Slap Happy Larry

picturebooks, apps, eBooks, short stories

Tag: children

Read It To Them Anyway

My daughter said she didn’t want old-fashioned books. But we raced through the Little House books. My son decided he didn’t want any books in which the protagonists were girls. But I said let’s just try Ramona. And he of course, loved it.

Kevin Henkes, author of Kitten’s First Full Moon and many others

How Children Deal With The Dangerous and Taboo In Fiction

Stories in the 1960s and 1970s of the stories children themselves tell at two and three found a relationship between how ‘socially acceptable’ the actions in them were, and how much they took place in the recognisable everyday world of the child’s own experience. If they included taboo behaviour like hitting a parent or wetting yourself, or major reversals of emotional security, like having a parent die or being abandoned by parents, they were less likely to have a realistic setting (69 percent versus 94 per cent), less likely to feature the teller as a character (13 per cent versus 39 per cent), and much less likely to be told in the present tense (19 per cent versus 56  per cent.) Dangerous things were moved further away in place and in time, and were not allowed to happen even to a proxy with the same name as the child. Children a year or two older no longer varied the present tense and past tense, because they consistently told all stories in the past tense; but they used settings in the same way, moving the troubling material outward into fantasy, into the zones where a story event reflected a real event less directly… To castles pirate ships, space; to the forest. There, the terrible things you might do, and the terrible things that might happen to you — not always easy to separate — can be explored without them jostling the images you most want to guard, the precious representations of your essential security.

The Child That Books Built, Frances Spufford

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

The Evolution Of Little Red Riding Hood

The history of Little Red Riding Hood is summed up neatly by Angela Slatter:

It’s been an interesting journey for Little Red Riding Hood. She started life in a tribal tale about a girl who outsmarts a wolf – all on her own, no outside help. A few centuries later, she gets a red cap, loses about twenty IQ points and gets eaten by a transvestite wolf. Add another hundred or so years, the cap becomes a hood, she loses a few more brain credits, gets molested, and then eaten by the same cross-dressing wolf but is rescued by a big, strong man and learns never to disobey the rules again. Adding insult to injury, in the 40s Tex Avery turned her into a stripper. Bruno Bettelheim* looked at Gustave Dore’s 1867 Little Red Riding Hood illustrations and saw dirty pictures – Little Red in bed with the wolf, giving him the eye. A red leather-jacketed Reese Witherspoon (oh, puhleeez!) played her in an Eighties film version, Freeway, in which a friendly neighbourhood serial killer fulfils the role of the wolf. Just when you thought it was all over, Angela Carter came along, reclaimed her and set her free.

*Bettelheim was an asshole who set psychology back a couple of decades. Look up his theories on the causes of autism. (tl;dr: Refrigerator Mothers)

Little Red Riding Hood Well Loved Tales

Why does Little Red Riding Hood continue to be so popular? Perry Nodelman explains the enduring appeal of fairy tales, and uses Little Red Cap as an example to explain that it’s the repetitiousness of fairytales rather than the suspense that brings readers back for more:

If we explore ‘authentic’ versions of fairy tales, particularly those in the collection of the Grimm brothers, we discover that they tend to place particular emphasis on those central episodes that form the spine of the tale and to describe them in more detail. In the story called “Little Red Cap,” we hear a lot about the little girl’s conversation with the wolf but only a quick summary of her flower picking. Further attention is drawn to the spinal episodes because so many of them repeat each other…Red riding hood asks the wolf about a number of his physical characteristics. Furthermore, there often tend to be curious parallels and contrasts that relate even those spinal episodes that are not directly repetitive with each other and that focus our attention on them. In the Grimms’ “Little Red Cap,” for instance, the central moments are all conversations, and most of them involve somebody theoretically wiser telling Little Red Cap what to do–first her mother, then the wolf, then the wolf disguised. 

