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Diary of a Goth Girl--Cover

Click through to Goth Girl on the iBooks store

iBooks Store Description

Allegra Joy is possibly the most inappropriately named Goth living in the fictional town of Goolooroo, outback Australia. Still, this doesn’t dampen her spirit as she embarks upon a quest to find an androgynous Goth boyfriend with lank hair and despondent eyes. Believe it or not, she finds someone who fits the bill, though he may turn out to be no more Goth than Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Picturebook Study: The Disgusting Sandwich by Gareth Edwards and Hannah Shaw

disgusting sandwich cover

The kids I know and the kid I was love to be grossed out. At least, there’s a narrow window in childhood when this is the case. It must come soon after learning that some things are disgusting — that one can’t pick your nose and eat the booger, or taste-test dead flies on the window sill.

My 7-year-old daughter expressed disgust at this picture book and said she didn’t want to read it again, but she brought it to me again a few days later. This time, she knew what to expect, and managed to enjoy it.

 

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Fairytale Archetypes

Fairytale Character Archetypes

MYTHS

Are about creation. Why the earth/sea/day are as they are, who runs the world and how. Myths explain.

FOLK TALES

Are the traditional tales of the people. Folktales are often fairy tales, but not always. Folk indicates the origin of the story, while fairy indicates its nature.

FAIRY TALES

Are stories of magic, set in the indefinite past, incorporating traditional themes and materials. Often about giants, dwarfs, witches, talking animals, a variety of other creatures  — good and bad fairies, princes, poor widows etc. In fact, there is a standard cast of characters who appear in fairy tales.

Some fairy tales are ancient; others are modern. The tradition of the modern fairy tale began with Uncle David’s Nonsensical Story in Catherine Sinclair’s Holiday House.

LEGEND

Are about the achievements of real or imaginary heroes — battles long ago.

FANTASY

Is a modern form, belonging to the age of the novel. There are many different subcategories of fantasy. Overlaps with fairytales, though fantasy tends to be long while fairy tales are brief. Has tended to be a British speciality, at least in the 19th Century. Fantasy from newer countries have gone more for stories about contemporary life, though globalisation means the distinction is now less marked.

Fantasy took off in the decade of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and The Water Babies. (1865 and 1871.)

 

— for more see John Rowe Townsend, Written For Children

Short Story Study: The Sorrows Of Gin by John Cheever

The Sorrows of Gin

It is impossible not to read this story naively when you know that Cheever himself was plagued by the bottle. This is a story about how a man’s drinking affects his only daughter. I feel there are enough clues in this story to foreshadow a future of alcohol addiction for the daughter — like father like daughter.

This short story is an example of a character change that almost happens — there is every opportunity for it to happen — but the character is too inward looking to have any sort of epiphany, and we are left with the sombre feeling that, from here, things will only get worse. The final sentence is a rhetorical question, and the reader knows the answer to it: Stop drinking! But the main character (the father) doesn’t know it.


 

WHAT HAPPENS IN THE STORY?

A new cook tells the lonely nine-year-old daughter of a well-to-do couple about her own alcoholic sister, and how just having alcohol in the house proves too much of a temptation. Disquieted by the drunkenness of her own parents, Amy tips a bottle of gin down the drain. (Though she has possibly been doing this for some time, resulting in all sorts of dismissals.) This contributes to the cook’s getting fired. Amy does the same again, getting the next housekeeper fired. Though Amy doesn’t see any causation to her actions, her long-standing non-drinker baby-sitter ends up in an altercation with her father, who accuses her of stealing his gin.

Amy is upset at the altercation between her father and her baby-sitter, hearing the word ‘Police’ shouted from downstairs, so the following day when her parents are out she packs a few things, steals $20 from her mother’s desk and goes to the station where she plans to run away from home.

Mr Flanagan the station master sells her a ticket, but promptly calls her father. The father arrives at the station and is briefly filled with emotion for his daughter, but this feeling quickly fades and we are left feeling that he has missed his chance for character growth, and that things will continue as they have been at home.


 

SETTING

Shady Hill

This is one of Cheever’s Shady Hill stories. Other notable stories set in this place are The Swimmer and of course The Housebreaker of Shady Hill.

