I wondered if kids these days would even know about the book. And now I have my answer.
We shot the fourth episode of the new season of “High School Bowl” yesterday morning, and for one of the questions I brought in a prop. I was only going to use the prop if none of the eight students knew the answer to the question. I didn't know for sure, but I had a sneaking suspicion that I would, in the end, have to end up using the prop.
And I did.
The question in question was the last of three in a bonus round about author Robert McCloskey. He's most famous for the kids story “Make Way for Ducklings”, a book the first two questions in the round focused on. The third question, though, asked about another story he wrote about a young man named Homer and a doughnut machine gone awry. I asked the question, none of the students had any idea what I was talking about, so I whipped out my prop.
Yes, I have a copy of an 80-year old children's book about a young boy and, in one of the stories it contains, a doughnut machine gone awry. When I was a little kid “Homer Price” was one of my favorites, and a few years ago when I saw a newly-reissued copy of the book at the dearly departed Bookworld in downtown Marquette I snapped it up. Most of the stories in the book haven't aged well (heck, they were already over 30 years old when I first read them back last century) but the bit about the doughnut machine gone awry still brought a smile to my face, just as it had when I first read it all those years ago.
It's just too bad kids these days won't get that same smile.
I mean, I don't expect them to read books that were written in the 1930s and enjoy them. Like I said, they were outdated when I read them, and that was over 40 years ago. So you can imagine what a kid of today would think of a story about a doughnut machine gone awry. But even if you take away the outdated technology and the anachronistic settings, there's still something vaguely...fun about the situation. If you open your mind and read it as a historical document, rather than something that can happen these days, you might get a chuckle or two out of it. But because it doesn't contain wizards or otherworldly creatures, some kids might not even give it a second thought. And I understand that. After all, it was one of the (very) rare books I read as a kid that didn't have at least one space craft in it.
But still. Classic literature, even classic kids literature, is classic for a reason. Despite outdated technology and anachronistic settings, the underlying story still has something to it. It's true of Shakespeare, it's true of the Bronte sisters, and it's true, at least in my opinion, of “Homer Price”.
It's just too bad that most people, especially the audience for whom the books were intended, don't feel the same way.
(firstname.lastname@example.org), literary dinosaur.