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Last week I wrote about how camping out - in both reality and fiction - inspired my new book Wild Thing Goes Camping. Equally important, I realised, was the idea of dens and secret hiding places.
There’s something really powerful for a child about a den or a secret place. There’s all the fun of finding or building one. There’s also the thrill of having a place that nobody know about: a place totally under your control, where nobody messes with your stuff, which is totally private from the grown-ups.
I’d already used the idea once before in Sam and the Griswalds – where a tree-house in Sam’s garden provides an important refuge and meeting-place.
In Wild Thing Goes Camping, five-year-old Wild Thing disappears into the back garden with some of the clean laundry. When big sister Kate, Gran and Dad go looking for her, they are rather taken aback when a head pops out of the ground at their feet.
"No need to shout," she said. It was a bit of a shock seeing my sister come out of nowhere like that. "What are you doing down there?" I demanded. "And... where is the rest of you?" "In my new den, of course," said Wild Thing. And she disappeared again, under the sheet. Dad gave a roar of annoyance. Then he knelt down and grabbed a corner of the sheet - and pulled. Wild Thing gave a howl. "Stop!" she bellowed. "That's my roof!"
It turns out Wild Thing has made a potato trench in the back garden into a den for herself and her worms. She makes a sheet into the roof and purloins Gran’s new handbag as a “worm house”.
Of course, Dad forbids her from building more den. But like children before and since, Wild Thing is not about to give up her pursuit of a place of her own!
Here are some of my own favourite books with secret dens. They cover the entire age range: a secret space, after all, may be just as important to a teenager as it is to a small child making a den behind the sofa.
I’ve had to search hard, though, to think of recent examples. Is this because there are fewer forgotten and hidden places in today's intensely developed world? Or because modern children have less freedom to explore outdoors? Or perhaps because today’s children take refuge online – not in dens?
1) Sally’s Secret- by Shirley Hughes Classic picture book writer-illustator Shirley Hughes produced this wonderful story about a small girl making herself a house at the bottom of the garden. The joy is in the details – the doll’s tea set, the leaf plates, the tiny cakes. At the end she decides to share it, and invites the next door child to tea.
2) Tilly’s House – by Faith Jacques A servant doll that runs away from a dolls’ house and creates her own home in a wooden crate in an abandoned green-house. Although about a doll, it taps into a child’s own desire to make a little place of their very own. The special pleasure of this story, again, lies in the very detailed illustrations, and in seeing how discarded and unwanted every day human objects (sponges, bottle tops, wrapping paper, an old glasses case) can be transformed into the furnishings for a doll.
3) The Hollow Tree House - by Enid Blyton Enid Blyton may not have been a great stylist. But her enormous popularity was not for nothing, and one of her strengths was her ability to hook-in to a child’s fantasies. It’s not surprising, then, that many of her books feature secret hide-outs. The Hollow Tree House is about two children who, with the help of a friend, run away from their abusive relatives and make their home in a huge, hollow tree in the woods.
4) The Magician’s Nephew - by C.S.Lewis Sometimes a secret place may be the way into another world. Polly has made a "smuggler's cave" in the attic of her terraced house. It is, of course, when she shows the attic to her friend Diggory that they travel too far along the rafters, stumble into Uncle Andrew’s study, and end up as part of an experiment which sends them out of this world, and eventually into Narnia…
5) The Dare Game - by Jacqueline Wilson Jacqueline Wilson is a contemporary author who seems to have a direct line to a child's fantasies. In this book, her most famous character, Tracy Beaker, bunks off from school and discovers an empty house. It becomes a place where she can escape from her troubles, but also form new friendships.
6) The Secret Hen House Theatre - by Helen Peters This is a recent book, whose old-fashioned setting on a Sussex farm has not stopped it making a big splash. Helen lives with her three siblings and widowed dad, whose long working day leaves little time for his children. Then one day she stumbles upon a dillapidated old hen house. For Helen, it represents not just the chance of creating her own space, but a way of fulfilling her dreams of being an actress...
7) Jenning’s Little Hut- by Anthony Buckeridge Jennings and his boarding-school friends build their own shelters down by the pond. These vary from Bromwich Major’s subterranean “elephant trap” with resident goldfish to Jennings and Darbishire’s own Ye Old Worlde Hutte with its periscope, duckboards, and front door mat made of bottle tops!