[Cheever’s] Shady Hill is a fictional territory to consider alongside Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County or Thomas Hardy’s Wessex.

The Guardian

Cheever’s description of the Shady Hill train station creates in the reader an eerie locale, helped along by a reference to the well-known creepy French folktale of Bluebeard, in which a man takes a woman captive in his basement. Though Bluebeard is not a father-daughter story but a story of a husband and his wives, the theme of female captivity is nevertheless replicated in this suburban story.

The railroad station in Shady Hill resembled the railroad stations in old movies [Amy] had seen on television, where detectives and spies, bluebeards and their trusting victims, were met to be driven off to remote country estates.

Milieu

This was an era before the perils of drunk driving were widely known, and the babysitter simply had to put up with drunk men driving her home after her baby-sitting jobs. Moreover, women couldn’t necessarily drive themselves and cars were expensive:

Mrs. Henlein, anxious to get into her own bed and back to sleep, prayed that he wasn’t going to pour himself another drink, as they so often did. She was driven home night after night by drunken gentlemen.

Rosemary brings Amy a present of ‘Japanese Water Flowers’. I believe these were a child’s toy — a flower which opened up when placed in water, but I’m not sure if they were real flowers or made of paper.

As Cheever often does, he provides a soundtrack to this story, which is evocative of the times.

 

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There are studies suggesting that reading digitally is worse for recall and comprehension than reading books – yet many of them are based on computer screens not touchscreen tablets, and involved adults who’d grown up reading books, not children who’ve been swiping on tablets since they were toddlers.

There are studies suggesting that reading digitally may, in fact, benefit certain groups of children, from boys from disadvantaged backgrounds who struggle with print, through to children with dyslexia – but many of these are based on small sample groups, with the common conclusion being that more research is needed.

The Guardian

What Is Mythic Structure?

Myth can be considered a genre. It is the oldest genre, and to this day is the most popular.

Myth is not a part of every story. Even Joseph Campbell himself said that there was no mythic structure to be found in 25% of stories.

Today, the mythic form is the genre with the widest appeal, enjoyed by audiences across cultures.

Originally, the Greeks invented myths which are now the foundation of Western thought. Even then, they were considered allegorical and metaphorical. In Greek myths, there were always at least two levels of beings: Gods and humans. The gods represented the aspect of man which was able to gain enlightenment/excellence. The gods didn’t necessarily rule the humans.

Consider the Greek gods ‘psychological models’ which represent character traits.

Myths use a clearly prescribed set of symbolic objects. Original audiences always knew that these objects stood for something else. These objects also represent something within the hero. Even today, audiences will recognise these:

  • Journey = life path
  • Tree = tree of life
  • Underground = unexplored region of the self
  • and so on.

Take The Pilgrim’s Progress as a fairly modern story making use of mythic symbols:

Although The Pilgram’s Progress is allegorical, it is impossible even for an adult to read about Christian’s journey to the Celestial City in any other way than as a story. The passages through the Slough of Despond and the Valley of Humiliation, the fight with the monster Apollyon, the loss of Christian’s comrade Faithful in Vanity Fair, the crossing of the River of Death: these are actual and vivid events, as real in their own way as the mass of detail with which Defoe built up Robinson Crusoe. It may be noted that the themes of all these three books — the dangerous journey, as in The Pilgrim’s Progress, the desert island, as in Robinson Crusoe: and the miniature or other imaginary world, as in Gulliver — have served for innumerable later books, both children’s and adult, and are by no means worn out.

– – Written for Children by John Rowe Townsend

Pilgram's Progress

EXAMPLES OF STRONGLY MYTHIC  MODERN FILMS

  • Lord of the Rings
  • Superman/Spiderman/Batman etc – comic book stories are modern myth forms.
  • Close Encounters
  • Crocodile Dundee
  • Dances With Wolves
  • The Lion King
  • Groundhog Day
  • Avatar – science fiction stories often use the myth form, not only because myth is about the journey but also because myth is the story form that explores the most fundamental  human distinctions (human/robot etc.)
  • Thelma and Louise – a female buddy movie. Buddy movies tend to make use of mythic structure.
  • Casablanca
  • The African Queen – classic example of river as setting in a mythic story, along with Heart of Darkness
  • La Strada
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • The Piano – myth blended with romance
  • Bringing Up Baby
  • Singin’ in the Rain
  • Dona Flor And Her Two Husbands
  • Annie Hall
  • Sleepless in Seattle
  • True Grit – basically a crime story, blended with mythic structure
  • Harry Potter – mixture of myth, fairytale and coming-of-age in a school story. Typically for heroes of myth stories, Harry is a foundling, abandoned by his parents and brought up by horrible people.

