Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Lessons from Animal Farm and Giveaway!


"No question now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which." - George Orwell, Animal Farm


As writers, we are encouraged to read pretty much anything we can get our hands on, especially new books in our chosen genre with fresh new voices and fresh new stories, thereby inspiring us to create the same. Reading is a weapon in any writer's arsenal. It's what makes the gears in our minds start turning and the ideas flowing. 

As important as it is to read new books, it's equally important to read the old ones. Books such as The Wind in the Willows, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of N.I.M.H, The Phantom Tollbooth, and scores of others come to mind--books that as children got those gears turning, and perhaps made us the people and writers we are today.


All that good stuff said, I recently picked up my old dog eared copy of Animal Farm by George Orwell, required reading when I was in middle-school. I know, many of us cringe when we hear "required reading", but in this case I'm glad it was required. 



Though written in 1946, Animal Farm transcends its publication date, being especially relevant not just for its many political aspects that seem to always suit the world somewhere, but for another reason. It's the perfect model of a classic children's novel. I know there's some controversy as to the age range of this book, but I feel it's particularly  applicable to today's middle-grade or tween reader. It does have violence, though not too much. It has excitement, battles, though not too bloody. Unique and interesting characters can be found in the beloved horse Boxer, and the intimidating pig turned farm owner, Napoleon ( "Napoleon is always right."), along with many others. It has a riveting beginning, middle, and end, all compactly stored in 100 brilliant pages--the perfect embodiment of a middle-grade novel. You can see by the many covers (and this is just a small sampling) the great impact this book has had.

"ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL, BUT SOME ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS"

I remember reading this as a child and to this day I recall the beginning of the book wherein Major, the white boar that started the animal revolution, is standing on his platform, convincing every farm animal that they deserved better. It's an image that has stuck with me all my life. 

In the spirit of this post, let us know what childhood books YOU can't get out of your head or maybe you have a son or daughter reading Animal Farm right now. What are their thoughts? If you're a teacher, what books do you think are important to your students and should be considered more than simply required reading? Do you think this appropriate for middle-graders? Did you love or hate Animal Farm or have you still not read it? Well, no fear if you have not, here's your chance!



ANIMAL FARM GIVEAWAY:
Because I love this book so much and think it's such a perfect example of what works in middle-grade writing, I'd love to give away a brand new copy to one lucky winner. To enter, follow Project Mayhem, and leave a comment. Tell us your thoughts on this book or required reading in general. :)


Winner will be announced on Tuesday of next week! 

Hilary

32 comments:

  1. Never read it. But this is the second day in a row I have seen it mentioned in a blog post. :)

    My thoughts on required reading: I'm glad schools have it, otherwise some kids would never read.

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    1. Linda, I'm so glad you entered! If you're a reader or a writer, its a great little book to have in your wheelhouse! :)

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  2. Cassie Owenburg2/15/12, 9:21 AM

    I teach this to my 7th grade class EVERY year and it's one of the most intriguing books as far as group discussions. Kids are so much smarter than we could ever imagine! I have several copies, so I hope someone who hasn't read it since they were a kid or has never read it at all wins!

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    1. I think 7th grade is a great age for this book. Kids are still "kids", but certainly have many opinions about the world!

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  3. LOVE Animal Farm! I read it after 1984, so I was probably biased, but I think you've said it perfectly. It's such a great combination of simplicity and allegory.

    I always thought Snowball made a great Trotsky.

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    1. Poor old Snowball got blamed for everything! Then again, so does my 8 year old! ;)

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  4. There are only two required reading books I didn't like: Billy Budd and Animal Farm. It was optional reading in seventh grade and required in eighth and ninth. When I was an exchange student in tenth, there it was again. Thankfully, my teacher let me read 1984 instead, which had a profound impact on me.

