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Future Classics: The Wind in the Willows

grahame_wind in the willowsby Paula Fox

“The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring cleaning his little home.” So begins The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, published in 1908.

The main characters are Mole, Rat, and Toad, and they embody human qualities as well as animal ones. Especially Toad of Toad Hall. Mole is ingenuous, modest, open-hearted; Rat is a complex character, romantic, expansive, witty, and full of charming ways — and charming picnics. Toad is violently impulsive, given to rapturous enthusiasms and rash behavior.

The story is written in such a tender, imaginative way, the language is so luminous, yet there is not a whisper of sentimentality throughout its 259 pages.

My father, on one of his brief visits to whatever place I was living in at the time, read me several chapters of it. It may have been the plangency of his voice as he read; it may have been the loveliness of Grahame’s writing, and his evocation of river and forest and countryside. It may have been both. I was eleven then, and entranced.

I still am, and would choose The Wind in the Willows to “place in the hands of a child one hundred years from now.”

Of course, that is assuming that rats, moles, and toads are not extinct by then, and that there are still forests somewhere in the world.

From the November/December 2000 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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