easy to start a blog, and many choices of where to do it.

    Just google “how to start a blog” (with the quotes around it) and you will get a multitude of hits. I think starting a blog would be a TREMENDOUS experience for young Mason – a way of transmitting, in addition to the learning, of knowledge.



  29. That account brought a tear to my eye – absolutely wonderful!

    It’s a great age, especially for anyone a little precocious. My atheism had its roots at Sunday school at eight years old, and I think every one of my major interests can be traced back to things I was reading or doing at eight or nine.

    Now that I have children of my own, I’m looking forward to that magical age, and I hope I can instill in them half of the fortitude that Mason has 🙂

    In addition to reading, what does she watch? Carl Sagan’s Cosmos inspired me to my core. Might she be a bit too young for AronRa’s entire Foundational Falsehoods series? The man is so forthright, clear, and in addition to being Texan is fascinating just to watch to see if he has a secret spiracle through which he draws air so that he doesn’t have to pause while talking 🙂

    1. My son has watched the BBC nature series (you know, alle the ones with David Attenborough: “The Blue Planet”, “Life” … AND the “Walk with the Dinosaurs” etc.) since he was four or five. We’ve got them all in English, and he would sit perfectly still watching and listening to David Attenboroughs voice absolutely enthralled. He still does it now at age nine, and now he understands quite a bit of what is being said as well 😉 I can really recommend them for curious, inquisitive kids.

  30. Wonderful. Contrast this with how that piece of shit Ken Ham teaches kids to disrupt classes and harass docents with his “where you there” bullshit?”.

  31. Sorry to jump on the reading list bandwagon, (specially since I presume I am not half as experienced as many of the people who already posted) it pains me to see no mathematics represented in the lists I saw so far. From my own experience I can say that mathematical books (even those I couldn’t understand at the time, and some of them even textbooks) were the some of the most thrilling things I read as a kid. Possibly, just because there is a lot more involvement needed with a book on mathematics, and the joy of “fighting” it rather than just “reading” it is a rather different experience. I would probably recommend “One, Two, Three, … Infinity” and “How to Solve It” by George Polya even for very young readers.

    Another unrelated suggestion is myths other than the Graeco-Roman ones, some of which have many more shades of gray than either: say Indian or Scandinavian myths. However, I should concede I am not aware of any good references for either that should be readily available in America.

    1. I’d recommend Kevin Crossley-Holland’s The Norse Myths and, for a more academic take, pretty much anything by H.R. Ellis-Davidson, maybe The Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. (Both titles available on


    2. Yes!

      Bridges to Infinity: The Human Side of Mathematics by Michael Guillen. It blew my mind.

      Mason, I’m sure you’re familiar with the concept of infinity. But did you know that it comes in different sizes? That some things, though infinite, are smaller than other also-infinite things?

      Guillen’s book will explain how that can be. And, in so doing, it will actually lay out the logical framework for understanding just why all the omni-properties of gods (omnipotence, omniscience, etc.) are meaningless — though, to be fair, you’ll have to connect those dots for yourself as he goes nowhere near theology. And, oh-by-the-way, you’ll get a great introduction to all the really interesting branches of mathematics.



      1. Or, Infinity and the Mind: The Science and Philosophy of the Infinite by Rudy Rucker, which, given Ben’s description of Guillen’s book, covers much of the same ground. (Rucker’s also an sf author, but I haven’t read enough of his to recommend tany of hat to Mason.)


      2. I should, however, declare a “conflict of interest”: I do mathematics for a living, so it is of course to my advantage to get people interested in it :D.

        1. Hey, if you don’t get the next generation excited about mathematics, who will? And then where will we be?

          Of course, it helps that, contrary to Barbie, it really is an exciting field. It’s not that hard, and the bits that are hard are what makes it so much fun.


    3. I just found a Penguin Classics translation of the Mahabharata on Amazon. Remember that this book is probably the largest epic ever written, at over a hundred thousand Sanskrit verses, so any manageable translation has to be heavily abridged(I once heard estimates that it is a few times the size of everything attributed to Homer combined :)).

      In fact, the best translation I have come across (by C Rajagopalachari) seems to be available freely online, though at a site which seems religiously motivated (this turns up at the first link for me if I google “C Rajagopalachari Mahabharat”). This translation was written for an Indian (and not western) audience in mind, so there might be several cultural references left unexplained. It also seems to be available on Amazon.

        1. Glad you liked it. The thing I especially like about the Mahabharata is the way it doesn’t try to divide the two sides into the “good guys” and the “bad guys”: they all are shown to have their good and bad sides.

          1. Although I should probably also note that reading any epic in prose translation is not much different from reading Shakespeare from “Sixteen tales”. The stories are great, but the poetry is completely lost.

    4. I did send a book of American Indian creation myths and stories to my brother’s kids. They loved them. And, yes, it was to provide a counter to their Sunday school myths. My brother never caught on. I don’t remember the book, though.

      1. @daveau: I mean “Indian” as in “Asian Indian”. But that sounds cool too. I just realized I am completely ignorant of Native American mythology.

        1. I know. That’s why I specifically said American Indian. You just struck a chord, and I thought I’d share.

          A lot of animism. The Hopi stuff is really interesting; it was a part of my journey to atheism. But the book I was referring to is children’s stories.

    5. Highly recommend “The Housekeeper and the Professor” by Yoko Ogawa. It’s about love of mathematics, baseball and relationships. It’s also a very lovely story.

  32. Hey Mason – I’m here to present the Coolest Kid of 2011 award, and you’re the winner. But it comes with a catch – that means your mom is cool too, so listen to her! 🙂

  33. Mason will be turning nine on Sunday. I would love to pass on your collective reading suggestions to her and perhaps create a master list for all our inquisitive little thinkers. It seems clear to me that there is a genuine interest in topic and I may speaking to some of the most brilliant minds I’m ever likely to meet.

    Please pass me your suggestions. Here or on Facebook (I’ve never had an open page before, but why not now. I’ve nothing to loose.)

