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The Happy Prince, by Oscar Wilde. I’ve read this dozens and dozens of times, but am re-reading again today. In case you’ve never read it, it’s about a sparkling, gold-leaved, bejeweled statue of a prince who befriends a swallow who is on her way to Egypt for the winter. When she stops to rest on the prince’s shoulder he tells her that now that he stands so tall and can see everything in the city below, he is saddened by the poverty and by the arrogance and meanness of so many of the residents. He asks the bird to help him make amends, telling her that, in life, he was selfish too.
It’s a powerful story, one that for me shows the mark of great literature — it makes you happy and sad at the same time. It makes you think about what you’ve read.
When I was a kid we had a recording (remember records anyone?) of the Happy Prince, starring Bing Crosby (as the prince of course), Orson Welles narrating. My brothers and I listened to that record over and over, probably a thousand times, so much that my brother could recite it verbatim, with all the right tones and accents, to his grandchildren.
Yesterday I mentioned it to my grandson Zev, almost age 10, and granddaughter Nina, almost 4, all the while thinking they’d be bored and roll their eyes and tell me to stop. But as I continued with the story they sat there, full-on attentive, waiting to hear what happened to the statue and the bird.
I stopped just short of the end and told them I would bring the book next time I see them.
They loved the story, as well they should and if you haven’t read The Happy Prince, do yourself a favor and read it. It’s a MUST.