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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Remember what you were reading, 25 years ago?



I do, almost to the minute.

A quarter of a century ago, I was 10 years old, and was eagerly returning to my 4th grade classroom from Christmas break. I say “eagerly,” because, prior to leaving school for Christmas break, I had been reading about Tom, Becky Thatcher, Huck, and Injun Joe, and the rest. My fourth grade teacher had a shelf of books at the back of the room, and if you finished your work in class, you could select one and read it at your desk. As the books belonged to the teacher, we weren't allowed to take them home (probably a good policy). So, sitting in my desk cubby, with a torn piece of lined paper used as a bookmark, was a much-thumbed, years-old paperback copy of The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer. I couldn't wait to get back.

For some reason, many people these days think that 10 years of age is a bit young for a book that was originally published as a serial piece in a periodical, for family reading. At the time, it was highly popular. I think that this comes from the ongoing dispute over its [nominal] sequel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, with the furor over the use of the "N word," and the supposed questions of slavery. I have to admit that I don't understand this thinking. After reading Twain's treatment of life in Tom Sawyer, any 10 year old that understood what he was reading and sought to then read Huck Finn would get the not-so-subtle irony that Twain presented in the latter.

Tom Sawyer was one of those genius pieces that is either a juvenile written for the appreciation of adults, or an adult piece that juveniles could get. What 10 year-old wouldn't appreciate the concept of bargaining with another school student who wants to see your sore thumb? What adult who remembers childhood wouldn't smile at the memory?

My 8 year-old daughter has finished with the last Rowling book, and I'm heavy in discussion with my wife about allowing her to pick up the better classics. My wife thinks that we should have my daughter wait a tad longer before starting the classics, so that she can really appreciate them. My daughter's now halfway through a Roald Dahl book that she got for Christmas (thanks, Holly!), and if you don't classify his stuff as classic, you just haven't been paying attention. I'm getting ready to cut her loose and let her read what she wants-- appreciation of the classics be damned.

6 Comments:

At Wednesday, January 03, 2007 5:10:00 PM, Blogger Assrot said...

I've read everything that Samuel Clemens has ever written. He was a true genius in my opinion. Have you read "Puddin' Head Wilson" ? If not, it is well worth the time.

 
At Wednesday, January 03, 2007 7:58:00 PM, Blogger Matt G said...

Nope, I don't recall having read it. Have you read Letters From The Earth? It's dangerous stuff, for the times, and I'm amazed that Twain didn't get more backlash.

 
At Wednesday, January 03, 2007 8:28:00 PM, Anonymous pax said...

Matt ~

Forgive the ramble below, or delete if it's not "bloggy" enough. Going to tell you about my youngest kid's reading habits, as perhaps some of his favorites might suit your daughter or tickle your fancies.

This 11-year-old has been turned loose to read anything and everything he can get his hands on, with just a tiny bit of judicious steering from yours truly and only an occasional "How'd he get that!!?" outright veto. Mostly if I find he's reading something that might worry me, I ask him how it's going, what he thinks of the book, or if there's anything in it we should talk about. He's both bright enough and honest enough that usually simply asking the questions is enough to provoke some good discussions.

His big Christmas gift this year was a sizable chunk of change to be spent at Powell's book store in Portland, OR -- www.powells.com -- and no, I'm not affiliated. It's just the coolest place in the entire universe, that's all. Takes up an entire city block with three stories of nothing but new & used books, with cubbyholes you can hole up and read in and a coffee shop and miles & miles of shelves to get lost browsing through. You could stay for a week and still not have seen a tenth of the place ...

I digress, sorry!

Anyway. When we went to pick out his books, just prior to our after-Christmas road trip, he selected some of the following.

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler

Where the Red Fern Grows

Short Stories by O Henry (actually a replacement for a book that has long been a favorite and had worn to tatters)

The Complete Oz Chronicles (of which he'd read 95%, but there was one he hadn't read yet that he'd been unable to find in individual format)

Technically, It's Not My Fault (a fun book full of visual poems, and no I don't remember the author, but we all laughed and laughed and laughed at it when Tim started reading it aloud to us in the car)

Johnny Tremain

Caddie Woodlawn (Like Laura Ingalls Wilder, only with spunk...)

Mr. Popper's Penguins

He also picked out two Terry Pratchett books, A Hat Full of Sky and Guards! Guards! and laughed his way through both. He knew that I like Pratchett, and had read the "for children" Bromeliad Trilogy (GREAT reading), so even though I kind of cringed a little I hoped the Britishisms would obscure some of the more adult type humor. Not sure if it did or not, but ...