    1. Book bandwagon jumper rider:

      – E.A. Abbott’s Flatland, the dimensional adventure classic, and its distant sequels:
      – Ian Stewart’s Flatterland and
      – A.K. Dewdney’s The Planiverse

      An almost forgotten classic is Selma Lagerlöf’s Nils Holgersson’s Wonderful Voyage across Sweden (bland blah American title: The Wonderful Adventures of Nils), about a boy who escapes with a flock of wild geese. A gripping tale of perspective change (Nils has to fit in with the geese), nature observation, geography, and folk lore before it became folklore.

      Since Mason has the good fortune (and wise parents) to learn French at the appropriate age, I’d suggest a French author who is a true citizen of the world: J.M.G. Le Clézio. He’s had the bad luck of a Literature Nobel in 2008, but he’s a really good and accessible writer, besides being a great one. Special recommendations:
      L’Africain, his recollections of culture shock in Africa when he went there as a boy of eight to meet his father, a British medical official in colonial Nigeria.
      Ritournelle de la Faim, a quest for his childhood in wartime France and the youth of his mother.
      Gens des Nuages, a journey with his wife to her Berber ancestors’ tribe in the Sahara.
      La Fête chantée and Le Rêve méxicain ou la pensée interrompue, his first-hand accounts mixed with ethnological studies and historical reflections on the bloom and brutal arrest of Mesoamerican cultures (Le Clézio spent many years in Mexico).
      Don’t be put off by the complex themes: Le Clézio uses a sparse French vocabulary, wears his learning lightly, and his writing is the most child-like of any French writer I know: perpetual discovery and wonder.

      1. Classic science fiction: all of Arthur C. Clarke, Heinlein, Clifford Simak (Way Station), Asimov and Bova and others. John Wyndham and Tolkien. Jacob Browoski (the Ascent of Man).

        So many great books.

    2. My suggestions:
      Terry Pratchett: Any and all. Maybe the best for young readers: Wee Free Men, A Hatful of Sky and I Shall Wear Midnight

      JRR Tolkien: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Much better and deeper than the movies.

      The Evolution Man by Roy Lewis.

    3. I enjoyed reading Tolkein’s books to my daughter. Mason might be OK with The Hobbit, but LOTR might be a bit much without you. The Two Towers got a little long, but my daughter enjoyed it and then enjoyed the movies after we finished.

      How about Dale McGowan’s Parenting Beyond Belief? I was thinking that some of the essays would be good for me to read to my daughter. McGowan also has some good reading suggestions in his follow-up Raising Freethinkers.

    4. At the risk of repeating myself, I’ll again put up Gamow’s One, Two, Three,….Infinity. Polya’s How to Solve It might be more interesting for a kid who has had Algebra and Geometry, but it never hurts to let 9 year olds devour high school algebra or geometry, especially if they find it interesting.

  34. I took some time yesterday to type out Christopher Hitchens’ closing remarks in the Dembski debate. I had hoped to use them in my remarks, but didn’t due to space. I offer them to you here without permission. The debate happened at a mega church outside of Dallas and was attended by high school students from local religious academies. As a former teacher, I thought his remarks were brilliant. He completely sidestepped Dembski’s nonsense and addressed the students.

    “I want to answer Bill’s (Dembski) implied question… Why don’t you accept this wonderful offer (of eternal life in heaven) ? Why wouldn’t you like to meet Shakespeare, for example? I don’t know if you really think that when you die you can be corporeally reassembled and have conversations with authors from previous epochs. It’s not necessary that you believe that in Christian theology and I have to say that it sounds like a complete fairytale to me. The only reason I want to meet Shakespeare, or might even want to, is because I can meet him anytime because he is immortal in the works he’s left behind. If you’ve read those then meeting the author would almost certainly be a disappointment. But when Socrates was sentenced to death, for his philosophical investigations and for blasphemy for challenging the gods of the city, and he accepted his death he did say, “Well, if we are lucky perhaps I will be able to hold conversation with other great thinkers and philosophers and doubters, too.” In other words, that the discussion about what is good, what is beautiful, what is noble, what is pure, and what is true could always go on. Why is that important? Why would I like to do that? Because that’s the only conversation worth having. And whether it goes on or not after I die, I don’t know. But, I do know that it is the conversation I want to have while I am still alive. Which means that to me the offer of certainty, the offer of complete security, the offer of an impermeable faith that can’t give way is an offer of something not worth having. I want to live my life taking the risk all the time that I don’t know anything like enough yet… that I haven’t understood enough… that I can’t know enough… that I am always hungrily operating on the margins of a potentially great harvest of future knowledge and wisdom. I wouldn’t have it any other way. And I’d urge you to look at those who tell you, those people who tell you at your age, that you are dead until you believe as they do. What a terrible thing to be telling to children. …and that you can only live by accepting an absolute authority. Don’t think of that as a gift. Think of it as a poisoned chalice. Push it aside however tempting it is. Take the risk of thinking for yourself. Much more happiness, truth, beauty and wisdom will come to you that way. Thank you.”

    Christopher Hitchens closing statement Hitchens- Dembski Debate Prestonwood Baptist Church Plano, Texas November 2010 04:36

    1. I loved watching that talk before. He spoke to the students so forthrightly. So much more respectfully than Dembski.

    2. Anne. Thank you for posting the transcript of Christopher Hitchens’ remarks. It makes stirring reading. I hope you are coping with all the media coverage. All the best.

      1. Anne, the story of your gifted daughter warms the cockles of my heart!

        I’m also thrilled to read that you, like me, have found that Christophers closing remarks to Dembski (or Dumbski as he’s also known) was especially profound and moving. It is all the more amazing as he speaks without a script, he’s ad-libing from his heart and speaks words that poets would find hard to come by.

        The last part always makes me well up, especially knowing he is addressing children. This should go into all books of quotations from this day on and be remembered down the ages….

        “And I’d urge you to look at those of you who tell you – those people who tell you at your age that you’re dead till you believe as they do. What a terrible thing to be telling to children [applause begins]. And that you can only live [pause for applause] – and that you can only live by accepting an absolute authority. Don’t think of that as a gift.

        Think of it as a poison chalice. Push it aside however tempting it is. Take the risk of thinking for yourself. Much more happiness, truth, beauty, and wisdom will come to you that way.”

