Monday, January 13, 2014

A Lesson from a 1950 Movie

Thumblina, The Ugly Duckling, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, The Little Mermaid, The Emperor's New Clothes, these are all stories by Hans Christian Andersen. I remember these stories from my childhood and have recently been reintroduced to them since we have seen the movie Frozen by Disney. I found out that Frozen is loosely based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, but I was not familiar with this story of his so I needed to find a copy of it and compare it to the movie. When they said it is loosely based on the story, it really is loose. There really are not too many similarities to the story and the movie. There is a Snow Queen and there are some trolls and we did see a reindeer in the book, but the story itself was very different.

While I was searching for a copy of The Snow Queen, I also came across the 1950 movie Hans Christian Andersen with Danny Kaye. I remember watching this movie when I was a child. I can still recall the tunes of the songs Danny Kaye sings as he tells the children in his small village his stories.

Well, after seeing Frozen twice and then reading The Snow Queen, Molly and I snuggled up on the couch this weekend while everyone was at the high school basketball game and watched the movie and it was like magic. Magic is my word for 2014. I'm trying to find those everyday moments that really are magical. Here I was sitting on the couch watching a movie that I haven't seen in decades and I knew all the songs. I could sing along to Thumblina and The Ugly Duckling and I'm Hans Christian Andersen. It was as if only a few years had past and not decades. I was transported to the couch in my childhood home, probably on a Sunday afternoon, because that's what we did back then on a Sunday afternoon when there were no sports scheduled and all the stores were closed and you didn't have anything on your to-do list for a Sunday other than go to church and have Sunday dinner. We would sit together in the house, watch old movies while dinner was roasting in the oven and the aroma would just fill the house. Magic!

But as I watched this wonderful old movie through the eyes of an adult, a parent, a teacher, it also made me a little sad. You see, the opening of the movie is Hans sitting outside with a group of children and he is telling them, no, singing to them, one of his stories. The children are engaged, they are listening, they are laughing. Well, see for yourself.

At the end of this scene, Hans' apprentice comes to worn Hans that the schoolmaster is upset because the children are supposed to be in school, but they would rather be outside listening to Hans' stories. The schoolmaster, the burgermaster, and a number of the villagers come to talk to Hans about his stories. They are upset that he has books outside and that he is filling their heads with nonsense. But Hans replies, "But there are different ways of learning." 

Let me say that again, "But there are different ways of learning."

Afterwards, Hans is walking through the village past the school and you can here the children reciting their math facts in a very drone tone of voice in unison. You can here the boredom in their voices.

With my parent eye as I watched this scene, I couldn't help but think about all the testing we do today in the classroom at such an early age, the benchmarks, the SOL's, the standardized tests. All these tests that are meant to tell teachers information that they probably already knows about their students. Our teachers spend about seven hours a day, five days a week with our kids. They already know who are the good readers and who are not. They already know who needs help with their math and who does not. I'm not saying that we don't need to test at all. But it really has become the main focus of school and the love of learning for the sake of learning and the love of reading a book for the sheer enjoyment of reading a book has become lost.

This weekend, I went into the basement into Molly's play room. We call it the Barbie room, it is slowly turning into a craft room as she gets older. But this is what I found.

She took a poster board and wrote, "I cannot live without books!" She tacked it right through the canvas of the cute picture of butterflies that was hanging on the wall. I couldn't figure out why she had the need to do this, but then later on in the day I was at my desk and noticed the bag that my mom gave me for Christmas.

We have such wonderful teachers that work so hard to educate our children, but their job is getting harder and harder as more and more demands are placed upon them. 
It is up to us as parents to instill the love of learning and reading so that they don't lose it, or for some, to help our children find it. 

I have had people tell me, that not everyone loves to read and that I can't make them love to read. That may be true. I have four children with different levels of passion about reading, or lack there of. But no matter where their starting place is, if you encourage reading and nurture it, it will grow, even if it is in small amounts. 

This weekend, Ryan told me that when he gets older he's going to be in therapy because of how I ruined his childhood by "torturing" him with reading. But then, on the same day, he tells me that the book he is reading, The Elephant in the Garden, is surprisingly good. He said, "At first, I asked myself, 'What could possibly be good or exciting about an elephant in a garden?' But it really is an interesting book."

My word of the year…magic…it is magical that a boy can say these two sentences in the same day.

Shannon, is another dormant reader. She has never liked to sit still and read, even when she was little, it was a battle to get her to sit on my lap and read a book with her. She wanted to run and be free. But look what I found!

She has started a 100 day reading goal for herself, calendar marked off, the days all numbered and stops on April 10th, her 100th day of reading. Molly I think influenced her a bit. Molly and I saw Frozen for the second time for her reward for reading for 100 days straight. She wanted Shannon to go and I told her, if you can get Shannon to read for the next 100 days, then she can go with us on our next reward day.

Will she make it to 100 days? I don't know. I didn't know if Molly and I would make it to 100 days. But any improvement in a child's reading habits is worth the effort. Some of my kids may never grow up to be passionate readers, but I do want them to be readers. Some parents are afraid to push their kids to read. They are afraid that they won't read when they grow up, that they will be turned off to reading. But we make them brush their teeth everyday. My kids aren't little anymore and yet, I still have to remind them to take care of this basic need. I want them to have healthy teeth. I don't want them to have cavities and so I make them brush, no I require them to brush their teeth. And I do the same with reading, I don't "make" them read, but require them to read because I know that it is good for them, just like brushing their teeth…and I really do hope that when they are adults, they don't stop brushing their teeth or reading books.

But a friend sent me this. It just reinforces my need to keep them reading. If these statistics are true, it breaks my heart.

What we are reading…

Ryan is reading this one now.

I finished this one last week and moved it to Molly's to be read pile.

I read this one last month and Molly just finished it.

Ryan and Molly have read this one twice and now Timmy is reading this one. It's great story.

I finished this one last week. Great middle school story. 

This one is definitely a YA/high school book, not a middle school book. Josie is a 17 year old in 1950 in New Orleans and her mother is a prostitute. I'm on page 110 and really enjoying the story…nothing rated R…but I wouldn't be giving it to my middle schoolers. She also wrote another YA book, Between Shades of Gray that is supposed to be a good read…not Fifty Shades of Gray.

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