Take Winnie-the-Pooh. My four year-old announced last week that she doesn’t like Rabbit because he doesn’t believe in celebrating Easter. Me saying, “Honey, that’s not in the book,” is no argument at all, because she saw it in a movie. But our current read-aloud is The World of Pooh: The Complete Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, and I’m hoping she will absorb enough of it to know there’s way more to Rabbit than the DVD reveals. Actually, I’m hoping we can just erase most of the detritus the DVD left behind.
Last night we read the chapter titled, “In Which Pooh is Unbounced.” It begins with Rabbit’s absolutely horrible plan to take Tigger to the top of the Forest and lose him there, leave him overnight, and then rescue him, in hopes of unbouncing him. Because he’s gotten entirely too Bouncy, you see. As Rabbit says, “Because he’ll be a Humble Tigger. Because he’ll be a Sad Tigger, a Melancholy Tigger, a Small and Sorry Tigger, and Oh-Rabbit-I-am-glad-to-see-you Tigger. That’s why.”
Should I stop here to tell you how amazing A. A. Milne is? Do I need to tell you how good he is at seeing and illustrating human nature? How Rabbit is a character who can exhibit downright despicable behavior and yet somehow at the end of the story you are still able to love him? No, I probably shouldn’t do that and interrupt the story, because that would be bad writing. Much too didactic. How about if I tell you that if you haven’t read this book, whether you have children or not, (or if you have children, whether they are too old or too young for it,) please read this book! Watching Disney versions of it is not a fair substitute! Too preachy, huh? Back to the story, then.
They manage to lose Tigger, or at least leave him alone, and he promptly goes home to play with Roo. Rabbit, on the other hand, has a little more trouble.
“’Lucky we know the Forest so well, or we might get lost,’ said Rabbit half an hour later, and he gave the careless laugh which you give when you know the Forest so well you can’t get lost.”I read sentences like that to my kids and things start bubbling under the surface of my soul. I think of pride and arrogance, and the all-too-familiar human tendency to want to squash what is different from oneself. While I continue reading the story out loud, there is this rich under-tapestry of thoughts, images, impressions, insights being woven in my heart, and the whole time I’m thinking, “Are my children hearing this? Oh, I hope they aren’t missing this!” Have you had this experience? We talk about things we read, and I ask questions and try to point a few things out, but having that feeling inside, experiencing that under-story, gaining understanding—those things happen because of the literature. I figure the more I expose my kids, and the more experience they get, the more that will happen for them, too.
It's my understanding that A. A. Milne was frustrated by how his books for children overshadowed all his other writing. I’ve only read his four children’s books. But I consider it literature for myself, too, as much as anything I’ve read that was written for adults.
Maybe some great classic children's literature has been saved from obscurity by movie-adaptations. Maybe it is a necessary part of culture to respond to great works and retell the stories in new ways. I can't argue with those goals. But at the same time, I fear that something can be lost in the process. So, okay, you've seen the movie. But will you read the book?