  35. Good post and interesting story. It does appear that someone (probably her mother) wrote that YouTube comment. If you look on the account page under “Recent Activity” you’ll see that the comment originally had “her”, “she”, etc… but was deleted and replaced with “I”, “me”, etc… Still, though, good for the little girl to remain open to all that thought has to offer.

    1. Mason had never posted on YouTube before. I was with her the whole time. You are one hundred percent correct that her post was altered. She first typed it with “I” and “me”, but then she got scared. She said that she knew thar bad things can happen to people on the Internet She revised it to “she” and “her” then posted. We had a talk about standing behind your comments so she decided to change it back to first person. Mason is correct that she is in a dangerous situation. Case in point, you are, with good reason, not the first to suggest that she could be manipulated. I am trying my best to balance between guiding her through this and over-stepping. I doing my best a making it up as we go along, but we are honest. Besides, I don’t use that many exclamation points!!!!!!!

    1. As a “mere” blogger and not a “real” writer, who was dissed by Alan Cheuse, himself, of NPR commentary, and now a published author with a very nice letter file of people who were “moved by what you wrote” and not an egotistical, self-serving person nor, as the Queen once told me, a “name dropper,” I have enjoyed your story, how you told it and I think your daughter is a very, very lucky person to have you in her life.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope your story gets wider circulation and I will do what I can as a mere blogger to help that happen.

      Kink says “hai.”

    1. I just want to say how much I enjoyed the entire story, and the subsequent comments by everyone.
      It really warms my heart to know that there are young free thinkers in Texas who carry the torch of reason.

  36. The recent activity post I referred to has since been removed. I have screenshots to prove my initial comment. I’m not trying to ignore the story. I’ve thought it was good all along but it’s worth noting that the comment was most likely her mother’s.

    1. Ah – but that doesn’t matter if you can be a good parent, or a good, solid friend for some kids in your social circle. Parents shouldn’t be allowed so much power over our adult lives 😉

  37. Mason I think it is great you are reading and developing critical thinking skills and are not afraid to ask good questions. I hope you are not being criticised by people who can’t don’t or won’t understand.

    Please remember that an being a critical thinker involves assessing what you are reading. For example Ayaan Hirsi Ali who Christopher Hitchens recommended writes with a purpose in mind. You need to understand this in order to understand what she writes. There are other viewpoints about Islam from writers who don’t share her views.

    To Mason’s mother: Congratulations for raising such a smart young lady. Persist with reading the Qur’an. At times it is a difficult book to follow but worth the struggle. The same thing applies here as it does to Hirsi Ali’s writings. Some translations of the Qur’an are poorly done or done to push a particular point of view which is not faithful to the message of the Qur’an.

  38. I do not have a heart of stone, and I freely admit a little weeping when I read that account.

    Truly a fortunate child with parents like that.

    Something to aspire to with my own daughter in a few years (she’s 3!).

    Thanks so much for posting this.

  39. We didn’t have many books when I was young. My father used to read the newspaper to me. Some years later he complained that I insisted he read the want ads too. I don’t remember any of this because my memories don’t go back that far.

  40. Since people are adding to Mason’s reading list here are some from me.

    Anything by Isaac Asimov particularly the Robot and Foundation series. One segways nicely into the other at the end. The same goes for Arthur C.Clarke but one of his novels, Glide Path is a favourite. This is a semi-autobiography set in WW2 and describes the highs and lows of developing ground control descent for allied bombers trying to land in dense fog.

    Other recommendations: The Faber Book of Science Edited by John Carey,any of the Sherlock Holmes stories,anything by Stephen Jay Gould, Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World, Proofiness The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception by Charles Siefe and The Mathematics of Life by Ian Stewart. The last two are a bit advanced for a nine year old but would be a great read for a bright child in their mid to late teens. As a companion to Shakespeare and CS Lewis, Layla and Majnun is a good choice. It is a Muslim love story which has been compared to Romeo and Juliet but like CS Lewis’ writings it contains a deeper message.

    I could suggest others but since her mother is an atheist I will avoid those with a more theological/philosophical bent. I do recommend reading Steve Gould’s Rock of Ages though.

  41. I just want to say to Anne how brave you are. I encouraged my children to think for themselves and they have both grown up to be atheists (no surprise there, really). But I came from England, where atheism is pretty common and doesn’t result in the same kind of stigma as here in America. So to bring up a child to be a free-thinker in Texas, of all places, takes a lot of courage, I’m sure.

    Thank you for having the courage to give your daughter such a wonderful start in life.

  42. Mason: In the future, our world will need more children like you. More moms like yours and more people like Hitch. Let’s build that world together, reading, studying, learning and thinking. Reason! that’s the key!

  43. Anne, I was most delighted to see you insisting that Mason is too young yet to label. My kids are now 26 & 20 (and both atheist freethinkers, I’m happy to say), but in their childhoods I bristled many a time at the assumption that they were “raised atheist,” with the insinuation that they were indoctrinated just like religious kids are.

    As you say, one can only try to encourage (and model, one hopes) critical thinking–then hope for the best.

  44. I’ve often read that “Rowling’s books have ignited the love of reading in a whole generation”, or words to that effect, and it may well be true, but I’ve never heard of any study supporting it.

    I find it a little disturbing that we’re apparently as ready to proffer anecdotes as the fundies are, especially on a science web site.

  45. does anyone else feel this is kinda adults piling on a kid? Even Hitch.

    How about letting her have, this precious little, time to be a kid!? Chaucer!?

    She has a lifetime for all the books. Has anyone mentioned fun kids books?

    Better to let he play with friends and make believe.

    Sweet Jesus.

  46. Just had to add my voice to those giving warm thanks to Mason and her Mom for this very special account of that evening with the free thinkers and the great Hitch himself.

    I hope their ‘outing’ brings them welcome new opportunities to meet like-minds and spread freethinking. Mason is such a bright young contrarian.

    All the best from England.

