Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Too PC and Beautiful for 1889

Look what I got! A fellow mama blogger over at Mournful Cry of the Laundry gave it to me. Sweet! At the end of today's post I'll award it to three other bloggers I think are beautiful. Thanks, Laundry Mom!!

OK - so if you read yesterday's lame post you've been waiting in anticipatory excitement for today's hopefully less lame post. And the topic? Children's literature. Specifically - the value of really really really old children's literature. As in, should I read this because it is old and someone says I should read it so my kids will be exposed to it even if I think it is awful??

I'm not talking Little House on the Prairie. We LOVE that series. I still remember my teacher reading it to me in 2nd grade....along with Charlotte's Web and all of those other wonderful classics. No - I'm not talking about those. We're going back to 1889 - to Fairy Tales. Why are we going back to Fairy Tales told in 1889? Because I had another moment of self-doubt, that's why. And when I am enjoying self-doubt....(I can't help it - I do occasionally enjoy my suffering - I'm half Jewish)....I like to visit homeschooling curriculum websites. It is kind of like rubbing your tongue on a mouth blister repeatedly to see if it still hurts.....visiting curriculum websites is how I make sure I still suck at homeschooling. *I have some awesomely educated kids, by the way. It's just that I seemingly had nothing to do with it. It seems I only suck at the parental-involvement aspect of it - obviously an unnecessary aspect of it if you ask my kids....but anyway - this is about me enjoying my inadequacies, not about how well they're doing.

So - yes - I was looking at the Charlotte Mason-ish websites 'cause those are my faves. Specifically, I was looking at a secular-ish website 'cause they are so rare and I like exotic and unusual things. And I clicked on "2nd grade" and then I clicked on the "History" tab and the "Literature" tab. And then? I clicked on "1st grade" because, quite frankly, we really didn't DO 1st grade and how can you just start off with 2nd grade and THAT, my friends - is why the 15-year-old overwhelms me. Try starting off on the "9th grade" tab and then deciding that really you should start off on the "1st grade" tab with a boy who is shaving and over a foot taller than you and honest HONESTLY saying to yourself, "I think we could do all this in a year and catch up...." See if that doesn't make you want to just take a nap.

Anyway - so back to the 8-year-old. She recently went from a non-reading 8-year-old to a reading-above-grade-level 8-year-old. That is what my kids do. All those Step Into Reading books? Have never been read here. We have them. Lots of them. But they're not interesting enough to want to sit and listen to someone else read them, and my kids never seem to have a self-beginner reading stage......They simply go from me reading to them until they're however old, to them picking up an age-appropriate book and reading to themselves. Yes - we did Phonics Pathways....and she still can't do a page out of that book in under 30 minutes and without crying. Give her a Nancy Drew book, however, and she reads it cover to cover and quickly. (I hate Nancy Drew and her maid and her lawyer father and her convertible and her white privilege, by the way. But Camille is all Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys right now.)

The 8-year-old is mostly read to by her father and her older siblings because that just seems to be how it works out around here. I get busy eating on the bon bons and all. But it isn't exactly high-quality fiction, for the most part, that she's having read to her. She DOES love King Arthur, though (and that is my gig) so I have read various King Arthur books/stories. That is kind of our little thing. And on the Charlotte Mason-ish website they had books listed for her grade that seemed very King Arthur-ish and I was all excited and put some on hold at the library, now that we are allowed back in the library. Because I simply cannot wait to sprinkle 30 or so library books throughout my home, they can sink into the abyss. Anyway - we went yesterday and picked some up. Because God knows I want a classically trained child instead of an unclassically trained one. I'm classy that way.

The first book? The Blue Fairy Book, an edition edited by Andrew Lang, the first edition of which was printed in 1889. OK. I know what fairy tales are. They are dark and frightening and ghastly, for the most part. I KNOW that. But this book is for first graders. So I don't know what I expected, but I didn't expect this. Let me give you a little synopsis of the first story, "The Bronze Ring."

