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Islands in Children’s Literature

The island is an ideal setting for creating a story in a social context. Like the ocean and outer space, the island is both highly abstract and completely natural. It is a miniature of the earth, a small piece of land surrounded by water. The island is, by definition, a separated place. This is why, in stories, it is the laboratory of man, a solitary paradise or hell, the place where a special world can be built and where new forms of living can be created and tested.

— John Truby, Anatomy of Story

We see islands in the oldest literature we know, from Shakespeare’s The Tempest (Prospero’s Island) to Homer’s The Odyssey (Circe’s Island) to Jason and the Golden Fleece (Lemnos, Doilones, Cius etc).

Island stories often involve a shipwreck.

Painting by John William Waterhouse, 1916, Miranda from The Tempest

Painting by John William Waterhouse, 1916, Miranda from The Tempest

They also involve fire building.

An island without a fire is a waste of a good island.

Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome, 1932

The separate, abstract quality of the island is why it is often used to depict a utopia or dystopia. And even more than the jungle, the island is the classic setting for showing the workings of evolution.

In many ways, the island has the most complex story possibilities of any natural setting. Let’s take a closer look at how to get the most out of the island world in your story. Notice that the best way to express the inherent meaning of this natural setting is through the story structure.

  • Take time in the beginning to set up the normal society and the characters’ place within it. (Need)
  • Send the characters to an island. (Desire)
  • Create a new society based on different rules and values. (Desire)
  • Make the relationship between the characters very different from what it was in the original society. (Plan)
  • Through conflict, show what works and what doesn’t. (Opponent)
  • Show characters experimenting with something new when things don’t work. (Revelation or self-revelation)

Dystopian Island Settings

  • Lord Of The Flies
  • Jurassic Park
  • Cast Away
  • The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
  • Shutter Island
  • The Bridge To Terabithia

Utopian Island Settings

  • Utopia by Sir Thomas More, the book which gave English the word ‘utopia’ in the first place. Unfortunately for the author, he was executed by King Henry the eighth.
  • Anne Of Green Gables/Anne Of The Island — Prince Edward Island removes Anne completely from her former life, to the point where in the classic story she suffers no PTSD (unlike in a proposed remake).
  • Robinson Crusoe — The most iconic of all island books, and an example of desert island fiction, in which a remote and ‘uncivilised’ island is used as the venue of the story and action. It has a particular attraction because it can be placed right outside the ‘real’ world and may be an image of the ideal, the unspoilt and the primit.ve It appeals directly to the sense of adventure and exploratory instinct, and to a certain atavistic nostalgia. This novel from 1719 marked the beginning of this universally popular literary genre.
  • Treasure Island — R.L. Stevenson published this in 1883. This is probably the most popular island book ever.
Geronimo Stilton: Treasure of the Emerald Eye. Any children's book set on an island with treasure and maps and pirates is probably a spoof of Treasure Island.

Geronimo Stilton: Treasure of the Emerald Eye. Any children’s book set on an island with treasure and maps and pirates is probably a spoof of Treasure Island.

  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society
  • Five On A Treasure Island/Five On Kirrin Island Again
  • The Light Between Oceans
  • To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf — a modernist, stream-of-consciousness novel about the Ramsay family. An example of a psychological novel.
  • The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader — by C.S. Lewis, part of the Narnia series.
  • The Old Man And The Sea — by Ernest Hemingway, set in Cuba and the Gulf Stream. A man against nature tale with biblical themes, about a man who tries to catch a fish.
  • Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome — the islands where the children summer are islands in a wider sense; apart from the fact their father is away they are totally shielded from news of the war.

The farm at Holly Howe had all turned into foreign country. They were quite different places now that you came to them by water from an island of your own. They were not at all what they had been when you lived htere and saw the island far away over the water. Coming back to them was almost the same thing as exploration. It was like exploring a place that you have seen in a dream, where everything is just where you expect it and yet everything is a surprise.

Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome, 1932

Stories set on islands often feature a map at the beginning of the book. Geography is important.

Swallows and Amazons Map

Stories set on islands often feature significant birds.

