134 – Politics in Anne of Green Gables

Politics? In a story about a young teen girl from a tiny town in Canada’s smallest province from over 140 years ago? Actually, yes! Politics come up frequently in the classic novel Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, and they have some surprising things to say to modern readers, most importantly that we don’t have to let differences of opinion drive us apart.

This is the second to last installment in my series on Anne of Green Gables as a work of historical fiction. Hopefully it can help you think of ways to use Anne’s awakening to a wider world beyond the small village of Avonlea to start interesting conversations with your own kids about why people have such different views about how the world should be run, but also that we can be good friends with members of different political parties.

Activity: Kitchen Politics

In Anne of Green Gables, Anne asks Matthew questions which show that she is starting to become aware of a larger world. He understanding of politics is very limited, though, and is very naturally rooted in wanting approval from Matthew. She expresses support for the Conservative party when she learns that’s how Matthew votes, and her enthusiasm is reinforced by the fact that her school rival Gilbert supports the Grits.

This passage is a great lesson for both parents and children. Matthew doesn’t ever try to lecture Anne or tell her what to believe. He just listens and answers her questions (or, at least, responds as well as he can). Kids can also pay attention to Anne’s biases. She doesn’t actually support the Conservative party because she knows nothing about the policies they favor. She does seem to be paying attention to things adults say, though, as she relays Mrs. Lynde’s views on educational policy and votes for women. Encourage children to watch out for these kinds of biases as they become aware of the larger world. They should never support a political party because it happens to be the tribe they’ve landed in; rather they should engage with and work to understand the ideas and policies of political parties so that they can be confidently informed about the platforms and candidates they support.

In your discussion, don’t forget to point out that although many of the characters in Anne of Green Gables belong to different political parties, they are still friendly, respectful, and neighborly toward one another. Different points of view are helpful in figuring out which policies will be best and challenging bad policies. These differences are not the most important thing in life and do not mean people can’t be good neighbors and friends.

132 – “Lancelot and Elaine” in Anne of Green Gables

Tennyson’s poem “Lancelot and Elaine” plays a huge part in the plot of Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Anne and her friends decide to act out the scene where the Lady of Shalott dies and floats downriver to Camelot, where the court of King Arthur mourn her. However, Anne learns the hard way that life is more hilariously imperfect than the romanticized fictional world she admires so much.

Find out more about this poem and why it was such a big deal in the 19th century, inspiring painters to revisit the subject of Elaine of Astolat over and over again. You’ll also learn that, although fads themselves change, teenagers really don’t. Anne and her friends would have had feelings about this poem that are very similar to how teens today feel about their own popular culture.

131 – “Bingen on the Rhine” in Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables features a LOT of poetry. The book is set in the 1880’s, and back then teenagers would carefully select poems to recite to one another in the way that teenagers a few decades ago used to select songs to include in a mix tape.

“Bingen on the Rhine” is a beautiful poem by Caroline Norton, a writer and women’s rights campaigner who is so fascinating in her own right that her story could fill a hundred books. Gilbert Blythe chose to recite her poem in front of Anne Shirley – and every other kid at school – because it was one of the only ways he had to express to her his deep regret at having offended her, and his deep hope that she might one day forgive him.

Activity: Caroline Norton

Caroline Norton was a very important figure in the early battle for women’s legal rights. She was trapped in an unhappy marriage to a cruel and controlling man, who confiscated the money she earned from her writing and kept her own children away from her. She worked hard to raise this issue with the British parliament, which eventually passed laws that granted women the same legal rights as men when it came to property ownership, divorce, and child custody.

Students can research Caroline Norton’s life and the important social and legal reforms she worked so hard to achieve. It’s especially important for them to understand how these early efforts made the later campaign for women’s suffrage possible.

Activity: Memorize and Recite a Poem

Students can select a poem to research, memorize, and perform for others. The poem could be serious or humorous. It could tell a story or be more abstract. Poems should be selected to convey a special meaning to the audience. After the performance, have students ask audience members if they can guess the reason the poem was selected.

128 – Music in Anne of Green Gables

Lucy Maud Montgomery carefully reconstructed the pop culture of the 1880’s when she wrote Anne of Green Gables including the music that teenagers were wild about. While singing is referenced dozens of times in the book, just three songs are actually named, and they were all real songs!