    1. Anne. Jason @ Samuel Zwemer Theological Seminary is a 42yo man. He has gained access to an 8yo child by uploading a video to YouTube & now he has posted a second video addressed to her

      You are feeding a Troll. He now knows your YouTube Channel name & via that channel he (& anyone else) can discover Mason’s favourite music, films & cartoons. You have already left too many traces on the web that lead back to you & your family. I have sent you an email to illustrate my point.

      IMO you need to step back & consider what you are doing. Please read about Dennis Markuze as an example:

      Markuze’s modus operandi tends to involve persistently posting threatening, incoherent and weirdly formatted anti-atheist rants to any blog that strikes his fancy […] His favorite targets include Richard Dawkins, Amanda Marcotte, Jen McCreight, PZ Myers, and James Randi; he actually physically stalked Myers once at a conference in Canada

      At the moment he is not a danger, but there are hoards more keyboard warriors out there & you have already discarded the best defence ~ your anonymity

      1. Thank you. I hadn’t thought of that. Unfortunately, since the original blogger posted both her full name, my full name and our hometown our anonymity was already shot. I am doing my best to try to control the situation. Any help or advice I can get from people with our best interests in mind is greatly appreciated. It has been fun and exciting until now. If it does turn ugly, I hope we can count on everyone’s support.

        1. Eh, I wouldn’t worry. Though the crazies are everywhere, the real psychos are so rare as to be practically nonexistent. Unless something sets your “Spidey Sense” a-tinglin’, don’t give it any further thought.

          Preacher man here is obviously a bit taken aback by the attention he himself is getting. I’ll be generous and attribute his inarticulateness to his shock. Aside from wanting to get your daughter hooked on zombie flesh and vampire blood, I doubt there’s anything untoward about him.

          The only crazies you need to worry about are those in your town.



        2. This stuff can haunt you & your family for years. I have put a list of some of the traces you have left on the web in my email to you. If you have not seen it look in your spam folder or email me & I will resend. [Click on my fish avatar to see my email address].

          Some suggestions:
          ** Don’t post to Jason Burns’ YouTube uploads
          ** Remove all details from your existing YouTube account including favourites & friends. Delete that account if you can. Open a new one & don’t comment on lunatic videos
          ** Reduce the amount of publicly viewable information at the sites you have registered at !

          1. Again…this is only if you don’t want the world to know who you are. If you’re okay with being “out,” there’s no need to hide under a rock.

            If you live in a small enough town that you won’t be able to buy groceries if you become known as the atheist family…well, it’s probably already too late. But, so long as it’s only your social standing at stake, the world needs more out atheists, not fewer. And the more there are, the less lonely it is….



        3. Anne,

          I’m also a freethinker, currently living “undercover” in Houston (hence my use of a literary pseudonym). Our host here at WEIT has my real name and email address, and can probably forward them to you upon request (or I can do so myself, if you like) — I offer this so you’ll know your family isn’t alone.

        4. a blog is easy to set up, and a great way for your daughter to “meet” and communicate with other freethinking kids! My 10 and 12 year old kids would love to exchange reading lists, ideas and opinions with your daughter, so do reply here if you decide to help her set up a blog…

    2. Firstly, he needs to know the difference between tolerance and respect. Tolerance is the willingness to endure views, even if you find them obnoxious. Respect means to ascribe value to those views. For example I may find creationism absurd and abhorrent and have no respect for it, but I do not advocate the throwing of its advocates into jail. Respect has to be earned, tolerance is a necessary feature of a free society.

      And one thing he needs to learn from Hitchens is how not to be so appallingly patronising.

      Ultimately, there is nothing you can do with a closed mind so I would not be too upset, not least because of Mason herself. Reading this I could not possibly conceive of a young person less susceptible to brainwashing than your highly intelligent daughter.

      This is a marvellous story and reading it made my day.

    3. Don’t become paranoid about this, Anne. I think taking Michael’s advice would be an overreaction at this time.

      I think this guy is quite sincere — deeply misguided and horribly patronising, yes, but sincere nonetheless. Look, he put on a shirt and tie to create a better impression with his suddenly enlarged audience! That’s quite sweet, really.

      I wouldn’t take his comment about “brainwashing” to heart; it’s just a typical response from a theist who can’t understand that atheism is not a religion and has no scripture or dogma or prelates.

      True anonymity on the web requires special steps; given the will, technically knowledgeable folks can join the dots and trace pseudonyms to real people. Especially in the U.S., there’s a lot of information about you that’s in the public domain. That’s not meant to sound scary; it’s just the way things are.

      I post everywhere on the web under (a variant of) my real name (yes, I really am Ant[hony] Allan — Google me!), but I fully understand why people would prefer anonymity, especially if they’re particularly vulnerable. I sincerely hope you and Mason don’t need that recourse.

      If anything untoward comes of this, you /know/ there are lots of folks who’ll willingly offer support!


      1. I don’t see Jason Burn as the problem Ant. The fact is that anyone who goes to Burns’ two videos can find a child’s YouTube channel from there & learn that child’s interests. In a few years time the child may have a facebook or the like & then an evil individual can own her life using social engineering techniques

        Every celebrity has stalkers & this child IS a celebrity. Her family needs to adjust their behaviour accordingly. I note that the known YouTube connections are gone now (& the comments). That’s a good start & it was the absolutely correct move.

        1. Yeah, and I can see a lot of other things to worry about, too. Cyber bullying can be vicious and the young, no matter how intelligent and level-headed, are especially vulnerable. Maybe it’s just the Mom in me, but I think you and Anne are right to be concerned.

        2. I take your point that it’s not JB but others that might be a problem. But, because of that “might”, I still think that it’s an overreaction at this time. And maybe futile in any case, as the genie’s already out of the bottle, and the footprints on the web cannot be completely erased, even if Anne “reinvents” herself online. (It’s also very very easy to find her in the real world.) But, I’m with Ben; I think the likelihood of anything untoward happening is slim. I think Anne (and Mason when she‘s old enough to have her own accounts) should continue to “be herself”.


        3. Oh, and I think Mason’s celebrity has a positive aspect as well: There’s this community of people of goodwill who will help.

          Anne should be watchful (I was going to say “wary”, but suggests that there’s an immanent threat), but I see no reason for paranoia.


