Thursday, September 22, 2011

52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 34 - The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle

During August and the beginning of September, I took a bit of a break from reading a book each week as part of the 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge.

There have been a lot of challenges with my father's and mother's health; and dealing with doctors, at-home 24/7 PCA care, and now arranging for this last stage in their life with 24/7 home health care and the eventual transfer to a nursing home. Needless to say, this has been very time consuming and has left little time for recreational reading.

So, I'm on week 34 (it's currently week 38), and there's a bit of catching up to do here. Being back in the routine of homeschooling makes it easier to incorporate reading each week.

Currently, I'm reading aloud to the girls The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle.

This is the second Newbery Award winner. Our goal is to read all the Newbery Award winners over the next few years. The version of The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle that I'm reading aloud is an edited, later version of the book. Earlier versions have some inappropriate parts and objectionable language that have been removed.

The story is told through the eyes of 10-12 year old Tommy Stubbins who is the son of a poor cobbler. He initially meets Dr. Doolittle because he has a wounded squirrel that needs medical attention.

Tommy is caught up with the new science of Natural Studies, and asks to become Dr. Doolittle's assistant. After Dr. Doolittle gets approval from Tommy's parents, Tommy embarks on a life and journey with Dr. Doolittle.

The girls have enjoyed listening to how Dr. Doolittle has created a menagerie of animals that live in his home as well as in his private, backyard zoo. Even more fascinating is that this respected naturalist can communicate with all types of animals.

Dr. Doolittle exhibits kindness, compassion, knowledge, and generosity. He freely shares his talents, time, and modest resources with others and animals.

Reading the book also led to some discussion about how times have changed since it was originally written in 1922. For example, in chapters 3 and 4, Tommy meets Dr. Doolittle by accident on the road in the rain. Dr. Doolittle brings Tommy to his home, dries his clothes by the fire, makes dinner for him, and then Tommy goes home. In this day and age, something like that simply wouldn't happen or (most likely) have a positive outcome.

There is another part of the book (a sub-theme, if you will) that challenges readers to consider if it is morally necessary to press upon a native culture another incoming and/or visiting culture. From a homeschooling perspective, this opened up another dialogue about American history.

Despite these side conversations about rather serious subjects, The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle is a light-hearted, funny book that kept the girls interested and engaged in the adventures of Tommy, Dr. Doolittle, and the doctor's devoted animal companions at home, aboard the ship, and on Spider Monkey Island.

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