At its most metaphorical, the island features a lone or significant tree.

PICTURE BOOKS

Tanglewood by Margaret Wild and Vivienne Goodman

Tanglewood is a tree who lives on an island far away, visited only by the wind. One day a bird shelters from the storm among its branches and a precious bond is formed. But Seagull belongs to the sky and, too soon, must leave.

Note the white space on this first page — the white space itself connotes loneliness.

Tanglewood island

Island Boy by Barbara Cooney (1988)

Barbara Cooney (August 6, 1917 – March 10, 2000) was an American writer and illustrator of 110 children’s books, published over sixty years.

Island Boy by Barbara Cooney

The story is about a pioneer couple who move to an island and populate it with six boys and six girls. This is basically an American Western story — about world building.

island-boy1

The focal character is the baby of the family, Matthais (not to be confused for Matthias). The name apparently means ‘Gift from God’. As the runt of the litter, Matthais is drawn to a lone gull, and manages to tame it somewhat. It seems to be lame, but manages to fly off.

When he grows up, Matthais goes to work at his uncle’s shipyard like all of his older brothers. (The girls are married off.)

Matthais travels the world as a cabin boy, finds a wife called Hannah and brings her back to the island where the story takes a bit of a feminist turn, and Hannah produces three daughters — the youngest of whom ‘can’t sit still inside’ — the designed ‘tomboy’ of the group. Matthais calls her his ‘little wild bird’. (You just know that childhood bird is going to be significant.) The youngest daughter is compared to a bird with her ‘flyaway hair’. When she grows up she even marries a ‘sail maker’ — the closest you can get to a human bird, I guess.

Matthais’ wife dies and Annie sends her grandson back to spend time with the grandfather every weekend. He resists the urge to sell to townsfolk moving in, building houses that they call cottages. The author’s disapproval of this development is clear. “They called themselves rusticators.” The stoic and pious nature of Matthais is underscored when he says to his older daughter, “But our wants are so few now…And this is our home.”

island boy jetty

Despite warning his grandson not to go out in the bad wind, the old man sails to the mainland, gets overturned in a storm, and drowns.

But we see the cycle of life continue when the young Matthias stands under that tree that his grandfather is buried under.

island boy tree

The Artifacts by Slap Happy Larry

In our picturebook app, The Artifacts, the main character’s loneliness is depicted via island symbolism.

The Artifacts island at sea

A small planet in space does the same thing as an island at sea. In a SF story, space is metaphorically the same as an ocean.

Island in space The Artifacts

MIDDLE GRADE

The Silent One Joy Cowley cover

The Silent One is written by one of New Zealand’s most loved children’s writers, Joy Cowley. My teacher handed it to me when I was about ten and I still remember it’s about a boy called Jonasi who is deaf. The island setting is a perfect match for the theme of isolation brought about by an inability to fully communicate with others.

 

CITIES AS ISLANDS

The examples above are examples of literal islands, but a metaphorical island can be something else entirely.

It can be a city.

The skyscrapers of cities are really no more than modern manmade mountains. The streets symbolic of rivers. The gardens symbolic of that ancient image of an earthly paradise first symbolized in the Garden of Eden. And even the city itself, really no more than the symbol of an island surrounded by the vastness of the ocean of nature.

Symbolism of Place

midnight feast lightning

Scene from Midnight Feast. The weather is important to survival on an island, as it is here, in a story set in a city, starring a girl isolated from everything outside her bedroom window.

Comparative Children’s Literature: Finland

Comet In Moominland

The Moomin stories are some of the weirdest and most inventive children’s books out there, and much beloved, especially in the Moomin family’s native Finland, where there is an entire theme park called Moomin World. Something rational tells us that we might want to work on getting the entire existing oeuvre readily available in the states before we start clamoring for more, but we feel like clamoring nonetheless.