Then there are computer games, such as Halo.


 

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Types Of Literary Shadowing

These literary devices are all ways of displacing the idea of temporal linearity in fiction. In other words: Authors don’t always want readers to assume that in stories time moves forward in a straight/simplistic way, or that everything ties up nicely.

 

FORESHADOWING

A literary device in which an author drops subtle hints about plot developments to come later in the story.

Compare with ‘telegraphing’, which is basically foreshadowing done in an overly heavy-handed way. In this case, the readers are able to predict what is about to happen, even though the author doesn’t want them to.

We find instances of foreshadowing in literature where we would not suspect it in real life, because nothing in a story lacks a purpose, or it wouldn’t be there. (See Chekov’s Gun.) Events in real life cannot be foreshadowed. This makes foreshadowing a specifically literary construction.

Foreshadowing is visible only to the reader, not the characters.

In picture books, foreshadowing can happen in the illustrations. For example, the drawing of the Wild Thing at the bottom of the stairs in Where The Wild Things Are. Upon second reading, the reader knows that Max has been creating these wild things in his imagination.

max dog

 

What is foreshadowing used for?

Foreshadowing gives the feeling that everything in a story is ‘tied-together’, and provides a sense of closure and satisfaction at the end of a story or scene. This technique helps avoid the feeling of deus ex machina, which is the feeling that something has suddenly swooped in to save the day (originally God, and in children’s literature, notoriously, an adult).

Foreshadowing provides the re-reader with extra insight.

Foreshadowing can add dramatic tension by building anticipation about future events. It can also help build a creepy/suspenseful atmosphere.

When added up, the details of foreshadowing can help the reader with verisimilitude, which is ironic, since foreshadowing doesn’t really happen in real life.

 

BACKSHADOWING

What is backshadowing?

Backshadowing is the technique of inserting commentary into the present narrative that refers to earlier narrative events. For example, a child living in present-day Germany discovers that she is a descendent of a war criminal. In order for such a story to make sense, the reader has to know something about Germany and the world wars.

Backshadowing is visible to readers as well as to characters — everyone knows what happened, and the story rests upon this shared schema.

 

What is backshadowing used for?

Many historians and writers of historical fiction employ backshadowing of real-world historical events because the reader already has a schema. For example, the holocaust might be used as a setting in a romance novel to allow the writer to spend time on the characters and plot.  This can be problematic.

In his book Foregone Conclusions: Against Apocalyptic History, author Michael Bernstein criticises authors who use their own and their audience’s knowledge of an apocalyptic event which occurs after the epoch about which they are writing to interpret the actions of their real or imaginary characters. Bernstein’s problem with backshadowing is that it encourages a reader to believe in determinism — that whatever happened in the past lead inevitably to the present we know.

 

Foregone Conclusions

The term backshadowing was coined by Bernstein

Another use of the term backshadowing: When describing the technique of starting a story with its ending, then shifting back to the beginning with the reader in full knowledge of the outcome but no idea how it all happened. This allows the writer to use a climactic event as a hook, drawing the reader in immediately with the promise that something big and interesting happens. It’s a subcategory of a flashback. In this case, the character is likely to interpret his/her own current (fictional) reality according to whatever happened in the past. In first person narratives where the character is the storyteller, the very act of storytelling becomes the main focus rather than the events themselves — the narrator’s main role is ‘artist’. (See The Role Of Storytellers in Fiction).

Related to ‘backshadowing’ is the bias ‘chronocentrism’, which is the natural human tendency to see one’s own time/era/generation as more special than others.