8) Peter’s Room- by Antonia Forest In this neglected classic, Peter Marlow turns the loft above the coal shed into a hide-out, complete with stuffed hawk and antique pistols. This adult-free space then becomes the venue for a teenage fantasy game that gets dangerously out-of-hand.
9) The Hunger Games - by Suzanne Collins Katniss and Gale have a secret shelter where they meet while poaching in the woods. Later, during the Games themselves, Katniss and Peetah take refuge in a cave by the river. For victims of an oppressive, authoritarian regime, the possibility of a space of their own is every bit as important as it is to younger children trying to dodge their parents.
Any suggestions for number 10? ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Emma's series for 8+ Wild Thing about the naughtiest little sister ever (and her bottom-biting ways) is published by Scholastic. "Hilarious and heart-warming" The Scotsman
Wolfie is published by Strident. It is a story of wolves, magic and snowy woods... "A real cracker of a book" Armadillo "Funny, clever and satisfying...thoroughly recommended" Books for Keeps
I'm feeling a littleemotional, to be frank. I've spent the past eight years writing three books about a group of talking animals (The Last Wild trilogy), whom I've grown very fond of. Last week I sent the final book off to the printers. I won't be making the animals in it, or any others for that matter, talk again for the foreseeable future.
And, pausing before I blunder off into a whole new imaginative realm, I've been reflecting. Why do we do it? Why do we take these dignified, self respecting other species we share the planet with, and imbue them with often wildly mismatched human characteristics, psychology and dialogue? Why are those characters so perennially popular with younger children? Equally, why are they such a literary turn off for some, and many older readers?
There are many answers to those questions, and they've changed as continuously as human behaviour. One argument is that in making animals talk and walk like us, we seek to play out the mysteries of our deeper and more unknowable feelings. For children, growing slowly cognizant of more complex and challenging human emotions on the adult horizon, animal characters in books can be like a literary version of play therapy, safe proxies through which to navigate those feelings. (Perhaps that equally repels older or adult readers who have no desire for proxies, hungry for the authenticity of real human interaction.)
But that’s the young reader. What’s the appeal to the adult writer, seeking to put words in the mouths of mice? For me, I keep coming back to the haunting story of another writer and his far better-known talking animals.
In 1906, he was nine years old, known to all as ‘Jack’, and living in East Belfast, enjoying a quintessential turn of the century middle-class childhood.
The Lewis family, 1906
His father Richard was a successful solicitor, and his mother Flora was the daughter of an Anglican priest. His elder brother Warren was away at boarding school in England, but when he was home for the holidays, the boys enjoyed long walks and cycle rides in the leafy suburbs. The spacious house might sound boring for children- with what Jack later described as its “long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, upstairs indoor silences, attics explored in solitude” - but he and Warren happily filled it with imaginary worlds and games of their own, inspired by their father’s substantial library.
But 1906 was the year everything changed for Jack. Quite suddenly, his beloved mother passed away at an early age, from cancer.The world he knew and loved, the idyll of his early childhood - had been changed forever.And Jack’s response was to lose himself in one of the fictional worlds he and Warren - or Warnie - had created together.A world he called ‘Animal Land’ - full of delightful characters such as this natty frog.
In 1907, he wrote to Warnie at his school in England, describing in detail the story of one of Animal Land’s many kingdoms.
My dear Warnie
…I am thinking of writeing a History of Mouse-land and I have even gon so far as to make up some of it, this is what I have made up.
Mouse-land had a very long stone-age during which time no great things tooke place it lasted from 55 BC to1212 and then king Bublich I began to reign, he was not a good king but he fought against yellow land. Bub II his son fought indai about the lantern act, died 1377 king Bunny came next.
Animal Land, which soon evolved into a universe known as “Boxen”, was a complex imagined world created by the two brothers, which blended animal fantasy with mediaeval romances popular at the time and contemporary colonial politics.Crucially, it was conceived as a complete world - with its own rules, boundaries and belief systems.In one story, Jack wrote :
"The ancheint [sic] Mice believed that at sun-set the sun cut a hole in the earth for itself."
