Did you read Amelia Bedelia as a kid? I know I did. She’s considered a classic character and for good reason!
Peggy Parish’s classic was written in 1963, and Parish continued to write about The mixed-up maid until she passed away in 1988. The premise of Amelia Bedelia’s stories are that she doesn’t understand figures of speech. When told to dress the chicken for dinner, we get this:
When told to dust the furniture, she uses fancy perfumed dusting powder to sprinkle over everything. When told to draw the drapes, she tests out her artistic skills, and to change the towels, she cuts them up and resews them into something completely different.
Now I love Amelia, and I love the idea of her books, but kids today don’t necessarily get all the jokes. I read the original story to first graders last year. They knew about dusting and about changing the towels, but none of them had ever heard curtains called drapes or heard of dressing a chicken or turkey, and I don’t know anyone who still uses fancy perfumed dusting powder. The problem isn’t with the writing, it’s with our language and how it grows and changes over time. Our vernacular evolves and changes every day. So does that mean we scrap amazing books like Amelia Bedelia?
No, of course not! I think we just have to find a way to make it work–expand the kids’ horizons. We (the readers) were given a big help in 1994 when Herman Parish, the nephew of Peggy Parish, started his own Amelia Bedelia book series.
You’ll notice right away that Amelia is a little girl, and that’s great. Herman can give her her own storylines without cutting in on the ones his aunt created. The picture books were so popular that he decided to start a chapter book series as well.
I haven’t had a chance to read the series yet, but I’ve started the third book, Road Trip. Amelia is excited when her father announces they have a week to go roam…which Amelia thinks means they are heading to Rome in Italy. This is the same kind of joke that Peggy Parish used in the original books, but it’s more culturally meaningful to today’s readers. After her dad figures out her confusion, he explains that they will be exploring the great sites in their own backyard…which sounds to Amelia like they won’t even be leaving home! Kids often get the real meaning long before Amelia which makes it even funnier to them.
I know you and your little readers will enjoy this wonderful classic character, even if it’s in her new incarnation. I often start kids with the newer stuff, and they find the older stuff better because they have an idea of what’s happening before they jump into a book full of figures of speech they don’t hear on a daily basis.
But don’t jump on books, it’s hard on the spines and you could slip and fall. (See what I did there??)