A long time ago, my older sister gave me a book called "The Education of Little Tree." It is my favorite book. I make everybody read it. I buy several copies and loan them to people until the book falls apart.
When my first son was born I read it to him out loud over the first couple of days of his life (I also read him "Lord of the Flies"). Now I have three kids and they are getting big enough to understand some things so I wanted to read it to them again.
But there is much you need to know to understand the book. It was actually first released as a biography but then there was some controversy over who wrote the book, with a strong suspicion that it had been penned by a racist political speech writer and renowned Ku Klux Klan leader. All of that is still a mystery. It doesn't make sense that a native american would become a renowned KKK leader. But wherever it came from, the book is awesome.
It was reclassified as a "Young Adult" book, which also makes no sense to me because the book has some tough stuff in it. I can't imagine that a 12 year old would understand the humor in a 5 yr old boy being so naive as not to understand when people are making derogatory, racist remarks towards him and his family. And that the man and woman making fun of them on the bus are actually a pimp and his bloody-mouthed, smacked-up ho. And that's just Chapter 1.
The story is about a 5 yr old who goes to live with his Native American grandparents after his mother dies. The grandparents live in a shack in the Appalacian mountains. It's pretty simple living. The grandpa attempts to teach the boy the proper way to hunt and farm and he even teaches him to make whiskey, because that's the only trade he knows. He tells his grandson that he will probably want to switch trades later but for the moment that is the only way he knows to make money. They also teach him that it's important not to end up with a hickory-nut soul.
Before I started reading the book to my kids, there are other things they needed to know as well. About The Great Depression, about Catholics, about history (like George Washington and Julius Ceaser) and about Shakespeare.
The family likes to stay up listening to grandma read books from the library and their favorites are the ones written by Mr. Shakespeare. These book get grandpa all fired up. Before I read this part of the book to my kids I figured I'd better teach them who Shakespeare is.
We have a kid's book in the house called "William Shakespeare & The Globe" by Akili. "The Globe" is the theater where Shakespeare's plays were performed while he was writing them. The book tells all about Shakespeare starting from his birth.
The book says that he went to school at "Guild Church and Grammar School" and "his classmates were all boys, as girls did not go to grammar school in those days." Also, when his plays were performed in the old Wooden-O of a theater, boys had to play the parts of women because girls were not allowed to be in the plays. When I read these parts to my daughter I told her it was because people used to think girls were dumber than boys, that girls just weren't as good. I told her some people still believe this.
First she asked me if I was serious. When I said that I was, she said, "That's stupid, daddy." Which it is.
After we read about Shakespeare, we all watched this old version of Romeo and Juliet which I happen to own on VHS:
The kids went to bed when the movie was over and my wife told me. "You'd better go talk to your daughter. She's crying."
Sure enough, my daughter was lying in bed with the blankets pulled up to her nose and her face was soaking wet. I asked, "Why are you crying?" and she said, "I didn't want them to die."
I said, "Yeah, that's sad. But for some reason a lot of people like sad stories that make them cry. A lot of people like that story." And I reminded her, "It's just pretend. It didn't really happen. And also Romeo and Juliet's families finally stopped fighting all the time. So that's one good thing that happened."
So far, I've only explained Shakespeare. I still have to tell them about all that other stuff. But my daughter is awesome. When she looked at the Little Tree book, she asked, "Where are the pictures? There aren't any pictures?" I said, "Sorry, you have to use your imagination." And she said, "Can we DRAW pictures for the book?" And I said, "Yes." And she got all excited and she drew pictures for the first two chapters. She complains when we finish a chapter and she constantly asks when we will read some more.
You should read it, too. Draw some pictures if you like but don't watch the Little Tree movie. It blows.