Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Kid's Rooms at the Sylvia Beach

 It's a well known story that Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel's first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was rejected 27 times before mercifully finding a bookshelf.  He almost burned it and gave up writing altogether.  What a bummer, to have a summer, without a number, of that humor. (Nice try, Hartenstein)
 In fact, according to his widow, Geisel actually recoiled from children and wrote many of his later books: Yertle the Turtle and Horton Hears a a Who! about Adolph Hitler and the American treatment of postwar Japanese.
 But all of those are just messy adult facts and have nothing to do with the smile on a kid's face when they walk into the Cat in the Hat Room at the Sylvia Beach Hotel.
 Or the J.K. Rowling / Harry Potter Room on the 3rd floor.
 But... today wasn't really about celebrating popular children's authors of the here and now... but looking back at American Literature's first real children's story:  The Pilgrims Landing at Plymouth Rock.  There are numerous ways to introduce it to kids.  Many start with the confusing and skeptical romance of John Smith and Pocahontas, or the creepy disappearance at Roanoke, and the legendary chivalric tales of Sir Walter Raleigh, just to set the stage for the pilgrim's landing.  But nothing captures a child's attention like the harrowing tale of the Mayflower, the brutal hardship of building houses and surviving that first winter, the miraculous arrival of Samoset, the Abenaki Sagamore who strolled through their camp speaking English and asking for a beer or his return with Tisquantum, "Squanto," who taught the beleaguered religious refugees (pilgrims) to bury fish in the ground before planting maize.  What a story of compassion!  What an example of the necessity of virtue!  
 My kids and I are discovering, that so many of these early American stories put our modern political crisis in profound perspective. The overwhelming need for sound and sober leadership.  The impact of humility on others.  Oh... and just the magic of dreaming the impossible!
So we pick up our magic wands and travel back into history, deeper into the pilgrims and the original Thirteen Colonies.  We read about the perils of John Winthrop and the alternative lifestyle of William Penn... and of course...the madness of those Quakers!  Trust me, kids can take it.  They need it.  Looking at the news around me, I need it too.

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