Thursday, June 11, 2009
What We're Reading Thursday
This is part of Jill's (The Well Read Child) What We're Reading Thursday meme. For more What We're Reading reads, click here.
We’re reading Hugh Lofting’s The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle this week. I found it in the second hand store a while back and could not resist the 25¢ price tag. Nor could I resist the memories I had of Rex Harrison as the genial singing Doctor, sitting on that giant snail, not to mention the PushMe-PullYou. Boy did I want one of those PushMe-PullYous when I was a kid. And yes, I wanted to talk to animals too.
There is always the risk, when one reads an older book to one’s kids, of difficulties with language. And by difficulties I mean style. Think of the last Jane Austen book you read: how much of that would be easily understood by your average seven to nine year old? Not much, methinks. And so, when I picked up Dr Dolittle and said “This is our next read!” very brightly to my kids, I had a little of that trepidatiousness about style and language in my heart. It’s the same when I bring home one of the Disney movies of my childhood, movies which our library seems to have in abundance: Blackbeard’s Ghost, The Parent Trap, The Cat From Mars, The Three Lives of Thomasina. Movies my brother and sister clamoured to watch every Sunday night on the Wonderful World of Disney (I was a tagalong on these evenings, too young for anyone to take seriously). There is a part of me waiting for the kids to scoff, because they are so very very dated, but thus far they’ve loved everything, particularly if there is a charming cat involved.
But I worried for naught, really, because this is an extremely accessible read for any kid. Well, almost any kid. There are bound to be a few kids out there who don’t dream of sailing off into the sunset, off to seek their fortune (even if it means a shipwreck). Kids who don’t sometimes wish they could speak the language of the animals. Kids who don’t like hanging around with eccentric adventurers or opinionated parrots. I’m sure there are. But they aren’t my kids. My kids are hanging on every word of this book, even when some of those words are rather, err, quaint. I’m reminded of Beatrix Potter every now and then, because Mr. Lofting is very fond of the word “presently,” a word I remember quite well from the thousands of times I read The Tale of Peter Rabbit to Max. There is a bit of the old ‘colonial mentality’ as well, but I think this is something adults would be more sensitive to than most kids. Where I might see aspects of British Imperialism, my kids see strange clashes with different groups of people. It is, after all, a product of its time, having been written in 1922.
So we’re all greatly enjoying this story. Max loves that there’s always plain old sausages and tea for every meal, while Dominic is thrilled by the idea that a ten year old is sailing off with an eccentric Doctor, a chimp, a parrot, and a peculiar African prince named Bumpo. FDPG loves the idea that all the really smart animals are female. I’m sure there’s more, but that really stands out for her. That and the erudite polyglot abilities of the Doctor. But we haven’t yet met the Giant Sea Snail. Wonder what they’ll make of that.