A few weeks ago, while my students were at gym, an associate teacher and I created a yellow construction paper road that led from the door of the classroom to Oz, in this case the Emerald City pages of Robert Sabuda’s pop-up version carefully balanced on a stool in the center of the classroom with a pile of Baum’s books elegantly scattered below.
When the kids came into the classroom they were instructed musically to “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” and did so to our Oz, picked up a book, and went to Munchkin Land — I mean, their desks — where they discovered a few tasty gummy letters (in various colors including green and gold) and a little chapbook.
And so we began our study of L. Frank Baum’s American fairy tale, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I love having the kids read this book after our study of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It is truly THE American fairy tale. While I’ve never seen anything that makes clear that Baum was at all influenced by Carroll’s tale, I don’t see how he could have avoided it. Alice was so popular and it is the story of a little girl going into a fantasy land, after all. Certainly it is very different — Carroll’s story is almost plotless while Baum’s is very dramatic and full of adventure. Carroll is more interested, it seems, in language, puns, parody, and humor; Baum seems more interested in creating an entertaining story for American boys and girls. Both are fun in very different ways.
I have my students read the book (a facsimile of the original with Denslow’s illustrations) on their own; it is completely accessible to all levels of readers. I have on display the other thirteen Oz books by Baum and additional copies of the two that follow the first one for those who finish quickly. I ask them to write/draw a response to each chapter in the little booklets, but that is all. I really want them to have fun reading the book and they do!
Before beginning I show them, “The Dreamer of Oz, a docudrama about L. Frank Baum which is very interesting because he is so completely and utterly different from Carroll. And the biographical details that connect to the story of Dorothy and Oz fascinate them.
After they are all finished with the book we watch the MGM movie together. Some have seen it before, but not all. The differences intrigue them — most of all those familiar ruby slippers, silver in the book. We also watch a documentary on the making of the movie that further captivates. And then the kids write an essay answering the question: Is the movie a good or a bad witch, I mean, adaptation of the book? You can read some of this year’s responses by way of the class blog (go to the children’s blogs on the right to read their posts on this topic).
When time permits the kids do projects. Last year they made board games and had a blast playing them during the last few days of school. I’m not sure if we will have time this year, but here are a few of last year’s to give you a taste.
At the very, very, very end of school when we’ve finished the presentation portfolios for the parent reception and cleaned the room, I show them Disney’s Return to Oz. Few seem to be familiar with this film, but it is fascinating after reading Baum’s book and seeing the MGM movie — a combination of the second and third Oz books it connects to Baum, the books’ illustrators, the MGM movie, and is a story all of its own.
It is an ideal final unit of the year — every kid enjoys the book, the movie is still fun to watch, writing about it a snap, and all in all a lotta fun! If you have never read the book and only know the story from the MGM movie, give it a try — it is quite different and very entertaining.