Much later in his life, Jack, in his better known identity as C. S. Lewis - wrote in his partial autobiography, Surprised By Joy:
“With my mother’s death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of Joy, but no more of the old security. It was sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis.”
To a pair of young children dealing with their grief, and shortly, further displacement as Jack was sent to join his brother away at school in England - the history, lives and laws of some imaginary mice or frogs offered the one thing their upturned lives suddenly lacked - security.
It's too simplistic for me to dismiss Narnia, as some do, as a mythical paradise completely driven by Christian allegory. Lewis himself always denied this, famously insisting “I couldn’t write in that way at all. Everything began with images; a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion.”
Whether he protests too much or not, the promise of innocence, happiness and peace in a fictional land populated by talking animals would be one Lewis returned to again and again in his Narnia books. Perhaps not just to proselytise. Perhaps also to journey back in the imagination to the secure childhood happiness he could never recover in reality.
I didn’t grow up in Belfast in 1906, and nor did I suffer the tragedy ‘Jack’ did at a young age.I like to think that I had a happy childhood. But I also believe that when you write children’s books, especially those with created worlds, you inevitably write out – directly or indirectly – layers of your own feelings as a child. When you finish those books, and leave that world, in some small way, you finish a part of your childhood too.
You find yourself in front of seven identical doors. A voice from above tells you, "These seven doors lead to seven different places: Narnia, Neverland, Wonderland, Hogwarts, Camelot, Middle Earth, and Westeros." Which door do you go through? Why that door? What happens?
I would go through the door to Wonderland without hesitation. I have always loved Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and count it as one of my top ten books of all time. The character of Alice and I have a lot in common, beginning with our curiosity and continuing with our adoration of cats, a thirst for knowledge, and sheer determination. I would love to wander through Wonderland and interact with different characters from the books, especially the White Rabbit, the Gryphon, and the Cheshire Cat. I'd rescue the hedgehogs from the croquet games and delight in the chess game. Plus, I really love the hallway of doors in Wonderland.
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. C.S. Lewis. 1950. HarperCollins. 224 pages.
Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids.
The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is one of my favorite, favorite children's books. Lucy Pevensie is one of my favorite, favorite heroines. And I love and adore this oh-so-delightful fantasy-adventure novel.
It is THE FIRST book in the Chronicles of Narnia series. It is the only book worthy of being considered as THE FIRST book in the series.
In The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe, four children are sent into the country during World War II. Peter, Susan, Lucy, and Edmund are just beginning to settle into their new home when Lucy stumbles into the magical world of Narnia. At first, Lucy is the only one. But Edmund also comes into Narnia before the others. And while there he is fooled by the "Queen" of Narnia. But Narnia soon sees all four children.
Narnia is not a land at peace. Not at all. For the land is under a spell--an enchantment--the White Witch--the supposed Queen of the land--has made it always winter and never Christmas. And the lives of the children--all four children--are in grave danger when they're in Narnia. For there is a prophecy that four humans--two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve--will come to rule the land as Kings and Queens and restore peace and order to the kingdom. The children's journey to Narnia, their quest to meet Aslan at the Stone Table, and their battle to save Narnia and their brother from the grasp of the evil and wicked witch....are unforgettable adventures that deserve to be experienced again and again by readers of all ages. You're never too old to experience the magic of Narnia.
While the movie depicts them as being doubtful and regretting setting foot in Narnia and shows them wanting to go home all the time and leave the fighting for others to do, the book tells a different story. The children are mostly welcoming to the adventure before them. The book perhaps has less drama, the adventure seems to go smoother at times. The movie adds SO MUCH INTENSITY whenever possible. Dramatic scenes are added throughout, sometimes keeping in full spirit with the book, other times not so much. There are things that I absolutely LOVE AND ADORE about the film. (One of my favorite, favorite scenes, for example, is the meeting between Lucy and Mr. Tumnus. The film gets it so right!!!) I LOVE AND ADORE the entrance to Narnia and the first impressions of this strange-but-lovely world. And there are so many things about the movie that are just charming and just about perfect. (I think the soundtrack is just about perfect!!!) The movie doesn't just add drama, humor is added as well, especially with Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. The film deviates from the book in places so that it can be a good movie. Lewis did not waste time spend time writing battle scenes or strong confrontations. The focus is on the characters and the ultimate outcome, and not necessarily how every little thing worked towards that end.