  47. Hi, I posted earlier but I think because I had a link it might be in the spam filter. All the best- love the story, good on you Mrs Crumpacker!

  48. Anne & Mason,

    Thanks for sharing your story and thanks too for publicizing Hitch’s recommendations for all of us to see. I’m the dad of three kids your age (11, 9, and 5), and we’re raising them to think for themselves, using reason and logic as their guide. I can’t think of a better example for them to follow than you, Mason.

    It’s not easy being an atheist in even our overwhelmingly liberal suburb of Northern NJ. Religion permeates everything. I have no idea how you deal with it in Texas, but you have our total admiration because of it. Mason — I think you should start a blog for kids to help them deal with the pressure of being non-religious in America today.

    Best regards,

  49. I’m insanely jealous of Mason 🙂 but also insanely jealous of her mum for having such a bright and intelligent young lady as a daughter. I ‘did a Hitch’ and moved to the USA from the UK in my early 30s, and it really flushed out my atheism, shocked as I was to find the idle piety all around me, and that’s up here in the supposedly liberal Midwest. It’s just so impressive as well as important that you express yourselves as you do in Texas. I wish more people would be more vocal, but the fact that you both do as you are surely means that more will follow. I sincerely hope so.

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful story.

  50. I’m sorry that you can’t live freely and openly in your area without harassment or censure. I grew up in Massachusetts, and being in Texas for military training was a frightening culture shock for me. When you have dark moments, please remember that in other areas of the country your position on this topic would be unremarkable. I admire your bravery and your daughter’s desire to think freely in spite of the majority surrounding her. I’m sure that will serve her well throughout her life!

  51. Mrs. Crumpacker,

    I admire you so much for being such a fierce advocate for your child’s independence. You’re awesome!

    Three cheers for Hitch, Mason and Mum!!!

    Books I love to share:
    General Knowledge:
    Merriam-Webster Dictionary
    Encyclopedia Brittanica

    Civilisation by Kenneth Clarke (1969). This is the best book ever.
    A Treasury of the World’s Great Speeches edited by Houston Peterson (1954). This is also the best book ever.


    How to Read and Why – Harold Bloom (my copy is heavily highlighted and dog-eared)
    Where Shall Wisdom Be Found – Harold Bloom (pretty dense, but gorgeous)


    The Beak of the Finch
    Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea.

    More and more:
    Essays by E.M. Forster, especially “What I Believe” and “Anonymity: an Enquiry”

    Essays by Joseph Wood Krutch.

    If she’s reading French, she should read Montaigne. I love him.

    I think Raymond Feist and Tad Williams are the only authors who approach the scale of Middle-Earth, but it’s been a very long time since I’ve read anything in this genre.

    I have to get back to work now, so I can afford to buy more books.

    Be well,


    1. I forgot to add Pushkin’s poetry, Chekhov’s plays, Martin McDonagh’s plays, (pretty dark, but incomparable patois) Don’t forget the Latin American poets!

  52. incredible moment. Thanks for sharing.

    For little Mason, I would definitely add Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn (or anything by Sam Clements), Jean Jacques Rousseau, and when shes a bit more older, Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.

    what an incredible kid, all the best to you Mason!

  53. What an inspiring story, and what an exceptional young lady! I envy her for her opportunity to converse with Mr. Hitchens and benefit from his wisdom. Thank you for sharing the experience! Best wishes to Mason and her wonderful parents!

  54. Dear Anne and Mason,

    Forgive me for weighing in again, but Charles Dickens was recommended by Christopher Hitchens to Mason, and I think at this point it’s high time to quote the celebrated finale of Orwell’s essay on Dickens:

    When one reads any strongly individual piece of writing, one has the impression of seeing a face somewhere behind the page. It is not necessarily the actual face of the writer. I feel this very strongly with Swift, with Defoe, with Fielding, Stendhal, Thackeray, Flaubert, though in several cases I do not know what these people looked like and do not want to know. What one sees is the face that the writer ought to have. Well, in the case of Dickens I see a face that is not quite the face of Dickens’s photographs, though it resembles it. It is the face of a man of about forty, with a small beard and a high colour. He is laughing, with a touch of anger in his laughter, but no triumph, no malignity. It is the face of a man who is always fighting against something, but who fights in the open and is not frightened, the face of a man who is generously angry — in other words, of a nineteenth-century liberal, a free intelligence, a type hated with equal hatred by all the smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls.

    (emphasis mine)

    If the smelly little orthodoxies are getting muscular enough that you or your daughter must fear for speaking out your mind, as some posters suggest might be the case, your country is betraying all it once supposedly stood for.

    When I was a little boy of six behind the Iron Curtain, I got my first thorough dressing down for not toeing the party line. My first, not my last. Naïvely, I hoped that someday I would sail to America, Land of the Free, Home of the Brave, shrine of the free speech. Emigrate I did in the end, to a reasonably free country in Old Europe. But America, the free America I dreamed of, seems now more quaintly remote than ever.

  55. What a wonderful time to be alive. It is an amazing modern world in which we live. Mr. Hitchens will get to follow this child’s scholastic endeavors with satisfaction. He is ever the educator.

  56. as a Texan that has grown up in the Church and still believes–but is constantly studying and questioning and learning–I love this story, and I hope that Mason and the rest of her generation gets the chance to study and question and learn, whether they become Christians or atheists. the choice is important, and the never ending search for truth should never be violently opposed by atheists or believers. the worst thing possible is EITHER side forcing children to believe a certain way.

    1. Quote:

      “…whether they become Christians or atheists.”

      You’ve tripped over the either-or fallacy there sjd ~ it’s the low lighting levels that are associated with a faith-based outlook. What’s with the “violently” & the “forcing” terminology ?

      As an anti-theist atheist I say one should cut out sodas & extra-sugary fruit juices. In the interests of the never-ending search for truth…

      How do you (as a Christian) know what’s true?
      What brand of Christian are you sjd?
      Does the brand matter?
      Is fearing God good?
      With the calender change that occurred around the 1580’s what day of the week is the real Sabbath if you’re a Christian?

