Risking the Tsar's punishment for theiving, Pavel courageously saves a beautiful wolfhound, and receives an unexpected justice.
Pavel saves an enormous, half frozen dog. If he looks after it, his father is sure they would be punished by the Tsar for stealing, but he values its beauty and cannot leave it to die in the bitterly cold forest. Bravely seeking a solution, he discovers, in an unexpected way, that men of any social class are capable of justly acknowledging the good in others.
A tree and boy reveal the opposite character presenting the false, modern, moral alternatives of altruistic & egotism, respectively: the tree gives its all –even its life– for the boy, whereasthe boy takes the benefits with indifference.
A little boy plays on a tree he loves, and that loves him. As he matures he only visits her when he wants something. Her happiness lies in giving him her fruit, limbs and trunk! Finally, as a depressed, unappreciative old man, he sits on the dead stump "and the tree was happy." An honest reader must ask, "Really? You're dead." This parable exposes the folly of giving and taking as today's preeminent moral choice. Parents are left to teach a smarter alternative...
A young boy learns that 'heaven' is understanding how Grandpa's influence continues long after he has passed away.
As his family relates precious moments they had with Grandpa, the grieving young son can't understand 'where' Grandpa is. The father wisely portrays Heaven "as any place two people who love each other have shared some time". The boy grasps the useful lesson that Grandpa's 'presence' lies in his ongoing relevance to their lives, though he no longer physically exists. The understanding enables him to tell them his own memories—emotional stuff!
Jean's tells of her life in China as a ten year old "foreign devil", homesick for values she believes lie in the America she has never seen.
Ten year old Jean lived in the British American 'concession' of Hankow China, during her father's term as director of the local YMCA. Homesick is a well developed series of vignettes: the little Chinese boy she treats with oranges and who calls her a "foreign devil", the family ocean side vacation, the loss of her newborn sister, her friendship with Andrea, the siege of WuChang. The story's climax is more profound than a simple escape from China.
Nick makes up a new word for "pen", and believes its wide acceptance 'proves' words are mere convention.
In grade five, Nick interprets “we decide new words” as meaning words are assigned to things arbitrarily. Believing he and his friends can make a new word, he invents “frindle” to replace “pen”. His perseverance gains media attention so widely that the word eventually appears in a dictionary. This story of word origins is as convincing as it is damaging to children. Frindle should only be used as an example of literary casuistry.
Willard's poems offer a bit of Blake's style, but entail flights of imagination more befitting Alice in Wonderland than William Blake.
Blake's Inn is intended as a metaphor for imagination itself. Its well structured poems encourage and engage one in wild flights of imagination. Characters such as a talking Rabbit, a Wise Cow, and the Man with the Marmalade Hat inhabit the Inn, and take trips among the stars. Willard's approach suggests the pinnacle of imagination is absurdity, in language and perspective. VM finds this Alice in Wonderland approach represents neither Blake, nor good poetry. Given its awards and academic approval, this requires a thorough Full Review.
Nature is seen as superior to Man since his inventions were first 'invented' by Nature.
The theme is in the title! E.g., a drinking straw is not an "original" idea because moths and butterflies used them, in the form of a proboscis, long before Man invented them. What good does it do children to blur the distinction between human conceptual achievement and the deterministic¹, unguided events of Evolution? After every example, the text practically shouts "Nature Did it First!" One can imagine the impact on children taught that true human invention is inferior!
God drowns all that do not obey Him, warning only the obedient and pastoral Noah to build a large boat to save his family and mating pairs of all animals.
This impressive Biblical myth is wordlessly concretized through Spier's slightly subdued illustrations. He makes the events of The Flood seem possible, at least to naive children. The real utility of "Noah's Ark" is as a lesson in uncritical thinking (see full review) and as a culturally important, religious myth that older children should examine. For example, the story encourages children to 'blank out' and accept genocide as a fitting action (for God?) against non-believers.