I love The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe for the characters, for the writing, and for the world-building. Narnia is not always a safe place to be, but I always found it beautiful and inviting, always memorable. I always found Aslan to be quite interesting as a character! I loved hearing the other characters talk about him and interact with him. I especially love seeing Lucy with Aslan! Their relationship is perhaps the strongest or deepest. Perhaps I feel that way because Lucy is the one who gets the most time with him throughout the whole series.
I had read the book dozens of times before seeing the movie, but I'm curious if the book would make the same impression, resonate the same way, if one watched the movie first?
And now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don't understand but in the dream it feels as if it has some enormous meaning--either a terrifying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or else a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get into that dream again. It was like that now. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
“If there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most, or else just silly.”
I’m always surprised when people compare my books to those by other authors. Not because I think I’m so dazzlingly original (in fact, when I go into schools, my answer to that question “But how do you get ideas?” is usually “I get ideas because over the years I’ve read a lot of books!”) but because the comparisons aren’t usually the authors or books I would have thought of. So when somebody mentioned to me that Wild Thing reminded them of Dorothy Hughes’s classic My Naughty Little Sister stories, first I was surprised, then I thought it was time to dig out a copy and see for myself.
My Naughty Little Sister was first written for BBC Radio’s Children Hour. Perhaps this is why they are such wonderful read-alouds. I’ve heard some adults claim that the strong narrative voice is rather too cosy ("And what do you think My Naughty Little Sister did next...") and therefore annoying. Personally, I think this is what makes the stories so perfect for young children, guiding them through the stories (I’d recommend My Naughty Little Sister as a first read-aloud when moving onto chapter books). But then I do like a strong narrative voice (the Narnia books are another example where some find the narrator intrusive, but I find it confiding, and entertaining).
There is a lovely nostalgia about My Naughty Little Sister, too. I think this is because not only do the stories now seem very quaint and long-ago, but even when Dorothy Edwards was writing them she was remembering a past time (her own childhood, and her own naughty little sister). So such details as washing day are lovingly portrayed, in a way they maybe wouldn’t be if they were contemporary to the reader, and therefore taken for granted. (In this way they remind me a little of Laura Ingall’s Wilder’s Little House books, in capturing the domestic details of a distant time.)
I’m also envious, not only of the apparent safety of that long ago time, but also the freedom it gives a writer to give her child character adventures. My Naughty Little Sister is only four, but she can go on a train ride all by herself (with only the guard to keep an occasional eye on her). She can also travel from home under her own steam, and at one point is sent spontaneously to spend a day with her older sister at school. How much harder to construct real-life adventures now that young children always have to be supervised!
Most all, though, the charm of the stories is in the character of My Naughty Little Sister herself. The stories may feel old fashioned, but they are never preachy or moralistic. My Naughty Little Sister thinks for herself. If the family has to look after a baby for the day, she really doesn’t see why she should pretend to like babies, just because it’s the done thing. And she makes friends with all kinds of unlikely people, grown up or child, because she responds to them honestly and directly.
Her character, I think, is brilliantly portrayed in the illustrations by Shirley Hughes.
So, even if I still don’t get the comparison with my own books, I certainly feel the compliment! And if you’re looking to escape into a young child’s world, in a gentler, cosier time, I’d recommend My Naughty Little Sister. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Emma's new series for 8+ Wild Thing about the naughtiest little sister ever (and her bottom-biting ways) is out now from Scholastic. "Hilarious and heart-warming" The Scotsman
Wolfie is published by Strident. Sometimes a Girl’s Best Friend is…a Wolf. "A real cracker of a book" Armadillo "Funny, clever and satisfying...thoroughly recommended" Books for Keeps
And now, if you can move on from the spectacle of Emily Dickinson in a bikini with Garrison Keillor at her side (don't you think it odd that he thinks of her as a "fictional character") I ask you:
With whom would YOU share a beach day? I grant you two answers, if you wish: one from all of literature, and one from children's literature.
I only have one answer so far:
Reepicheep from the Chronicles of Narnia. I hope I don't regret that choice when he sticks his pin-sized sword into some blowhard's ankle, but strolling along the beach with an armed mouse at my side seems the height of summer fun.
