I’ve been doing this thing where I read a classic picture book or two to my students. We discuss the text and the illustrations, and then I get the kids to vote on whether they think the book should still be considered a classic or not. I want to answer this question: Do the books written for yesterday’s kids still appeal to the kids of today?
Last week, we looked at Swimmy and King Bigood’s in the Bathtub, and both books were voted classics by a majority of my classes. I thought it would be fun to read a book this week that isn’t normally considered a classic, but one that I still think it awfully good.
The book that I picked is Big Anthony and the Magic Ring. It’s a sequel to Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola, a book that is very much considered a classic. Like Strega Nona, it’s a book about Big Anthony messing with magic that would be better off left alone, and the mayhem that comes of it.
I’ve always felt that sequels, especially well-done sequels, get a bad rap. They hardly ever win major awards, and are generally seen as a continuance of the original story. Of course there are exceptions, (The High King, The Grey King and Dicey’s Song stand out in my memory) but it seems to be difficult for a sequel to win big.
I asked the kids if they had heard of Strega Nona, and in every class a majority of kids had. (Most of them had heard it from me.) No one was aware of Big Anthony and the Magic Ring, though, which isn’t a surprise. It’s a book that has been mostly lost in time, and that’s a shame. I very much enjoyed reading it to my classes.
90% of the kids loved the book. They thought it was funny. They liked the illustrations, and they appreciated the great dePaola storytelling. A lot of them said they liked the message of “Just be yourself” and “Don’t mess with other people’s stuff.”
One class, though, out of the twelve that I read it to, didn’t like it very much. It was a class of 5th graders, and they thought that it was just a retelling of the original Strega Nona, and that it was a way for the author to keep on making money off of the success of his first book. I disagree with the second half of that statement, but I can see how they saw it as a retelling. There are a lot of the same elements in play in both books.
All in all, though, my students liked Big Anthony very much. 11 classes out of 12 thought it was a classic and that kids everywhere should still be reading it in 2019. Not bad.
Several of my students wanted to travel a little further with Big Anthony and Strega Nona, and checked out some of the other books in the series. Strega Nona’s Magic Lessons, Merry Christmas, Strega Nona and Big Anthony: His Story all ended up in a kid’s backpack.
Next week, I’m reading two very well-known classics, Miss Nelson in Missing and The Giving Tree. I can’t wait to see what my students think.