Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month. Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.
It’s kinda funny how all the stories of my childhood are being re-packaged and sold to my children. Smurfs. Alvin and the Chipmunks. Transformers. There’s even a Thundercats movie coming out soon. Nostalgia marketing–that’s what I call it. I know it happened to my parents, as well. The New Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, and The Flintstones movies spring to mind. So, anyway in the spirit of reclaiming my youth–which is of utmost importance now that I’m frighteningly close to 40–I re-read a classic from my childhood library: THE MOUSE AND THE MOTORCYCLE by Beverly Cleary.
In fact, the copy I turned to was the dead-tree edition I had purchased at a book fair in 1981. The price: $1.75. My name is even written inside the cover so none of my sisters could claim the book for herself! As you can see, it’s a bit battered and the pages are yellowed. Yet, my 5 y/o still sat enraptured as we read a chapter each night before bed.
This children’s classic, published in 1965, introduces the world to Ralph, a young mouse whose family lives behind the knothole in Room 215 of a fleabag hotel in California. In true Kid-Lit fashion, Ralph’s father is dead–poisoned by an aspirin tablet–and Ralph’s mother is understandably a nervous sort.
The newest occupant of Room 215 is a young boy–maybe 12 or so. Keith is a boy’s boy: he collects cars, and saves his allowance, and likes to take hikes. The first day he he leaves his beautiful red motorcycle on the nightstand while he and his parents see the ‘sights’. It’s too much for Ralph to resist.
He climbs aboard and drives the motorcycle around and around the table top until the ringing phone startles him and he and the motorcycle topple off into the wastebasket. Good thing Keith finds him before the chambermaid does. The two strike up a friendship–as only two males who appreciate fine machines can–and it’s a heartwarming tale of compromise.
Keith provides Ralph’s family with ‘room service’ bringing scraps from his meals back to the knothole. Ralph rides the motorcycle to amuse Keith, and himself. Complications occur when Ralph loses the motorcycle in the laundry, but big-hearted Keith forgives him. Especially when Ralph risks his life to find an aspirin tablet late one night after Keith strikes up a fever. (The book was written before Reyes Syndrome had been discovered…)
What I most enjoy about sharing these older books with my kids is finding the life lessons so clearly outlined in language that we rarely use with children today. There is no ‘dumbing down’ when Ralph and Keith undertake some pretty deep conversations. And they provide good moral examples. Ralph makes mistakes, for which he is sorry. Keith has to decide to forgive his friend, even if he’s still upset over the loss of his toy. We had read the Trumpet of the Swan before this, which allowed us to talk about concepts like Freedom v. Safety and what it meant to overcome a perceived handicap. Pretty intense questions for young kids, but I was surprised at how he responded to these themes.
Anywho…thanks for popping in. Make sure to stop by the posts of my fellow Coffeehousers. You’ll likely find a great breadth of reading material to consider. And, as always, keep reading my friends!