Sunday, February 11, 2007

Rethinking Old Books

So, my daughter had me watch this video on "Mom Jeans" this week. She wanted to remind me that my jeans are so out of fashion... Seems that the same thing can happen to books according to a great post at Miss Rumphius Effect entitled "When Books Fall Out of Fashion". A sad thing when an amazing book from our childhood is no longer one that our children or students love. I remember being appalled when they "updated" the Nancy Drew books a few years ago. Nancy Drew became hip--with a cool car and a cell phone. But, more importantly, as my students told me, the books were told in first person which made the mysteries far more interesting. I couldn't imagine it. Now, Nancy Drew is in graphic novel. I can't match the Nancy I knew to the illustrations in these books yet. How could Nancy Drew, the books I climbed to my grandmother's attic for each Sunday, be updated? I thought they were perfect! A few years ago, I read another of my favorite books from childhood to my 4th graders--FROM THE MIXED UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER. I was sure my students would love it. I could still picture almost every scene in my head--30+ years later. My husband, a child who chose not to read much, remembered and loved this one book from his fourth grade year. His teacher had read it aloud. So, I was sure my class would love it too. How wrong I was! The class could not get past the idea that the security cameras did not catch Claudia and Jamie on that first night. In their world, they could not imagine such a place without security cameras and metal detectors! There was nothing I could do to make the story believable to this one class. (So, I hooked them on E.L. Konigsburg with A VIEW FROM SATURDAY and THE OUTCASTS OF SCHUYLER PLACE instead--both were VERY well loved by this same group of students.) I am not the kind of teacher who expects all of my students to love every book I read aloud. But this one threw me and made me think about the ways I choose books to read aloud. I wonder if Konigsburg's newer books are more current for kids today? I can't imagine it but how would I know since I am reading from an adult perspective. FROM THE MIXED UP FILES is one of the best books I've ever read. How do we, as teachers, know if a book will be current and believable to our students? I have never been the kind of teacher to read the same books year after year to my students. But, I no longer choose the books I love from childhood to read aloud. I think I do it for selfish reasons. I want to protect these favorites for myself without the comments of the children of 2007. I don't want my love for the book to discourage their honest comments. These books define my life as a reader and as a person. Reading them to a group of students who do not love them as I do is a very difficult experience--for all of us! (I do hand these books to individual students who I am sure will love them as I did!) With all of the new, amazing books coming out these days, I have no trouble finding new books that I love. Very few of them make me feel like Nancy Drew did or like I did when I was in the museum with Claudia and Jamie. But, I love them in a different way. Do books fall out of fashion? Are there books that are too old (no security cameras) but not old enough to yet be classics? I'm not sure. I hate the thought of a new, cooler Nancy Drew just as I hate the thought of Claudia and Jamie escaping to a museum with security cameras. I don't want the times to ruin the books of childhood and I don't want my experiences as a child to rule the books I read in the classroom. I know that the students I have come to know as amazing readers relate far better to this new and improved Nancy Drew. I know that they love the characters in A VIEW FROM SATURDAY just as I loved Claudia. I am good with that. I don't think those books will ever fall out of fashion for those of us who read them at the perfect time in our lives. (Hopefully, we'll realize that the mom jeans have fallen out of fashion though!)


  1. Frankie,

    I've been thinking about this as well. It strikes me that it is more than just things like the security camera. Kids can get past that if other things work. However, I think there is perhaps a very subtle dated difference in the writing that trips some kids up. It might be a bit slower, perhaps. There might be something a tad different in the sentence structure that makes it feel different to them. Not for the really avid readers, those who read everything voraciously, but for those who read some.

    I've been thinking about this in terms of fantasy. Why, for example, can I so rarely get any child to read Diana Wynne Jones's wonderful Chrestomanci books? When they have no problem with other weighty series (even His Dark Materials).

    Trying to figure this out too.

  2. And yet the movie "Night at the Museum," which isn't remotely close to being as good a movie as "From the Mixed Up Files..." is a book, seems to be doing very well. Are kids more accepting of implausibility in movies than books?

  3. Franki,
    Mom 8 year old walked by as I was watching this and said, "Gross. I hope you don't like those!"

    You raise such a great question in this post. I think kids are just exposed to too much technology and too much tragedy on the news and maybe in real life, that it's difficult for them to visualize what they are reading if the language isn't fast and fresh.

    I agree with Monica and Willa. Movies based on books are just too exciting and fast. Even though the book version is usually far superior, and sometimes so different from the movie version, people use movies as the "Cliff Notes" to the real thing. Nothing like the dummying of our future. And the writing nowadays for children's books is also more descriptive and advanced than what you would see years ago. Children are maturing faster nowadays, and the subject matter they are ready for now will not necessarily be at the same reading level as it was when we were growing up. Kids are just growing up to fast.

  4. I agree with all of these thoughts about why kids don't buy into certain books. My kids do comment about the way the kids talk to each other in certain books. It may be some subtlety that we don't pick up. Interesting to think about.

  5. Anonymous9:18 PM

    I will be contributing nothing thought-provoking here when I say that we have been discussing Mom Jeans over at Kelly's interview today, and I even linked to a video of it, too, in the comments section of her interview. Weird.

    Just had to say that. Back to your regularly-scheduled deep discussion (which is interesting and I'd comment upon if I didn't have to run right now....maybe later).

  6. Mom jeans are such a more fun thing to discuss!

  7. Anonymous8:58 PM

    I wonder if you read the Nancy Drews with the yellow "picture" covers or the old original blue covers? I was born in 1968, so I read the yellow covers.

    I mention this just because the original Nancys from the 1930s were updated and altered when the yellow covers came out. A lot of racist language was removed, and Nancy's car changed from a "roadster" to the convertible we knew, etc. Also the clothing the girls wore had to change - no more gloves, for example.

    I have read many of the original books and there is an obvious difference, but the mysteries are still the same. And I've seen the graphic novels and really they are fine - Nancy wears jeans now, and uses a cell phone but her friendships are still the same, the mysteries still the same kind of fun hokey, etc.

    My point is that sometimes you just have to update so that readers can identify with the stories. As far as Mixed up Files... (one of my all time favorite books), you might want to do a little research on recent art thefts from a major international museums - so when your kids stall on the security cameras and that kind of thing you can tell them about how 21st century criminals get around the cameras all the time. It might settle them down a little - or least get them off the sticking point so they will listen to the story!

    Colleen aka Chasing Ray

  8. Anonymous2:34 PM

    Mixed-Up Files is one of my favorites too! I can't get kids to read The Westing Game, either. Nothing more makes me shudder than a kid that looks at the book in my hand and says "Well, I've seen the movie." or "Isn't there a movie of this?" When done well, I love movies from books (I'm going to see Bridge to Terabithia this weekend). There is some part of the magic of these beloved books of ours that disappears when it hits the big screen though.

    I always thought kids wouldn't find diving for coins in the fountain as exciting either. Five bucks of pocket change wouldn't buy you much more than a Happy Meal these days. :-)


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