 

SIDESHADOWING

What is sideshadowing?

A character or narrator posits a series of possible events which never have any consequences in the story.

What is sideshadowing used for?

Sideshadowing draws attention to the possibility that other paths could have been taken. Sideshadowing suggests to a reader that one must grasp what else might have happened in order to fully understand an event. The technique suggests to readers that time is not a line but a shifting set of possibilities. Sideshadowing suggests that nothing can be wrapped up neatly, if at all.

In other words, sideshadowing is used to give a contrasting illumination to the ‘real’ event.

While foreshadowing makes the present and future seem inevitable, sideshadowing emphasises the contingency of the present.

Sideshadowing points outside the narrative, deliberately suggesting to the reader that more things might be going on than what’s expressed in the narrative.

See a longer definition at The Literary Lab.

In children’s literature, an example of sideshadowing can be found in Johnny, My Friend:

Let’s turn the clock back, Johnny! […] We’ll take the Alternative where […] you can have a home, Johnny, not just a bit of a smelly monster’s den, and a name, Johnny, you can have an English mum and a Swedish dad and a French sister, and me as a brother, and regular pocket money […]

This is a character visualising a series of alternative events that never happened in the story. (See Maria Nikolajeva’s From Mythic to Linear: Time in children’s literature.)

Lionel Shriver constructs an entire plot around sideshadowing in several of her novels.

Big Brother Shriver

 

Post Birthday World cover

Chekov was a fan of sideshadowing in his short stories.

In Russia, Dostoyevsky was no stranger to sideshadowing, either. Might be a Russian thing, because Tolstoy does it too.

 

Narrative and Freedom

Morson created the term sideshadowing.

Trends in Picturebooks

from Christine VanDeVelde for The Chicago Tribune

I’ve noticed from my feed — due to the publishing professionals I follow —  that editors are on the look out for ‘concept picture books’, and meta picture books are big right now — those such as Herve Tullet’s Press Here. I’ve been looking at those manuscript wish lists (#mswl) and wondering why certain critics are so skeptical of book apps while at the same time embracing the meta.  I don’t have a solid answer for that, but it’s great to see Betsy Bird acknowledging that (even if book apps can’t yet take off and fly), at least developers are having an impact on the wider landscape.

Where are all the female creation myths?

The masculine, heroic adventure story in the tradition of Odysseus has ‘only’ been dominant for the last 3000 years. Before then, myth was often about ‘origin’ — where did we come from? Who made us? Since women are the creators of life, it followed that the heroes of such myths were originally female. But where are all these original creation myths?

The female body follows the lunar cycle, which is closely associated with the idea of death and rebirth (waning and waxing moon). The cardinal function of the female body is reproduction. The female myths, describing female initiation, are aimed at repetition, rebirth, the eternal life cycle. Actually, very few genuine female myths exist in written–male, civilised, “symbolic” (Lacan)–form, due to many reasons. Connected with essential life mysteries such as menstruation and birth (both involving bloody), female myths are more secret and sacred than male myths. They have mostly existed in oral form, as esoteric rituals. In Western civilisation, they have been suppressed and muted by the dominant male culture. We can only discover traces and remnants of them, in the figures of the Progenitrix, the witch, the chthonic goddess.

— Maria Nikolajeva, From Mythic to Linear: Time in children’s literature

Picturebook Study: Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Where The Wild Things Are Book Cover

from Better Book Titles

from Better Book Titles

When I started reading books about picture books the first thing I noticed was how much the books of Maurice Sendak are referenced as primary sources, especially Where The Wild Things Are. Handy hint: If you’re thinking of reading academic literature in a bid to understand children’s books, have the Sendak oeuvre at your side. (Also Rosie’s Walk, the picturebooks of Anthony Browne and Chris van Allsburg.)

SENDAK_1963_Where_the_Wild_Things_Are_copyright_page

 

I find it ironic that the Book Depository description of Where The Wild Things Are includes the phrase: ‘Supports the Common Core State Standards’. Sendak famously did not write for children, saying, “I write stories, then someone else decides that they are for children.” I wonder what he would have to say about the heavily pedagogical motivations behind adults encouraging children to read his stories. Continue reading

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