Saturday, August 14, 2010
"The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles" by Julie Andrews Edwards
Musings: This is a book that continues to have a lot of sentimental attachment for me, even though I first read it many, many years ago. The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles was the central book my 5th grade class read. Even all these years later, I still probably regard 5th grade as my favorite year because of my amazing teacher, Ms. DeVilbiss. She pushed and encouraged me to read even more than I already was (I probably read several hundred books that year) and inspired my still-present love for manatees. She was funny and caring and brought out more in me--a supremely shy, though good, student--than other teachers. We did a lot of projects for Whangdoodles (I know I had the board game I made for many years), and one of the joys of rereading the book was remembering flashes of drawings I or other students had done. The book is great for a school read because it presents so many opportunities for students to visualize and interpret the imaginary world Andrews has created.
Whangdoodles is still fun as an adult, although it follows the path of similar older children's fantasy novels (it reminded me a lot of the Narnia books or A Wrinkle in Time) in focusing on moralizing. Some of the characters in the novel come more alive than Whangdoodleland itself, which isn't significantly explained.
There are a few "adult" observations I couldn't quite help but make. The storyline of three children spending a significant amount of time alone with an eccentric professor--with the promise not to tell their parents what they're up to--of course raises flags today. I also couldn't quite understand why it was so important that the professor and children meet the Whangdoodle. It's clear from the beginning that that is the goal, but there didn't seem much purpose. The Whangdoodle and the other creatures of his country do not want the humans to enter, and for valid reason, but the professor and children insist anyway, causing harm to a number of the country's creatures. In the end, the professor is able to offer modern science to help the Whangdoodle--something he couldn't do on his own--but the door is also open for potentially dangerous humans to enter the world. I couldn't help but read a colonization allegory, which caused me to view the humans' actions in a less than positive light.
I still think this would be a great book to read aloud to an elementary-age child. It's perfect for generating discussion and stimulating the imagination.