I don’t know…some worrisome glimpses there. Looks like they’ve added a conflict subplot for Edmund—back in England, the war is on, and they won’t let a mere “squirt” join up. “But I’m a king!” he huffs to Lucy. Argh. Even worse, later in the trailer the White Witch appears in some sort of vision to tempt him. Really? Really? Edmund is so beyond that. After his fall and redemption in LWW, he’s one of the staunchest, most honorable young men in either world.
Equally puzzling: Eustace is barely present in the trailer. All the focus is on Edmund and Lucy, and Ian McKellan’s*,** voice uttering vague yet grand pronouncements about their adventure just beginning. No dragon. Scarcely any indication that Eustace is along for the journey at all. Perhaps in this early trailer, they’re targeting fans who know the films better than the books?
The Dufflepuds look good, though.
*I wrote “Patrick Stewart” before. I knew it was Ian; nearly made a Gandalf reference; I think I must have had Patrick’s name lodged in my mind because of Scott’s dramatic recitation yesterday.
**Except!! I am totally wrong. It’s Liam Neeson. LOL! Thanks, Robin, for the heads-up! Oh, these actors with their sonorous voices!
What you are witnessing here is the first trailer for Library of the Early Mind — a feature-length documentary film by Edward J. Delaney and Steven Withrow exploring children’s literature. According to its website, “The film will have its first public screening at Harvard University in October and is now being submitted to film festivals worldwide. Music is by Jason K. Nitsch.” The sheer number of talented speakers they found is impressive alone. If you can’t view it on their site, it’s also available through YouTube. Thanks to Steven Withrow for the info.
Book trailer time! Here we see what a little talent with stop animation, a fellow with a voice straight out of movie trailers, and a well chosen oboe can do for your average book. It’s Sophie Simon Solves Them All by Lisa Graff:
This one’s a little different. I guess it’s a book trailer at its heart (for Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich’s 8th Grade Superzero) but it’s also just a take on what it is to be an author. It also works as a lovely tribute to New York City (and my library makes one brief appearance, which is nice).
Selling your book is one thing. Selling yourself, another. I suppose that author/illustrators need to make a living, and school visits can be a lucrative part of that. So Dan Yaccarino had the idea to create a kind of commercial for himself. It works. It might work for other author/illustrators too. Mind you, few of us have three different television shows under our belts (three, Dan? Really?) but with a bit of creativity it isn’t hard to make something like this:
I didn’t get around to interviewing or talking to anyone at BookExpo this year. Interviews are hard. You have to come up with some kind of burning question for folks to answer. Katie Davis is better prepared than I. She went about the conference asking folks, “If you could go to the yard sale of any fictional character, whose would it be and what would you buy?” It’s worth it just to hear Scieszka say, “Katherine Schmatterson.”
Many dictionaries and guides are careful to warn readers about the difference between a faun and a fawn. However, anyone familiar with the tales of C. S. Lewis is unlikely to confuse these two shy inhabitants of woodland glades, since the goat-footed, part-human faun of classical Roman mythology is the first strange creature we encounter when reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Those who know the film/movie version will be flocking back to the theaters this month to see more fantastical creatures in Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
Many legendary creatures from ancient Greece and Rome, the Middle East, and Northern Europe inhabit Lewis’s Narnia. From the classical world come the beautiful maidens called nymphs, including the dryads, spirits of trees, and naiads, spirits of streams and springs. (Lewis also calls the naiads ‘well-women’, which now reads rather oddly to anyone who has heard of ‘well woman’ health clinics.) Also familiar to most readers are the centaur—half horse, half human—and the more sinister minotaur, or bull-headed man. The classical cast is completed by the god Bacchus, with Silenus and the satyrs—similar to the fauns, but linked more to drunken revels than pastoral idylls—and by the monopods, a one-legged race featured in The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’, whose history can be traced back to ‘tall tales’ of the wonders of India, written down by credulous (or unscrupulous) ancient Greek writers and repeated by the Roman encyclopedist Pliny the Elder.
