Friday, May 14, 2010

Childrens Book Reading Extravaganza 2010: Novel #99

Today, coming in at #99, weighing 5.6 ounces and captivating readers since 1980 is The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks!

The Indian in the Cupboard

Well, I am currently questioning my elementary school education because while I thought I had read this book during those years, after actually reading the book this week, I'm not so sure that I did.  Maybe I just heard about it a lot or something.  I know Big Mama Mimi loved reading this book out loud to her classroom of friends back in the day...whatever.  Either way, it felt new to me. 

I also have to admit that I had some mixed feelings about this one.  Should I summarize it first for those of you out there who may have also convinced yourself that you've read this before when in fact you haven't?  Evidently that's going around these days...

Okay.  So there's a boy named Omri who gets an old cabinet with a fancy key for his birthday.  You might think a kid would be disappointed in such a gift, but Omri is into cabinets.  Go figure.  His buddy Patrick gets him a plastic figure and although Omri thinks this gift blows (at first) he was raised well and doesn't show his disappointment.  Long story short, Omri puts the figure in the cabinet over night and viola!  In the morning, he has a real, live, very small Indian.  (Should I say Native American?) While Omri is fascinated by Little Bear, he soon finds it is difficult to provide for him while keeping him a secret.  Eventually, Omri lets Patrick in on the magic and they also bring to life a cowboy figurine named Boone.  They have all sorts of adventures, but in the interest of keeping this short, I will wrap this up by saying that despite loving their plastic mini-friends, Omri and Patrick ultimately decide it's best for everyone if they go back to being plastic. 

So, back to my mixed feelings.  We'll start with the positive since I'm making an effort to be less negative.  (I'm not sure if that effort really shines through on this blog, but whatever, I am.)

I really enjoyed Omri's character.  He shows a great deal of concern for the well-being of his magical mini friends and thinks of them as people, while Patrick is more interested in how cool it all is.  They make a nice contrast for one another and there is the potential there for some good classroom debate regarding how the boys handle various situations throughout the book.  So, definitely a few points in the plus column right there.

I also liked the imagination behind it all.  As someone who grew up sans video games and without cable (and walked uphill both ways to school...movies were only 99 cents...) I think we need to push the imagination piece in our classrooms.  I'm all for kids being technologically savvy, but let's keep it real, enough can be enough with that stuff.  (I can't get over how old I sound right now.)  But the bottom line is, it's crazy cool to think of your little plastic toys coming to life and despite all the things that beep and need batteries, I know kids still go back to little figurines from time to time.  A few more positive points for this book. 

Each chapter reads like a mini story as well.  I think it's very well done so that children can look closely at each chapter on it's own and practice stringing them all together as a whole.  Let's be real, teaching children how to determine importance and see the larger picture in a book can be like climbing Mount Everest in high heels and a sarong.  Drunk.  So, I definitely think the way the author crafts the book is great.

Annnnnddddd, now the negative.  First of all, let me say that it bugs me when people are so concerned with being politically correct that they cease having the ability to form an opinion or have a conversation.  Similar to my stance on video games, I think enough can be too much sometimes.  However, there is also a part of me that tries really hard to use language that doesn't fan flames, so that my opinion is actually heard and I don't get dragged into a debate about semantics rather than the issue at hand.

(Pats self on back for using so many large words...a whole post without a reference to urine AND multi-syllabic words?  That's growth, people.)

I think some of the dialogue can err on the stereotypical/slightly offensive side.  Little Bear rarely conjugates a verb correctly and speaks in very short sentence fragments.  "Me want food.  Little Bear need fire."  Stuff like that.  Granted, our Native American friend is probably new to English, but it made me a little wary.  I wouldn't want to leave my friends with the impression that this is how all Native American people speak or that they all live in tee pees...

Along those lines, Boone made me raise an eyebrow from time to time too.  Granted, it's super interesting craft when an author writes in a way that truly captures the speech patterns and accent of a character however...well, here's an example. "Ah ain't that hungry.  Coupla bits o' steak and three or four eggs sittin' on a small heap o' beans and washed down with a jug o' cawfee'll suit me jest dandy."  He also appears to be somewhat of a drunk who very often asks for "likker." 

Am I being to sensitive?  (It's been known to happen...)  I don't know. But my Teacher Instinct tells me that reading this book would have to be accompanied by some conversation about stereotypes and the development of a fictional character versus the more accurate historical picture of these individuals.  Am I saying this book is one you shouldn't read to your friends?  Absolutely not! It's a classic and has been loved by children and adults for EVER.  I'm just saying, read it yourself first and then decide how to be proceed. 

I feel like one of those, "The More You Know, The More You Grow" commercials. 

At the end of the day, I enjoyed this one.  I really did...even if I DID get strange looks in the waiting room at the doctor. 

Stay tuned as I ramble on about another novel next week!  I'm a little skeptical about this next one...at #98 (and hard as you-know-what to find) is The Children of Green Knowe by L.M Boston.

Enjoy the rest of your Sunday...just ignore that stack of papers giving you the stink eye from the depths of your Teacher Bag!

xo,
Mimi

9 comments:

Jim McClain said...

Have you watched Disney's Peter Pan lately? We took it out of our four-year old's rotation after one viewing. She's not quite old enough for a context and stereotype conversation yet.

Clix said...

My thought on the language is that (from what I remember - it's been a LONG time since I read anything from that series) Little Bear and Boone aren't real people, but toys brought to life. As a result, their character is formed from the stories of those toys (and the stereotypes in those stories).

Beth said...

I'd want to make sure that Little Bear wasn't the first Indian the class met in a book. If they've seen real Indians from real places, then I'd be more comfortable with the fake toy one.

I love _Children of Green Knowe_. What's to be skeptical of?

Mimi said...

Beth - glad you love it - I'm starting it later on this afternoon. No real reason, just that the first line of the Amazon review went something like this, "This is not an easy book" and then used words like "moody." Okay. So I skimmed the review. I'll admit it. Fingers crossed that I love it! :)

Stu said...

I read Indian in the Cupboard to most of my third grade classes...AFTER I read Stone Fox. We always talked about the differences between Little Bear and Stone Fox. The kids were very insightful (mostly) and helped my understanding too.

We also talked a little about Boone and his drinking habit. I tried to remind the students that even though he was small, Boone was an adult, and could make any stupid choices he wanted to...

ChiTown Girl said...

I have never read the book, but the movie (which must have been a sleeper hit. maybe it was never a hit?) was one of my son's absolute FAVORITE movies. The first time he watched it, he was under 2 years old, and I think he watched it nearly every day for the next 3 years!

I'd love to show it to my babies at school, but I'm afraid it might not hold their interest since it's not chock full of special effects, loud music/noise, car crashes, etc. It's such an awesome movie, I just may try it with them.

As a matter of fact, I may just see if my son will indulge me and cuddle up on the couch with me and watch it right now! So what if he's 16 1/2 now....

Noah said...

WOOT!!
Mrs Mimi - canNOT wait to hear what you think of the Children Of Greene Knowe. I also loved it - looking forward...

luckeyfrog said...

We had read this book when I was in school, and I remember liking it.

When my coteacher picked it up as a read-aloud, I was a little shocked to see the prevalent stereotypes. And you're right- I was a bit uncomfortable with all the talk of liquor.

It's a shame, really. It's got the Toy Story sort of imagination theme that makes it a good story, but the language used isn't great. A book in our reader called Jingle Dancer does a great job of presenting Native Americans in the current time, and that has made me feel better.

ChrisinNY said...

Ohhh, can't wait to see your take on Greene Knowe- I was one of the supporters that helped it make the list!

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