As we read or hear a fairy tale, these patterns result in a rhythmic intensifying and lessening of interest as we move from central episode to less central episode and then back again; the effect is different from the gradual intensifying toward a climax that we get in other sorts of stories. And for those of us who already know the popular fairy tales we hear–and that surely is most of us at some point early in our childhoods–our pleasure in them must derive from repetition of that rhythmic pattern rather than from the suspense we usually enjoy in story; if we already know the story, there can be no suspense in it for us.

Words About Pictures

The following are notes from:

  • The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood by Jack Zipes
  • Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked by Catherine Orenstein
  • Deconstructing The Hero by Marjery Hourihan

 

Various Versions and Intended Audience

WHEN I was a child, I had recurring nightmares about wolves — beasts the size of skyscrapers that walked on their hind legs around New York City blocks, chasing and eventually devouring me. My mother says she made the mistake of bringing me to see a live performance of “Little Red Riding Hood” when I was a toddler, and that the man dressed as the wolf terrified me. I started having the dreams almost immediately after I saw the play, and they lasted into high school; I don’t remember when they stopped.

It was just a play, just a scary man, yet my young brain was indelibly affected by that one moment.

What Does A Lifetime Of Leers Do To Us? from Jessica Valenti

LRRH wasn’t always a children’s story. It’s a truth seldom acknowledged that fairy tales used to be for everyone. It’s anachronistic to even speak of ‘the child’ before a certain point in history, because the concept did not exist. There were babies, then there were people, sent out to work at the earliest opportunity.

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Movie Adaptations Of Childhood Classics

Coppola is not the only auteur going after beloved childhood favorites for a big-time (if retooled and reimagined) feature. Elsewhere, Joe Wright is tackling the world of Peter Pan with his already slightly problematic Pan (interestingly, he was also rumored for this Little Mermaid gig), David Lowery is penning his own take on Pete’s Dragon, and David Gordon Green is working on a big screen version of “Little House on the Prairie.” Although it’s dead easy to bemoan that such new films are destroying precious childhood memories, when such skilled and accomplished talents are the ones behind said new films, it’s hopeful to assume that the final product will be worth it. If you love Laura Ingalls Wilder and her, well, wild tales of life on the prairie, why wouldn’t you want someone like Green to bring it back to the big screen?

– from Film School Rejects

I’m a big fan of the Little House series, and so I’m interested to see Green’s adaptation. However, I would also recommend the 2005 miniseries from Disney, which has just the right amount of tension (for a five year old, anyhow).

Regarding Peter Pan:

“When students know Peter Pan through Disney, they know a pretty scrubbed version,” Smith says. “The characters in J.M. Barrie’s play don’t know if Peter’s adventures are real. In the novelized version, he often went out alone and they never knew whether he had had an adventure because he might have forgotten about it, and they would go outside and find a body. This is a very jarring moment for them. I ask what does Walt Disney’s adaptation of Peter Pan say about how we view childhood now, as opposed to how it was understood in the early 20th century when Peter Pan was popular on the stage? You can’t fight Disney. You have to let him in.”

– from Children’s Literature Not As Simple As It Seems

 

Writing for a Younger Audience

There was much that was exactly the same in writing for a younger audience, but there were also several marked differences. The biggest that comes to mind was the way I shifted in my use of language and vocabulary. Initially it seemed awkward.  In simplest terms, there were fewer words I felt I could choose from and this, in turn, presented the interesting problem of how to create a powerful story and fully realized characters without having all the tools I usually worked with.

Amy Herrick, author of The Time Fetch

The Strange Beast Called Imagination

Young children, of nursery school and kindergarten age, also practice emotional regulation in their make-believe, fantasy play.  They play at emotion-provoking themes, including themes that induce fear, anger, and sadness. One person who has documented this, through observations in kindergartens, is the German researcher Gisela Wegener-Spöhring. For example, she described one play scene in which two little girls pretended that they were sisters whose father and mother had died and who were abandoned alone in the woods, with bears and other wild animals around.  To deal with both their grief and fear, they held each other close and spoke intimately, and they built a cave to protect themselves and figured out what weapons they would use if a bear entered the cave.

