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The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz, which is full of Hollywood embellishments, has little to do with the spare, classic book by L. Frank Baum, originally published in 1900. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a quite different story, and not to be missed. It has magic, great characters, tongue-in-cheek humor, a good deal of sturdy American self-reliance, good deeds and kindness rewarded, and a cheerful appreciation of hucksterism. There's some incidental violence (principally when the Tin Woodman and other members of his party lop off the heads of their attackers) that's startling to many unsuspecting readers. There's food for thought and lessons galore in a book that adapts its structure from Pilgrim's Progress, avoids taking itself too seriously, and never forgets that there's no place like home. There's a Listening Library audio book version narrated by Brooke Sheilds and Paul Rudd, and an Audible Audiobook narrated by actress Anne Hathaway.
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What's the story?
Dorothy lives with her Uncle Henry and Aunt Em and her beloved little dog Toto on a poor farm in Kansas. When a cyclone strikes one day, she runs after Toto instead of into the shelter; the wind carries off the house with them in it and finally drops it again. Coming out of the house, Dorothy is greeted by a grateful crowd of people called Munchkins and a woman who calls herself the Good Witch of the North, explaining that Dorothy's house has landed on the Wicked Witch of the East, who's enslaved the Munchkins for years, and now they're free. Also, the Wicked Witch's magic silver shoes are now Dorothy's, even though the exact nature of their magic is a mystery. All Dorothy wants, though, is to get herself and Toto back to Kansas before Aunt Em gets too worried, and no one has any idea how to make that happen. The Good Witch says the Wizard of Oz in the Emerald City might be able to help, and thus begins a trip in which Dorothy befriends the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion, and quite a few others, and has many adventures.
Is it any good?
THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ is an American classic, and will probably astonish those who know only the movie, which took considerable liberties with the story in its adaptation. Author L. Frank Baum tells a good tale, has a lively imagination, and writes from the heart, particularly when it comes to explaining why one would want to leave a beautiful place like Oz for the barren Kansas prairie. While Dorothy and her friends must endure many hardships in their quest before things reach their happy conclusion, the plot moves along quickly, and with plenty of shrewd observations. The book was a huge hit as soon as it was published in 1900 and was followed by more than a dozen sequels.
There are many editions available of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but the original was very much a team effort of author Baum and illustator W.W. Denslow, and the 100th Anniverary Edition (pictured here) replicates that one.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why the book and the movie versions of this story are so different. Which do you like better? Why?
What does the Scarecrow do that makes you suspect he might have more brains than he thinks he does, the Tin Woodman more heart, and the Cowardly Lion more courage?
Why would Dorothy rather be in a shabby cabin in Kansas than in any of the beautiful places she visits?
Do you think you might like to read more of the Oz books?
- Author: L. Frank Baum
- Illustrator: W.W. Denslow
- Genre: Fairy Tale
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Fairy Tales, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, Wild Animals
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication date: May 17, 1900
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 272
- Last updated: April 9, 2020
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