Thursday, August 26, 2010

And the winner is . . .

Pippi Longstocking.



Having finished Mary Poppins -- and enjoying the solitude afforded me by my weekly babysitter for Molly -- I intrepidly approached the basement stairs a few Wednesdays ago.  At the bottom lay one of dozens of bins containing children's books and I had the enjoyable yet daunting task of selecting a range of books from which Devyn (mostly) would choose our next read. My pile included:

Pippi Longstocking
Beezus and Ramona
The Prince and the Pauper
The Littles

So, as I sorted through the now dusty lot, it occurred to me that I hadn't read many of the classics in grade school. Why not? Why weren't they in the curriculum from year to year? They were available in the school libraries and we could discover them or be directed to them occasionally; but they weren't emphasized in my primary classes.

Just as importantly, why weren't the classics read to us on a regular basis? Etched into my brain somewhere is an image of myself as a grade one student sitting cross-legged in the library while listening to the outrageous behaviour of the Herdman children in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (Barbara Robinson). I later revisited that book over and over again (though I sometimes mistakenly remember it as The Worst Christmas Pageant Ever, and, if you've ever read it, you'll know why). Only a couple of other periods of being read to in school -- once in grade five, another in grade ten -- really stand out.  I want my children to end up with more memories than I have in this regard.

I want to foster an appreciation of reading but I also want to give the girls a literary foundation before they enter secondary school. It doesn't have to take the fun out of reading; fun is built into the experience: Devyn speaks about and looks forward to our reading sessions before bed; the end of one book promises the beginning (and selection) of another; we spend one-on-one time together which is very special to us.

What I really like is the idea that, over the years, story after story, the girls will recognize that books tend to "speak" to one another long after they're read: associations arise, alternative interpretations occur to us, light shines on areas that we hadn't noticed before. I've found that while reading Middle Eastern/South Asian literature, The Arabian Nights (and all the variations of the title) has been of great value to me.

And doesn't narrative just seem to work its way into our lives? How much of our reading to this point in our lives is affected by our early exposure to, for example, Alice in Wonderland? The expressions in popular culture that derive from this story abound. (I fondly recall that the parallels between Homer's Odyssey and the Star Wars phenomenon, as well as other cultural events, was a favourite topic of one my late professors.) I hope that this endeavour of mine to ensure that the girls inherit many of the classics enriches their lives as adults.

In general, and not that Dora doesn't have her place, I want the girls to have more sources of cultural information in addition to what they receive via media, school, and peers.  Clearly, I can't control the messages that they receive through media and peer exposure (though I firmly believe even stemming the flow and limiting sources is possible and that it helps), but I can exchange one channel of information for another and mitigate the influences. So, this summer, but for a few isolated events, I turned off the television and introduced Devyn to another form of entertainment that went beyond the few minutes of bedtime stories that children expect; and, we often read for hours because we just can't wait to find out what happens in the next chapter . . .

So, my resolve strengthened, I realized, after carrying my little pile of books upstairs:  Devyn and I (and later, Molly and I) would read the classics of children's literature; not exclusively, not consecutively, but consistently.

So, Pippi.  One of my favourite childhood characters.  I actually remembered little of her except the lopsided braids.  How appropriate, considering the time of year, that, tomorrow, Pippi goes to school.

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Astrid Lindgren - Official site (English)
Astrid Lindgren - Wikipedia
Pippi Longstocking

Astrid Lindgren's World

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