The Artifacts is a story about:
- the power of imagination
- the value of memory over material objects
Here are some stories you might like to read/study if you are interested in themes touched upon in The Artifacts.
These next three books are similar to The Artifacts in that they share a counterpoint in genre: The words are realistic while the pictures are fantasy. This creates tension between the “objective” and the “subjective”. (See ‘How Picturebooks Work’, by Maria Nikolajeva and Carole Scott.)
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE BY MAURICE SENDAK
Both stories are about a boy who experiences a rift between himself and his parents, and who then retreats to his own bedroom only to retreat further into his imagination. In both cases, what happens in the boys’ imagination reflects what happens — or what they wish would happen — in their real lives.
For a detailed analysis of the interrelationship between words and pictures in Where The Wild Things Are, see the academic paper by Lawrence R. Sipe: How Picture Books Work: A Semiotically Framed Theory of Text-Picture Relationships (1998). This may be useful for teacher preparation rather than for young student use.
Like Asaf in The Artifacts, Max starts from the security of his bedroom, explores the wider world in his mind, then returns to the safety of his bedroom. See Room With A View: Bedroom Scenes In Picturebooks by William Moebius, Children’s Literature,Volume 19, 1991.
THE COAT-HANGER HORSE BY KYM LARDNER
This is another story in which a boy is confined to his bedroom — not because he is in trouble or because he is sulking but because he is ill. I suppose his imagination could be interpreted as delirium, but he may simply be biding his time by using his imagination to amuse himself. His quilt becomes a landscape for instance, and his bed becomes a sea in the ocean. I think most of us have imagined that our bed is floating in an ocean (no?) and the patchwork quilt analogy must be fairly common too. I’m reminded of a Gonsalves painting.
THE DANGEROUS JOURNEY BY TOVE JANSSON
CLANCY & MILLIE AND THE VERY FINE HOUSE BY LIBBY GLEESON ILLUSTRATED BY FREYA BLACKWOOD (2009)
This story is similar to The Artifacts in that a pre-adolescent boy is forced to move house, from a small, cosy house in the suburbs to a large apartment in an urban area. Clancy (who like Asaf appears to be an only child) is not happy about this move, and cannot identify with either of his parents, who think the new abode is marvellous.
Some close reading questions for this picture book might go something like this:
How has the illustrator made Clancy’s old house seem much more cosy than the new one? (Colour, perspective)
On the first page, and again towards the end, the clouds look like three pigs. If we assume that Clancy sees the clouds like this, what does it say about Clancy’s personality? What else in the pictures supports your interpretation of Clancy’s personality?
Where has the illustrator made Clancy’s parents seem united, with Clancy emotionally ‘on his own’?
Talk about the role of cardboard boxes in this story, from their most literal part in the plot to the most metaphorical interpretation you can think of.
What does the fat snail symbolise? (Hiding from the world. Almost agoraphobia. The fat snail also marks a turning point, from realism to magic realism. Now, the illustrations will be a little over the top. For example, the boxes will now tower above in a way that defies real-world gravity.)
Is Millie real? Give evidence for or against. (Her clothes are very similar to Clancy’s — similar in an unlikely way — so she may not be. In fact, she looks like the girl version of Clancy, even down to the two-syllable name. The background of these illustrations is a kind of textured cloud, in which case Millie could have appeared from ‘nowhere’. But Millie does talk to him, and on the final page the stuffed dog has been discarded, suggesting that a real-world friend has displaced an inanimate stand-in. The reader never knows for sure.)
Why does this story rely on allusions to the classic fairy tale The Three Little Pigs? ()In which housing is a part of the plot. Apart from the plot point of moving houses, there exists anxiety in both stories. Perhaps The Three Little Pigs is really about the anxiety of moving house, in which we worry that our new abode will not protect us adequately. The Big Bad Wolf would in that case stand in for all the worries associated with intrusion but also loneliness and other fears. At a more literal level, Clancy builds a stronger and stronger cardboard house, using his imagination to reassure himself that he is living ‘in a house of bricks’ and is thereby fortified and confident in his new environs.)
THE WILD BABY GOES TO SEA BY BARBRO LINDGREN AND EVA ERIKSSON
SEASON OF DISBELIEF BY RAY BRADBURY
You’ll find this story in Ray Bradbury Stories Volume 2.
Once time has passed, it has passed. We only have the present. That’s the message I took away from this lovely short story by a master of the form.
Mrs Bentley was a saver. She saved tickets, old theater programs, bits of lace, scarves, rail transfers; all the tags and tokens of existence.
Her collecting tendencies are magnified by the fact that she has lost her husband, John. She wants to save everything that reminds her of him. One summer’s day Helen Bentley sees three ten-year-old children (Jane, Tom and Alice) sitting on her lawn. At that moment the ice-cream van comes past, so she buys them an ice-cream. The children are not very polite, and when Mrs Bentley tells them she’s 72 years old, they hardly believe it. They certainly don’t believe that Mrs Bentley was once a child too. This is too horrific to imagine. Perhaps they’ve never considered before that one day, if they’re lucky, they’ll be old too. The girls leave after a distasteful exchange. Tom follows slowly behind and is the only one of the three children to thank Mrs Bentley for the ice-cream. (I suspect the girls are more terrified of looking like Mrs Bentley because of the shared gender.)
Mrs Bentley can’t get the children out of her mind, so in the evening she stands on her porch for half an hour. When they come past again she invites them inside and shows them some of her special possessions, hoping to prove that she was young once too. Among the trinkets is a photograph of herself when she was a girl, but the two girls still won’t believe that it’s her. They accuse her of falsifying information, of taking off with a picture of another little girl. As the girls leave, they steal a comb, a ring and the photo.
Lying awake in bed, later that night, Mrs Bentley imagines what her husband would have to say about it:
They stole nothing from you, my dear. These things don’t belong to you here, you now. They belonged to her, that other you, so long ago.
She recalls an earlier conversation with him:
Why did you save those ticket stubs and theater progams? They’ll only hurt you later. Throw them away, my dear…It won’t work…No matter how hard you try to be what you once were you can only be what you are here and now. Time hypnotizes. When you’re nine, you think you’ve always been nine years old and will always be. When you’re thirty, it seems you’ve always been balanced there on that bright rim of middle life. And then when you turn seventy, you are always and forever seventy. You’re in the present, you’re trapped in a young now or an old now, but there is no other now to be seen.
The following day the children return, and Mrs Bentley has made up her mind to let them take whatever they like. In return, they help her build a bonfire of items she need no longer keep. Now, whenever they ask her questions, she doesn’t try to persuade them that she was young and pretty once. She insists that she’s always been seventy-two, that she doesn’t have a first name, that she’s just called ‘Mrs Bentley’.
THE FISHERMAN AND THE THEEFYSPRAY BY PAUL JENNINGS ILLUSTRATED BY JANE TANNER
This is a story for younger readers — even preschoolers would appreciate the tale of a fisherman who catches a very rare fish and decides to throw her back into the sea. That night he goes home with no fish, but he does have his memories, which he values more than the physical object. In this respect, the fisherman has learnt the same lesson that Asaf reluctantly learned as a boy.
STORIES THAT CELEBRATE IMAGINATION (CURATED WITH BOYS IN MIND)
See this post at Books 4 Learning for some excellent examples, of particular interest for parents and teachers of boys.