Friday, November 11, 2011

Tom Sawyer-ing my children

Our family does a lot of reading out loud to each other.  I love reading old childrens' stories to my kids -- for example, I read my daughter and my first son all of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books.  (A funny follow-up; when my daughter grew older, she was so aghast that I hadn't read the Harry Potter books, that we switched roles and she read the book to me!).

When we brought J-son into the home, it was clear that the more sedate Laura couldn't keep him entertained, so we switched to Fitzgerald's Great Brain books about some boys who lived in Utah in 1885.  These boys wrassle and get into trouble in ways that Laura and her sisters never did -- a lot of action!   (Bonus for our family:  the Fitzgeralds adopted a young boy.  My own two kids cheered wildly when we go that part of the book.)

And recently, we've started reading Tom Sawyer.

Not only are these all great chapter books, but they're also glimpses into a time when kids were often happy with very little.  One Christmas, Laura Ingalls is delighted to get three gifts:  a penny, a tin cup, and an orange.  Tom Sawyer has a box of treasures that includes "a dead rat, and a rope to swing it by".  (Every once in a while, I offer my boys the same, but so far they decline.)

Another aspect of these books that Harry Potter doesn't match is that the children in these books were expected naturally to do a lot of household work.  Tom Sawyer weasels out of a lot of his work -- famously, in the case of the whitewashing scene -- but he always knows the work is there.  All of these books are full of mentions of kids hauling wood, tending gardens, and "wiping dishes"; the ability to do these chores is a source of pride for the kids.  In fact, in one chapter in the "Great Brain" series, T.D. spends a considerable amount of effort figuring out how to teach a friend with a peg leg to become a "real kid" again, which means not only how to wrestle and play stick ball, but also how to go up and down stairs with a coal scuttle and how to feed the farm animals.

And then there's the issue of race and prejudice.  Laura Ingalls and the Great Brain both occasionally talk about relations between white and Native American peoples; those are rather sympathetic views compared to Injun Joe in Twain's book.  A white woman reading Tom Sawyer to her black sons definitely has some interesting conversations about Jim and the N-word.  It's one thing to tell my sons that things are different now than when my grandmother was a kid; but these books let us have more direct glimpses of that time.

My husband thinks it's hilarious that his law-and-order wife is reading her sons books about a misbehaving and mischievous punk of the 1800's.  But at any rate, we're loving our latest book.  

1 comment:

  1. I was always more of a Huck fan, than a Tom.

    Total aside: I need to re-read the Laura Ingalls books. I read them as a child, but they are all the rage at the moment. Time for a refresher.