The Education of Teacher Beth

Since my hubby has created this opportunity to share my thoughts about books, thought I’d do so…

Now, books are very close to my heart. Having grown up in a fairly remote part of Canada where TV was not readily available until satellite dishes were invented, I grew up on books. I can remember the first time I read a book to my mom and dad (an ‘I Can Read’ book called ‘Small Pig’), and my mother still glows with pride when asked about her children’s early reading ability. Both my brother and I read before we went to school, something that was actually frowned upon at the time; parents did not know how to teach their children how to read, of course – that was the school’s job! Good thing my mom was a teacher then…

It also helped that, as already mentioned, there was a conspicuous lack of a television until I was about 10 (at which time I’m sure I made up for all those lost years…) but I think my love of books can be traced back to my mother and my family. All of my aunts and uncles on both sides of my family are well-educated, and I can include several teachers and even university professors amongst those ranks. All of which meant that reading and learning have always been valued in my family. And this was undoubtedly one of the reasons I chose to become an English teacher. And being an English teacher, it’s actually part of my job to read novels and plays! Some things in life do work out well, don’t they??

Regrettably, with all the afore-mentioned marking (see previous post…), I haven’t had the time of late to pick up a book, but I did get some great novels for my birthday. And one of them that I’m really looking forward to is ‘Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister’ by Gregory Maguire. I ran across his work on the plane home from Canada in October – Air Canada had a channel that was running excerpts from recently published books. One of them was a book called ‘Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West’. It’s a re-telling of the Wizard of Oz from the point of view of said witch. It opens with the witch spying on Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman and the Cowardly Lion as they are on their way to defeat her. The close description of Dorothy and the other characters from the witch’s point of view was startling, as was the concept. I hadn’t thought of taking such a well-known story and looking at it from another pointof view. And of course the shoes really did belong to the witch- they had belonged to her sister, and her sister had no other living relatives – she was the next of kin. So much is made of the witches being evil that you assume in the original story that Dorothy is, of course, in the right to take the shoes. But what if the witches weren’t evil, but just had a different point of view or belief system to the majority of the population? What light does that put Dorothy in? She becomes, at worst, a murderer, or at best, a foolish and naive girl. The most intriguing thing I found about the book was the fleshing out of the rather one-dimensional society that Frank Baum created in the Wizard of OZ books. What would happen to that society if Animals (those who could speak and were intelligent, as opposed to the common sort, animals) were discriminated against, and there was a movement (that eventually became underground and miliant) that fought for Animal Rights? Or if the Wizard was a dictator who ruled OZ with a fascist-like government?

This book was intricate and detailed, a close examination of an unsual person who became misunderstood and persecuted because of her differences in looks (she was born with pale green skin and very sharp teeth), and in belief. It is a sharp portrayal of how being ostracized can affect someone of intelligence and sensitivity. It was one of those books that I couldn’t put down, which was unfortunate in some ways because it’s too long to read at one sitting (without days off and a lot of coffee, that is…) and I didn’t get much work done while reading it. Which is one reason why I’m going to leave ‘Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister’ to the summer holiday – I can’t afford to skive off work at the moment!!

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (Gregory Maguire, Douglas Smith)

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