Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"The Wind in the Willows" by Kenneth Grahame

I just finished reading this book to the kids last week. It was one of our nightly bedtime stories (Hudson's choice) and it took us almost as long to read as it's taking me to get through Anna Karenina. (Are you tired of hearing me whine about that? Never fear. I am now in Book Seven!)

But back to Grahame's classic story. We read about ten pages each night. For some reason the girls weren't too interested in hearing this one, but either it kept Hudson's interest or he's polite enough that he managed to listen quietly anyway. Judging by the way he likes to sing about bodily functions, manners are not his strong suit and I'm guessing the book must have grabbed his attention.

That's not surprising, of course. It's such a sweet little story, and who can resist talking animals in a quaint and old-fashioned setting? (I specify quaint and old-fashioned because of my dislike for live-action films featuring talking animals, with the exception of Babe.) But you would think that quaint, old-fashioned talking animals would capture the interest of my little girls too. Oh well.

When Hudson first handed the book to me and I opened it, it was fun to find that it came from my old high school. It must have been given to me decades ago by my former neighbor Mr. Black. He moved away while I was still very young, so I'm not sure what job he had with the local board of education, but he used to give us things the school was getting rid of. He also owned a yellow Tin Lizzie and gave us a ride around the neighborhood once, but I suppose that's neither here nor there.

At first I wondered at this book being taught at the high school level--wouldn't a teenaged student be insulted on being assigned a children's book? The back cover even says "BOOKS FOR YOUNG READERS." It made more sense to me once I began to read. Judging by the impressive vocabulary, it is probably written at a high school reading level. Still, I think the choice of subject matter would annoy a teenager.

This edition contains the wonderful illustrations of Ernest H. Shepard, the same artist who drew for the Winnie the Pooh books. There are dozens of delightful pen-and-ink drawings throughout. Sadly, wikipedia claims that Shepard "grew to resent 'that silly old bear' and felt that these illustrations overshadowed his other work." It really is true that his Pooh drawings are his most well-known, but they are also quite well-loved. However, to keep Shepard from turning over in his grave, perhaps you'd like to peruse the list of the works he illustrated.

Now it's confession time. I'm sure I read this story in my childhood--this very copy, in fact--but in my memory (mixed up with blind self-centered nationalism) I thought the story took place in the U.S. I'm not sure how I ended up with this notion, as the story very clearly takes place in England. But I should have known. No American wildlife can talk.


Kristi said...

I've been wanting to read this to my kids but I wasn't sure if they'd enjoy it. I'll have to give it a try.

Kathy said...

You'll have to be sure to let me know what they think of it! I still can't figure out why my boy (10) liked it and my girls (7 and 4) would just wander off. Well, actually, the 4-yr-old wandering off isn't surprising, but it is surprising for the 7-yr-old who loves books.

Didn't know until yesterday that you are a temporary CA-to-Scotland transplant! That's wild!!