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What Is Magical Realism? Is It Fabulism?

This is the most succinct explanation of magical realism that I have seen lately:

magical realism definition

If you’re looking for a literary agent on Twitter you will find many agents and editors asking for magical realism in children’s books at the moment. They are also complaining that they’re not getting enough of it. When an author says, “Hey I’ve got some for you!” it’s not magical realism at all.

Agent Michelle Witte has a much more detailed series of blog posts defining exactly what magical realism is and is not.

Here is part one.

Essentially, magical realism is:

Real-world setting + fantastical elements = magical realism

In visual terms, think of it as a photo that’s blurred around the edges to give it an ethereal, almost otherworldly quality. It has the feel of magic—that anything is possible.

Magical realism focuses on ordinary people going about the humdrum activities of daily life. Everything is normal—except for one or two elements that go beyond the realm of possibility, whether it be magic or fate or a physical connection with the earth and the creatures that inhabit it, but always in a way that celebrates the mundane.

FABULISM OR MAGICAL REALISM?

Bear in mind that the definition of magical realism varies, depending on who you ask. Here is another point of view:

fabulism does not equal magical realism

Michelle Witte argues that in fact magical realism did not originate in South America:

Despite the common misconception, magical realism didn’t originate in South America. Instead, German art critic Franz Roch coined the term “magical realism” in 1925 to describe the New Objectivity style of painting. A few years later, the concept of magical realism crossed the ocean to South America, where it was adopted and popularized by Latin American authors throughout the twentieth century as lo real maravilloso, the marvelous real. Notable writers include Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Isabel Allende, among numerous others.

While Hispanic writers were—and still are—a major influence in modern magical realistic literature, the style is not limited to a specific time or place. In fact, writers from across the world have adopted and adapted magical realism to fit their own cultures and within their own frame of reference.

new objectivity painting magical realism

Agosta, the Pigeon-Chested Man, and Rasha, the Black Dove 1929 Christian Schad 1894-1982. An example of New Objectivity in painting

SEE ALSO

Fifty years on, One Hundred Years of Solitude is still providing profound insights into our evolving human tale where horrors co-exist with wonders, where absurdities don’t provoke a blink.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is 50. Its magic realism is immortal, from Scroll.in.

Here’s a list of magical realist children’s books, which I am calling ‘fabulism’ to be safe: Fabulism In Children’s Literature

Storybook Farms

Farms in children’s literature are often a kind of utopia. Often these are animal utopias, and the reader is not supposed to even think of what the animals are really there for. Writing of the book Hepzibah Hen, a Children’s Hour favourite from 1926, is described by Margaret Blount as ‘the antithesis of Animal Farm‘, in which

there are a few hints of what a farm is really for, but they seem to relate to a kind of social code — one does not mention the word ‘Christmas’ to a turkey, or ‘Pluck’ to a hen.

Animal Land

HENS

Storybook farms require hens. Honestly, hens are the best kind of farm animal. They have the best personalities!

Hepizbah Hen cover farms Continue reading

Girls Who Love Dogs In Children’s Literature

OLD SCHOOL KIDLIT ABOUT GIRLS AND THEIR LOVE FOR DOGS

What if you have a canine loving girl and she would like to see herself reflected in literature? Well, girls and dogs have in previous eras and in other cultures been seen together quite often.

cover by R. Bernardi, 1908

cover by R. Bernardi, 1908

Andreini 1910 1

Andreini 1910

cover by N. Borifina, 1919

cover by N. Borifina, 1919

 

Andreini 1909

Andreini 1909

The 1940s gave us George and Timmy, though Enid Blyton felt she had to turn Georgina into an honorary boy.

George and Timmy Famous Five

Dorothy had Toto, but you won’t find Toto on a lot of the covers. Here he is on this one, though:

Dorothy Toto

Notice that girl dogs tend to be little and cute, while boys tend to own larger working dogs:

Us illustrated and written by Cecil Aldin. The Story of a little girl and her black Scotch terrier.

Us illustrated and written by Cecil Aldin. The Story of a little girl and her black Scotch terrier.

I don't know the source of this illustration, which seems to date from the 1920s. Typically, the boy is associated with the dog; the girl with a cat; the toddler with a stuffed animal.

I don’t know the source of this illustration, which seems to date from the 1920s. Typically, the boy is associated with the dog; the girl with a cat; the toddler with a stuffed animal.

Scotty dogs are perhaps especially feminine:

SURPRISE: THE STORY OF MOLLY AND MOPS by Charlotte Smith

SURPRISE: THE STORY OF MOLLY AND MOPS by Charlotte Smith

Not many of the LHotP covers depict Jack, but he was certainly important to Laura and the family.

