Posts Tagged ‘children’s literature’

2011 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 8,000 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

MY BOOK HOUSE 5: Over The Hills

mbh5 spine0001In this world of bargain-basement, budget-cudgeling, Mark Rothko-inspired non-art that you can buy at Dollar Store in a cheap-ass frame; where book covers are all visual noise or abstract to nth degree that they are useless for inducing anything about what’s inside; where no one wants to use models anymore because some union of bodice-ripper models insists on their people getting paid to stand up and “blue steel” for a few hours; where bizarre fonts are intended to make up for the lack of creativity in design; and finally-yet-nowhere-near-finished, where financially struggling publishers just don’t want to pay artists because artists are flaky and temperamental, the cover illustration on Book 5: Over The Hills  subtly asserts itself as the opposite of all that. 

It is full of archetypal symbols designed to practically make the preface unnecessary.  The old man and the little boy sitting on  hill looking out over a panoramic view of wide valley and far-off mountain  echoes the painting by Caspar David Friedrich Wanderer Above The Sea of Fog.  The fact that it’s an old man and a little boy is archetypal in the extreme: Oranos and Kronos, Kronos and Zeus, “Been-there-done-that” and “But-I-have-to-see-for-myself”.  The illustration perfectly sets the theme for this volume.  Children are of school age and getting interested in how things are made and how they work.  They are being faced with challenges in the archetypal forms of giants, impossible tasks, tricks/riddles, and nonconformism.mbh 50001

I remember feeling culture shock when I would read this volume because there was a distinct decrease in the number of European stories and a significant amount of American literature and semi-non-fiction historical works.  It felt like the European party was over.  Not that it was bad, just a different sensation and I didn’t have the vocabulary at the time to express what I felt. 

Some of my favorite stories are in this book, though.  I loved “Dick Whittington and His Cat”, “The Story of Tom Thumb”, “Why The Sea is Salt”, and “Jack and The Beanstalk.”  These stories contained characters who were born into simple pastoral lives but had to go out into the world and face danger and prejudice.  They ultimately succeeded – success being defined (rather simplistically)  as marrying above one’s class, like Dick Whittington, or achieving wealth like Jack, or …being lifted to a higher station like Tom Thumb who became a knight.  Another reason this book is special because it contained a lot of the same stories I was being exposed to at school.  We were learning about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  I remember reading “Why The Sea is Salt” at school and it held a special connection to me because my dad was working at a hotel on South Padre Island and my brothers and  I would swim in the ocean every day when we stayed there.  Also, it’s interesting that the brothers who are the main characters are not named.  They are simply “the poor one” and “the rich one”.  When you’re eight, that makes perfect sense.

I ran into “Jack and The Beanstalk” a lot at school, and there was a wonderful MGM cartoon about Tom Thumb. Interestingly, he came from a single-parent home – dad and no mom.    There’s an excerpt from CHARLOTTE’S WEB by E. B. White, an excerpt from HEIDI by Johanna Spyri, as well as de rigeur Christian writings – two prayer/poems on p. 117. 

This volume runs heavily into the legends surrounding George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Robert Fulton, the Wright Brothers; even Scottish James Watt.  Then it continues introducing legendary characters from American folk songs and tales: Casey Jones, John Henry that steel-drivin’ man, Hiawatha.  And the deconstructionists’ favorite whipping boy – Christopher Columbus.  So there’s a strong biographical and legend-building theme to Book 5.  Does anyone read “Casey Jones” anymore? If not, it’s a shame. 

Me being me, there were some smashing frocks in the illustrations.


In the “Tom Thumb” story, I didn’t know what a “pudding” was for the longest time so thistom thumb0001 image made no sense to me!  It’s the little ball of starch the man is holding in his hand with Tom stuck in it.

jhmli co illus 10001

This one is from the John Hancock Insurance corporate art collection.  I can’t put my finger on what it is that I like so much about this style of illustration.  It makes me feel young and good – but I don’t know why.  The innocence of it, maybe?  There’s even a Wyeth illustration in HEIDI!

