L. Frank Baum is a household name thanks to his relentless perseverance. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a culmination of a career’s worth of work. It was published in 1900 after many minor publications and musicals. We all recognize the famous ruby slippers that Dorothy wears on her journey down the yellow brick road, but did you know they’re silver shoes in the book? Red looks better on screen so a minor tweak in the movie turned into one of the most recognizable icons of the story. Little facts like this make reading the book and seeing the movie a great activity for family reading. Use the differences as conversation starters and have children voice their opinions about various changes to the plot or characteristics of the story. What would they do differently if they were directing the movie? What parts of the book were left out or changed and why? Do the changes affect the message of the story?
Oz has captivated imaginations for over a hundred years and still continues to do so. In the time of women’s suffrage, Baum married Maude Gage, who was an active feminist. Her influence on his writing is apparent with strong female leads and comical situations such as the revolution in The Marvelous Land of Oz. He even dedicated The Wizard of Oz to her.
“As they passed the rows of houses they saw through the open doors that men were sweeping and dusting and washing dishes, while the women sat around in groups, gossiping and laughing.
What has happened?’ the Scarecrow asked a sad-looking man with a bushy beard, who wore an apron and was wheeling a baby carriage along the sidewalk.
Why, we’ve had a revolution, your Majesty — as you ought to know very well,’ replied the man; ‘and since you went away the women have been running things to suit themselves. I’m glad you have decided to come back and restore order, for doing housework and minding the children is wearing out the strength of every man in the Emerald City.’
Hm!’ said the Scarecrow, thoughtfully. ‘If it is such hard work as you say, how did the women manage it so easily?’
I really do not know,’ replied the man, with a deep sigh. ‘Perhaps the women are made of cast-iron.”
Baum was an innovator of children’s literature in many ways. Embracing the qualities of Anderson and Grimm’s fairytales, he put his own spin on what a fairy tale should be. The inhabitants of Oz are complex and detailed which makes them relatable. Baum refrained from using extreme violence and love interests since he believed children “wouldn’t find that sort of thing interesting.” Oz and all of its stories became one of the most beloved tales of all time because he wasn’t afraid to keep trying. Imagine if he gave up because his first 15 years of writing didn’t lead to any major success stories. Baum not only wrote a classic fairy tale, he lived one.
“That proves you are unusual,’ returned the Scarecrow; ‘and I am convinced that the only people worthy of consideration in this world are the unusual ones. For the common folks are like the leaves of a tree, and live and die unnoticed.”
Celebrate L. Frank Baum’s birthday May 15th by reading one of the 15 Oz books. Take an imaginary journey but remember, there’s no place like home.