Flavorwire

THE SUMMER BOOK

Though best known outside her home country of Finland for the series of children’s books she wrote featuringthe Moomins, Tove Jansson was also a wonderful writer of adult fiction. Featuring an old woman and her six-year-old granddaughter, The Summer Book retains the warmth and quirkiness of her children’s stories, but adds a layer of Nordic melancholy to the mix. There is no plot to speak of – Sophia and her grandmother simply share a summer on an island, talking, eating, laughing and exploring – yet this remains a charming and beautiful book, with prose that sparkles from beginning to end.

Best Loved Finnish Children’s Books

  • those by Tove Jansson (who writes in Swedish)
  • Lena Krohn, the Minerva books
  • winners of the Finlandia Prize
  • and also the Finlandia Junior award
  • The popular Heinähattu ja Vilttitossu (‘Hayhat and Fluffshoe’, illustrated by Markus Majaluoma, Tammi) series of children’s novels by the sisters Sinikka and Tiina Nopola has now been relaunched for picture-book readers.
  • Timo Parvela’s novel Ella ja Äf Yksi (‘Ella and F One’, Tammi), part of his Ella series set in a primary school, reached the silver screen last year in a film version directed by Taneli Mustonen.
  • Dystopia, fantasy that reaches out into the future, is clearly on the way to becoming a new and trendy subgenre of domestic fantasy. The best examples include Annika Luther’s De hemlösas stad (‘The city of the homeless’, Söderströms), as well as Routasisarukset (‘The frost children’,WSOY), the splendid opening volume of Anne Leinonen and Eija Lappalainen’s fantasy trilogy…The realistic novel for young adults is clearly going through a critical stage.
  • The number of self-contained (non-serial) novels for young people is decreasing. (From ‘Once Upon A Time’.)
  • The classic novel by Aleksis Kivi. Joulupukki (1981), published in English as Santa Claus, is arguably the world’s best-known Finnish children’s book.
  • Kirsi Kunnas (born 1924) is the queen of Finnish children’s poetry.

General Notes On Finnish Children’s Literature

  • Finnish picture books for children have long been reliable export goods around the world…Now young adult literature has also blazed a trail on to the international market. (Books From Finland)
  • Not much in the way of ‘anarchy’. (The first children’s book by Alexandra Salmela, who has previously published a novel for adults, brings some sorely needed anarchy to Finnish storybooks. – Alexandra Salmela:
 Kirahviäiti ja muita hölmöjä aikuisia
 [Giraffe mummy and other silly adults]
  • Most Finnish board books have been following the contemporary trend for strong colour palettes with pared-down character designs. – from a review of Toivon talvi
 [Toivo’s winter]
.
  • The buyers of Christmas presents favour books written by Finnish authors.
  • All new mothers in Finland receive a ‘maternity package’ from the state containing items for the baby (including bedding, clothing and various childcare products) intended to give each baby a good start in life. This tradition, which started in 1938, is believed to be the only such programme in the world. Each package also contains the baby’s first book, traditionally a sturdy board book by a Finnish author. – from Future, fantasy and everyday life: books for young readers
  • Novels for beginning readers often carry an indication of the publisher’s recommended age range on the front cover. This has led to confusion among young readers as well as library staff who recommend books to readers. The first decade of the 21st century was a time of upheaval in Finnish reading culture, with diagnoses of various reading disorders, more entertainment options competing for children’s attention and the increase in the number of children from immigrant backgrounds all putting new demands on children’s literature. (from same source as above)
  • Sci-fi/fantasy writing now appears to be taking over from realism in Finnish young adult literature. A number of authors who previously favoured realism (Salla Simukka, Laura Lähteenmäki, Anne Leinonen & Eija Lappalainen) have now turned their attention to dystopias, though the themes of independence and growth are still present in their new works. Supernatural romances with vampires and trolls are also making their presence felt in Finnish literature. (same)
  • There is a tradition in Finnish children’s literature of giving an idyllic portrayal of the natural world. From a review of Mila Teräs & Karoliina Pertamo: Elli ja tuttisuu [Elli and the dummy]. Today, Finnish children’s relationship with nature is limited to the surroundings of the summer cabin.
  • Modern picturebooks are influenced by traditional Finnish folktales such as the Kalevala, a Finnish folk epic. (See here for an online collection.The Kalevala and other mythological subjects appear in Louhi, the adventure-packed final book in Timo Parvela’s Sammon vartijat (‘Guardians of the Sampo’) trilogy, in Reeta Aarnio’s children’s fantasy Veden vanki (‘The prisoner of the water’), and in Sari Peltoniemi’s Hämärän rengissä (‘The servant of darkness’), which is an imaginative combination of alternative history and fantasy. (reference here)
  • The supply of titles for children and young adults is greater than ever, but the attention the Finnish print media pays to them continues to diminish.
  • Literature aimed at older teenagers is coming close to matching the diversity of adult literature.
  • Families in stories are increasingly diverse. Of the Finlandia Junior Prize, the chief judge said in 2010: ‘‘It caught my attention that in none of the six shortlisted children’s books are there any so-called nuclear families, at least not for long. The main characters constantly live and grow without something – the lack of parents or the attention of an adult is a serious matter to a child. However, in these books there is always someone who cares, not perhaps a stereotypical mom or dad, but an adult nevertheless.’
  • The retro fad, with its interest in the lifestyles of previous eras like the 1960s and 70s can be seen not just in fashion and interior design, but also in children’s book illustrations, the delicate tones of the 70s can be seen both in the visuals and in the earnest didacticism reminiscent of 70s children’s books.

