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Posts Tagged ‘crows of pearblossom’

Those early months when i was just beginning to read independently, those were heady days. After years of decoding the meaning of language, facial expressions, cartoon narratives on television, finally the written world was made visible to me and it was magic. In fact, I sometimes wonder if the reason children believe in magic is because they are still so close to the days when their literacy revealed itself as if through a secret portal.

Among the strong memories I have about those days was the summer Weekly Reader program. For some small fee that my parents paid through another of those childhood mysteries, the mystery of money, I received the occasional (I don’t think they were actually weekly) folded sheet of stories and puzzles that not only reinforced the magic of reading but added the gift of mail. These things simply came to our house with my name on them! Magic!

Then there were the books.

Oh, the books!

Once a month during the summer the Weekly Reader program sent an actual, real book to me in the mail! I later understood these to be similar to book club editions, hardbound with printed covers like a library edition only less expensive, with the Weekly Reader logo on the back. Every once in a while I see the Weekly Reader logo on the back of a used book, but one book truly stood out among them all: The Crows of Pearblossom by Aldous Huxley. I have already discussed this book twice, and even linked scans of the entirety of it to my flickr account for all to see. The recent rerelease doesn’t do the boo justice, but I digress.

Among days of swim lessons and water fights in the neighborhood, hanging out at the local park making lanyards and collecting returnable soda bottles for enough change to buy candy, the afternoons that seem most golden were those where I was sprawled on the living room floor reading the Weekly Reader over and over. It could not have taken me more than twenty minutes to read it but it felt like hours, and I would revisit each copy several times until the next one came.

In time came bigger books, and regular trips to the library to bring home a haul of books, and the Weekly Reader faded away. I was years out of college when I remembered those summers fondly and held idle thoughts about creating an adult version of the Weekly Reader. By then I’d assumed the Weekly Reader was a thing of the past, no longer around, and how sad for kids that they couldn’t have the same experience I had.

And then I got the news this week: the Weekly Reader had been alive the whole time, only now it was being shuttered by its new owners.

I don’t care how plugged in and tech savvy kids are these days, it’s still fun to get things sent in the mail, and a magazine dedicated to fiction and word fun… how is this a bad thing? Perhaps the Weekly Reader struggled in recent years because parents assumed (as I did) that it no longer existed, or that they didn’t feel their children would be satisfied with so meager an offering as few short pages of throwaway material. And if the program no longer offered Club Editions of books sent periodically to kids, perhaps that’s part of the problem.

They say that kids who grow up with books in the home – books that are theirs, that they own – do better in school than kids who don’t, and this has long been one of the problems I’ve had with the forced march of summer reading: kids check the books out of the library, and the lack of ownership makes that reading feel throwaway, an obstacle to overcome. I didn’t have many books at home growing up because we were sorta poor, but the ones I had I treasured and reread like crazy. I wish I knew what other books I received via the Weekly Reader summer program, but the fact that The Crows of Pearblossom stuck with me for over forty years is a pretty strong testament to the power of books on impressionable young minds.

While I may have been premature with my thinking some years back, the sentiment stands: how sad for kids today that they cannot have that same experience.

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I’d been meaning to do this for a couple years now, and this week I finally figured out how to make the scanner work, so…

When I was a kid my mom signed me up for the Weekly Reader Book club one summer.  I don’t remember how often them came but in between book shipments there were book club editions of books.  One of them freaked me the heck out at the time but I never said anything about it for fear that I would have the book club taken away from me.

I talked about this book when I was older, in college, and no one believed it existed.  My memory of the story was strong but I never remembered the author until one day in my 30’s when I caught a passing reference to it in some magazine.  It did exist.  But I still had to wait another six years or so for the internet to be invented before I could track down a replacement copy of my very own.

The Crows of Pearblossom was Aldous Huxley’s only children’s book, perhaps for good reason.  He wrote originally for his niece in 1944 and a manuscript floated around until Random House and Weekly Reader hooked up with illustrator Barbara Cooney to create a book that creeped me out.

Over time I have come to recognize the value in telling stories that creep kids out.  I find the sanitized fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm that are constantly appropriated by Disney, or watered down to “modern sensibilities” to be highly distasteful. It’s as if picture books for children must be as sterile as anti-bacterial toys for children, raising a generation of readers so protected from the realities of the world that they don’t develop the appropriate immune systems for reading.  Could the first wave of these bubble-living readers be the adults looking to ban books for fear of infecting their children?

Anyway, it’s Halloween, so here’s the treat.  The Crows of Pearblossom, scanned and available for your reading pleasure over at my Flickr! account. Give it a gander and let me know what you think.

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