Slap Happy Larry

picturebooks, story apps, eBooks, short stories

Author: Lynley (page 1 of 50)

Picturebook Study: Rosie’s Walk

Rosie's Walk Picture Puffin

See an animated version of Rosie’s Walk from 1970.

This picturebook is, on a pedagogical level, designed to teach young readers  dimensional prepositions, but this is very much subordinated to the interesting story.



There are two distinct stories in this picturebook:

1. Rosie the hen walks from her coop, across the yard, around the pond, over the haycock, past the mill, through the fence, under the beehives and back to her coop.

2. A very hungry fox plots to murder Rosie the hen but is foiled time after time by getting himself into pickles.

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Short Story Study: Fun With A Stranger by Richard Yates

Eleven Kinds Of Loneliness Vintage Yates

Some short stories exist mostly as character studies. Fun With A Stranger is a particularly engaging example of a character-study short story, with a plot that exists to paint a portrait of a particular kind of old-fashioned school teacher. The reader feels empathy for everyone involved, from the young pupils to the teacher herself.


A man retells what it was like being a third grader in Miss Snell’s class. Continue reading

Picturebook Study: Millie by John Marsden and Sally Rippin

Millie Book Cover

How young readers love to hear about naughty children. If this were a story by Roald Dahl, the naughty Millie would definitely have met a nasty end, but this particular naughty child remains the apple of her parents’ eyes. Since all children have bad thoughts sometimes, this story is a comfort-read, and would be especially so as a bedtime book at the end of a bad day.

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Short Story Study: Autumn Day by Mavis Gallant

This short story is interesting for feminist reasons. Think of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique; think of Mad Men’s Betty Draper and compare the idle, childlike helplessness of Cissy, the first person narrator in Autumn Day. This is a post WW2 picture of American housewives. The men had just saved everyone’s bacon in the war, or so they believed. And after bonding with other men in masculine settings, their wives seemed like foreign creatures.


Young and lonely in Salzberg, the newly married 19-year-old Cissy feels estranged from her sergeant husband and fails equally to connect emotionally with any of her local companions. The wife of her husband’s one and only friend is uncomfortably open with Cissy, letting her in on things Cissy doesn’t want to know. Another woman tells her a big secret and then accuses Cissy of leaking it when she hasn’t. Instead, Cissy is drawn to the reclusive singer living upstairs. Hoping to meet the singer before she returns to America, Cissy writes her a note, complimenting her on her singing. The singer invites Cissy to lunch and Cissy is overjoyed to get the invitation, but she is too late; she is given the note the following day and has missed her chance to meet the one woman she thought she might have a connection with.


It is seven years since the end of WW2 and Cissy’s sergeant husband has been posted to Salzberg, Austria, as part of the Army of Occupation. (The American army were stationed in and around Germany following each of the world wars.)

The Allied occupation of Austria lasted from 1945 to 1955. Austria had been regarded by Nazi Germany as a constituent part of the German state, but in 1943 the Allied powers agreed in the Declaration of Moscow that it would be regarded as the first victim of Nazi aggression, and treated as a liberated and independent country after the war.

– Wikipedia

Salzberg Austria

The story is written from first person point of view by a woman looking back with mature understanding of herself as a 19 year old, so the fictional ‘time of writing’ takes place many years later, perhaps when the narrator is a middle-aged woman. The story itself was published in 1955, 6 years after the events in this story fictionally took place. (Perhaps the narrator is still 25 and has matured considerably in that brief time?)

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Holding On To Enid Blyton

childhood books you can't give away

I grew up in the 1980s and 90s, but this was before parallel importing of books in New Zealand, when books were still super-duper expensive. Few kids owned many and school libraries were quite small. I was lucky to grow up in a household full of books, though these comprised almost entirely of:

1. Little Golden Books

2. Read-It-Yourself books from Ladybird

3. My mother’s childhood books, and for some reason, a number which had belonged to her cousin. These were mostly Famous Five novels, along with a few from Blyton’s Malory Towers series and a few similarly bound ‘girls’ novels’ by Elsie J. Oxenham.

Here is a picture of Elsie J. Oxenham. It was taken in 1910.

Elsie J Oxenham portrait

The photo says it all.



I never was impressed by Oxenham’s books, which have dated in the most conspicuously terrible way you can imagine. I’ve since passed them on, and perhaps a collector found them at the second hand store. Enid Blyton’s books, however, are harder to get rid of, not because they haven’t dated. Enid Blyton’s books are terrible in ways that are well-known and well-documented by many other modern readers:

Enid Blyton’s Books Were A Product Of Their Time

The reason I’m having trouble giving my Enid Blyton collection away is because the stories are still compelling, and because I have such fond memories of Enid Blyton stories as a child. Again, I’m not alone in this:

500 Million Readers Can’t Be Wrong from Children’s Books Articles

The Enduring Appeal Of Enid Blyton from The Guardian

Some of my Enid Blytons

Some of my Enid Blytons

If there’s any dilemma at all in the first world problem of owning too many books, it is this:

  1. Do I want my daughter to read Enid Blyton, over and over again, like I did?
  2. Did I love the stories of Enid Blyton mainly because I wasn’t exposed to much else?
  3. Is there enough time during childhood for the average reader to get through all of the old classics as well as all the best new ones?
  4. What does it mean to be a well-read child these days, when there is so much out there?
  5. Wouldn’t I prefer my daughter read modern classics over and over, for example the Harry Potter series, which is neither racist nor sexist (at least, if it is, we can’t see it yet)?
  6. Do I donate these Enid Blytons to the second-hand store, or do I keep them here, taking up space on a shelf?
  7. If I give them away, will I feel the hole they have left? After all, those are my childhood memories right there!
  8. If I keep them on the shelf and my daughter finds them, will I be slightly irritated that she’s not reading better stuff, which I have bought for her with good money?
  9. If my daughter reads them, is this an unexpectedly wonderful lesson in 20th Century inequalities, as it was for me?
  10. Is there a danger in sheltering young people from the sexism of earlier eras that they forget things can swing just as quickly back the other way?

