Thursday, December 6, 2012

Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

I will begin the story of my adventures 
with a certain morning early in the month 
of June, the yar of grace 1751, when I 
took the key for the last time out of the 
door of my father's house.
Opening to Kidnapped
by Robert Louis Stevenson
A couple of years ago, Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Treasure Island knocked my socks off. Somehow, I got through 45 years of life without ever having read it.  I knew the story, of course.  Everyone knows of the pirate Long John Silver, even if they've never heard of the book he comes from.  So when I found a set of old copies in the book room at school, I decided to give it a go.

Loved it.  See my review here.  My students were lukewarm to it, but I liked it enough to put it along with a small set of his other classic novel for young readers Kidnapped on my book club selection shelf this September.  This month both books found their way into my students hands.

They immediately complained that both were too hard, that they couldn't understand a single word.  Not even 'the,' I asked.  

The group reading Treasure Island got no sympathy from me.  They had to read it.  It's challenging, but they can read it.  Since I hadn't read Kidnapped, I decided to join that group and read it with them. 

It was too hard; I couldn't understand a single word; not even 'the.'

But, by then, it was too late for the group to turn back.  So I encouraged everyone to read the plot summary on the Kidnapped Wikipedia page, which is pretty good, and to keep reading.  It's not cheating to read a plot summary if you are confused, I told them, as long as you still finish reading the book. They did.  I did.  We all deserve extra credit.

The books starts well-- lots of Gothic atmosphere as young David Balfour leaves his father's home for the creepy decrepit mansion of his uncle Ebenezer.  The action picks up when David is kidnapped and forced to work on a ship bound for the Carolinas where he is to be sold as a slave.  I even made it through the shipwreck, after which David finds himself washed ashore then taken in by a band of revolutionary Jacobites.  Then I got lost. Very lost.  Things kept happening, but darned if I could explain them.  I'll confess here that I ended up skimming the last few chapters and just hope none of my students ever read this post.  

Apparently, Mr. Stevenson based Kidnapped on a true story.  His contemporary readers would have known all the references and probably would have been fine with all the different dialects his characters speak, but most American middle schoolers would have trouble listening to someone speak with a heavy Scottish accent let alone reading it.  Reading dialect is hard.  Even 'the' tends to be written as 'th'  or 'o' in dialect.  What is a seventh grader supposed to make of 'th' or 'o'?

So Treasure Island stays on my book club book list.  If book clubs manage to survive the transition to the Common Core and the end of GATE classes some future group of seventh graders will probably once again be lukewarm to Treasure Island. I do insist that they read a classic now and then and you never know when the right child will find the right book. 

 But Kidnapped is going back in th' book room.


Jim Randolph said...

Good to know. I read Treasure Island for the first time a couple years ago and loved it, so would probably have tried Kidnapped at some point. Maybe The Wrong Box instead? I've heard that's good. Maybe.

christina said...

This is going down as one of my favorite posts EVER. I'll list why:

1. I've never read either books. I'm intrigued.

2. I LOVE that you told your kids it's a-ok to read the plot summaries. MY teachers always guilted me. AND I WAS A READER!

3. Common Core. *le sigh* **deep breath**

4. Fantastic EVEN MORE that you admit to skimming the end of the book.

5. I hope my CAPS shows my ENTHUSIASM.

Bybee said...

I read this a few years ago and got a huge crush on Alan! I even blogged about it in dialect.

annieb said...

I read a lot of classics when I was young--not so much for years. I picked up a copy of Kidnapped at a used book sale and tried to read it a couple of months ago and, lo and behold, couldn't do it. I had my 50 page rule to invoke and I am 68 so I wasn't very concerned, but I am glad to know I am in good company. I just received From the Land of the Moon by Agus in the mail yesterday (not so easy to find in the wilds of Nevada) so I am consoled. It was your new favorite for a long time. Your blog is top drawer by the way.

C.B. James said...

Jim, I don't know The Wrong Box, but I do think Kidnapped is too challenging for most young readers. However, Treasure Island is worth the effort.

Christina, THANK YOU. Loved your comment.

Bybee, Did you know there is a translater site that will convert your standard English into Scottish dialect?

Annieb, You've made my day, thank you. I hope you enjoy From the Land of the Moon.

Aarti said...

Oh, what a bummer! I've actually never read Stevenson before. Clearly, I need to try Treasure Island, though! As for Kidnapped, well...

I am jealous that your book club reads such difficult books. I just joined one with work and, well... they hardly discuss any books and definitely shy away from ones that make you think.

Karen K. said...

I read/listened to Kidnapped this summer -- it was okay, but I could see how a kid would be turned off. I ended up doing a lot of it on audio, which really helped (and the reader's accents were great, which always helped). Not as good as Treasure Island, I agree, and the ending was really abrupt.

Jeane said...

I tried Treasure Island a few years ago and honestly I found it tiresome. I don't know why, but it didn't work for me. On the other hand, I really liked Kidnapped (read it when I was about 15)The part where David is stranded on the little island really intrigued me and then I just kept going. I also enjoyed reading the written dialect and puzzling out what the words meant- it helped that the back of my edition had a little glossary of unfamiliar terms. I've read it two or three times since, but never yet attempted Treasure Island again. Probably should remedy that. Maybe I just wasn't in the proper mood for it.