      1. Indeed.
        Everyone begins as an atheist, until indoctrinated into one or other a version of mental slavery.

    2. Actually, I found that comment most agreeable. True, the choices could be expanded, but the sentiment stands.

      Brainwashing is brainwashing, and it can be done by atheists & liberals as well as theists & conservatives…

      1. It’s the massive catholism-as-a-child hangover that makes me over-sensitive to weasel words & sjd set off the alarms. False positives can happen though.

        1. Well, in a more recent post on another thread, this poster’s true colors showed a bit more, so I guess your instincts were probably correct…

  57. What an amazing experience! We have a 6 yrs old daughter, we live in Frisco TX and I’m so excited to know that is other families like us in this state! I’ll love to meet you of course 214.5852576 I actually post “magic of reality” few days ago on my fb, knowing that hardly some of my friends will buy it, but it is always better to give a shot so I can help to spread it. Congratulations to Mason for her attitude, you rock girl! Good for you! Rose

  58. Wonderful story, she sounds like an absolutely brilliant child, her family should be proud. I would recommend, If no one before me has already, “A Short History Of Nearly Everything”. By Bill Bryson. Funny and informative.

  59. Hi Mason,

    I never dreamed I would ever hear that a girl of only eight years would be nearly as well-read as you are right now. I’m from New Jersey, but I’m attending university in Canada (in Nova Scotia), where I’m a graduate student of literature. But one of the reasons I chose this field of study was to make up for all of the wonderful things I never read when I was a kid. Why? The simple truth is that no one ever thought to tell me that there were certain books to be found. So now I’m the one handing out reading lists to those friends of mine who I don’t scare away when they ask me what I’m reading. But if you have the great fortune to be pointed in the direction you have been by as wonderful a literary guide as Christopher Hitchens–and especially if you have already started to read Shakespeare at your age–then you are already miles ahead of where I was when I was at age eight.

    If I may be so bold, I would like to add to Mr. Hitchens’ reading list. You may have heard some of these titles from countless other responders, but if you feel up to reading all of the posts generated by your touching story, then here you go:

    1. “Paradise Lost” and “Paradise Regained” by John Milton – Now you should by no means feel pressure to jump on this one. As I said, if you’re already reading Shakespeare, that can only work to your advantage. But wait until you can understand Shakespeare fluently, *as you read him aloud.* Once Shakespeare starts to feel like a second language to you (or maybe he does already), then try Milton on for size. If you breeze through those Greek and Roman myths (especially “Metamorphoses” by Ovid), then you will have a real leg up in how well you understand the story; and if you have a strong background in Shakespeare, the language shouldn’t be too difficult. And once you do get around to reading Milton, you will have a much deeper appreciation of those wonderful books by Philip Pullman. But whatever you do, make sure you read “Paradise Lost” *before* you read “Frankenstein”!

    2. The Bible – Now don’t worry, I am also an atheist; but I also intend to teach high school one day, and I have absolutely nothing against turning to, or passing out, things from the Bible when it’s relevant to what kids are reading. You could certainly read it from cover-to-cover if you wanted to, or you could have your parents point you to the best bits, and save the more boring sections for the end. But if I may give you the same advice that my grandfather, a retired Episcopal priest, gave me, then I would suggest reading the New Testament first. His argument at the time was, “So you can see what it’s all building up to.” But that aside, if you can read the Old Testament, bearing the New Testament in mind as you go–and seeing where you can find similarities between the two–then you will have a much better understanding of how most Christians read the Bible. Now why do I even mention this book? Well, because as Mr. Hitchens could tell you if you asked him, if you do read the Bible, and remember what you read, then almost every Western book you read afterwards will speak to you in a much deeper way. Regardless of *how* one reads it, the Bible has influenced literature ever since it was put together, and continues to influence how people put together stories to this very day. As far as translations go, I would suggest having the Revised Standard Version (RSV) handy for now (since it’s probably one of the better “modern” translations), and a King James Bible (KJV)–for when you want to read the same passages and have them sound more epic. And I’ll say this for the Bible–Jesus is a much funnier figure than people think!

    3. Anything by Oscar Wilde. Ask your parents to tell you the story of his life. It might make you cry, but he is one of those figures from history who led a truly beautiful life. He also had a great sense of humour.

    4. Anything by John Keats — including his letters. Even if you don’t quite understand what’s going on (and even some college students still don’t), I can’t imagine a better way to share with young people the exotic beauty that the English language can have.

    5. Anything by Dr. Seuss — Now you might think I’m patronizing you by mentioning the good Doctor, but (1) you are still a kid, after all, and (2) however scrawny some of my own attempts at poetry have been, I don’t think I would have been as inspired to try my hand at writing poetry if I hadn’t been shown how fun and flexible it could be by Dr. Seuss. And if you really think you might want to write poetry of your own, then check out a book called “The Ode Less Travelled” by a friend of Mr. Hitchens named Stephen Fry.

    6. The Kalevala – This is the Finnish national epic. If you like Greek & Roman mythology, and especially if you like Norse (Viking) myths, then you will love this poem. I would recommend either Crawford’s translation, or Eino Friberg’s more translation (which also comes in graphic novel form), depending on your taste. But if you like epics and sagas, and if you like wonderful tales that take place in mysterious settings of snow, pine, and mountains, then this is the book for you. (It was also a huge influence on J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, and you can even see its influence poke through in Philip Pullman’s books!)

    7. The next time you go to a commercial bookstore, look for the Penguin editions of Plato. Then, pick out two of those in particular — “The Last Days of Socrates,” and “Early Socratic Dialogues.” Now, the dialogue structure might confuse some people at first (but maybe not you), but let me tell you a little bit about Socrates. He was so funny. He was funny, he had an incredibly sharp wit, and he loved nothing better than to question everything. He also loved arguing in such a way that his opponents would be forced to realize that the opposite of what they had said was actually the truth. In fact, you might say that he was the Christopher Hitchens of his time (well, not quite, but sort of). Socrates never wrote anything himself, but if you get these two editions, (and if necessary, have your parents help you through the tricky bits,) you will find a young student of Socrates writing out scenes from the life of his old teacher — scenes that never fail to put a smile on one’s face, and a question in one’s mind. Then, when you read those and can understand what’s happening in each (or most) of them, find and hunt down “The Symposium.”

