The Wind in the Willows Cover

The Wind in the Willows - An Introduction to Why We're Reading It

Posted: August 30, 2020 | Updated: August 30, 2020
Created by: Ms. Sylvia

Just today, someone I know referred to the current times as “Mr. Toad’s wild ride”.

The Wind in the Willows is viewed as an essential part of the European “cannon” of children’s literature and yet, with its lengthy and convoluted sentences, its very distant context, and the very adult dilemmas its central characters face, the stories are perhaps even richer for us as adults.

I remember hearing these stories as a child and enjoying them (well, mostly enjoying them -- I identified with Mole and was terrified of Toad). Rereading them as a young adult, I saw the stories in a completely different light. Diving into them again, I’ve found new moments that make me laugh and many more moments than ever before to make me frown. There are parts of the story I relate to deeply and many parts that make me uncomfortable. But through it all, I see a story that I have grown with, that I have learned from, and that I can continue to learn from, even (perhaps especially) through sharing my criticisms of it.

So why am I reading The Wind in the Willows, a more than 100-year-old book not exclusively for children and full of debatable messages, aloud on a children’s platform?

1. Reading aloud is important

I grew up in a family that not only read voraciously, but always, always prioritized reading aloud. When I was small, my parents read to me. As I grew older, we read to each other. Even now, though not as often, we read to each other when we are together. Language and stories have always been a way that we connect and grow together. It’s one of the many things that I thank my parents for.

Reading aloud, even for a few minutes each day, helps students of all levels become more skillful in their use of language by building vocabulary and an innate understanding of grammar. It builds comprehension skills and strengthens information processing skills, while creating excitement around reading. Reading aloud makes stories at higher levels accessible and, even for the strongest readers, creates a culture of storytelling and a love of stories that, according to research as well as my lived experience, makes people of all ages and skill levels more excited to read.

By offering read-alouds, I hope to help jump-start that process for you and become part of your read-aloud tradition as a family. However, nothing replaces hearing each other's voices as you read aloud. If and whenever you can, read together!

2. The language is a gorgeous challenge

Wind In the Willows is a bit of a beast -- and I’m not referring to the animals in its stories. The sentences never end, the vocabulary is not only sophisticated but also rooted in the traditions of Edwardian England, making it difficult for many of us adults to decipher some sentences but making it a true struggle for young readers. However, when we can enjoy the story in context, when we can hear it read aloud and sometimes simply let it wash over us, we are able to absorb the sentence structure, absorb the vocabulary, and strengthen those processing skills I mentioned.

This is a book that might be a challenge to comprehend. As a family, pause and talk about new words, re-listen to it, and even write down (and look up!) words that bring up questions. I know I wrote down a few new words while reading it and I hope you’ll find some too! For suggestions, take a look at my reader’s guide.

3. The events in the book are discussion-worthy

All books you read with children are worth discussing with them. Discussing builds comprehension, empowers the imagination and strengthens empathy. Through discussion, we build connections to the characters and to each other.

As Wind In the Willows has aged and as the world has changed, there are more and more parts of the story worthy of discussing. The morals of the author may not be the morals of the reader and when those values are even slightly at odds, it can lead to powerful questions, deep discussions, and memorable growth.

The clashes of different animals, different ideas, different values, and different social classes in this book can make it a great discussion piece for adults and children alike. How, if at all, do you see this book as out-of-date? How, if at all, is it relevant to today? What, if anything, is taken for granted in the book that you aren’t comfortable with? What, if anything, resonates as true? These are questions that are always worth asking yourself and other adults before tackling them with children. With children, I would recommend asking different questions than these, but keeping your own answers in your heart as you approach the topics of the book together.

Why do the animals act the way they do? What do we like about each animal? What were the consequences of their actions? What could have been the consequences, if things had gone differently? What can we learn from them? How would we hope to act in a similar situation? These are the kinds of questions that you’ll find in our discussion guides. Often, it’s best to simply let the story rest and talk about it the next day. Sometimes, questions come up right away and it’s wonderful to dive right into a discussion. However you approach it, I hope our guides are a good jumping off point!

Our reading guide for each chapter will help you to get the most out of your adventures with Ratty, Mole, Badger, Otter, Toad, and all the rest. Their stories are an on-going part of my life and I hope they’ll add some new giggles, vocabulary words, questions, and contemplations to your family’s, too.

Book, Reading Guide, and Video