I broke down and bought a book—we were on vacation and I had forgotten to pack the Bag of Amusement—that bag with the books, crayons, drawing paper, and Tootsie Pops that always goes on long trips with us. There in the shop window was a copy of Heidi, by Johanna Spyri, just waiting to be read to my child. I loved Heidi as a child. My own copy got worn to tatters and wound up missing a cover so you can imagine how excited I was to share it. Turns out I had an abridged edition as a kid, which helps explains why some things in the story didn’t make sense. I also had a different translation and I’ll tell you truly—I can deal with an unabridged story, but not the wrong translation. I was so disappointed I donated that translation to the school library and we moved on to E.B. White’s Stuart Little.
I believe it’s perfectly clear from a previous post that I think Charlotte’s Web is perfection. As we read it last year we watched the progress of a spider outside our window and cried, not when the real spider died but when Wilbur said goodbye to Charlotte. It made such an impression that the spider currently living in the bush next to the garage is also Charlotte and at least one of us feels pretty protective of her, constantly adjuring Mama not to get too close to the web with the yard tools. I’m talking about Charlotte’s Web because I want you to understand how alarmed I am that Stuart Little, much like Heidi, was a failure. Granted, I haven’t taken the time to research this. I need to find some critical reviews, or perhaps something from White himself where he discusses what he was thinking when he wrote the book. Frankly, he has stuff in there that I just don’t understand. For instance, Stuart’s date while on his quest to find Margalo makes no sense. Why show Stuart to be such a self-involved jerk? Why bother having a scene that doesn’t seem to go anywhere and seems so out of place with the rest of the story? My Partner in Reading liked the first part of the book but I don’t know if it’s my fault she didn’t like the end or if it’s White’s.
My distress over this, it turns out, is not unique. In talking with other children’s librarians I’ve discovered there are many books or stories that are “classics” that for some reason leave us cold or unsettled. One colleague despises the Hans Christian Andersen stories, another always had problems with The Little Red Hen, who quite frankly should have just done everything herself in the first place and left everyone else alone. We were all a little relieved to discover we weren’t the only people in the world who just didn’t “get” all classic children’s literature.
So tell me, DeKalb—what books didn’t work for you?