– from Psychology Today

As neuroscientists study the idle brain, some believe they are exploring a central mystery in human psychology: where and how our concept of “self” is created, maintained, altered and renewed. After all, though our minds may wander when in this mode, they rarely wander far from ourselves, as Mrazek’s mealtime introspection makes plain.

An idle brain may be the self’s workshop from The Chicago Tribune

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When Reality Doesn’t Match Up To My Imagination by Gretchen Rubin, who comes up with a new term: parallax feeling

The Destructive Influence of Imaginary Peers from Farnam Street

Children Whose Minds Wander Have Sharper Brains from The Telegraph

The Magic of Metaphor: What Children’s Minds Teach Us about the Evolution of the Imagination from Brain Pickings

8 Movies That Showcase The Imagination from Film School Rejects

Protecting Childhood Innocence

Keeping our children innocent is certainly not protecting their innocence, because they are more vulnerable to believing any other kind of story they are told.

– Jenny Walsh, Talking to your kids about sex, Daily Life

Our Target Audience: Delicate Fingers, Excellent Eyes

Young readers, in other words.

Part of my unease about attempts to categorize picturebooks, especially according to word-picture interaction, arises from my suspicion that adult, expert readers of prose — academics and critics, for example — are not necessarily going to be the best readers of picturebooks.

– from Reading Contemporary Picturebooks by David Lewis

 

This week Dan has been coding the main menu pages. When I drew this, however, I was thinking entirely about colour schemes and cohesive, well-balanced layout.

What I spend much less time thinking about is usability.

In order to jump to a certain page, the user must touch somewhere on the chutney. Since the chutney is obscured by the bell, there’s no doubt that a thick-fingered individual would have issues, especially on the smaller screens of the iPod or iPhone. (If this weren’t going to be a universal app I wouldn’t have to worry about this at all.)

Dan wanted me to change it all around. First, he suggested I remove the green ribbon from the bell and simply write onto the bell. I argued that you don’t find writing on bells in real life, and I was also thinking about how removing the green ribbon would upset the balance of red and green. (Funny how I can alternate so easily between thinking in terms of pure fantasy and then coming out with a truism about ‘real life’ dinner bells, as if anything from real-life matters in a children’s book… I can’t explain it, but it does!)

Dan then suggested that I swap the jar of chutney and the lemon squeezer around. I’ve only drawn half of the lemon squeezer, as it happens, and I could quickly see this turning into an entire day’s faffing about… AFTER I’ve crossed off the main menu from our to-do list.

Our compromise: Dan couldn’t find the about button, so I’ve agreed to make that a drop-down ribbon, Artifacts style. (Do you see it? It’s on top of the pepper mill. Yeah, a bit obscure, I agree.) But here’s my story and I’m sticking to it: in order to have good looking art, there have to be some compromises in usability, and I predict that people with small fingers will have no trouble touching the relish jar while simultaneously avoiding the dinner bell ribbon. Our target audience are middle-graders, after all, not 50 year old 6 foot 3 men.

Unfortunately for us, our reviewers are not children. Story app reviewers count among them a few of the fat fingered, no doubt. I wish all reviewers understood that adults are at a slight disadvantage when using universal storybook apps on small screens.

This disadvantage applies not only to thick fingers, but also to strength of eyesight, for reading small font sizes. This story is slightly more wordy than The Artifacts was — I believe a middle grade audience can take it. But this means I have extra challenges fitting the text onto each screen. We can either add complexity to the app by making use of scrolling words or similar, or we can step back and relax, safe in the knowledge that young eyes, corrected by lenses or not, are excellent — more excellent than we can probably remember!

The nice thing about storyapps, too, is that visually impaired children are able to make use of auto narration.

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