As I noted in an earlier post, one reason I'm doing this particular resolution this year is because I want to keep in touch with what my children are reading and to revisit some of the books I remember from my own childhood. I recently finished one of the books I truly treasured when I was a little girl -- Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden. It's a story about finding your place. Nona, the little girl who was uprooted from her home in India and sent to live with cousins in England, finds her place by caring for two little Japanese dolls who are also a long way from home. She forgets her own loneliness by trying to make the dolls as much at home as possible, working with her cousin Tom to build them an authentic Japanese house and with a classmate from school to furnish it with appropriate furniture. The story also has a side plot with the youngest cousin, a little girl named Belinda, who learns something about jealousy and letting someone else be the center of attention for a change. The story didn't have quite the hold on me that it once had, but that was 35 years ago, ha ha!
I suggested it to my daughter for summer reading, and she started it on a trip to camp. That was two weeks ago, and she hasn't picked it up since. It's not too hard for her -- she was reading it out loud (as she always does), and she didn't miss any words. I'm sure if I asked her if she likes it, she would say it's ok. But it just doesn't grab her, and I can't say exactly why unless it is that she lives in a different world as a child than I did. A kind, gentle story about a girl building a house for dolls seems to have trouble competing in an environment that includes Captain Underpants (whom I hate), Harry Potter (whom I love), and the Baudelaire orphans (my daughter is reading the first book in the Series of Unfortunate Events instead of finishing the doll book).
This is even more of a problem with my son -- we had a MAJOR battle over Johnny Tremain. Well, to call it a "major" battle is hyperbole -- but suffice it to say, I strongly suggested it to fulfill his historical fiction requirement for school this year, and he pretended to read it but couldn't answer specific questions about important plot points. When I asked him why, he said it was boring. I couldn't understand -- I loved Johnny when I was my son's age. I read the first couple of chapters after this battle with my son, and it still captures my imagination just like it did when I was 12. But I asked a couple of other young friends (ages 15-22) about it; most of them had never read it, and the one who had didn't like it.
It makes me wonder what makes a "classic." We hear that term batted around all the time. I suppose my definition would be "a work that has something important to say, with well-developed characters that the reader cares about." But is something REALLY a classic if no one reads it?
At least one "classic" from my childhood is still holding up -- my daughter really liked the first two Laura Ingalls Wilder books.
No sooner had I finished posting this entry than I go into the living room and find my son reading Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. I said, "Do you like it?" and he gave sort of a noncommital shrug and nodded. Go figure . . . .