I have not been blogging nearly enough about children’s books recently, partly because my children and I have not been reading all that many the past few weeks. We’ve been busy, but more than that there’s just been a lot of fighting about what types of books to be reading as the five year old and two year old now want totally different books from one another, and the eight year old of course wants a whole different set. So its been a struggle trying to take everyone’s needs into account.
That said, I found this wonderful book called The Highway Rat by Julia Donaldson (author of the Paper Dolls book I wrote about a little while ago) and Axel Scheffler. The book is a poem, written with the same rhythm of The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes. In this story it is a highway rat, rather than a man, and he robs other animals of their food before being defeated by a cunning duck. Yet even in his defeat he is better off than he was as a highway man, so children have no need to feel sorry for him. It is a cute story and it entertained my two year old through the beautiful rhythm and the cheerful pictures of animals, while my five year old could predict what was coming and enjoy the similiarites and differences to The Highwayman.
Even my eight year old got into the fun of things, answering my questions as to what the difference is between the two stories. Why is the highwayman a romantic heroic figure while the highway rat a comic brute? Why do we feel sorry for one but not the other? Does it change his perspective of the highway man?
Highwaymen are like pirates, and somehow dressed in historic costumes we can deem them heroes of stories while in modern times we’d just call them criminals. Is it partly out of a belief that in times passed the authorities and the holders of wealth were wrong, and the common person justified in taking action against them? We don’t know if the highwayman robbed from the rich and gave to the poor like Robin Hood, only that he loved his sweet Bess, and she him. Is that enough to make him good?
The story of the highway men makes me want to introduce my eight year old to the story of Jackaroo by Cynthia Voight. It is a chapter book telling of an innkeeper’s daughter in a medieval world, where Jackaroo is the name of the famous do-good highwayman. My favorite part of that story is when the innkeeper’s daughter is at a fair and her eyes keep being drawn to a body hanging on display, and she thinks about the unjustness of the person’s death and how she would not want to marry anyone else who does not notice that unjustness. We msut notice wrong and want to fix it.
But this is bringing me away from the story of the Highway Rat, so I’ll end this post embedding here an animation of The Highwayman I found when my children and I were first reading The Highwayman a few months ago, though I have mixed feelings about the poem being set to music.