My original attempt at this post was to make a point about some similarities I found with current events and a book that I loved as a boy. However, it grew too large, and I am breaking it up into at least two posts. Each making their own points. This is the first.
As a young lad in early high school, I had an English teacher that inspired a love of literature. I feel I need to explain who this teacher was as she could be considered as the most unlikely person to have an influence on a teenage country boy. I have no idea how old she was, but she looked a hundred at the time, a larger woman as well and most surprising for me at the time she was a Catholic nun (having gone to a Catholic school I was schooled by a number of sisters.In her class we were introduced to books and literature such as Shakespeare (Hamlet and Macbeth), Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck), Lord of the Flies (William Golding) and George Orwell’s Animal Farm. It is the last one that stuck with me the most. Now most of these I guess was required reading at the time, but it was her passion for these books and the deeper meaning that sat behind them which inspired a love of reading and critical thought that has lasted through to this day.
A few weeks ago my nine-year-old daughter mentioned to me that she would like to start reading more “adult” books. My wife is an avid reader as I have been in the past. However, it is a fine line as to what type of adult concepts she should be exposed to as a younger girl. As primarily a fiction reader, most of the novels my wife reads have complex social issues that would perhaps be confronting for a young girl and would raise some questions that would be complex for us to explain and for my daughter to understand. The books I like to read are quite varied and can be autobiographies or fantasy/action something that would not probably interest a young girl. What to do? We wanted to encourage her reading and ensure she remained interested while finding literature appropriate to her age (at least her ability to understand the story).
My thoughts went back to the stories that I read in English class (and at home)so many years ago. I mean classics are classics for a reason right? They usually have a broad appeal and good story. I had re-read Of Mice and Men a few years ago and had it sitting on the bookshelf at home so I suggested that, until my wife reminded me that it contained aspects of sexual abuse and murder and that even she cringed most of the way through the book.So the next day I visited the local bookstore and purchased Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies.
Both of these books had the benefit of having adult concepts and words while appealing to some extent to a child’s imagination. Quickly flicking through the books, I realised that some words may be to difficult to read for a child of her age and as such, she would probably get four or five pages in only to put it down. What to do? I thought I might read the books to her, with her help. Not only did it have the benefit of her hearing the stories and learning but it gave us an opportunity to spend some one on one time. Also after two kids I am sick of reading “Where’s the Green Sheep” or any Dr. Seuss (who I think just wanted to torture parents with some of his tongue-twisting sentences).
So we began with Animal Farm, for those familiar with the book you will understand it’s rooted in the Russian Revolution in the first half of the 20th Century. For those that aren’t I can’t recommend it enough for reading especially given today’s political and social climate, but that will come in my next post. For reference, however, see this link:
I was so proud of my daughter however as we were reading and at the end of the book when she was able to ascertain some of the concepts and analogies that were being used.
- She correctly identified “Sugar Candy Mountain” as what we deem to be “Heaven”, I am at best agnostic but send my kids to Catholic education, so she is familiar with these concepts.
- She understood the concepts of the seven commandments and how they kept changing to suit the Pigs such as the change from “No animal shall sleep in a bed” to “No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets.”
- That Boxer the horse and the other animals were being used and treated unfairly by the Napoleon and the other pigs
- That the dogs were used to enforce the rules as the pigs sought fit.
- Finally though that the pigs had become no better than the humans (i.e. Mr. Jones the original owner of the farm).
However, it was at the end of the book when I explained to her it represented something that happened in real life that she astonished me the most when I asked her what she would do in such a situation. Now I will paraphrase here a little because I am unable to remember the exact words she used.
Her: “I would stand up for my friends, Dad. What they were doing was wrong”.
Me: “How would you do that?”
Her: “Well I would march up to those Pigs and try to tell them what they were doing was wrong, I would tell them to stop changing the rules.”
Me: “Well that’s great, but what if they didn’t listen? After all, they had the dogs to protect them.”
Her: “Well if they didn’t listen, I would kick them in the knees and punch them in the face, but only after they I tried talking to them as you should always solve your problems with words.”
Now I don’t condone violence, and I would be devastated if they were to ever become physical with anyone. However, it also showed to me that she was prepared to fight for what she believed in especially for injustices either with words or actions.
But perhaps I am over thinking again.