So HarperCollins, the publisher of the Little House books (the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, for the unfortunately uninitiated) has decided to "modernize" them. Apparently, Kids Today are so thoroughly enslaved by Pokemon and Club Penguin and cell phones and glittery eyeshadow for five-year-olds that they can no longer enjoy the rich language and gentle pacing of these stories as they were originally written. Hence, the books are being repackaged as "adventure" stories–and foremost among these changes is the decision to strip out the beautiful artwork by Garth Williams. And the tag line for the books at their Web site is now "Little House. Big Adventure."
Can I get a "Bleah?" Hello? The Little House books are not about adventure–though there’s certainly plenty of it in them. They’re not about wily streetwise kids negotiating their way through a world they never made. They’re not about survival against all odds (though, once again, there’s plenty of that sprinkled throughout as well). They’re about something a little more genuine: the lives of young people during a specific–and fascinating–period in history. One of the strengths of the books is their wealth of authentic detail… in fact, the loving descriptions of farm chores, housework and especially those amazing mouth-watering meals in Farmer Boy* are what have enraptured Fisher and Rhys during each bedtime chapter.
The books are also about character. Not the bone-crushingly dull sort of character that’s hammered into kids’ heads by far too many children’s books, or by the twee morals tagged on to the end of every worthless cartoon episode. Real character: the sort that is shaped over time, that bends but does not break, that is revealed equally by what is undone and unsaid. Laura doesn’t have to tell us four thousand times "And then the family worked very hard together and everything was OK." She shows it–as the sisters and their parents nurse each other through malaria, as they tighten their belts and grind seed wheat for flour during a long bitter winter, as she sews shirt after horrible shirt to save money to send Mary to a college for the blind.
This kind of message doesn’t need to be dumbed down. It doesn’t need to be abridged (which, to their credit, HarperCollins is not doing to the original books–but has already done to the subsequent series dealing with the lives of Laura’s mother, grandmother and great-grandmother). It doesn’t need to be stuffed into a shiny Internet-ready package complete with online games and sweepstakes and "Which Little House Girl Are You?" quizzes.
Fortunately, the last time I was in the bookstore, there were still copies of the old-fashioned, super-boring, non-turbocharged Garth Williams-illustrated books available. I’ll just need to make sure and pick up copies of the ones we don’t already have (alas, my childhood copies were read into tatters long ago) before they’re gone forever.
Oh, yeah. Analogies. I tried one out on Fisher yesterday ("Hat is to head as glove is to what?") and for the next half hour or so, the relationships were flying fast and furious as Fisher, Rhys Jim and I came up with our own variations. Fisher especially liked being shown how to write them in official SAT-style notation. Rhys is still working on the concept. (Fisher: "Biology: living things :: geology : ? " Rhys: "Cup is for measuring and a chair is for…")
*OMG, the Wilder farm is an actual museum site where you can go on tours and do workshops and see historical re-enactments and stuff. We are so going on an upstate NY road trip.