Not many of the LHotP covers depict Jack, but he was certainly important to Laura and the family.

This is the only version I can find of LHotP which highlights the special relationship between the girl and her dog.

This is the only version I can find of LHotP which highlights the special relationship between the girl and her dog.

Dogs continued to be important throughout Laura's life.

Dogs continued to be important throughout Laura’s life.

CONTEMPORARY MIDDLE GRADE

These days we do have the benefit of Kate diCamillo. This story ticks another box — it’s not about a well-off kid who lives in a middle class house and a good income. (Winn-Dixie has also been adapted for the screen.)

Because of Winn-Dixie

By Kay Thompson, illustrations by Hilary Knight. An adventurous and confident young girl lives on the top floor of a New York hotel with her nanny, a dog, and a turtle.

By Kay Thompson, illustrations by Hilary Knight. An adventurous and confident young girl lives on the top floor of a New York hotel with her nanny, a dog, and a turtle.

Star In The Storm

Though there's no girl on the cover (wouldn't want to alienate boy readers, now), this is about the relationship between a girl called Charley and her dog.

Though there’s no girl on the cover (wouldn’t want to alienate boy readers, now), this is about the relationship between a girl called Charley and her dog.

Here’s another book about other abled kids, and a girl and her dog.

One Golden Year cover

For one happy year, Caitlin and her mother raise and train a puppy to become a companion dog for the disabled. Albion, the loving, intelligent Golden Retriever, graduates from training and is given to a girl in a wheelchair who is Caitlin’s age.

PICTUREBOOKS

This picturebook from Pamela Allen is about a girl who actually neglects her dog, but learns not to by the end.

This picturebook from Pamela Allen is about a girl who actually neglects her dog, but learns not to by the end.

Wolf Children is a Japanese animated feature about a girl and a boy who are half wolf, half human. The girl is the storyteller narrator. It follows both the boy and the girl as they navigate through childhood and make a big decision at adolescence.

In picture books we have the metafictive story This Book Just Ate My Dog, and the main character is called Bella and is wearing a dress.

This Book Just Ate My Dog

 

FILM

A number of the stories above have been adapted for film/TV.

We also have The Journey of Natty Gann, which stars a ‘tomboy’ and looks to be a female equivalent of White Fang. The story is a Disney original but there’s also a novelisation of the film.

The Journey of Natty Gann

Set in 1935, the movie tells the story of a 15-year-old tomboy girl, Natty Gann (Meredith Salenger). Out of work because of Depression-era unemployment, Natty’s widowered father (Ray Wise) parlays his surefootedness into getting a job as a lumberjack. In order to get hired, he travels from Chicago to the state of Washington. He tells Natty that she will have to look after herself for the time being. Having no mother, Natty is left in the care of Connie (Lainie Kazan), the insensitive woman who manages the hotel Natty and her father had been living in.

After overhearing Connie reporting her as an abandoned child, Natty runs away to find her father on her own, embarking on a cross-country journey. Along the way she saves a wolfdog from a dog fighting ring. In return the dog, whom she calls Wolf, follows her as her protector in her attempt to return to her Father.

 

 

Picturebook Study: The Velveteen Rabbit

The Velveteen Rabbit is a picturebook from the first Golden Age of Children’s Literature. First published in 1922, The Velveteen Rabbit has been re-illustrated many times since.

The story is now out of copyright and can be read freely at Project Gutenberg.

The Velveteen Rabbit book cover

But the story was originally illustrated by William Nicholson (1872-1949). He and his wife had four children, two boys and two girls, though because of wars and illness only one of the sons and one of the daughters lived full lives; one son was killed in the first world war and a daughter died of the Spanish flu.

William’s own daughter died of the flu around the same time — just before — he illustrated this, about a little boy who becomes very ill due to an epidemic of illness. This knowledge makes the illustration ‘anxious times’ particularly resonant, with the bottles of medicine in the background.

anxious times

Marjery Williams had been writing children’s books since the age of 19, but it took her until the age of 41 to write The Velveteen Rabbit, her runaway success story.

She has recreated here a similar sort of household set up as she herself would have had in London as the daughter of a barrister — the absent parents, the staff, the large collection of toys and the means to afford a trip to the seaside, which is what people did in the pre-antibiotic era. Alexander Fleming didn’t discover the healing powers of penicillin until 1928, six years after this book was published.