    I think that’s about all I can suggest without knowing more about you, but given your schooling, this should probably hold you for the next year or two.

    In any event, I hope that coming from a Free-thinking home doesn’t put too much of a strain on you while you’re growing up in Texas. Now I grew up in northern New Jersey. It’s a fairly liberal area. My hometown was roughly half Jewish, if you can imagine that! (It was pretty cool…) It wasn’t the easiest thing telling people I was an atheist, but I was one of those kids who had been picked on in elementary school, so I already had a pretty thick skin. And to be fair, it only really got uncomfortable when a debate with a really Christian kid turned sour, but that didn’t happen too often. At the same time, it was odd to see the look of shock and disappointment one of my teacher’s face when I told her I didn’t believe in God–and that was in an anthropology class! But as I started to meet kids from different parts of the country, I started to notice that there were more and more kids like me. Of course, I became more and more aware of kids who were very adamant about the religion they grew up in. But I never shook the feeling that more and more young people were shaking off religion. In other words, if my impression is right, then my generation–and soon, your generation–will be leading the way as Freethinkers. Now of course I cannot imagine growing up such an intensely Christian region as the American South, let alone Texas, but what I can tell you is if you can survive that, I guarantee you will be a much stronger person for it–especially if you don’t let boys push you around. The point is, once you start to get older, and to travel, it very well might shock you how many people don’t hold to the same religion that your neighbours might. I’m at a university in Canada right now, and I actually have the distinct impression that almost none of my fellow graduate students, or even professors! are particularly religious, if at all! (Weird!) But if you find what I’m saying it true, and it doesn’t shock you, then the world will already have become a much better place.

    That being said, I do want to give you one piece of advice. If you’re bothering to read this, then you’re already doing well. But I just want to mention something for you to keep in the back of your mind as you’re growing up, with atheist parents. Which is, there is so much that deserves respect in the concept of religion–and that often includes respect for religious people. The first thing to realize, and for all I know you’ve figured this out already, is that not all atheists are the same, not all Christians are the same, and not all Muslims are the same–any more than not all Americans are the same (which I *know* you’ve figured out by now…). When you do get around to reading Ms. Hirsi Ali’s book, parts of it may scare you. I have not had the honour of meeting her, or Mr. Hitchens, but she lived through many things and many dangers which are unthinkable to most children — especially American children. If you read her books, you will find that she also has a very specific view of what Islam is. But there is another woman whose book you might be interested in, in addition to Ms. Hirsi Ali’s (both women are actually very valuable figures in their own way). That other woman’s name is Irshad Manji, and her major book is called “The Trouble with Islam Today.” But even if you never read that book, you will probably be very interested to know that she’s a feminist, she’s Canadian, she’s gay–and she’s still a Muslim! Or, if you want to put down your books once in a while, then see if you can find clips, or a D.V.D. of a Canadian sitcom called “Little Mosque on the Prairie.” It’s a hilarious show, and it’s in its sixth season!

    Now Christopher Hitchens himself, and many of his colleagues, and probably many other people reading this blog; all of these people will have a very different idea than me about what it means to “respect” religion, or even if to do so is a good thing. But in my experience, I find it is always best to talk with people in such a way that, even if people don’t like or don’t agree with what you’re saying, then at least they can tell that you’re willing to hear their side of things, too. Because chances are, you will never know a world in which atheists are *not* afraid to go on T.V. and tell people what they think. But the fact is, if you decide that you don’t believe in God, and you want people to respect that part about you, then it’s probably a good idea to have an equal amount of respect for those people who decide that they do believe in God. For my own part, I find that whatever people believe, so long as they can come to their own conclusions, think for themselves, and put their thoughts into words, then it won’t matter who you’re talking to, or what you’re talking about–you’ll both be able to have a friendly conversation. I’ve found that I can even enjoy lovely conversations with certain religious fanatics, since each of us is convinced that the other is perfectly insane! And if you can ever achieve that level of civility, then you will have truly come a long way, young padawan.

    But I think that’s enough from me, especially for my first major foray into the blogosphere. So I will wish you well, and hope that this post attracts your attention. And if, somehow this post attracts the attention of Christopher Hitchens, then I wish you well too–as well as I possibly can in what must be an impossibly difficult time for you and for all of your friends (in all fairness, I acknowledge that fans don’t quite count in the same way). I may disagree with some positions you take, but I have never ceased to take comfort in the fact that there are such public figures as yourself, Richard Dawkins, and your colleagues in this movement. Something is happening in the world, and I’m excited to see how it will all turn out. Incidentally, the view from Canada is fantastic.

    Good luck with school! Good luck with Texas! Don’t be afraid to challenge your teachers! Learn to make music! And always question what you read! (Including me!)

    Écrasez L’Infâme!


    Andy in Canada

  60. This post…including all the comments…has simply stopped me in my tracks. It is so encouraging to know this troubled world has such quality individuals as Hitch, Mason and her mother all breathing the same air I am.

  61. I absolutely loved every aspect of this encounter. We all know Hitch’s condition and perhaps he doesn’t have a lot of time here with us, so I find it incredibly endearing for one of his final public appearances to end with such a touching display of care and encouragement with little Mason.

    Maybe someday, we will be swooning over books written by a bright, young freethinker who’s ready to take the world (in all its glory and un-glory) by storm. ..and her name will be Mason Crumpacker. ..and her recollection of meeting someone she believed in, if only for a short period of time, will be recreated for us to enjoy; straight from her mind to the page.

    Inspiring children to THINK rather than fear and be in constant doubt of the world is a challenge, I get it. Mr. Hitchens knows it, too. …which is why what he did is so beautiful. I hope those with the capacity to get attention from the youth take note.

    I must also give a lot of praise to Miss Anne for bringing her daughter to listen in on Hitch’s words. I do not know one parent or parental unit who would even consider such a thing. It’s a shame.

