Tag Archives: classic

[P] Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi

18 Apr

(I was going to read this book for my pre-1900 book in my History of Youth Literature class, but I decided to read Black Beauty instead because I already knew the basic story of Pinocchio. I went back and read it for my “P” book, though.)

I think pretty much everyone knows the story of Pinocchio–at least the Disney version of it. It was never one of my favorite Disney movies, and after reading the original version (published by Italian author Carlo Collodi in 1883), I can kind of see why. I think the problem with the Disney version was that it stuck too close to the original story, and in the book and in the movie, Pinocchio is an exasperating character.

The purpose of the book is to teach little boys to be good and obey their parents, so naturally, Pinocchio represents all the little boys who act before they think and get into all kinds of scrapes because they go against what their parents tell . Little boys are supposed to read Pinocchio and think, “Oh, what a nice life he would have had if he had only listened to (his parents/the fairy/the cricket)!”

The main difference between the book and the movie is probably the Blue Fairy, who in the book starts as a little girl with blue hair and acts as his little sister, and later turns into a woman who acts more like a mother to him. But the role she serves is pretty much the same. She save him, chastises him, warns him not to do it again, and then sends him off on his way (so he can do something else equally or more foolish).

Also, from what I remember of the movie, Pinocchio’s most memorable feature is his nose that grows when he lies. This is not nearly as important in the book, and it even gets broken off so that it gets closer to a normal length, which is something that I don’t remember in the movie.

My memory of the movie is pretty hazy, though, since I’ve probably only watched the whole thing through once or twice a long time ago… I recently watched a Japanese stage adaptation that seemed to stick closer to the book than the movie (I remember being surprised when Pinocchio’s nose got kicked off by Geppetto’s cat, thinking it was a device they used so the actor playing Pinocchio wouldn’t have to go through the whole play with an extension on his nose, but it turns out it was actually something from the book.) I enjoyed this adaptation more than the Disney version, but probably because they deviated more from the original story. Pinocchio was put in the frame of a modern school setting, and going through the adventures of Pinocchio made the main character into a stronger person who eventually made friends with the kids who were bullying him at the beginning.

In a way, I think placing it in a modern setting gives it the context needed to see how the story can apply to real life without forcing the lesson onto students. I’ve been thinking a lot about pairing classics with modern stories and nonfiction lately because of my Youth Literature class, and this story within a story frame version of Pinocchio reminds me of what we’ve been talking about.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter P.

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[B] Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

2 Apr

(This was first written for my History of Youth Literature class.)

For my pre-1900 book, I read Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, which was first published in 1877. The book is an autobiographical account of the life of a horse told from the horse’s point of view. Sewell’s descriptions of horses and their behavior make it easy for readers to imagine themselves in the horse’s place and sympathize with his feelings. I can see how this book would turn young readers into animal lovers (as it did to at least one of my students who would be a vegetarian if her mom would let her). At the same time, I also felt very strongly the underlying message of treating others with love and respect conveyed through the story.

When I was growing up, I wanted a horse as much as the next girl, but because everyone around me was reading this book, I thought it was too “mainstream” and didn’t read it just to be different. By the time people around me had stopped reading it, I thought it was too “easy” and never went back to read it. While I was in college, I played polo for a year and learned that it was dirty, hard work taking care of horses, which cured me of the desire to ever own my own horse. Having experience with horses helped me better imagine what was going on in the book, though, and in a way, I’m glad that my first time reading the book came after I learned how to ride and take care of a horse myself.

Black Beauty gave me goosebumps from the very first chapter reading about the title character’s experiences with kindness and cruelty throughout his life. I could see how Sewell wrote her message of love for animals and other people in a way that would teach children (and adults) the core of the Christian faith in a very real way without being preachy. Maybe I’m getting sappy in my old(ish) age, but as with all good books, I was drawn into the world of Black Beauty and didn’t want to leave.

Also, as a Los Angeles native, I particularly enjoyed Sewell’s descriptions of weaving a horse and cab through London traffic. I wish that my car were as intelligent driving through L.A. traffic as Black Beauty was going through London!

Black Beauty is usually seen as a girly book, but I don’t see any reason why boys would not enjoy this story as much as girls. There’s plenty of action and adventure, and the main character (Black Beauty) is male. I think more boys should be encouraged to read this story. 🙂

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter B.

[L] Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

13 Apr

And now back to our regularly scheduled books. 🙂 Little Women by Louisa May Alcott was probably one of my first favorite books as a child. I remember begging my mom for this beautiful hardcover copy with full-color prints of paintings inside, illustrating the story.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Illustrated by Ed Martinez

The huge book was illustrated with gorgeous paintings like the one on the cover by Ed Martinez.

I think I was in fourth grade when I first read this book, and I identified with Jo’s love of reading (if not with her love of writing) and her hair. I remember thinking that $25 was not worth cutting off my hair for (which was probably the right choice, since it was a while before I found a short cut that suited me). I still tend to grow my hair long (I’m too lazy to get it cut, and I always wonder how long I will last before I get fed up with it).