Scarlet fever is an infectious bacterial disease affecting especially children, and causing fever and a scarlet rash. It is caused by streptococci (strep throat or a strep skin condition). These days — at least for now — any child with access to antibiotics isn’t going to suffer the dire consequences of this illness, which we are told caused Mary Ingalls’ blindness in the Little House On The Prairie series. However, scarlet fever does not cause blindness. Mary may have caught a virus from a tick, such as West Nile virus. Or she may have had the mumps or suffered complications from the oral herpes virus (cold sores), which most people have in their system. (Just because you don’t get cold sores doesn’t mean you don’t have the virus.)

However, there is a certain romance in the word ‘scarlet fever’, and ‘herpes’ doesn’t quite do it for children’s characters. (Anne of Green Gables probably had oral herpes.)

There are instances of scarlet fever in the following fictional tales:

  • Little Women
  • Frankenstein
  • Five Are Together Again (Famous Five series)
  • Kit Kittredge (American Girl series)

And yet herpes is rarely mentioned in children’s books.

The Velveteen Rabbit satirical book title

from the Better Book Titles website

STORY STRUCTURE OF THE VELVETEEN RABBIT

The Velveteen Rabbit is a literary fairytale — one which is written down by a known author rather than having evolved from a long mysterious history of oral folklore.

There is indeed a fairy, which comes about after the rabbit sheds a tear. (A flower pops up and out comes the fairy.)

WEAKNESS

Velveteen rabbit isn’t ‘real’. (Alive)

DESIRE

Velveteen rabbit wants to have a full life with meaningful relationships. We know this because the rabbit is very interested in what the Skin Horse is telling him.

skin horse tells his story

OPPONENT

Nana is the first opponent, cast as a woman who basically wants to get rid of anything that looks old and nasty. Young modern readers will probably assume this is the boy’s grandmother, but given the era, it’s more likely referring to the female servant of a middle-upper class household in charge of the care of young children. This nana is not the warm grandmother more often found in modern picturebooks. Modern grandmothers have plenty of time for their grandchildren — usually more than the parents do. But in this story:

Nana was in a hurry, and it was too much trouble to hunt for china dogs at bedtime, so she simply looked about her…

Next, the field rabbits stand in contrast to this toy one, to highlight how much better it would be to be able to prance about on the prairie.

rabbit on the hill

PLAN

The Velveteen Rabbit has no real plan other to hang around waiting to become real.

It was a long weary time, for the Boy was too ill to play, and the little Rabbit found it rather dull with nothing to do all day long. But he snuggled down patiently, and looked forward to the time when the Boy should be well again, and they would go out in the garden amongst the flowers and the butterflies and play splendid games in the raspberry thicket like they used to.

This toy plans to become ‘real’ by basically being a loyal companion to the Boy.

BATTLE

Velveteen Rabbit is almost a goner before the trip to the seaside. This time the doctor is cast as the main opponent — Nana has come around a bit because she’s noticed the toy has a knowing look on its face:

“How about his old Bunny?” she asked.

“That?” said the doctor. “Why, it’s a mass of scarlet fever germs! — Burn it at once. What? Nonsense! Get him a new one. He mustn’t have that any more!”

And so the little Rabbit was put into a sack with the old picture-books and a lot of rubbish, and carried out to the end of the garden behind the fowl-house. That was a fine place to make a bonfire…

But because he’s part real he manages to wriggle out of the sack.

SELF-REVELATION

When the Rabbit realises he has full use of his hind legs he realises he is really real.

NEW EQUILIBRIUM

He will now live with the rabbits in the field.

The Boy remembers his lost toy whenever he catches sight of that rabbit, with the similar markings.

The Do-Something Day by Joe Lasker (1982)

The Do-something Day is one of those didactic stories in which the parental figures are too busy working to play with their precious little children. In such stories, the child usually goes out and has their own adventure, or an elderly neighbour/grandparent steps in to fill the psychological need, which is loneliness/boredom. And that’s what happens here.

The Do-Something Day by Joe Lasker cover

STORY STRUCTURE OF THE DO-SOMETHING DAY

WEAKNESS/NEED

The Do-Something Day staircase

 

DESIRE

Bernie wants to make the most of the great weather outside.

OPPONENT

His family are too busy to spend time with him, absorbed in their own work and play.

PLAN

Bernie got mad. “No one needs me. I’ll run away!”

He left the house and went down the street.