Alongside these—in a mythological mix which is said to have irritated Lewis’s friend Tolkien—we find the dwarf of Germanic legend and the ogre of old French tales, as well as the merman, the werewolf, the bogle (Lewis uses the old northern spelling boggle), and the wraith. Among the retinue of the White Witch are three entirely unfamiliar types of creature, the orknies, ettins,
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I’m not telling you anything new by bringing this up now, but for those of you who may yet be unaware, the great Brian Jacques of the Redwall books passed away last weekend. I only had the pleasure of meeting Brian once at an event at the Campbell Apartment, and he was charming. I determined that the best way to speak to him was to bring up The Wind in the Willows, a book he adored. When I mentioned the Pan chapter he became wildly enthused, quoting whole passages verbatim. Later in the evening he would tell tales of fellow author and friend Paula Danziger (also deceased) and how she once leapt into a ball pen where she got firmly stuck. There are a couple obits worth mentioning of the man. Over at The Guardian Alison Flood recalls her talking animal phase while Julia Eccleshare writes his obit. The Telegraph gave their two cents. The Liverpool Echo had a great obit too, though it left me wanting to know more about the schoolteacher that taught Jacques, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison, so thank you @PWKidsBookshelf for the link. Even the Audubon Magazine had a sweet take on the Jacques legacy (thanks to @MrSchuReads for the link). Can’t say I’m the world’s biggest fan of this British cover, though. A bit too symbolic for me.
Needs more fur.
Speaking of British covers, I was a little surprised to see that the British edition of When You Reach Me (which they seem to have only just now brought over there in paperback) sports the same Sophie Blackall cover as the one we have here in the States. Almost the same, I should say. Can you spot the difference?
Someone explain that one to me, please. I’m baffled. Anyway, I think I like the Aussie cover best an
I didn't think anything could make me love Narnia more than I already do, and have done for probably (ULP!) almost fifty years....but this book did!
Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis, does for the Chronicles of Narnia what John Granger'sHidden Key to Harry Potter did for the Harry Potter books, and more.
Can you imagine that there is a deeper dimension, a more intricately-woven structure than we ever supposed to the Chronicles of Narnia?
I don't blame you if you are skeptical. But author and Lewis scholar Michael Ward deals with the objections very thoroughly. The real trouble we have is, we just do not live in the same thought universe that medieval people did...but which Lewis moved and worked in like a native.
I have a couple of very small quibbles with the book, but honestly I don't want to bother putting them in this post-- it would be unfair to do that without going into properly proportionate detail about all the many things I think are wonderful about the book, and I haven't the time to do that just now. And the quibbles I have are not with the author's thesis.
Please note, this is serious work of scholarly criticism, meant for the academic audience. I found it very well and clearly written (clarity of expression is one of Lewis's own greatest virtues) but it is thick with footnotes, references to medieval and classical authors, quotes and asides in various languages dead and living. So if you find the prospect of such a bit daunting, fear not-- the author has also written a book called The Narnia Code which advances the same basic argument but without all the academic bells and whistles.
I've been wanting Planet Narnia since I first heard about it; finally got it this past Christmas and have just read it in the past few weeks. I'm eager to go back and read the Chronicles again with this new appreciation for their structure, and also to re-read the Display CommentsAdd a Comment
Ain’t he just the sweetest thing? Author/illustrator Aaron Zenz recently wrote just the loveliest ode to his four top favorite children’s literary blogs, and then went and created original art for each. In my case he created this little Fuse guy (or possibly Fuse gal) based on the bright yellow Fuse you see at the beginnings of each of my posts (I put it there in lieu of my face because I can only look at myself so often before going stark raving mad). This, I should point out, is not the first time a little Fuse person has been created for this blog. Katherine Tillotson, an artist of outstanding ability (I’m biased but it also happens to be true) created not one but TWO little Fusemen in the past, both for separate birthdays.
I’m a fan. So thank you Aaron and, once again, thank you Katherine. Fusemen of the world unite!
*sniff sniff* Smell that? That’s the distinctive odor of a brouhaha brewing. Sort of a combination of burnt hair, dead goldfish and patchouli. And you wonder why I don’t cover YA books. Sheesh! One word: drama. Seems that a YA blog called Story Siren plagiarized the work of others for her own blog posts. Folks noticed and suddenly the internet was was heaping helpful of flames, burns, accusations, and other forms of tomfoolery. For a sane and rational recap we turn to our own Liz Burns who gives us the run down in Today’s Blog Blow Up. Ugly stuff.
