Book Talk Tuesdays: Children’s Classics
I still remember baking and selling bread as a nine-year-old so that I could buy Marguerite Henry’s book Justin Morgan Had a Horse. When I entered the musty, high-ceiled bookstore on the main street of Clarksburg, WVA, I felt small and insignificant, but determined to buy a book.
After frantically searching the shelves in vain, I mustered up my courage and asked a lady at a towering check-out counter where I could find the book. “I’m sorry,” she told me, “we are out of stock.”
Crestfallen and confused, I turned away. “Out of stock?” I wondered. “I thought stock meant cattle, cowboys, and the wild West.” Her voice pulled me back.
“But we can order it for you!” she explained.
I turned back to the counter and proceeded to order my first book. The clerk promised that she would call as soon as the book arrived. Two agonizing weeks later, I finally had the book in my hands.
I quickly realized that I’d have to bake and sell a lot of bread to purchase ALL of Marguerite Henry’s books, so I learned to reserve books at the library and wait my turn. It took me several months to read my way through all of her horse stories.
Classics Bring Back Memories
To this day, different horses or scenes bring to mind characters and scenes from Marguerite Henry’s stories. Earlier this month, I took a small group of students hiking in the Grand Canyon. As we neared the suspension bridge at the bottom of the river, I nodded towards it and told the kids, “I’ve wanted to cross this bridge ever since I read Brighty of the Grand Canyon.”
“You wanted to see the bridge because of a book?” they asked, incredulous that a book would convince an old lady to hike into the depths of a canyon.
“Yep! In fact, I haven’t read the book in 30 years or so, maybe I should read it again.”
The next day, as I gimped around, each step reminded me that I wanted to read Brighty’s story over again. I bought it for my Kindle app and started reading.
Even though I still love the book, the lens of time has changed my perspective just a little. I know more about the environment than I did as a child. As a parent, the violent scenes make me cringe just a little (although I can’t remember them bothering me as a kid).
So, here’s a modern parent’s/teacher’s guide to Brighty of the Grand Canyon.
Marguerite Henry had her first story published in a magazine at age 11 in 1913. She went on to publish 59 books for children (mostly horse biographies), and one of her books won a Newberry Award (she also had two runners-up).
Her last book came out in 1996, a year before her death. During my horse-crazy stage, I read everything I could that she had written, and I admired her greatly for her in-depth research about horses and the people who loved them.
Brighty of the Grand Canyon has a 5th-6th grade reading level, and would interest all ages, making it a great read-aloud for more novice readers.What was your favorite book as a kid? As adults, we see through a different lens (but we shouldn't toss out the classics). #amreading #homeschool #teacher Click To Tweet
Summary of Brighty of the Grand Canyon
Henry tells the story from multiple third-person points of view—one of which belongs to Brighty, the donkey. The other points of view belong to characters who knew Brighty (an actual resident of the Grand Canyon). Old Timer, a miner who tames Brighty through friendship and flapjacks; Uncle Jim, a mountain-lion hunter, and Homer, Uncle Jim’s young nephew. The story begins with Old Timer and Brighty enjoying supper at Old Timer’s mining camp on the north shore near where Bright Angel Creek joins the mighty Colorado River.
A visitor arrives, and Brighty does his best to share his dislike of the newcomer with Old Timer (who trusts too easily). Old Timer goes missing the next day, and when the sheriff and Uncle Jim drop by for a visit and discover Old Timer’s watch still in his tent, they suspect foul play. While they search for their friend, the watch goes missing.
The rest of the book follows Brighty’s history. Legend has it that he formed Bright Angel Trail on the north side from his wanderings up and down the canyon. He meets Teddy Roosevelt, deigns to let artists and miners use his services, and finds himself in Jake Iron’s clutches once too often.
Readers will learn about white man’s history in the Grand Canyon before it became a National Monument. The author mentions Native Americans in passing (they help build the suspension bridge) and as an enemy of burros on the south side in general (they steal the foals). Women don’t play a role in the story.
Brighty experiences mild peril in fights with mountain lions, at the hands of bad humans, and in fighting other jack burros for territorial dominance. Homer and Uncle Jimmy make significant moral decisions towards the end of the book.
Discussions to have:
1. Old Timer and Jake Irons want to mine in the Grand Canyon in order to get rich. What are some of the negative consequences of mining in the Grand Canyon?
2. Native Americans are only mentioned a few times in the book, but the Havasupai and Hualapai have called the Grand Canyon home for hundreds of years. How do you think the Natives felt when the bridge across the river was completed?
3. Uncle Jimmy Owen works as a mountain lion hunter, and he leads former President Teddy Roosevelt on a lion hunting expedition. How is the mountain lion hunting process different today from what it was like back in the 1920s? Why did they hunt lions back then, and why do people hunt them now?
4. Imagine living within sight and (distant) sound of other humans, but not being able to make contact with them (no cell or radio service or way to make contact). Describe your feelings when you finally figure out a way to communicate with them.
5. What would you do if faced with a survival situation? What steps did Uncle Jimmy take before leaving his cabin for the winter? How can you properly prepare for worst-case scenarios so that your chances of survival increase?
Q4U: Who is your favorite classic children’s author?