The plot relies on mythic structure as Bernie leaves home and encounters a variety of people along the way. This is a very Sesame Street sort of neighbourhood — the old-fashioned view of a capitalist utopia in fact, with a friendly neighbourhood mechanic, a Mr Dimple who runs the delicatessen, Bertha who owns a bakery and so on. Each of these friendly adults with endless patience and time on their hands lets Bernie ‘help’ them with their work. Bertie collects talismans on the way (a map, a salami, a sour pickle, warm rye bread. This lends the story a distinctly fairy tale feel. Eventually he meets a horse and cart, which puts me in mind of a scene from Jack and the Beanstalk.

The Do Something Day horse and cart_700x595

The running away scene is already the start of other famous tales such as The Three Little Pigs (who are pushed out of home due to economic constraints rather than leaving of their own volition, but still).

BATTLE

The battle in The Do-something Day is entirely psychological. At each stop we hear Bernie’s sob story about how everyone is too busy for him. The gifts he receives culminate until eventually he is given a dog.

Don’t you love it how white boys in storybooks so easily acquire dogs… a pet which takes a lot of work, a lot of money and a suitable home with consenting adults? How many kids think they can bring home strays just because they’ve seen that so many times in picture books? And how many adults? (Quite a few, according to my mother, who worked for some years at the SPCA.)

SELF-REVELATION

The Do Something Day street scene_700x624

Bernie has his self-revelation when he sits down to rest.

They all needed me and wanted my help, thought Bernie with satisfaction. He looked at his things and had an idea. He got up and started walking home.

NEW EQUILIBRIUM

Obviously, the family have been worried about him, having undergone their own self-revelations about the importance of attending to the needs of the youngest member of the family:

His mother, father, and brother were on the porch waiting for him. Slowly he walked up the steps and said, “I ran away.”

Bernie gives the talismans to each member of the family. The map goes to the father, of course (since women can’t read maps). The food goes to the  mother (because women are in charge of the day-to-day feeding of the family).

His mother smiled. “We need help from one another, Bernie. But we really need you to love.” And she gave him a great big hug.

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.

Middle Grade Novel 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).

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.

Picturebook Study: Olivia And The Missing Toy by Ian Falconer (2003)

Olivia and the Missing Toy scary

There are several versions of the book cover, and the dark one is the scarier of the two. (The other is mostly white space, in keeping with most of the Olivia series.) This book has a gothic episode in it — a definite spoof, with knowing use of the cliche “dark and stormy night”. Below, Margaret Blount explains one reason Olivia is a pig and not a little girl:

Even more suburbanised is Russell Hoban’s Frances where the child/animal substitution is so complete as to be unnoticeable. Frances the Badger is a small girl afraid of the dark, tucked up in bed but constantly annoying her parents by coming downstairs and interrupting the television. Why make her into an animal at all? The cosy delights of the Badger household — so like a human one — do remove the situation one or two degrees away from discomfort; some children are afraid of the dark, do dislike being alone.

— Margaret Blount, Animal Land

As for Olivia the pig, love her or hate her. Olivia is one popular kidlit character who pisses a lot of parents off, judging by reviews I have read online. While I don’t have a problem with some of the Olivia stories, this particular one annoys the hell out of me. That tends to happen when an adult reader sees a parenting style in a picturebook with which we disagree. Here we have a demanding brat, an acquiescent mother and a father who is quick to say ‘I’ll buy you a new one’ after Olivia’s own carelessness with a toy.

I don’t think this is one of Falconer’s best. And it doesn’t just apply to the indulgent parents and bratty child character; the story structure is also a little odd and I don’t think it works. Why not? Let’s take a closer look.

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The Soviet Union Children’s Books

Best Loved Books In The Former Soviet Union

  • The True History of a Little Ragamuffin by James Greenwood (written by an English author, for adults, but little known in the UK)
  • Books by Boris Zakhoder (who translated Alice In Wonderland into Russian very adeptly)
  • An early Soviet classic, Schwambrania by Lev Kassil is about two provincial Russian brothers growing up prior to and after the revolution of 1917. Bored by dull reality, they invent a land of their own which has everything their real life lacks. Unlike a magical world such as Narnia or Never-Neverland, the imaginary world is always portrayed as simply make-believe.  This make believe land is girl-free. When they let a girl in, it turns to crap. Lev (author/storyteller) remains misogynist. At the end of the book, the reader is supposed to believe that the USSR has become so great that the boys no longer need their imaginary world.
  • For small children (pre-school and primary) three authors ruled the USSR: Agniya BartoSamuil Marshak and Korney Chukovsky.
  • For older children there was more variety, for example The Two Captains (1938 and 1944) by Kaverin was popular. Some people adored Krapivin and Anatoly Alexin. Teenagers read the Strugatsky brothers’ science fiction.
  • russian fairytales

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