I remember my Grade 6 teacher, Mr. Bonk, had a reputation for being strict but I couldn’t honestly tell you whether he was or not. What I remember most about that year’s class is that Mr. Bonk read out loud to us most days: short stories, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Around the World in 80 Days and John Steinbeck’s The Pearl.

Mr. Bonk was tall and thin, tanned with a mustache, curly hair, tar-stained fingers, and yellowed teeth.

The tar-stained fingers and yellowed teeth could be me filling in the blanks of my memory.

Ava is now 11 and she’s in the 6th grade. She’s in a great school but it seems like a mini version of high school where the days are regimented and there might not be time for frivolous activities like a teacher reading out loud to the kids. Ava’s a voracious reader. She finished the Harry Potter series last summer and I’ve been desperately trying to find the next series to keep her occupied but nothing has been able to surpass Harry Potter in her mind. A while back she asked me why I still read books to her little brother but not to her and I didn’t have a good answer so I’ve tried to find books that might be engaging and spark interesting discussion but might be outside of her reading ability or general interest.

Ava’s so much smarter (and better looking) than I was at that age.

The Pearl is a novella about a family in a small Mexican fishing village that discovers ‘the pearl of the world’, and hope its worth can change the course of their lives for the better (insert relevant Steinbeck theme, ‘the best-laid plans of mice and men…). The story moves fast and right away Kino and Juana’s baby, Coyotito, is stung by a scorpion. The family doesn’t have the money to get Coyotito treated by the local doctor, who treats the family poorly. Of course, the doctor has a change of heart once he learns of the pearl but by then Coyotito is on the mend but Kino and Juana have gained a sense for what they can expect from people. Nonetheless, Kino pictures his family participating in ‘normal’ society, with fancy clothes, Coyotito being baptized and attending a proper school.

Things don’t go any better for them as they try to sell the pearl locally as all the buyers are in cahoots and offer only a fraction of what the pearl is worth. They decide to go to the capital to sell their treasure but that night they are assaulted by bandits and Kino ends up killing a man in the scuffle. They leave town, already irrevocably changed, and as they try to make their escape to the capital they are being hunted by armed men as the novella reaches its tragic conclusion.

Ava asked me if this was a true story and I see what she was getting at, the allegorical nature of the story makes it feel real as do the larger truths about greed and human nature. This is the first time I’ve actually read the book, but I remembered so many details about it from when Mr. Bonk read it to my class some 35 years ago. It’s fast-paced, suspenseful, well written and something you could easily consume in a sitting or two, so I’d highly recommend it.

One thought on “Reading With Ava – The Pearl by John Steinbeck

  1. David
    Wonderful what you are doing with Alex and Ava , getting them engage in reading , they will always remember when they grow up .

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