Robinson Crusoe takes another hit…

I am so glad that Gail Gauthier told us about the great Roald Dahl feud of 1972-73 in which a really annoying woman railed against Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in The Horn Book. (And I’m glad that the Horn Book has the whole ordeal on its Website. At the link above.)

Roald Dahl replied and here’s an excerpt that pleased me:

Roald Dahl:

She goes on to praise Gulliver’s Travels, Robinson Crusoe, and Little Women.

I would dearly like to see Mrs. Cameron trying to read Little Women, or Robinson Crusoe for that matter, to a class of today’s children. The lady is completely out of touch with reality. She would be howled out of the classroom.

Dahl doesn’t go as far as to say that Crusoe stinks, just that it wouldn’t fly with a classroom full of kids. I’m not sure I want to say that it stinks either. It just needed a good editor. Seriously, how many people who have actually read the book say, “I love the French wolf attack ending. I’m so glad that was in there. It really added to the story.”

Among the books that the angry woman praises and urges and preaches that teachers should read instead of Charlie are:

Robert Lawson’s Ben and Me (Little); Sid Fleischman’s By the Great Horn Spoon!, Chancy and the Grand Rascal, and The Ghost in the Noonday Sun (all Atlantic-Little); E. C. Spykman’s A Lemon and a Star, Edie on the Warpath (both Harcourt), and other chronicles of the Cares family; or, to go back in time, Pinocchio and certain deliciously funny chapters in The Wind in the Willows

I’ve read 3 of those. Chancy and the Grand Rascal (yes, very good), Pinocchio (good in a lsd trip sort of way. (not that I would know about a lsd trip)) and The Wind in the Willows. (Sticking to certain chapters is a good idea. the chapters are great, but as a novel it’s a mess. Which may be why the constant attempts to make a movie out of it all fail.)

Other books on her list:  like the Borrower and the Green Knowe books, the Little House and the Moffat books, Charlotte’s Web (Harper), Island of the Blue Dolphins (Houghton), The Return of the Twelves (Coward), The Gammage Cup (Harcourt), the books of Philippa Pearce

I loved the Borrowers as a kid, but I tried to read it recently and couldn’t stand it. I found the Gammage Cup disturbing and not in a good way. (And I can’t remember Blue Dolphins well, but I think I liked it in the 5th grade.)

Anyway, today it’s just so hard to imagine anyone not liking Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But, the Great Glass Elevator is another story…

In a letter to the editor responding to the fuss a school librarian (hurray!) sets the matter straight, defending Charlie and adding this list of other kid favorites, which STILL WORKS 34 YEARS LATER!!!! (Actually, I can’t vouch for Joe Namath.)

Are You There God — It’s Me, Margaret
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
Summer of the Swans
Diary of Anne Frank
Biography of Joe Namath
Charlotte’s Web

Books by Beverly Cleary, Dr. Seuss, and P. D. Eastman

Do kids today still read Mrs. Frisby? I sure hope so.


One Response

  1. I don’t know how many kids read “Mrs. Frisby,” but I can tell you that I read it to my sons about a year ago. Wonderful book.

    My daughter will read it when she’s a little older (she’s 3 months right now …).

    I would argue that Roald Dahl has a place in children’s reading … (both of my sons have read “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”). Sure, it’s not “Gulliver’s Travels,” but there’s time before kids are really ready for Mr. Swift’s satire when they might consider reading about a silly adventure with Charlie, the Oompa-Loompas, and a bunch of brats in a chocolate factory.

    Maybe Mrs. Cameron was born 50 years old and so never had any fun as a child … we should probably pity her.

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