Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Boy Who Would Not Go To School

Leaf, Munro. 1935. (reprinted 1963) The Boy Who Would Not Go To School: Robert Francis Weatherbee.

Today I am highlighting one of my childhood favorites. (I'm assuming it is the 1963 edition since that was the latest copyright year given. Although it could be early 70s.) The Boy Who Would Not Go To School is Munro Leaf's third picture book. It was published a year before his most-famous book The Story of Ferdinand. Written and illustrated by Leaf, it is a simple story of a boy named Robert Francis Weatherbee who absolutely refused to go to school no matter what his parents said. Here is how Leaf introduces us to our 'hero': This is Robert Francis Weatherbee, who was just like you and me when he was little--only his ears were bigger. His parents liked to imagine him growing up to be a fireman, a policeman, a sailor, or even the president of the United States. But young Robert didn't say a word. When the time came for him to go to school, his father gave him a book, his mother gave him a pencil, and the girl next door gave him an apple. They showed him where to go--the school was right up the road--but Robert Francis Weatherbee would not---WOULD NOT---go to school. And so the reader comes to the first parable:

One day Robert Francis Weatherbee went for a long walk all by himself way down a road that went through the woods. In and out, in and out he walked between the trees, until he was so tired and hungry he was ready to go home. But he learns that if you can't read the road signs, you can't know which way home is. (I liked how the sign posts read: "The Wrong Way" and "Home This Way"). Robert had to wait for his father to come find him. And he missed out on a tasty supper.

So the years pass, Robert grows bigger. (Although his ears are still rather large.) And one day Robert is sitting at home daydreaming about all the things he wants. Most of all he wants a pony with black and white spots. He feels that his uncle, who lives in the west, would send him a pony if he asked for it. But as he goes to get a pen and paper he realizes that it's hopeless. He can't write. He doesn't know how to ask his uncle for that pony after all.

The years really pass now. Robert is all grown up. And I mean ALL grown up. One day, Robert Francis Weatherbee was very hungry, and he asked his mother for a piece of pie. His mother told him to go out and get her ten apples, and she would make a whole pie all for him. So he went out to the orchard, where apples grow on the trees, to pick ten nice big red apples. But when he got there, he didn't get any because he didn't know how many apples are ten--because.....[drumroll please] Robert Francis Weatherbee could not count because he would NOT go to school. So he did not get even a little piece of pie this big.

But this time Robert has learned his lesson. He KNOWS that he made a big mistake all those years ago refusing to go to school. And he's finally ready to enter those classroom doors! So...Robert Francis Weatherbee WENT TO SCHOOL and he learned to read and to write and to count, and he had a good time. The last illustrations show a grown man sitting in a very tiny desk next to two children.

I think there were many things I liked about this book growing up. I liked the drawings. This stick-figure boy and his family. His big ears. The simple parables that were ever-so-obvious yet could cause giggles because we were smarter than Robert. And I liked the charming message that it's never too late to start. That learning is for a lifetime. That learning is for everyone. And I really liked how it was being hungry for an apple pie that made all the difference in the world. I think that is the part that stuck with me through the years.

Many books have been written since The Boy Who Would Not Go To School was published that are very similar. That highlight the benefits and joys of school days. But this one remains a favorite.

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