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26 of 50

  1. Alexander, Lloyd — The Black Cauldron
  2. Anthony, Piers — Letters to Jenny
  3. Cooper, Susan — Over Sea, Under Stone
  4. Proulx, Annie — Close Range: Wyoming Stories
  5. Kincaid, Jamaica — Lucy
  6. Christie, Agatha — The Unexpected Guest
  7. Dick, Philip K. — Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
  8. Cooper, Susan — The Dark Is Rising
  9. Cooper, Susan — Greenwitch
  10. Shaffer, Peter — Amadeus
  11. Anonymous — Go Ask Alice
  12. Cooper, Susan — The Grey King
  13. Martin, Steve — Shopgirl
  14. Cooper, Susan — Silver on the Tree
  15. Gaiman, Neil — Stardust
  16. Gaiman, Neil — Coraline
  17. Le Guin, Ursula — A Wizard of Earthsea
  18. Le Guin, Ursula — The Tombs of Atuan
  19. Le Guin, Ursula — The Farthest Shore
  20. Le Guin, Ursula — Tehanu
  21. Merton, Thomas — The Seven Storey Mountain: An Autobiography of Faith
  22. Alexander, Lloyd — The Castle of Llyr
  23. Zelazny, Roger — Lord of Light
  24. Card, Orson Scott — Ender's Game
  25. Clarke, Arthur C. — Childhood's End
  26. Grahame, Kenneth — The Wind in the Willows

I wonder where Grahame gets his title. He makes three or four references to the wind through the reeds or the grass, but never through any trees, much less willows!

People's reactions to this book have been amusing. Tania was absolutely delighted that I was reading this. The ladies at church were shocked, wondering why I was reading a children's book, as if it weren't high-brow enough for me.

I did, for the most part, enjoy The Wind in the Willows. Many chapters had me smiling or laughing out loud. Others seemed too heavy-handed with the overly idyllic prose or dated Victorian ideals. Some chapters, such as "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn," where Mole and Rat are visited by the demigod Pan while searching for their friend Otter's lost son, made me glow with warmth.

I was a bit distraught by how easily Toad avoided consequences. Yes, in the end he learns humility, but how many times did he have to be an egoistic ass first? Furthermore, he rarely, if at all, suffered any real consequences. It concerns me that some kid might read this and think it's okay to steal cars or horses as long as you then act dignified and contrite, or that might or money or gender makes right.

One last…criticism, I guess. This is obviously intended as a children's book. Thus, I was surprised by the occasionally advanced vocabulary. I encountered, if I recall correctly, three words I did not know. Two of them I was able to figure out from the Latin root and the context. I have a pretty broad vocabulary, so if I don't know the word, you can be certain your average kid won't. And I doubt most kids are motivated enough to look the words up. Really, "selvaged" isn't a word one is likely ever to use, so why bother? I felt a bit as though Grahame were simply trying to show off his intellect here and there, as if he was letting the Toad in him get the better of him, and think his editor could have been more like Badger in a couple of places.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 17th, 2006 04:20 pm (UTC)
Grahame wrote the stories for his son, who probably did know the words in question, or learned them. Perhaps the words were simply more in use in the time and place he was writing. But even if they weren't, so what? I read a lot of advanced stuff when I was very young and encountered words I didn't know all the time. It's true that I wasn't motivated to look them up, but I would ask the nearest adult. If there were no adults around, I just came up with a meaning that made sense in context and went on.

The more often I encountered a word, the easier it was to figure out what it meant in context. In the end this meant that I used big words when I talked, sometimes pronouncing them wrong or using them improperly, but I ended up with a very large vocabulary. If all I ever read was Dick and Jane, that wouldn't have happened. Kids may reject something that seems too hard, but often as not choose to read things that are just above their reading level, rather than right at.