Activity: Learn one of Anne’s Favorite Songs

Three songs are named in Anne of Green Gables, and they were all popular sentimental ballads. You can find the sheet music for these songs online in the following archives:

“Nelly in the Hazel Dell” by George Root (using the pseudonym Wurzel)

“Far Above the Daisies” by George Cooper and Harrison Millard

“My Home on the Hill” by W.C. Baker

Learn one or more of these songs and have a performance! You could try to re-create the song as it is performed in Anne of Green Gables, or you could reinterpret it in your own style.

126 – Historical Fashion in Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables was published in 1908, but it’s actually a work of historical fiction, very carefully recreating the 1880s through accurate depictions of music, teen trends, politics, and even fashion. In this episode, we take a look at the Anne-girl’s sense of style, and how it relates to real artistic and philosophical movements in the 19th century.

Activity: Teen Fashion Then and Now

Anne of Green Gables is set in the 1880s. One of the fashion trends at the time was called Artistic Dress or Aesthetic Dress. In contrast to tight-fitting, highly tailored styles that were considered mainstream, Aesthetic Dress featured soft, natural fabrics sewn in medieval-inspired fashions. Aesthetic clothing was designed to be beautiful, comfortable, and pleasant to wear.

Ask students to compare current teen fashions with the style Anne loved. Ask them to think about what artistic, political, musical, or social movements inspire the modern fashions they follow. Research the Pre-Raphaelite movement and the Aesthetic Movement, with emphasis on the philosophy behind artists’ fashion choices. Do any of these older ideas feel compatible with modern fashions? Is there anything about the older styles that appeals to any of the students?

After researching the fashion styles that inspired Anne Shirley’s romantic sense of beauty, students could try to re-create looks that she would have loved using clothing they have already or by making new items in an Aesthetic style.

81 – Paul Bunyan

Stories about Paul Bunyan don’t need to be true. In fact, they should be a load of nonsense. The only thing they need to be is entertaining. Learn a bit about the life of North America’s mythical lumberjack, his best pal Babe the Blue Ox, and the rest of his crew, and perhaps consider adding to the long tradition of American tall tales by spinning your own yarn about Paul.

I’ve made a video version of my biography of Paul Bunyan, which can be used to give kids a short introduction to the most famous character from American tall tales:

Activity: A Geography Lesson with Paul Bunyan

Give students a blank outline of North America. Have them draw the geological features you wish them to become familiar with, telling tall tales about how Paul Bunyan created those features. Ask students to help embellish the stories, making them as memorable as possible.

Activity: Tell a Tall Tale

Have students retell a Paul Bunyan story in their own way, or come up with a brand new story. The emphasis should not be on originality, but rather a creative and entertaining story. If possible, give students time between a first and second telling to allow time for the story to be developed.

Sources for this Episode

  • Campfire stories told to me at Girl Scout Troop 602 events and at Camp Singing Pines
  • Mr. Lamont, my fifth grade teacher
  • Stewart, K. B.; Watt, Homer A. (1916), Legends of Paul Bunyan, Lumberjack, Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, vol. 18/II, Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters, pp. 639–651.
  • Twain, M. (1897), How to Tell a Story and Other Essays. New York: Harper and Brothers.

Music in This Episode
“Once More A-Lumbering Go”, “Leather Britches,” and “Lumberjack’s Alphabet.” All are traditional North American lumberjack songs.

57 – Anne of Green Gables is Big in Japan

Akage no An, the Japanese translation of Anne of Green Gables, has remained wildly popular in Japan for 70 years. But why has a story about a redheaded orphan from Canada’s smallest province become such an essential part of Japanese literature? Hanako Muraoka, the translator who brought this book to her country, published this story at just the right time, when her war-torn nation was eager for a simple story about a girl with realistic struggles, dreams, and relationships.

In the second of two episodes about the impressive life of Hanako Muraoka, learn about how the translation of Anne of Green Gables was finally published and why it became so popular in Japan. Much of this story can only now be known because of the publication of Anne’s Cradle: The Life and Works of Hanako Muraoka, Japanese Translator of Anne of Green Gables. This engaging biography was written by Hanako’s granddaughter Eri Muraoka and has much to teach us about the power of literature to bring people together, even when they come from countries that were once enemies.