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    1. I've never read 1984! I need to finally bight the bullet and get a copy! :)

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  5. I must say I can never hear the name Muriel without imagining a goat. Thanks, George. ;)

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  6. I absolutely LOVE Animal Farm. I read it for the first time as a 7th grader, on my own. Much of the symbolism and allegory was lost on me then, but I still loved it for the basic story. I've taught it to sophomores, my husband uses it with world history, my son is reading it as a freshman. It's a timeless classic. I totally agree with your take on its merits, Hilary. Phantom Tollbooth is another that I've never been able to get out of my head. FANTASTIC post!! :-)

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    1. Thanks, Shannon! Yes, I think the political comparisons would be lost on most kids, but the story would resonate with them, it did me! The thought of poor Boxer being taken away still makes me sad! :)

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  7. I loved Animal Farm! It was required reading in 7th grade and I think that was a great age for it. I hated some of our required reading, like Heart of Darkness and Tess of the d'Ubervilles, but I was introduced to so many books that I wouldn't have found otherwise. I loved required short stories, too. The Hunger Artist is one of my favorites to this day.

    And you really, really should read 1984! It's very apt for the current times.

    mercedesyardley@gmail.com

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    1. Mercedes, I will take your advice on 1984! I've heard so many wonderful things about this book!

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  8. Funny, I'm reading Mrs.Frisby and the rats of NIMH to my son right now and with my daughter I'm reading A Wrinkle in Time. Both, inspiring wonderful classics.

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    1. Oh, Mrs. Frisby, how I love you! One of my favorites. Who would have guessed considering my first two books are about rats! ;)

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  9. I've read 1984 twice. The second time, my husband had just re-read it, and we had some great discussions.

    And there's rats. Scary ones.

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  10. I have never read this book! I've also never read any of the other books you mentioned or TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD, either. I'm only 29, so it's not like those books came about after my schooling. And I was a good student, so I know I didn't just drop the ball. Maybe my school dropped the ball by not requiring these books to be read. So, yes, I think required reading is very important in schools so you don't end up like me: a writer who's never read the classics!

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    1. Okay, Holly, you MUST read this book and To Kill A Mocking Bird, and if you like lots of drama Wuthering Heights! There is your mission! ;)

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  11. This is a really great book, one I deeply enjoyed in the 9th grade. I think it is a challenge for teachers to find classic literature that the students will engage with. This book was a huge hit in my class twelve years ago. It really holds up over time.

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    1. Yes! And I think the story can apply to kids and adults, all depends on how you look at it. :)

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  12. I am a big believer of kids having required reading. As you get older and refine your tastes, it can be annoying.
    I loved Animal Farm as a kid. I still won't eat any part of a pig, either.
    I was really happy to be required to read Pride and Prejudice in HS. Jane Austen and I hit it off right away. ;)

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    1. I was a stubborn kid! I think when it came to anything I was "required" to do in school, even college, I didn't actually start liking it until I was no longer required. It was mental with me! :)

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  13. Katia Raina2/15/12, 4:10 PM

    I remember trying to read it when I was younger -- and while I did love 1984, I just couldn't get into this one. Which is funny, because I am from the USSR, and I know all about what the story allegorizes. Maybe that's why? :) I recognize it too much?? ANYway, your post is making me re-think things, and possibly try again. Also, my son happens to be in seventh grade... perfect timing?

    Katia

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    1. Yes! Try again. Reading AF as an adult, it feels like a totally different book than it did as a kid. I still have to read 1984 and everyone has convinced me how great it is, so I just ordered a copy! :)

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  14. My daughter just read 1984 as required reading and said it was good. Guess I'll have to read it now since everybody's talking about it. :)

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    1. Nothing like a little grownup peer pressure! :)

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  15. I love all those different covers!!

    As an English major, I am all over required reading. And it continues to this day, with me trying to force various titles into my high school freshman's hands. (But it may be backfiring: today he spotted my copy of Stephen King's CARRIE and said he wanted to read that. BADLY. I'm thinking of pasting a cover of ANIMAL FARM over the Carrie cover to make him retreat.)

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    1. Spoken like a true devious parent, such as myself! ;)

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  16. I've used ANIMAL FARM in my classroom a few times over the years. Really, it's a timeless story. Love it!! A few books that stuck with me from middle school and high school are: The Outsiders, Wuthering Heights, and The Catcher in the Rye.

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    1. I love Wuthering Heights! The Outsiders was excellent too. That's another one I'll have to pick up again!

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  17. Hi Hilary,

    Do you know which publishing house published the third cover - red and white one?

    I hope you can help

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Thanks for adding to the mayhem!