What have you done with your childhood books? Do you encourage your children to read those over newer ones? Do you think children should read older books alongside modern publications for a rounded view of recent history?

Monsters and Creatures In Children’s Literature

Making monsters with the six-year-old with Artrage 4

Making monsters with the six-year-old with Artrage 4

A Field Guide to the Eccentric Creatures of Classic Children’s Literature from Huffington Post

The Role Of Children’s Stories In Managing Childhood Fears And Promoting Empowerment, a paper by M.A. Taylor

The Greatest Monsters In Children’s Literature according to Flavorwire

Picture Books With Monsters, a Goodreads list

Things That Appear In Picturebooks More Than In Real Life

Objects like tops and toy trains appear again and again in children’s books despite their absence from the lives of most contemporary children.

– Words About Pictures, Perry Nodelman

Putting the most obvious fantasy items aside, to that list I’ll add:

  • fathers reading newspapers in the kitchen
  • mothers wearing aprons in the kitchen
  • white people
  • boys (at a ratio of two to one), see the work of Janet McCabe
  • middle class interior decor and big grassy yards
  • tidy kid bedrooms
  • patchwork quilts
  • patterned wallpaper
  • old-style TVs with rabbit-ear antennae on top
  • symmetrical-looking trees that look good to climb (or shinny down)
  • healthy, green lawns and colourful flowerbeds
  • blue skies with white, fluffy clouds
  • farmyard animals on hobby farms
  • old women dressed like they’re from the 1870s
  • Americans
  • solitary goldfish in round bowls
  • dark forests
  • all-knowing pet dogs
  • retired grandparents with all the time and patience in the world
  • parents who don’t know a single thing about their kids’ imaginary friends
  • brown bears
  • wolves
  • fireplaces


Picturebook Study: Just Me And My Puppy by Mercer Mayer

Just Me And My Puppy Cover

Though the title is likely to annoy grammar purists, this foreshadows a story told from the point of view of a toddler-aged creature. As a child I always wondered what ‘critters’ were. I thought a critter must be some sort of American animal in particular.

Just Me And My Puppy is worth a closer look because, like many others in this long-running series, it is a wonderful example of ‘counterpoint irony’ in picture books.

Another useful concept when considering any disconnect between words and pictures is ‘symmetry’. Nikolajeva and Scott have attempted to create a sophisticated taxonomy of picturebook interactions (between words and pictures) and came up with a sliding scale. Symmetry is at one end, in which the pictures pretty much repeat what the words have already explained. At the other end is ‘contradiction’, in which the pictures say something completely different from the words, often creating irony or humour. The problem with having ‘symmetry’ at the extreme end is that pictures cannot help but say more than the words, since ‘a picture tells a thousand words’ (or thereabouts). So there will never exist a perfectly symmetrical picturebook.

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Short Story Study: Them Old Cowboy Songs by Annie Proulx


This is where my interest in short stories and cowboy culture intersect.


A young white couple marry and settle in a log cabin near or in Southern Wyoming. Needing to buy their own livestock, the young man sets off to do some well-paid cowboy work, leaving his pregnant wife alone.

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The Size and Format of Picturebooks

How does the binding of a book affect reader expectations?

What about the size?


The actual individual appearance of of individual books is just as obvious an example of how prior expectations control our responses to stories; it influences our attitude to the stories the books contain before we even begin to read them. We expect more distinctive literature from hardcover books with textured, one-color cover and more conventionally popular material from books with luridly colored plastic coatings. we tend to thin differently about paper-covered books and ones with hard covers, and as a result we respond differently to the same story in different formats; what might seem forbidding and respectable in hardcover often seems disposable and unthreatening in soft. 

The size of a book also influences our response to it. We tend to expect rambunctious, energetic stories like the ones by Dr. Seuss from large books and more fragile, delicate stories like those by Beatrix Potter from smaller ones. In fact, larger books do allow larger effects, while smaller ones demand restraint from an illustrator, lest they appear overly fussy; but these differences are as much a matter of convention as of technical limitations. We tend to read smaller books expecting charm and delicacy — and to find it even if it is not there — and to read large books expecting energetic rambunctiousness– and to find it even if it is not there. 

– Words About Pictures by Perry Nodelman

We shouldn’t underestimate the effect of binding and size. One disadvantage of book apps and ebooks is that the reader is not provided with any textural information, and the size is fixed according to the dimensions of the device.

That said, a universal book app created for iOS (for instance) may well be interpreted very differently depending on whether it is read on an iPhone, an iPad mini, an iPad, a Mac screen or projected onto a smart board.

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