I also wouldn't worry too much about kids learning the wrong lessons from Toad. The lesson I would take, I expect, would be that rich, privileged egotistic asses often get their own way in the world, which is quite true -- but nothing about Toad would have ever made me want to be like him. In the end I think I find that you can't predict what lessons kids might take from what they read -- it might be the complete opposite of what you'd think based on how you read it as an adult. I think kids do learn a lot from books, but I feel like you can never be quite sure what.

That's why reading is so dangerous, I guess...
Jun. 17th, 2006 04:22 pm (UTC)
I loved The Wind in the Willows as a kid. I read it again a couple of decades back and thought it held up pretty well, although some of the sentimentality annoyed me.

he rarely, if at all, suffered any real consequences.

Well, he was sentenced to a 20-year prison sentence. (Not exactly a high-security prison, yeah, yeah.)

I was surprised by the occasionally advanced vocabulary.

I suppose it's possible that the average English child of the early 20th century was either better-educated or more intellectually curious (or both) than the average American child of today. Or that Grahame hoped they would be.
Jun. 17th, 2006 04:23 pm (UTC)
Oh, and... There's nothing wrong with an adult reading a "children's" book, and don't let anyone tell you any different.
Jun. 17th, 2006 04:28 pm (UTC)
Oh, I know there isn't. Just look at my list from this year! And I just started James and the Giant Peach.
Jun. 25th, 2006 03:08 am (UTC)
Kid Lit
Recently, Cathy, Delia and I had dinner at HomeTown Buffet. I was saddened to see a little kid wearing a Pooh shirt because it occurred to me that his only exposure to Pooh was probably the Disney movie and Saturday morning cartoons. He, and probably his parents, doubtless had no idea of the existance of the story-teller or of the relationship between Christopher Robin and his stuffed bear named Pooh, much less of the real humor of the tale. Disney has robbed generations of children of the literature created for them by presenting pre-digested versions devoid of their original charm. Wind in the Willows was another example of the process of dumbing down good stories to fit the expected mindset of kids.
Jun. 25th, 2006 07:23 am (UTC)
Re: Kid Lit
Interesting that you should mention Pooh, as I bought some Pooh at the same time I bought the Dahl.

But I have to disagree with your assessment. If this kid's only exposure to Pooh is the Disney movie or cartoons, it's unlikely he would have encountered Milne's stories anyway. Those who read, read, regardless of the ubiquitousness of other forms of the story. In fact, those who are drawn to books are more likely to stumble upon Pooh because of Disney than they might otherwise, simply because Pooh is everywhere. And those who only have the Disney, who never read, would likely simply have had no Pooh at all, Disney or Milne.
Jun. 25th, 2006 09:59 pm (UTC)
Re: Kid Lit
You misunderstand. I'm not saying that if the kid hadn't had the Disney version inflicted on him he might have found and read the original. What I'm saying is that the kid and his parents are totally unaware of what they're missing, that their ignorance is so profound that they can't conceive that they lack something. The universe of written literature doesn't exist for them because they've been presented with cheap predigested versions on the silver screen or the tiny screen. They have no conception that there is something more, something they are very unlikely ever to encounter.

It is another example of the dumbing down so prevalent in the past five decades ... probably longer because my awareness of the process doesn't extend back any farther. Illiteracy, once disparaged as the mark of a few social or ethnic groups, has become the mainstream, so much so that about half the population is unable to fill out simple forms like employment applications.

I doubt you could convince any of them that they're illiterate.
Jun. 25th, 2006 10:08 pm (UTC)
Re: Kid Lit
I had you until this line:

The universe of written literature doesn't exist for them because they've been presented with cheap predigested versions on the silver screen or the tiny screen.

There's no causality there. The universe of written literature may not exist for them, but that would have been the case with or without visual media, which is my point. Neither Disney, nor the silver screen, nor the small screen is to blame for their ignorance. There are plenty of people who watch movies and television and also are well read. The two are mutually exclusive. Those who are clueless that there is something else would have been equally clueless in 1906 as in 2006.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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