The Wind in the Willows

wind in willows bransom coverOur eldest is reading The Wind in the Willows to her little ones (3, 2, and 7 mos old).

‘One does not argue about The Wind in the Willows. The young man gives it to the girl with whom he is in love, and, if she does not like it, asks her to return his letters. The older man tries it on his nephew, and alters his will accordingly. The book is a test of character. We can’t criticize it, because it is criticizing us. But I must give you one word of warning. When you sit down to it, don’t be so ridiculous as to suppose that you are sitting in judgment on my taste, or on the art of Kenneth Grahame. You are merely sitting in judgment on yourself. You may be worthy: I don’t know, But it is you who are on trial.’
– AA Milne

This is true of most of the books known as classics.

Illustrated by Angel Dominquez

Illustrated by Angel Dominquez

As this blogger explains:

“Some tales are so indelibly etched into our social fabric that it becomes almost impossible to say more than a simple “that was a true classic.” In re-reading Kenneth Grahame’s 1908 “children’s” novel The Wind in the Willows, all the usual tools in the critical kit ended up being set aside. There is something universal about Grahame’s characters and their plots. Who hasn’t known a Toad, full of reckless abandon and life? Who hasn’t sympathized with Mole as he ventures forth from his subterranean home and into a new life? Rat’s sagacity and capacity for friendship also appeals to readers, and Badger and Water Rat and even the pesky stoats and weasels haven’t yet been given their due. There is something archetypical about these characters, yet these anthropomorphic animals still possess a uniqueness that makes them all the more memorable because they are simultaneously themselves and representations of humanity as a whole.”

wind in willows ratty and moleI don’t remember the first time I met Ratty, Toad, and Mole, it was so long ago. I know that this scene for some reason has always been a favorite:

“The Rat was sitting on the river bank, singing a little song. He had just composed it himself, so he was very taken up with it, and would not pay proper attention to Mole or anything else. Since early morning he had been swimming in the river, in company with his friends the ducks. And when the ducks stood on their heads suddenly, as ducks will, he would dive down and tickle their necks, just under where their chins would be if ducks had chins, till they were forced to come to the surface again in a hurry, spluttering and angry and shaking their feathers at him, for it is impossible to say quite ALL you feel when your head is under water. At last they implored him to go away and attend to his own affairs and leave them to mind theirs. So the Rat went away, and sat on the river bank in the sun, and made up a song about them, which he called

‘DUCKS’ DITTY.’

All along the backwater,
Through the rushes tall,
Ducks are a-dabbling,
Up tails all!
Ducks’ tails, drakes’ tails,
Yellow feet a-quiver,
Yellow bills all out of sight
Busy in the river!

Slushy green undergrowth
Where the roach swim—
Here we keep our larder,
Cool and full and dim.

Everyone for what he likes!
We like to be
Heads down, tails up,
Dabbling free!

High in the blue above
Swifts whirl and call—
We are down a-dabbling
Uptails all!

‘I don’t know that I think so VERY much of that little song, Rat,’ observed the Mole cautiously. He was no poet himself and didn’t care who knew it; and he had a candid nature.
‘Nor don’t the ducks neither,’ replied the Rat cheerfully. ‘They say, “WHY can’t fellows be allowed to do what they like WHEN they like and AS they like, instead of other fellows sitting on banks and watching them all the time and making remarks and poetry and things about them? What NONSENSE it all is!” That’s what the ducks say.'”

I remember how much my older children loved them. I remember teaching the FYG to read, when she had gotten stuck in her reading progress, but having two copies of this book and having her follow along in her copy as I read aloud in mine.

wind in willows bransom mole in woodsThe Wind in the Willows is free at Amazon

There is a  free text and several audio versions at Gutenberg.

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