He also loves Heinlein. Tried to keep him solely reading the "written for kids" Heinlein books, but a few of mine escaped into the common rooms and, shrug, stuff happens. I think I was about that age when I started reading Heinlein books, which probably would have made my mother's hair stand on end if she'd known what was in 'em.

Lessee. He, too, loved Tom Sawyer & Huck Finn, but like me he didn't care much for Prince & Pauper. Probably we were both too young the first time we read it.

He read the Narnia Chronicles some time ago, and still re reads them from time to time.

Has read all the Harry Potter books of course. He and his brothers are all a little disgusted at the recently announced new title, which they unanimously agree sounds "lame." That won't stop them from pitching in together to purchase the book the day it ships.

I read Ruark's Old Man and the Boy aloud to him this fall. He loved it, and was annoyed that I wouldn't just hand him the book to devour. But I'd wanted to savour it, and was a bit worried about wearing the poor old thing to tatters, and besides even though he's admittedly past the read-to-me!! stage, he is still my baby, and so I have to come up just about old excuse I can find to keep it going just a bit longer.

Come to think of it, nobody ever outgrows reading aloud from poem books. We have a really tattered copy of Best Loved Poems of the American People. Try "Custard the Dragon" and "Paul Revere's Ride" and "Captain Jincks" and "Charge of the Light Brigade" and "The Gobble-uns'll Get You ef You Don't Watch Out!" and -- oh, there are tons. But they must be read aloud, and a smart mom three-times-never just plunks a kid that size down in front of a poem book without greasing the wheels really well by making a special family time of reading some story poems aloud, first. Oh, and put the poem book on a high-ish shelf, noting aloud that the kids won't want to read it anyway. Then leave the room... ;)

It's not in Best Loved Poems, but around here somewhere I have an anthology with our favorite poem of all time: "The Cremation of Sam McGee." Memorized that one (it's long!) when I was about that age.

Another fabulous read-aloud is James Thurber's The Owl in the Attic, a book of short pieces. Select "The Night the Ghost Got in" or "The Night the Bed Fell" -- one of my fondest childhood memories was listening to my mom trying to read those aloud to us, and failing repeatedly because we were all laughing so hard she could hardly squeeze the words out.

Unless she's already read 'em all, you might try her on the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, too. I always thought they were a little thin on plot, myself, but plenty have loved them over the years.

Ooooohhh, and of course you've got to have her read the Anne of Green Gables books. I always secretly thought Anne was a bit of a goop, but every other girl I knew loved those books or said she did (re-read them last year, year before. Worth a read as an adult, but really best just as a girl hits the cusp of deciding whether to grow up or not).

Happy reading...

 
At Wednesday, January 03, 2007 9:25:00 PM, Blogger HollyB said...

You and the GDtr are welcome. I thought it had a really kewl title and knew Dahl was a good author. I hope she's enjoying it.
Does she have those Presidents memorized, yet?

 
At Thursday, January 04, 2007 6:35:00 AM, Blogger Lovi said...

Kids today are so into tv or video games and sometimes just themselves, so it makes me smile when I see one reading a book for pleasure.

 
At Wednesday, January 10, 2007 9:53:00 AM, Blogger Matt G said...

We just gave my daughter a GameBoy Advance for Christmas. She's enjoying it at exactly the right rate-- she played with it a lot the first few days after Dec 25, and now she picks it up for a few minutes before going to school or the like. It's rechargable and quite portable and has a backlit screen, so it makes a nice diversion for night driving, when she can't read, or even day driving, when reading in the car tends to make one carsick (I never know why that happens, but it gets me pretty badly on occasion). She also got a little hand-held TETRIS game that's quite addictive.

Given the quality of the other books that she's into (BTW, she was LONG past the Roald Dahl book Matilda that I thought she was halfway through, and I'm enjoying it immensely. I'm slowly reading it to my 4-year-old), I don't have a problem with her playing the odd game. It's not her life.

Oh dear. I've turned into one of those parents who talk about their kids. Sorry about that:

"It's a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.

"Some parents go further. They become so blinded by adoration they manage to convince themselves their child has qualities of genius.

"Well, there is nothing very wrong with all this. It's the way of the world. It is only when the parents begin telling
us about the brilliance of their own revolting off-spring, that we start shouting 'Bring us a basin! We're going to be sick!'"

-Dahl, Roald (1988). Matilda. Puffin Books, New York. p. 1.

 

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