Camp vs Kitsch

Camp David cover

CAMP: A PREFERENCE FOR REVERSAL AND REJECTION OF SINCERITY

I was listening to a podcast recently — I think it was one of the 99% podcasts — when someone in interview started talking about something being ‘camp’ and I realised I have no idea what the word actually means. I thought it described the behaviour of stereotypically gay men, in relaxed, social mode. But no. I still had no idea what it meant, even after listening to a lengthy discussion about it in relation to architecture.

But then, a few weeks later, I came across ‘camp’ again in an essay about David Bowie:

Camp is notoriously hard to define, but in most conceptions it involves both a sense of doubleness — things are not merely what they seem to the naive viewer — and a preference for reversal — the very bad now reinterpreted as good. Camp makes most sense not as an aesthetic style — like classicism or modernism — but as a mode of apprehension or a hermeneutic. It is a way of understanding or interpreting the world. Historically, camp emerges in gay subculture where it functions as a kind of passive resistance to the straight world, much of the cynical humor of the Russians was a form of passive resistance to Stalinism…. Transvestitism for obvious reasons lends itself to camp interpretation, and the embrace of artifice over nature is a convention of camp taste… camp interpretation requires a lack of seriousness and the rejections of sincerity.

– from Goth: Undead Subculture

(Hermeneutic is another word which I keep having to look up.) This is probably the best description of camp that I have seen, because it describes how it relates to gay culture, while explaining in clear terms the wider context.

Another word I have trouble defining — apart from ‘I know it when I see it sense’ is kitsch.

Hetereosexual Camp Things In Modern Culture from The Toast

KITSCH: CRAP THAT PEOPLE UNACCOUNTABLY LIKE

From io9:

Fantasy has a problem – it is inherently kitsch. What do I mean by kitsch? Crap that people unaccountably like. The dictionary defines kitsch as tawdry, vulgarised or pretentious art usually with popular or sentimental appeal. Unicorns, wizards, put upon young wretches who come to be great mages, haughty princesses, riders in dark cloaks – Robert Jordan, if you want it summed up in two words.

Well, I suppose that’ll do. So what’s the opposite of kitsch?

In going the other way, in trying too hard to be ‘realistic’, honest, gritty or meaningful we end up over-reaching ourselves and the monster eats us anyway.

There. Now I have a definition for ‘gritty’. I’m just going to say it’s the ‘opposite of kitsch’ and be done with it.

Middle Grade Fiction Study: The Babysitter’s Club

from Better Book Titles

from Better Book Titles

It would be easy to dismiss The Babysitter’s Club as an outdated storyline aimed at channeling girls into careers in childcare, turning them into good little obedient baby-machines and not much else. However, never judge a book by its title, right? (Because a lot of the time authors don’t choose their own titles anyhow.) And I’d never actually read a copy.