    All the best for the future,


  62. What a lovely story 🙂 I was just talking tonight about how I was always such a precocious kid and I learned to read very early, but I wasn’t given too much opportunity to really shine. I really could have used the encouragement this kid got.
    That being said, at her age (and younger) I got really into Poe and Doyle. I had a real thing for Sherlock Holmes, I loved how he refused to lower himself to the level of the common person, his attitude was more that people could come up to where he was. I’d suggest those. As for Greek myths, my favourite book of that was called “A Wonder Book and Tanglewood Tales” by Nathanial Hawthorne. It’s a very old book, you might be able to find it online, but it’s told from the perspective of the oldest cousin telling his younger cousins the stories he learned in school. It’s also got gorgeous illustrations.

  63. Congratulations to Mason, Mason’s mom, and Hitchens together: the two former for being honest enquirers after truth, and the latter for being available, kind, and wise.

  64. Touching article, but please don’t write off Mr. Hitchens yet, he is still with us and I choose to remain hopeful he may be around for a good while yet.

  65. Mason- Although sometimes it will be tough to think for yourself when you’re surrounded by others who won’t, you’ll someday find you’ve been made better by all the extra effort.

    Mom- Keep up the good work! The few open-minded adults I grew up around were enormously influential for me. Mason and her friends need role models like you, even when you feel like you’re climbing a steep hill.

  66. I loved this story and am so glad that the reading list was printed. While I am a spiritual person I would never preach to a nonbeliever. I understand the struggle there is to live in the South when so much done in politics and daily life revolves around religion.

  67. And let all folly collect upon me as garbage as I give assent to the lifetime’s work of a dying atheist. I do not repent that decision, nor should any considerate being.

    1. “The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware”

      Henry Miller

      We are all dying from day one Joshua ~ it’s in the small print of the being – gloriously – alive payment plan

      If you’re saying that you:
      “give approval to Christopher Hitchens’ work” then I ask you by what authority can you do that? You are a “North Korean” deity perhaps?

      If I’ve got you 180 degrees wrong, it’s due to your bible prose poetry pastiche fail.

      Did you ever work at Hallmark?

  68. As a volunteer in an extremely Evangelical organization in a Catholic/christian-heavy nation, I just hope Mason knows to never be ashamed of what she believes in. She already seems to be well on that path. No reason to hide – just because you don’t wave a particular flag doesn’t mean you have less of a right to believe as a zealot.

  69. Dear Mason,

    If you ever have the fortune to come to New York, I have a 6 year old son who would love to share a story or two with you. Like you, he has a profound love of books and he knows more than his fair share of Greek myths.

    Good luck in your continued learning, you are indeed an inspiration to boys and girls across this country.(And I’m more than a little jealous you had the opportunity to meet one of the worlds most prominent freethinkers).



  70. Absolutely made my day!

    Mr. Hitchens, you are a true gentleman, and a rare gift.

    Mason, knowing that there are eight-year-olds out there with your intelligence and attitude gives me real hope for our future.

  71. I just read what your daughter said, she is reading stuff my daughter at 7 could never muddle through. I read the magic of reality to her, but she is reading nothing like that on our own, I am a reader and rarely watch TV.
    Please! Give me tips on how to help my daughter become a better reader and think critically. Did you consider starting a Facebook page? That would be a supportive forum, I am sorry you were outed. That must be difficult if you weren’t ready, or didn’t tell loved ones yourself. Take care, Sara

    By the way, I am so jealous you met Hitchens!! Good for you, you are raising a rising star 😊

    1. I hope it goes without saying that Mason appears to be quite gifted; how wonderful that she happens to have a mother who can so well support and encourage her.

      For all those children closer to the middle of the frequency distribution, it would do no good and might actually be detrimental (say, by developing an aversion in the kids to the material) to expose them to concepts they’re not yet ready to handle.

      Mythology, of course, is generally appropriate for all ages!

  72. I was so touched by this article and by your daughter’s vibrant curiosity. I’m a teacher and an agnostic in North Texas, so I more than understand the difficulties of non-belief in a school system.

    I just want to let your daughter know that from a person who gave up the ghost when I was just a teenager and still has to live with the judgement of not being Christian, it’s worth it. It’s worth the stares and the cruel words to stand by your beliefs, I’m proud of myself for having the strength while I was young to not back down, and it sounds like your daughter has that same strength.

    Fantastic reading list, and from a Greek Mythology/Historical Studies major I suggest Edith Hamilton for the mythos beginner.

  73. I lived in Arlington, Texas for a good portion of my childhood. I wanted to tell Mason and her mom to continue on the path of knowledge, and live life to the fullest. You are a brave, intelligent young lady, and are destined to do well in life. You give me hope for the future! Well done, little one, and well done, mom!

  74. Anne and Mason,
    I loved this story. I grew up, and still live in Texas (in the metroplex), and I taught high school biology and evolution at the college level. It can be tough to navigate the bible-belt terrain in this area, and I hope that Mason has an easier time than I did. I’m inspired by her, and it makes a (former) teacher happy to hear about children eager to learn and think for themselves. We have a great free-thinking community here, and I know you will both find support in it. If child labor laws didn’t exist I would hire Mason to work for me on the spot- we need more outspoken, curious women in my industry! 🙂

  75. What a cutie pie! Even her dimples have dimples!
    Seriously, tho, I bet Mason would benefit from a conversation with Emily Rosa, the youngest person ever to have a research paper published in a peer-reviewed medical journal. It described her simple experiment to test for the efficacy of Therapeutic “Touch” (basically hand-waving and guessing), and its publication earned young Emily quite a lot of attention, which she handled with aplomb and grace. Emily is also a critical thinker and a great role model.

  76. I’m not an atheist, as I find it to be the opposite end of the coin, but as an agnostic, I will wish well for both of you and for those around you.

    Be well,


  77. If my future offspring are that intelligent, well-read and eloquent at 8 years old as Mason is, I think I’d be so gut-bustingly proud I’d choke myself. Wow. She’s gonna be an awesome grown-up. I can’t wait to see her future books and talks, because there definitely will be some.

  78. Pingback: Books
  79. Well, you sucked me in to this sweet inspiring story! I somehow ended up here from googling about chemical reaction equilibrium… Totally worth the distraction. Good luck Mason (and mom)! Hope my kids can be like you. You might find UT Austin to your liking someday 🙂

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