On the whole, #5 wasn’t my favorite volume back in the day, but it did contain some of my favorite stories and favorite illustrations.




4: Through The Gate

3: Up One Pair of Stairs

2: Story Time

1: In The Nursery

Olive Beaupre Miller @ Goodreads

The Uses of Enchantment: Fairy Tales That Feed

The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning And Importance of Fairy Tales § Bruno Bettelheim

The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (Vintage)This book attempts to show how fairy stories represent in imaginative form what the process of healthy human development consists of, and how the tales make such development attractive for the child to engage in.”

Usually, I avoid introductions in books because they tend to be a lot of wank.  However, Bettelhem’s intro is actually useful.  It scaffolds the logic for the rest of the book. 

Bettelheim’s experience and research are combined in a scholarly book about fairy tales – specifically, why they are vital to the psychological development of children.  I completely agree that people who pooh-pooh fairy tails as childish nonsense are completely missing the point.  They are designed for children! Hellooo!  Children have a different level of thought patterns from adults. To demonize imaginative stories for being too unrealistic is …well…unrealistic.  Just like literature is dress rehearsal for life (Kelly Gallagher), fairy tales “meet children where they are” psychologically and does the same for them; it shows them in symbolic form, patterns of thought and models of behavior. 

Forsaking fairy tales and other stories of magic and imagination means you lose out on developing your problem-solving skills.  The ability to analogize our dilemmas is, I think, a mechanism that started when we were little and reading stories about escaping from evil giants and outsmarting bears. 

Bettelheim goes in-depth about what fairy tales represent to the mind of the child in transition. Specifically, in stories about young girls where their blood is involved, he suggests that the blood is representative of menstrual blood and the idea that the girl is starting a journey to physical maturity and sex.  Fairy tales seem a safe way to soften the blow for them, to ease their fears about what bleeding means for them.  For boys, he starts with how boys compete with fathers for the attention of a mother, a situation that takes many symbolic forms, often battling giants or beasts (thinly-veiled authority figures).  In both schemas, children who read these stories are applying age-appropriate logic and form to their own feelings and perceptions.  Key word: “age-appropriate”.  B. uses the words “Freudian” and “oedipal” a lot. I’m not convinced those are the best expressions he can use, but he’s the authority. 

In my experience, when I read fairy tales, I didn’t think about those things.  My thoughts were about the surface meanings.  Being rescued, being awakened, travelling, dealing with problematic siblings.  It wasn’t until I was much older that I started to explore the deeper meanings, such as the type Bettelheim writes about.  I had no use for Bettelheim’s depth of thought when I was seven.  It would have meant nothing to me.  When I was twenty-seven, however, I had acquired the intellectual skills that enabled me to appreciate what Bettelheim has to say.

While Bettelheim digs and digs and digs into the psychology of fairy tales, relying much on Freudian psychology, he sees more than a child would.  He understands things about these stories that a child will not understand for a couple more decades.  That makes this book a chore to read sometimes.  Don’t look for any satisfaction from the fairy tales themselves.  He also does a good job of sucking all the fun out of them.  It’s a scholarly book, after all. 

On page 134 of my edition, B. writes, in essence, that if a child does not practice acting out in his/her  mind during childhood, (fantasies of revenge, dispensing justice, going against authority, and various unsavory characteristics) then he/she does not learn to deal with and control those unsavory urges in real life.  They will end up acting out in real life with real-life negative consequences.  Also, folk fairy tales that address the culture of a child are especially valuable for helping a child make sense of the circumstances in which they live.

Children need sensitivity.  Fairy tales offer this.  Life is scary and confusing and unfair.  What purpose does it serve to throw that in the face of a 6-year-old.  They will figure it out by reading imaginative stories, and they will have models of good character to imitate.

This book is good for teachers or anyone who works with children in a professional capacity.  B. is (was?) “an educator and therapist of severely disturbed children”.  That being the case, he has some useful insight into what a good fairy tale should be/have.  