King wants to marry off 16-year-old daughter to son of one of his rich ministers. Daughter wants to marry son of poor gardener. King sends both men off on a journey - the one who returns first will marry the daughter. Of course, one goes off with lots of money on a fine horse, one goes with no money and a nasty horse (although the princess snuck him some jewels). Rich son passes a beggar woman and refuses to give her anything. Poor boy passes beggar woman and gives her a ride on his horse and all of his jewels.

*At this point I'm reading happily and thinking, here's our little lesson! The old woman is really a queen or something and he's going to be rewarded for his generosity. That would have been a nice lesson, wouldn't it? That wasn't the lesson, though.

So the old lady turns out to be a witch - and she tells him that the local king is sick and willing to reward anyone who can cure him. She tells him how to cure the king - so he can ask for a certain reward (the bronze ring). The first thing he has to do? KILL THREE DOGS AND BURN THEM TO ASHES. He does. *now this kind of put a strange look on Camille's little face...mommy doesn't usually read her books where dogs get killed and burned to ashes. The next thing he has to do? Is BOIL THE KING ALIVE UNTIL HIS FLESH SEPARATES FROM THE BONES. *I tried to read this with a cheerful little edge in my voice - how ridiculous is that? Then? Lay out the king's bones and pour the dead dogs' ashes over the bones and the king will come back to life as a grateful 20-year-old. He did. He gave the boy the bronze ring - which would grant him whatever he wanted. So he wanted an awesome boat with silken sails and a golden hull. Then he ran into the other candidate on The Gruesome Bachelorette Show and he had blown all of his he asked the ring to give him a nasty old boat manned by "sailors infirm and shall have lost a leg, another an arm, the third shall be a hunchback, another lame or club-footed or blind, and most of them shall be ugly and covered with scars....." *It is obvious to me that we don't need to talk about the lesson this teaches....Oy vey.

It turns out that the gardener's son marries the princess...but only through trickery and making himself appear to be something he isn't. And then? His luck runs out. Now THIS could be a lesson - you know - don't use the trickery and all - be yourself yada yada yada. But this was not the lesson. The lesson? Don't trust a Jew. That's right, folks. A Jew steals the ring and turns the boy's beautiful ship into an old nasty ship with a crew of "hideous negroes." *I caught myself before I actually read that part out loud.

In the end the guy gets his ring back, resumes his illusionary self as that is apparently necessary in order to remain happily married and the story ended with, "The next day the Jew, tied to the tail of a savage mule loaded with nuts, was broken into as many pieces as there were nuts upon the mule's back." * I DID NOT READ THIS

Now then - I looked on Amazon - read the reviews - desperately hoping that there were going to be other parents shocked and confused and wondering if this was appropriate reading material for a 1st grader and THEY ALL LOVED IT. One woman who is in her 70's said these were the glorious stories she heard in her youth - not the watered-down Disney versions - and these wonderful things were meant to teach today's youth (who are horribly lacking in morals, I'm sure) some LESSONS.

Anybody care to take at stab at explaining the moral/lesson of this story? You know, other than the blatant anti-Semitic lesson? Seriously, I want to hear your thoughts on this. Because I am obviously missing something.

Quite honestly, I'm not sure that the lessons taught to certain generations are necessarily those that I want taught to my children. A lot of the things they accepted as being moral - in fact - simply are not moral. Segregation, class thanks. And as for the "you can't sugar-coat everything" argument.......I don't think our kids are growing up in a sugar-coated world. War, terrorism, earthquakes, genocide......these guys are post 9/11 youngsters. Maybe they didn't survive the Depression - but they haven't led charmed lives, either. I don't think anyone gets a pass in that way - not in this earthly realm. And if they did? I still don't think they need to hear the gruesome "lessons" in this story.

Let me hear it! What do you think? Obviously - there are many who would disagree with me because this book is seriously popular with classical homeschoolers.

Now for my Awards. I give the Beautiful Blogger Award to:
*Green and Crunchy because we made her banana ice cream for breakfast this morning and how awesome is that?