And while we’re on the subject of YA (which I just said I don’t cover, and yet here we are), I thought we were done with whitewashing, folks. So what’s up with this? Harlequin Teen, you got some explaining to do.
In other news, book banning: It’s what’s for dinner. Take a trip with me to The Annville-Cleona School District where a picture book fondly nicknamed by some as Where’s the Penis? is getting some heat. If you’ve ever seen The Dirty Cowboy by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Adam Rex, then you know that calling it “pornographic” works only if you are unaware of what the word “pornography” actually means. I would like to offer a shout-out to librarian Anita Mentzer who has handled the whole situation with class and dignity. You, madam, are the kind of children’s librarian others should aspire to be. Well done. And thanks to Erica Sevetson for the link.
We may not yet have an ALA accredited poetry award for a work of children’s literature but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a Poet Laureate or two instead. Rich Michelson, gallery owner and
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When Protestant evangelicals opened a Hollywood front in the late twentieth-century “culture wars,” the result was an odd mixture of moral reproach and commercialization of religion. To no avail, they famously protested MCA/Universal over The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), and then joined conservative Catholics — outraged over the movie Priest (1995) — in a boycott of the Walt Disney Company, the world’s largest provider of family entertainment.
Then again, evangelicals contributed greatly to the incredible box-office success of The Passion of the Christ in 2004, and the next year called off their boycott when Disney brought The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to the screen. These box-office victories drew Hollywood’s attention to those consumers who were spending hundreds of millions of dollars on religious books, merchandise, and music. Moviemakers wanted a piece of the action. The next year, 20th Century-Fox created FoxFaith, a new home entertainment division, to go after the “Passion dollar.”
These are not isolated or unprecedented events. There is a long-standing and complicated relationship between Protestant churches and the movie industry, and put in that context, evangelical strategies actually went against the central Protestant approach to movie reform.
To establish a fitting role for the cinema, Protestants traditionally sought a measure of harmony between individual liberty, artistic freedom, and the common good. While understanding the need for film producers to make money, Protestants long believed that the cinema should be developed along the lines of artistic and social responsibility. Perceiving themselves as a countervailing force to the film industry’s incessant drive to maximize profits, they argued that by tacitly accepting the industry’s commercial ethos, the church was effectively commodifying religion and values instead of “relating itself to the arts of communication, rather than commercial selling of a product.”
Instead of nitpicking at perceived immoral incidents or being satisfied with the mere inclusion of a religious theme, Protestants focused their criticism on a movie’s overall perspective. A film that was made “decent” by deleting distasteful elements could still be dishonest (in its treatment of life) and dull (as art and entertainment). It was the film’s artistic prowess and embodied perspective that mattered most.
In a departure from this Protestant tradition, the evangelical course was really a replay of tactics pursued by the Catholic Legion of Decency. Beginning in the mid-1930s, Catholic bishops used consumer pressure to coerce filmmakers into making changes in movies prior to release in theaters. In contrast, Protestant leaders — by tradition — refused to restrict individual liberty by controlling the viewing habits of church members.
Nevertheless, after World War II some Protestants wanted to imitate the Catholics by consulting with film producers to ensure that Protestants received the same flattering treatment in movies as priests and nuns. But any aspirations that Protestants could deliver an audience large enough to redirect Hollywood’s output were dispelled by The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), a commercial and critical disaster that brought an end to the era of big-budget biblical epics like The Ten Commandments (1956).
These events apparently faded from memory, and as the evangelical consumer culture blossomed during the 1980s and ‘90s, evangelical leaders took their turn now — after mainline Protestants and then Catholics — as the nation’s custodian of movie morals. Mixing boycott threats with promises to deliver American pew sitters to movie theaters, they petitioned Hollywood for wholesome family entertainment — meaning no explicit sex, profanity, or violence (in that order of priority). As a result, in the popular perception at least, kid-friendly has become the defining feature of a “Christian” aesthetic that ultimately prizes PG-rated fare attuned to the level of children.
Evangelicals embraced profit-making as their modus operandi for movie reform with much more intensity than any of their predecessors; their appeal ultimately was to the corporate bottom line, not artistic quality or social responsibility.