After hearing The Babysitters Club series is was recently reissued as ebooks I decided to actually read one, for the first time in my life. You’d think I’d have read a number of the series already because I was nine years old when the first book, Kristy’s Great Idea was published, and therefore in exactly the right demographic.

In year six a school friend invited me to her house for a playdate and I was impressed to see that she owned the entire series. Her parents had bought her a weekly subscription and they had arrived in the mail. My Trixie Beldens and Famous Fives and Secret Sevens remained incomplete on my bookshelf — not only that, some were hardbacks, some were paperbacks — my books just didn’t look as neat as these super attractive pastel-coloured spines lined up in all their complete numerical order. In hindsight I don’t know if it was the stories I coveted but the books as works of art.

And those covers! Now that Photoshopped images are ubiquitous, those photo-realistic depictions of happy-looking American adolescents were an unusual sight in graphic design back then. It’s easy to forget that. I have memories of gazing at those covers marveling at how the pictures fit somewhere between photo and paintings. What skill, I thought, to be able to paint like that!

Unlike the authors of other series of the 80s, such as Sweet Valley High and the never-die Nancy Drew, the author of The Babysitter’s Club is a real woman and that is her real name. Given Martin’s high work output, and the generic sounding everyname, I had wondered if she were a group of authors contracted to write a few books each. But no, Ann M. Martin obviously cares very much about her work — as much as any other authors writing under their own name.

As for the books themselves, I’m pleased to report that yes, they have dated (in a good way) and no, they are not the least bit sexist. In fact, they’re a damn sight better than a lot of the series being published now. If you can pick up a series of Babysitters Club cheap second hand and give them to your middle school daughter, you’ll be doing good.

BOOK ONE: KRISTY’S GREAT IDEA

Kristy's Great Idea cover

 

Kristy is responsible for looking after her little brother David Michael, but so are her two older brothers. Likewise, we learn that while Kristy refuses (initially) to babysit for her mother’s man-friend, one of her older brothers has already volunteered. So right from the outset, babysitting is not portrayed as a task for girls. Kristy knows her own mind, and will not be railroaded into doing something she doesn’t want to. The brothers are possibly more pliable than she is.

Kristy’s mom (who is divorced) “likes the fact that she can support us so well.” The mother has a ‘very good job at a big company in Stamford’… ‘but she still feels guilty‘. This reminds me of feminist conversations that would have been happening back then, before the 90s kicked in, and everyone assumed women had achieved equality now, so most people stopped writing things like this ‘out loud’. In the mid-eighties, divorced families were more of an oddity too. This sort of family situation is a lot more common today, and more young readers will identify with antagonistic feelings towards a parent’s new partner. I would add that this book is looking a bit too Brady Bunch at this point, because Kristy seemed to bond with her step-father-to-be quite easily in the end. I hope there will continue to be real-life blended-family issues in following stories.

The girls are inventive. First, there’s the Babysitter’s Club itself, which is spurred by Kristy herself. Their inventiveness is an historic kind; the girls have already worked out a way of communicating between the houses at night using torches. This is the sort of detail which dates the book, but not in a bad way.

There are other cultural references which set these stories firmly in the 80s, with references to G.I. Joe and Sesame Street, but I’m pretty sure a lot of these childhood icons are still about. At any rate, the cultural shock for a modern kid reading a story from the 1980s would be no more stark than that of a little New Zealand kid reading these same stories back when they were new. I still have no idea what a fudgesicle or a jawbreaker is. (Hello, Internet. Turns out a jawbreaker is a gobstopper. A fudgesicle is a chocolate icecream popsicle.)

“Mary-Ann and I ran home together.” For me this was a lovely scene of two adolescent girls enjoying the last of their childhood. Very soon I expect they will stop running, and become more aware of the expectations of ladyhood. I had a flashback of running along under the covered-way at my own very large high-school when a group of boys older than me yelled something disparaging about the fact that I was running instead of walking. I stopped running after that, having learnt that very day that high school girls do not run. (Also, cool people in general do not run. They don’t even walk. Cool people swagger, and make space on the footpath for no one.)

