Teaching with Blogs: We Aren’t Back in Kansas Yet

 

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.

images-1.jpg

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.

images-5.jpg

 

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.

images-4.jpg

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.

ozgame.jpg

 

ozgame2.jpg

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.

9 Comments

Filed under movie, Teaching

9 responses to “Teaching with Blogs: We Aren’t Back in Kansas Yet

  1. hope

    how do you deal with the issue of racism? Baum’s editorials about the native americas seem to have spawned many apocryphal stories about him. Do you talk about them? They don’t really seem relevant to your unit, but I wonder if it they need to be discussed.

    Like

  2. How fortunate your kids are to have you as a teacher! Sounds like a wonderful unit!

    Like

  3. I am aware of the editorials, but we don’t get into that with this unit. Any more than I get into the rumors about Lewis Carroll and little girls:)

    Might be appropriate for older kids, but not this age.

    (We do, of course, discuss racism often in many other contexts, just not in this one.)

    Like

  4. In 1900, the same year that Baum published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, he also published a collection of fantastic short stories called A New Wonderland. He and his publisher were explicitly trying to bring in the audience for children’s nonsense stories that Carroll had created.

    In interviews Baum often spoke of Carroll with respect, though I suspect he wasn’t just respectful of Carroll’s imagination but also of his popularity and sales.

    A few years after A New Wonderland first appeared, Baum sold it to another publisher, which reissued it with the title The Magical Monarch of Mo. That’s how the book is usually referred to today, and I believe the Dover edition is still in print. As the title shows, Baum had ceased trying to make that book a rip-off of Carroll and started trying to market it as a rip-off of himself.

    In The Patchwork Girl of Oz and then more thoroughly The Scarecrow of Oz, Baum tied his Oz books and Mo stories into a single fantastic universe. But Mo is both mo’ magical and mo’ nonsensical than Oz.

    Like

  5. What sort of “apocryphal stories” have Baum’s Aberdeen editorials spawned?

    I think one major irony of those editorials is that they were read by very few people in the 1890s—they appeared in a faltering weekly newspaper in a frontier town. Now, thanks to the internet, they’ve probably been read by a hundred times that number at least.

    Like

  6. Pingback: A Library By Any Other Name » Blog Archive » 371.22 Blogging Project: Wizard of Oz 2.0

  7. JD

    One point about the racism idea is that such ideas and standards were common at the time. Not just to Native Americans, but to African Americans, Chinese, you name it. Back then, people didn’t care too much about what was said. I personally see Baum’s articles as a small sample of what else was in the media at the time. When viewed in the context of the media of the late 1800’s, Baum’s editorials seem very small. Perhaps not even that offensive compared to others.

    I recently released a video about L. Frank Baum to YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NfVOgCman9w). It was going to mention these editorials briefly, but I cut it from the audio during editing because I felt that it would need to be dealt with in further detail. On the chance that I would (and I probably won’t) make a video on this topic, I left it out. (Not to mention when a video in honor of Baum’s 150th birthday was posted, a few folks felt that because of this Baum deserved no tribute.)

    All in all, it seems Baum did not let any racial opinions seep into his Oz books: here is a land where people of all kinds mix and mingle, most happy to live and let live. Even the infamous Tottenhots of “The Patchwork Girl of Oz” state simply “you let us alone and we’ll let you alone.”

    All I have to say is that no one should judge Baum simply by these editorials. He said what he was going to say, and perhaps even what he knew the people of Aberdeen would agree with. After researching his life for a long time, I can say he was a man who loved his family and loved to entertain people.

    Like

  8. Pingback: In the Classroom: Teaching Reading « educating alice

  9. Pingback: In the Classroom: Reading Aloud as Community Building « educating alice

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.