Thumbnail of Bruno Bettelheim

An interesting article on a biography of author Bettelheim from 1997

MY BOOK HOUSE – The Back Story

MY BOOK HOUSE @ The Festering Blurb:

Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books at

MY BOOK HOUSE 4: Through The Gate

bk 4 spine0001Book 4 is a treasure of some of our most revered imaginative stories.  Cinderella, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed: iconic fictional characters whose names define magic and adventure. 

Most of the stories were new to me when I was first introduced to this book when I was a yung’un.  “Doll I’the grass” – I used to read it as “Dolly in the the grass”, but now I know the contraction “I’the” for what it really is.  “Brer rabbit” and “brer tar baby” – still don’t know what “brer” means.

The stories are simplistic in philosophy. It’s a bit unsettling at this age, but it made perfect sense when I was 9.  The beautiful girl gets the prince and her sister gets his brother.  A win-win stituation.  Stepparents and stepsiblings are evil.  Real men do hard labor with giant cattle.  The youngest daughter is the most beautiful and desirable.  Sounds a bit retarded now, but when you’re 9, if your head hasn’t been filled with internet and television filth, you just kind of go with it.

Reading this book, I think it was the first time I had seen Cinderella as something other than a blonde.  She’s wearing a powdered wig and a dress circa 1770-ish.  It looks like it weighs a ton.   My fav look was “Elsa” from “Elsa and the Ten Elves”.  Now there’s a story I could relate to! Elsa was very lazy.  She hated to get up early, and she especially loathed housework. Hellooo! {pointing at myself}. And, she had an absolutely to-die-for hairdo! I can only dream of having hair like that – that long, Teutonic wheat-blond hair. (The pic is in black-and-white, but you could tell it was blonde hair.)

elsa hair0001                cinder dress0001

In the Paul Bunyan stories, there’s a bit about the mess hall that I just loved and read over and over:

so Paul hired Hot Biscuit Slim, and there was a man who could cook!  Hot Biscuit Slim fed the loggers griddlecakes with maple syrup, bacon, ham and eggs, mashed potatoes and gravy, green corn and roasted duck; and he had working under him a man named Cream Puff Fatty who made delicious cream puffs, jelly rolls, gingerbread, jam tarts, and sugared doughnuts as big as platters.

Are you drooling? I’m drooling!

This volume introduced me to the twelve dancing princesses. I’ve seen versions other books, but I think this one may be the definitive.  That whole thing about the youngest daughter being the most appealing was a bit confusing to me back then. She was very young and very beautiful.  Then, as now, that’s all it takes, apparently.  Still, it was a great story about sneaking out to party all night! If literature is dress rehearsal for real life, this story is dress rehearsal for high school.

There’s also a couple of Halloween stories, a folk tale from Russia, one from China, a lovely assortment of European and American poems, and some adaptations.  “The Blacksmith” is the story of the song by Brahms.  “The Battle of The Frogs and The Mice” is a parody of the “Iliad”, and “Hansel and Gretel” is adapted from the opera by Engelbert Humperdinck. And, of course, a story from the Bible. A universe of creativity and a whole lot of psychology.

These are not books you can teach, but the vocabulary for this edition is teachable: fairy tale, folk tale, fable, tall tale, legend, yarn, retelling, adaptation.  There is also burgeoning representation of folk literature from the Americas – Canada, the US, and Mexico, specifically.  Most of the illustrations that are not black/white/grey are black, white, blue and orange.  The exception being “Cinderella” and the poem by John Greenleaf Whittier which is in yellow and black.  I really like how the editors always make it a point to include poems and songs.  When you’re a child, they are integral for learning how to manipulate language.


Der Schmeid (The Smith) by Ludwig Uhland

Paul Bunyan stories at

Motoko – Award-winning Japanese storytelling

My recommendation for “Hansel & Gretel” – the opera

Br’er Rabbit stories at

John Greenleaf Whittier at

Need help coping with stepfamily issues? offers positive support.

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