These 12 year old girls are never late for a job. This is spelled out, and is one example of how Kristy is a good role model for adolescent readers. Via the running of the Babysitters’ Club, readers learn the basics of  business management: how to run meetings, members of a board, dealing with interpersonal issues, in-coming and outgoing expenses… This series would be a good introduction for any kid with aspirations of starting her own small company.

Fashion has changed a lot and the descriptions of clothing is very entertaining. Claudia is held up as the goddess of fashion with her ‘short, very baggy lavender plaid overalls, a white lacy blouse, a black fedora, and a red high-top sneakers without socks… I felt extremely blah compared to her.’

Claudia’s older sister Janine has an IQ of 196, and is really quite an annoying character. I can’t think of many examples in school stories in which the nerdy genius character is female — it’s more often a male trope: ‘Her second best friend is her computer.’

So I only read one, but if the stories continue in that fashion, I would be perfectly happy for my daughter to take a liking to them when she’s older.

RELATED LINKS

The Babysitter’s Club: Idea And Phantom from Beauty And The Armageddon

Graphic Novels Aren’t Just Comic

12 Facts About The Babysitter’s Club from BuzzFeed

The Baby-Sitters Club: The Things You Notice Reading as an Adult from Beauty and the Armageddon

The Babysitter’s Club at TV Tropes

Ann M. Martin is still writing books. (Not Babysitters Club books.)

Does that missing apostrophe bother you? (It bothers me in the same way that the title Gilmore girls does not capitalise Girls.) Anyhow, there are internet discussions on this.

If you’re into 80s fashion and derive pleasure from learning what the members of the Babysitters Club were wearing during their suburban adventures then you might check out Buzzfeed’s Definitive Ranking Of Babysitters Club Cover Outfits (and they even put in an apostrophe for you).

The Inspector Gadget Remake Summarises How Children’s Media Has Changed

In which girl character and dog character have equal billing

In which girl character and dog character have equal billing

Interestingly, Esquire calls this ‘the digital era’, under the idea that the use of computers has an integral impact on narrative. The medium is the message, and all that.

1. FASTER PACE

Steven DeNure, president and COO of DHX Media, was thrilled to acquire the rights to Gadget in 2012. But he worried the old Gadget wouldn’t appeal to its target audience of young children.

For starters, the pacing was painfully slow. Kids today are used to fast-moving commercials, quick cuts, and a thing called the Internet.

2. FEMALE CHARACTERS ARE STILL DEALING WITH A WORLD IN WHICH THEY’RE SO OFTEN RELEGATED TO SECONDARY ROLES UNDER BUMBLING MALE PROTAGONISTS

Gadget remains as clueless as ever, and Penny remains just as brainy.

This is related to what has been called The Hermione Trope. We see it in movies such as Monster House, too, and ParaNorman, in which the bossy brainy girl saves the day, but completely behind the scenes. 35 years later, girls are still swots, boys are still adventurous etc. Boys see that they don’t need to be such swots to get on in the world — they’ll be the stars of the story because of their gender.

3. CHILD CHARACTERS ARE MORE FREQUENTLY SEXUALISED

“What we wanted to do was make Penny a little older,” says Chalopin, who estimates she was between 10 and 12 before and is now in her mid-teens. She also has a new love interest: Dr. Claw’s spiky-haired nephew, Talon. “He’s more of a kid of today,” Chalopin says.

4. ‘GOOD LOOKS’ ARE EVER MORE IMPORTANT, FOR BOTH BOY AND GIRL CHARACTERS

[Talon] makes a great counterpart to Penny with his good looks and his charm.

5. CHILD CHARACTERS MAKE USE OF MOBILE PHONES AND OTHER TECHNOLOGIES, WHICH CHANGES THE STORY

“Penny had a smartphone way before it existed,” Chalopin says, so that wouldn’t impress children today. To get around the problem, he created “holographic protection” for Brain and a computer that appears out of thin air when Penny needs it.

