Teaching My Baby To Read

(An 11 year old me, 6 months before the Berlin Wall fell.)

Recently, Bruce(7), Jenna(2.5) and I spent a wonderful afternoon watching the cartoon version of George Orwell’s classic book Animal Farm on Hulu.plus. This was the perfect compliment to my Inspired By SLE Reading List #3. Bruce and I had just read all about the Bolshevik Revolution, Communism, and the Cold War in The Last 500 Years by Jane Bingham. Now all I had to do was pop some popcorn and bring these big ideas to the small screen.

The first time I read Animal Farm was in sixth grade when my family took a trip to Europe, six months before the Berlin Wall fell. We flew into West Germany, and then drove through East Germany to get to our friends, Walter and Hanelora’s house in West Berlin. Driving through East Germany my dad was pulled over for a speeding ticket, even though he wasn’t speeding! We were all quite terrified, but a little bit of cash saved the day.

This is what I wrote in my diary about what it was like to visit the Berlin Wall from the West side. The next day, we went through Checkpoint Charlie and saw East Berlin too.

Watching Animal Farm with my kids was a full circle moment for me. It was surprising how old lines came back to me; “Four legs good! Two legs b-a-a-a-a-d!”, and still freaked me out after all of these years! Jenna(2.5) just thought we were watching a cartoon about farm animals, and lost interest after about fifteen minutes. 🙂 Luckily, her older brother stuck with me.

The best part of this experience was the conversation the cartoon prompted me to have with my son Bruce. Together, Bruce and I questioned which was worse for the animals: being ruled by Farmer Brown or being ruled by the pigs? What were the differences between Snowball and Napoleon? We discussed the words “propaganda”, “proletariat”, “Capitalism”, and “Communism”. I told Bruce what it was like to go through Checkpoint Charlie and have every inch of our bus searched for 45 minutes. I explained to him that when George Orwell first wrote this story, people in America were honestly afraid of Communism, but that now that moment of fear had passed. Wow.

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