*Shaggy Boys because she is coaching FOUR ODYSSEY TEAMS and I love crazy people.

*Nine (+) Texans because she is preggers and pregnant women are drop-dead gorgeous.

I could happily give this award to many more awesome women but, I'm off to supervise Odyssey rehearsal, instead. Just two more days until we leave for the tournament!

Signing Off as a Horribly Too PC for 1889 Sardine Mama


  1. A. That does NOT sound like a children's story.
    B. What ???
    C. I would rather read a Tennyson, which is NOT a child's story, but less nasty, even is the brigade gets wiped out

  2. I'd have to go with a big no on that particular book. 1st grade...maybe Junie B. Jones...

  3. Lessons...hmm...witches have all the fun?
    Beats me.
    Thanks for the heads up - I have checked that one out at the library before, but never got around to reading it. I feel better about that now.

  4. My new favorite quote!! LOL!! "I like to visit homeschooling curriculum websites. It is kind of like rubbing your tongue on a mouth blister repeatedly to see if it still hurts.....visiting curriculum websites is how I make sure I still suck at homeschooling." Thanks for that!! ;)

  5. First, I have to wipe the spittle off my screen, next - you are too funny! And honest . . . I too got caught up in the Blue Book and the Fairy Book and all that. Checked them all out from the library, we all hated them. Back to Diary of a Wimpy Kid for us. Which gets us kicked out of a few homeschool circles. . . .We'll learn our lessons reading books the kids enjoy. :) Thanks for the the huge grins this morning, Techie Mamma sent us over here to have a good giggle with our coffee this morning. :)

  6. Glad to hear I am not the only one. I mean - how often does that happen?

  7. I found you through Topsy Techi, I'm following you now. We are fellow Unschoolers and I look forward to checking out the rest of your blog.

  8. I got into the Grim Brothers Fairy tales when I was about 13. They are by no means children’s books and most of the novelty I found in them was how different they were from the original ones I'd grown up with, I found them kind of gross but read them anyway because, to me, they were also interesting.

    I don't remember reading anything anti-Semitic, but it was a long time ago. I do remember a lot of body parts being cut off and eyes being plucked out by ravens (Cinderella). I never EVER thought of a "lesson" or "moral" to any of them. I was in this phase for 6 months to a year, reading stories online and from a big book of them we have at the house. I remember talking in-depth about them with my dad, but nothing like a "moral" or "lesson" stands out in my head.

    I do remember there were specifically no happy endings, as a rule. Where a normal fairy tale would read: “they lived happily ever after” Grim brother’s said: “They lived happily until they died!”

    Based on my experience I would say they probably are ok for kids a little older with the understanding that this is about history and culture of another time. Especially if the kid is discussing everything in a parent so they both can get an understanding from it. I would never assign them as required reading. The farthest I might go would be to recommend them and if the person/kid wasn’t interested they obviously could just not read them.

    During first grade I was reading primarily Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys too (or having them read to me actually, I never read one of those books on my own). I was also really into the Babysitter little sister books…not exactly classic literature.

  9. Holy Cow! I too have been looking at First Grade book lists. That book seems popular, and I was planning to try to find it at the library. You sure saved me some work! ACK! I have no words.

  10. Brillant post. I have heard alot about those books but never really thought about reading them. Recently we were reading a book about slavery and Sojourner Truth and it was so violent I just couldn't bring myself to finish reading it to our 10 yr old. I don't do it often but pre-reading is really recommended with alot of these books. Stumbled upon your blog and think its great.

  11. Fairy tales, first grade reading? That's jarring. I think the gross factor is a big part of reading fairy tales, like Hansel and Gretel cooking the witch in her own oven.

    Older fiction preserves old prejudices quite stunningly ... I just hope that most of the stories did not reflect the bigotry you describe. It's amazing to read, for example, some of Rudyard Kipling's poetry. It does help explain how historical events unfolded the way they did.