I am a Les Miserables enthusiast. Fangirl. Fanatic. Let’s just say I have a passion for this story, the characters,
And as such, I’ve tried to find ways to bring it into not just our family life, but into our homeschooling…
First, a little background:
I went to high school in NJ and we saw NYC tv commercials for Broadway plays all the time. So of course I’d HEARD of Les Miz, but it took my dear friend Mike Martin (THANK YOU MICHAEL!!) to help me to become the Les Miz crazy fan I am today.
It was my 3rd year of college and I was living in the dorms and Michael was one of a gang of friends I hung out with every day. He was always going on about this musical and singing the songs and he eventually got me so intrigued, I asked him to share the story with me…So he sat with me in my dorm room and played the soundtrack to the Broadway musical and, song-by-song, explained to me what was happening in the story. I was enthralled!
His passion for the music and the story was contagious. I found myself naturally drawn to the music. I’ve always loved musicals, thanks to my parents that often played musical soundtracks and videos growing up… and Michael helped the story really come alive for me! After that, I of course HAD to get a copy of the soundtrack myself and then from there we jumped into the book. Michael was reading the abridged version and I (bravely) tackled the unabridged. We compared notes. We talked about the plot…we sang the songs together and listened to the tape every chance we got. I was HOOKED. Seriously.
The book was difficult to get through at first. Victor Hugo tends to go on into far too great of irrelevant detail at times. It took me quite some time to get through that book (1463 pages!!). I ended up having to skim some parts that were just too tedious and were causing me to lose interest, and skimming allowed me to make it to the meat of the story. But WOW! Once I did, I ended up getting so into it I couldn’t put it down, and to this day I count it as my #1 favorite book of ALL TIME! There’s action/adventure, there’s
And the PLAY!! Oh my goodness, the play! Of course it does not cover the entire story (it couldn’t possibly!)…but it covers the important parts, and the music and the stage production is just AMAZING! I finally got to see it for the first time when my brother took me to see it for my birthday, in San Francisco…maybe 1992? Then again when my brother and I were backpacking across Europe in 1996, we got to see it in London! AWESOME!
Later, when I had my own children…
I, of course, wanted to share my passion for this wonderful story and music with them…
When my oldest was maybe 6yrs old I first introduced her to the music and story of Les Miz. I did as Michael did with me and went through each song and explained (in language appropriate for her and of course cutting out the part about the prostitutes…I skipped the “Lovely Ladies” song at that point.) She then become the next generation of Les Miz fanatic in this family!
From that point, she INSISTED that we listen to the Les Miz soundtrack EVERY.TIME.WE.GOT.INTO.THE.CAR. For months!
And thus began my “Homeschooling with Les Miserables”…
We started just enjoying the music
A year or so later I got her the adapted version of the book by Monica Kulling, and I read it aloud to her.
Of course it was nowhere near the real story, but it helped to paint more of the picture of the complete story, as it touched upon parts that the play did not.
Normally I wouldn’t recommend any classic as an adapted version…but there’s just no way the original or even the abridged version of Victor Hugo’s book would be appropriate for the typical young child. Prostitution aside, it has language in it that is quite complex (originally written in French in 1862! ) As an adult, even I had a difficult time of it at times.
I highly recommend getting the Cliffs Notes to help work your way through the book if you read the original.
Some years later, I found the website of fellow Les Miz fan that had taken it upon himself to edit the original book for himself so that he could enjoy reading it over and over without having to wade through all the kludgy parts…and I was pleased to see that he also went on to adapt children’s and teen’s versions! They are available for purchase as Kindle books for a very small fee:
Though not fabulously written…I do, of course, MUCH prefer Victor Hugo’s wording…they are the closest to the original story I’ve seen so far. Being a huge fan of the story, Mr. Larsen knows what parts of the plot to keep and what can be cut without affecting the story. (Vs the other abridged and adapted versions that slice out very important sections of the story!)
I like that it gets the story into the hands of younger children, where the language of the original book would be pretty much impossible for a young child to understand. He also handles the prostitution aspect quite well, without focusing on it or explaining it, allowing parents to decide for themselves if they would like to go further into what exactly was going on in this aspect of Fantine’s life.
The way I look at it, I’d much rather explain prostitution in relation to Les Miserables where the after-affects are very vivid (the downfall of Fantine as she sinks deeper and deeper into despair, eventually leading to the illness that causes her death) than in a modern news story where there is no connection between the situation and the emotional state of the woman.
As time went on…
My younger child has had the benefit of growing up never knowing a time of not being a fan of Les Miz music and loves the story and music as much as his big sister and I. He enjoyed listening to the book with us as well as watching Les Miserables in Concert shown on PBS.
I hope to take both of my children someday to see the Broadway play…an awe-filled experience!
If we never did anything else with Les Miserables, I think this is plenty. To learn about a fantastic story, from another time, with all the twists and turns that a fantastic author weaves into their writing, in conjunction with the absolutely mesmerizing musical representations of that same story. And having what Julie Bogart of Brave Writer calls “Big Juicy conversations” about the story, the book vs the play, the characters, the setting, the music, the ramifications of characters’ actions, and so much more…
BUT, there are also other aspects of this story that can be pursued, as a homeschooler, in no particular order…
- Victor Hugo, his life and works
- “Good guys” vs “Bad guys” (Valjean vs Javert)…who is supposed to be good, who is bad? Why? Who is in actuality? Why?
- The French Revolution–which is NOT what this story is about, as this article so firmly points out, but which will give you a background to the story…
- The Battle of Waterloo and Napoleon (specifically referenced in the story)
- The July Monarchy of Louis-Philippe
- Jean Maximilien Lamarque, his importance and death
- The June Rebellion, or the Paris Uprising of 1832, actual events in this story (the “Barricade”)
- 1800s in France
- Social class…poor vs rich …living conditions and treatment…street “urchins”
- Compare street children (Eponine/Gavroche) to children in Oliver Twist (same time period, in London)
- Convents in 1800s Europe
- The Catholic church in 1800s Europe (learn about real bishops’ lives…)
- Factories in 1800s Europe
- Prisons in 1800s Europe
- Make a timeline of important events in the story
- Map out the events of the story
- For older children: history of prostitution
The list can just go on and on and on. And there are many many study guides created for Les Miserables available all over the internet. Some free, some for a small fee. You can pick some up and grab some ideas from them. Here’s a website I found that has a guide online for free that you can pick from: Les Mis Book Study at MommyLife.net It’s in reverse order, start at the bottom of the list.
There is just sooooo much that can be done with Les Miserables, that I cannot possibly go into in one blog post (that has already gotten far too long.) Maybe I’ll revisit again in more depth at another time.
I hope that I’ve piqued the interest of those of you out there that maybe are not familiar with this story…perhaps you’ll go check it out and decide to share with your own kiddos! Or maybe you are fan but never thought to share with your children. I hope this post has given you some ideas! This story is so deep and so meaningful and just such an amazing thing to share with our children! If you haven’t yet, I urge you to check it out!
PLEASE NOTE: The Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and I do receive a small percentage of purchases made through those links…THANK YOU for helping to support a fellow homeschool family and all the work I’ve put into creating this website and these resources that I share with you!