My boys, ages 9 and 7, are in a small book club. We have been reading the Magic Tree House books by Mary Pope Osborn. Last week we had the meeting at our house so, I was in charge of the discussion. We discussed the MTH book Lions at Lunchtime. The book takes place in Africa so we talked about the animals and grasslands. At one time in the book the children meet a Maasai Warrior, the book doesn't talk much about the Maasai so I found a couple of pictures of them in one of our books and I printed out a couple of paragraphs of information on them that I found on the internet. We discussed them briefly at the club meeting and then moved on without anyone having any questions and probably no thought again about the Maasai people.
Well, this morning I was looking at the book shelf trying to find a book for my 11 year old to read, and I came across a book called Facing the Lion, Growing Up Maasai on the African Savanna by Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton. I had gotten the book with a curriculum package I had ordered, and it was put on the shelf, never opened, and completely forgotten. I was excited when I saw it since we had just talked about the Maasai a few days earlier. The book is a true story of the authors life growing up Maasai. I showed the book to the kids and we started reading it this morning. We read 4 chapters. And let me tell you there is a huge difference in reading a few short words about the men and that they raise and heard cattle, and then to read a story about them actually out on the savanna herding the cattle. The book starts out when the author is around 14 years old. He comes home from school and joins the other boys from the village out herding the cattle. They have heard from the other villages that lions have been killing the cattle. He says that lions are smart and they never kill in the same place twice, so they know the lions will soon be coming to kill their cows. He says "During the middle of the night, I woke to this huge sound--like rain, but not really like rain. I looked up. The starlight was gone, clouds were everywhere, and there was a drizzle falling. But that wasn't the sound. The sound was all of the cows starting to pee. All of them, in every direction. And that is the sign of a lion. A hyena doesn't make them do that. An elephant doesn't make them do that. A person doesn't. Only the lion. We knew right away that a lion was about to attack us." Wow, that is an image I won't forget anytime soon, and I don't think the kids will either. They were spell bound by the story and didn't want me to stop reading. I asked the boys what their favorite part was that we read, sure that they would say the lion story, but they said it was the pinching man. Every village has a pinching man that pinches the children when they misbehave. One day this boy was on his way to another village, which he was not allowed to do, when he met up with the village pinching man. He says, "As soon as he saw me, he crouched down and put out his hands toward me. His fingernails were long and dirty and sharp. Tobacco juice as dripping from the hair on his chin. He was waving his hands, ready to pinch.
When the pinching man gets you like that you cannot run away because he will remember you. The next time he sees you, he will grab you when you are not looking and pinch you even harder." Apparently this made a huge impression on my children. Maybe North Pole needs a pinching man.
I can definitely see the difference between classics and textbooks. With text books you get a few facts and a 2 or 3 paragraph explanation about something. It doesn't leave the impression that reading a great story or biography does. I can guarantee you that we will be talking about the pinching man for a while around our house. Another reason classics are better than text books is that you don't get the morals and values from textbooks that are taught in the classics. I am reading Little Men by Louisa May Alcott to the kids. I have loved it and so have they. Yesterday when we were reading we read about one of the boys' father dying, and the boys in the story were discussing him and what kind of a person he was. They went on to talk about how he wasn't rich, and he had never done anything to "make a stir in the world", but that he was their favorite because he was "good". Oh course, this whole time I am tearing up, can barely read, and I am hoping just hoping that all the morals and goodness from this story are sinking into their little hearts and minds. You don't get that from textbooks.