I started reading suggested books for grades 7 and 8 feeling somewhat embarrassed at how many I hadn’t read, I attacked one I had on my Kindle: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The first of L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz collection, it was an easy read. The language of the early 20th century (the book was published in 1900) might make today’s readers giggle a little and some weak readers might misunderstand parts of the plot. Those who grew up watching the 1939 movie might wonder why there are differences. Students lucky enough to know the stage show, which premiered on Broadway in 1902, will recognize parts of the show that do not show up in the book, such as the Tin Woodman’s back story.
I liked the book well enough. In the big picture, the Wizard’s collection has grown in ways Baum couldn’t have predicted. Judy Garland’s fame, the 1939 movie production in color, and a century later, the phenomenon of the book Wicked and its Broadway version.
Baum also has a note in the preface cautioning readers not to think too much while they read. He states that he wrote the book collection for entertainment, and entertainment only. Truth or little white lie, I don’t know. I remember a high school history teacher talking about symbolism in the collection, such as the Scarecrow representing the farmers and the Tin Man in the place of the Industrial Revolution.
I wish I knew a little more about the middle school English Language Arts curriculum. When I reviewed the freshman book list a few years ago, I had at least a general idea of a theme: “the concept of the individual as well as interpersonal relationships.” For grades 7 and 8, the administrators did not provide that information. They only provided a list of books.
Knowing the reasoning behind the choices makes a big difference. In fact, whether the Wizard was meant to entertain or to symbolize makes less of a difference than why students will read it. When I taught 6th grade, our goals included both learning to read and reading to learn. We didn’t have an overarching theme, but we had a goal: that our students would learn to read, think, analyze, compare, and understand at high levels. We chose books according to the students’ reading levels.
In conclusion, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a nice piece of Americana, a classic story that grew into much more. I enjoyed it. I’m keeping it on my Kindle and reading the other parts of L. Frank Baum’s original later – when I can get it away from Chuck’s fascination with Kindle’s word games.