6. FOR FINANCIAL REASONS, CHILDREN’S CONTENT CAN’T JUST BE FOR CHILDREN

Financing remains an uphill battle. Much of what’s selected today, at least for content streaming services like Netflix, must not only reach a broad group of viewers but transcend countries and age groups as well. As Erik Barmack, Netflix’s vice president of global independent content, says, “The things we look for in general is if the shows transcend countries, have a new story to be told, or a new way of reimagining characters.” Gadget, he says, ticks off all three criteria.

This explains the increasingly sexualised teen characters over a pre-adolescent girl character.

– How Inspector Gadget Was Remade For A New Generation from Esquire

What is a metaphor for?

Every metaphor or simile is a little explosion of fiction within the larger fiction of the novel or story.

— James Wood, How Fiction Works

The metaphor is a fabricated image, without deep, true, genuine roots. It is an ephemeral expression. It is, or should be, one that is used only once, in passing. We must be careful, therefore not to give it too much thought; nor should the reader think too much about it.

— Gaston Bachelard, Poetics of Space

The Difference Between Imagery and Metaphor

A metaphor gives concrete substance to an impression that is difficult to express. Metaphor is related to a psychic being from which it differs. An image, on the contrary, product of absolute imagination, owes its entire being to the imagination.

— Gaston Bachelard, Poetics of Space

And what about the mixed metaphor?

A mixed metaphor is defined as ‘a combination of two or more incompatible metaphors’.

Actually, there is a way in which mixed metaphor is perfectly logical, and not an aberration at all. … In contemporary parlance, what people dislike about mixed metaphor is that it tends to combine two different cliches, as in, say, “out of a sea of despair, he has pulled forth a plum.” The metaphorical aspect is actually dimmed, almost to non-existence, by the presence of two or more mixed cliches (which be definition are themselves dim or dead metaphors).

— James Wood, How Fiction Works

The Secret Of Powerful Metaphor

Often the leap toward the counterintuitive, toward the very opposite of the thing you are seeking to compare, is the secret of powerful metaphor. […] Obviously, whenever you liken x to y, you will be drawing attention to the fact that x is really nothing like y, as well as drawing attention to the effort involved in producing such extravagances. The kind of metaphor I most delight in, however […] estranges and then instantly connects, and n doing the latter so well, hides the former. The result is a tiny shock of surprise, followed by a feeling of inevitability.

— James Wood, How Fiction Works

(I’ve heard that ‘surprise plus feeling of inevitability’ combo before, elsewhere, in describing ‘the perfect ending’ to a story. In short, metaphors and endings have a few things in common.)

Metaphor In Children’s Literature

When the image or metaphor is within a child’s range of sensory, emotional, cognitive and moral experience and is expressed in linguistic terms that can be apprehended and comprehended by young readers, a book becomes classed as a children’s one.

— Maurice Saxby, Give Them Wings

TV Study: Stranger Things (2016)

stranger-things-banner

**CONTAINS ALL THE SPOILERS**

Stranger Things is a Netflix series created by the brilliantly named ‘Duffer Brothers’, out this year but set in 1983. Though I suspect strong ‘recency bias’, season one scores a very high 9.2 on IMDb.

The show feels like a mixture of Twin Peaks (with the missing kids and small community), Freaks and Geeks (with the three nerdy boys playing Dungeons and Dragons and the older sister trying to find her place in the cool group), something done by Stephen King, and Minority Report (with its sensory deprivation bath and freaky magic-genius girl).

Minority Report Stranger Things

The show also feels a bit like the computer games Don’t Starve and Minecraft, with its own version of the Nether (“The Upside Down”).

Don't Starve

Continue reading

The Most Dubious Gender Ratio In Children’s Stories

Geronimo Stilton_600x439

If you ever open a book and you find there is one female and three main male characters

AND the female is described in relation to the main male

AND she has extra eyelashes/a pink female signifier…

You can almost guarantee this is a sexist story.

The girls in Geronimo Stilton love frivolous things like shopping.