Looking back, I think Jo’s relationship with her sisters was somewhat strange to me, because my sister was so much younger that she wasn’t someone I could hang out with until I was much older. Now that I am much older, I have a better understanding of the bond between sisters and just how strange they (we) can be. Haha.

I feel like I’ve kind of outgrown this book now, which is kind of sad. I don’t know if I would like it as much if I read it now, but it’s nice to be able to think back fondly of a time when this book was one of my most prized possessions.

I don’t think I realized that it was set during the Civil War until I was in college, but since that was when Alcott was alive, I suppose that would make Little Women realistic fiction. Although for us, it would probably go under historic fiction…

Girls (who love books or their hair) should read it at least once in their lives, if only just to know what everyone else is talking about. From what I can remember, kids can learn about themes of family, love, loss, and overcoming challenges or hard times.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter L. 

[G] The Giver by Lois Lowry

7 Apr

The Giver by Lois Lowry is yet another Newbery Award winner on my list. I’m usually surprised by how many books I own and remember from my childhood were Newbery Award and honor books, but I guess teachers and librarians have been finding and recommending books through that list for a long time.

This book was the first book I did for book club for my current job, and it was an accident. I thought my boss wanted me to do a book from the students’ summer reading list, and one of my students had already gone and borrowed a bunch of books from the list. The only one I had heard of at the time was The Giver, so I told my boss we could do that book. I did borrow The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd (a great book dealing with autism) from the student to read after she was done with it, but I thought I was supposed to do the “classic” book for the book club.

Turns out I didn’t really need to do The Giver (which was nearly impossible to get through for my ESL student who was supposed to be in the class), but the kids seemed to enjoy it more than I did. I remember not liking the book much when I had to read it for school (see the part about how I like fluffy books in previous posts), but it wasn’t too bad reading it as an adult. I got it a lot more, for one thing, and it was an interesting challenge discussing it with my students.

The funny thing is that this book kind of turned into the “legendary book club book” because I never did it again, even though the high-achieving kids all wanted to read it because it looked hard. I had done it with rising middle schoolers, but  all of my classes after that were younger (and I’d found other books I wanted to do with them). So even though they kept asking me about the book, I kept doing different books, which only makes them want to read it more. Now that we have students who weren’t around during the Summer of The Giver, the kids who were around talk about the book in almost hushed tones. It’s pretty cute to watch, actually.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter G. 

[REVIEW] From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

17 Jan

Newbery Medal Award Winner From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg is about sixth-grader Claudia Kincaid, who decides to run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art because she thinks she is treated unfairly at home. Her 9-year-old brother, Jamie, provides the funds for her plan to live comfortably away from home, but with little knowledge of the world outside of the suburb where they grew up, the siblings quickly find that $24.43 doesn’t go very far, even in the days where an ice cream sundae only cost 40 cents. Mrs. Frankweiler’s part in their adventures begins when the children find out that an angel statue recently acquired by the museum was bought from the eccentric collector. Their search to solve the mystery of the angel leads them to a visit to Mrs. Frankweiler’s “mixed-up files,” where the children learn more than just the secret of the mysterious statue. She sends them home with a secret and leaves them thinking more about their lives.

I never actually read this book as a child, but I remember that part of my class read it in fourth grade because we did a musical about it. Go figure. Being a child of immigrants in Los Angeles, it was my first exposure to songs like “New York, New York,” and my first time hearing about Rockefeller Center and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I finally read the book last summer and thought that since it would interest both boys and girls, it would be a good book to read with my fourth grade class. Unfortunately, I forgot to take into consideration the level of the vocabulary and grammar knowledge that was needed to understand the book. I know I often enjoyed books where I didn’t understand everything, but reading a book for fun and reading it for a class are completely different things. Most of my students had trouble with words like “injustice,” “tyrannies,” and “commuting suburb.” And Claudia was probably the first grammar Nazi they encountered in literature. They barely understand subject verb agreement. I don’t expect them to understand her problems with ending a sentence with a preposition or with using phrases like “hide out in.”

(Claudia was not entirely correct, by the way. It is in fact acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition most of the time, as long as you leave out unnecessary prepositions. Don’t believe me? Here’s a video from Merriam-Webster, along with a bunch of other fun English and grammar videos. In the case of “hide out in,” “hide out” is a phrasal verb, so it makes sense to double the prepositions.)

I’ll think twice before using an older “classic” with my students from now on. I find that books that were written for a particular age group tend to contain references that make things interesting for readers of that time period, but those same references make it harder for future generations to understand. My fifth graders usually find difficult concepts interesting, even if they don’t understand them completely, but I will need to be more careful about these things in the future with my younger students…

I think girls will like reading about the smart and resourceful Claudia, but there is plenty in the book for both genders. Kids about 3rd grade and up will enjoy the adventure and mystery in this story about runaway siblings. Be warned: Scholastic tells me that the reading grade level is about 6.8, and I agree with them.

(I do wonder if kids in Konigsburg’s day had a better vocabulary because they had fewer options of entertainment and read more, though.)