Activity: Discussion or Essay Questions for Anne’s Cradle

After reading chapters nine and ten of Anne’s Cradle, consider the following questions. Answers could come in the form of a class discussion, short reflection, or essay.

Chapter 9: Hanako had mixed feelings about her father’s death. Do you feel that he did a good or bad job as a father toward his children?

Chapter 10: Hanako gave her mother a Buddhist funeral, even though she herself was a Christian. What does this say about Hanako’s ability to understand and respect different beliefs?

56 – Hanako Muraoka

Hanako Muraoka is a name that is revered in Japan, but this remarkable woman is hardly known outside her home country. That should change with the publication of Anne’s Cradle: The Life and Works of Hanako Muraoka, Japanese Translator of Anne of Green Gables. This biography was written by Hanako’s granddaughter Eri Muraoka, and has been expressively translated into English by Cathy Hirano, who brought the phrase “spark joy” into existence when she translated The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. For more information about this book, check out its page over at Nimbus Publishing.

Hanako’s life is well worth discovering. Her life was burdened with many hardships. Born to a poor family, she grew up as a scholarship student in a boarding school with very few chances to see her family. As a devout Christian, she was a member of a stigmatized and mistrusted minority group during dangerous times. She lost loved ones to disease and war, yet always found a way to regain her faith in friendships and the power of books to bring people together. Her hard work led her to an impressive career as a teacher, writer, editor, translator, publisher, and radio host during a time when few women were permitted to be employed at all.

Just before the outbreak of World War II, a Canadian colleague presented Hanako with a parting gift before she fled the country to return home. It was a much-loved copy of Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, which Hanako promised to translate into English. She kept the book secret during the war, hiding a work by a “foreign enemy” that could have gotten her into quite a lot of trouble. By the end of the war, this beautiful tale had been translated into eloquent, expressive Japanese.

This episode covers Hanako’s life until the end of World War II. In the next episode, I’ll conclude her tale, revealing how Anne of Green Gables became one of the most popular books in modern Japan.

In this episode I mentioned this heartwarming video made by the Embassy of Japan in Canada, where Eri Muraoka speaks a little about her grandmother and the reasons she worked so hard to translate Anne of Green Gables.

Activity: Discussion or Essay Questions for Anne’s Cradle

After reading the first eight chapters of Anne’s Cradle, consider the following questions. Answers could come in the form of a class discussion, short reflection, or essay.

Chapter 1: Hanako’s father was a very unconventional man. In what ways did this positively and negatively affect his abilities as a father?

Chapter 2: Hanako’s family was relatively poor and low status. When she arrived at her new boarding school she was suddenly surrounded by classmates who came from wealthy, even noble backgrounds. She had to learn not only to speak English but a higher-status style of Japanese. How would it have felt as a girl of only ten to suddenly experience such a change?

Chapter 3: In what ways did Hanako’s education and upbringing leave her well prepared to understand Anne of Green Gables when she eventually encountered the book?

Chapter 4: Hanako’s friend Asako Hirooka says, “I want you to use your education not just to raise your own status but to raise the status of every woman in Japan.” Hirooka’s goal was to gain full human rights for women, along with the ability to vote. Why would she have felt that high status women could not have helped her cause by remaining focused on their own achievements? Can holding up the achievements of a few exceptional women serve as a distraction from broader issues affecting women as a class of people?

Chapter 5: Keizo Muraoka remained in a difficult position, still legally married to a wife he had not seen in three years but concerned about his religious prohibition on divorce. Was it fair to Keizo and Hanako to have referred to their early attraction as an “illicit affair”? Should they have felt so much guilt about their relationship? The text remains silent as to the first wife’s wishes or opinion regarding the divorce. Is it possible to imagine what opinions she might have held?

Chapter 6: Much of Hanako’s career success came from her ability to spot gaps in existing markets and find niches for herself to work in. How did she leverage business, personal, and community connections to find roles she was uniquely suited to fill?

Chapter 7: When Hanako is offered a job as a radio host, she turns to her husband Keizo for advice. How does their conversation demonstrate that they had a very effective partnership?

Chapter 8: For nine years, Hanako was a major radio star, famous across the nation for her children’s news program. During World War II, rather than read out government propaganda, Hanako quit her job. Would you have been able to not only turn away from a great career, but put yourself at risk by showing that you did not support a totalitarian government?