The girls in Geronimo Stilton love frivolous things like shopping.

See Also

The Smurfette Principle the Wikipedia explanation

The Minority Feisty from Reel Girl

The Female Maturity Formula In Modern Storytelling

Will Boys Watch Stories About Girls? from Blue Milk, which is about film, but could equally be about literature

Children’s Books And Segregation from The Society Pages

Stories Are Genderless from Foz Meadows

Boys read for pleasure as much as girls

The three to one ratio is typical across all of children’s literature, in case you are thinking Geronimo Stilton is a standout example. This podcast from The Book Show on ABC, features Janet McCabe,
Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Florida, talking about her study on Gender in Twentieth-Century Children’s Books. McCabe found that Little Golden Books, for which new stories were published between 1942 and 1993, depict an especially small proportion of female characters: 3.2 males for every 1 female.

Pyrrhic Victories and Tragic Dilemmas In Fiction

What Is A Pyrrhic Victory?

  • A pyrrhic victory is a ‘victory’ in which the costs of winning are so enormous that winning becomes an ironic term.
  • In the ultimate pyrrhic victory, the main character has achieved what needs doing but is dead by the end of the story. The hero can ‘transcend’ what in the real world we would call a victory.
  • Some people think that successful stories have to have happy endings. This is simply not true if you look around at what’s popular, even out of Hollywood. Pyrrhic victories are extremely common.
  • A subset of pyrrhic victories are stories in which the main character faces a tragic dilemma.

Tragic Dilemmas

Moral philosopher Bernard Williams argued that there are lots of situations in life where something won’t work, where we are just stuck and there’s no way out.

  • Agamemnon by Aeschylus — A great king has to either betray his army by abandoning his expedition to Troy, or sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia, because the goddess Artemis was preventing the wind from blowing the right way, and demanded this price.
  • Sophie’s Choice — perhaps the most obvious example of a tragic dilemma — expressed even in the title. Sophie has to decide which of her two children is to be sent immediately to the gas chamber.
  • A Streetcar Named Desire — Writer and critic Joseph Wood Krutch, in appraising Blanche, says, “Her instincts are right. She is on the side of civilisation and refinement. But the age has placed her in a tragic dilemma. She looks about for a tradition according to which she may live and a civilisation to which she can be loyal. She finds none. Ours is a society which has lost its shape.”

English Speaking Cultures Are Not Translating Enough Non-English Children’s Literature

Although Britain is part of the European Union, when it comes to children’s literature, it makes more sense to regard Britain as standing apart from Europe.

Here’s why.

When you talk about your writing with Europeans, they’re more interested in what you’re saying with your fiction–your themes and influences. Americans tend to be interested in how much it pays, and when the movie’s coming out.

– Olen Steinhauer

Could this mean that Europeans have more interest in themes and messages in kidlit, also?

  • In European countries that remained as dictatorships after WW2 (like Spain), the production of children’s books remained very much under state control and didn’t flourish.
  • With the exception of Britain, translated books are seen to have an important educational and hence ideological function, fostering mutual understanding and European unity.
  • With the exception of Britain, in European countries up to 35% of their published children’s literature has been translated from another language. (Britain’s rate is 1%.)

Britain, like America is not translating enough European children’s literature.

Walking around at Bologna [International Children’s Book Fair], there is so much good work from so many countries (as well as a lot that is, well, market driven, to be polite), whether in text or illustration, that you wonder why more of it isn’t represented in Britain. Take the Andersen and Astrid Lindgren award winners for instance. [Argentinian writer] Andruetto isn’t published at all in English and only two of [Danish writer] Guus Kuijer’s over fifty titles have ever been translated. And this isn’t just about translation, because there’s a lot from other countries that publish in English that doesn’t reach us. … To be at Bologna, then, is to be astonished both by what is published for children internationally, how little of this we see in Britain, and yet how large a presence British children’s books have worldwide.

Books For Keeps

 

If anyone would like to see this changed, do support small publishers such as New Zealand based Gecko Press who translate some of the best work from (mainly) Europe for English speaking children to enjoy.

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