This market-based strategy harbors an inherent contradiction — one that always seems to escape its adherents. The obvious assumptions are that “good” movies are somehow those that are commercially successful and that a free market will produce movie morality. On what basis then can evangelicals limit screen exploitation other than profitability? The gauge of commercial success can be used to justify family movies as much as crude teen comedies; the Christian-themed The Blind Side and raunchy The Hangover each earned over $200 million domestically in 2009.
With box-office results dictating the terms of quality, film production will always be a slave to momentary fashionable trends. But as the head of an evangelical pro-family organization put it, studio executives should just “give the public more of what it wants — for profits sake.”
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Image credit: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe poster. Copyright Walt Disney Studios. Used for the purposes of commentary on the work. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
If you're not a huge fan of violence and/or the Narnia books, don't go see Prince Caspian. It was one of the most violent movies I've ever seen. My neck hurts from flinching.
Why, oh, why did I do this to myself? Why? The racism was as overt in the movie, as it is in the book. Even amongst the Narnian dwarves, for example, dark = evil, light =good.* The violence was sickening. Arrgh. In other children's book franchise news, Scaredy Squirrel will be a cartoon series. Scaredy is obviously more my speed. ------------ *Also, apparently, big noses are evil, as are accents other than British English. (More on the racism in the comments, if you're interested.) Thanks, Disney.
One of the trickiest questions I often get at work is, "Which is the first Narnia book?" It's a tricky question because there is a correct answer--The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe--but it is being undermined by the insistence in recent years of publishing them in chronological order within the narrative, rather than as originally released; hence, starting with The Magician's Nephew, whose action predates that in "Lion", Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, and The Horse and his Boy. I'm not sure who came up with this idea--I have even seen it floated somewhere that it was Lewis' wish to re release them so. But in this age of prequels, alternate endings, and companion volumes, I find it difficult to believe that today's savvy young readers would be confused by reading a history of Narnia's inception after they have already read the previous five books. So, when some poor, unsuspecting soul asks me which is the first Narnia book, I give them the spiel about the debate.....and then hand them whichever of the two is actually on the shelf (mustn't send them away empty handed.) The release of "Lion" in the theatre has helped to reassert it's position as the lead-off title. And now, The Horn Book, the children's literature Bible, has taken its stance on the issue. How nice to be right ^_^
Of course, the second part of this issue is: "What?! You mean you don't intrinsically know all of the Narnia books by heart? They're not etched on your soul?!" That incites the same feeling of being flabbergasted as when someone asks me for a recommendation for a 2nd-4th grader, and they answer the statement, "Well, I'll assume you have already read Charlotte's Web," with, "No."
Hey, everyone, it's Carl. I want to thank Bill and all of you for your kind expressions of sympathy. It's great to have friends at a time like this.
Cyber Kid 303 and his mom sent these notes:
Dear Carl, Carl, I'm so sorry about your mother. Moms are so special and I know you'll miss her. We were so sorry to hear about your mother. She must have been a very special woman to have raised a son who has become such a kind, caring and outgoing man. As a mother, I know our greatest joy is to see our children happy and healthy. I am sure you played a huge role in making your mother’s life a good one. A mother is never really separated from her children. They stay in our hearts and minds even when they are far away. Your mother is still watching over you and keeping you in her soul, and her spirit lives within you. We will keep you in our prayers as you go through this difficult time.
Carl, I'm so sorry about your mother. Moms are so special and I know you'll miss her.
Peace, Bonnie, Tim & Joseph “Cyberkid” Stewart
Thanks, guys. That means a lot. Our friend Lord Vader also sent his sympathies along with a couple of cool reviews:
My family and I were sorry to hear about Carl's mom. He and his family are in our thoughts. I just finished two books that had references to this. One was Star Wars Boba Fett: Maze of Deception by Elizabeth Hand where Boba remembers a lot about what his father had told him about being a bounty hunter. He had to learn a lot of hard lessons and try to avoid another hunter that was trying to get her hands on what was left for Boba. This was my first Clone Wars book and I really liked it a lot. The other book I finished was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I liked this one as well, but having already seen the movie it didn't have the same suspense as the first Narnia book. I'll be reading the third one soon and plan to read Prince Caspien before I see the movie so it isn't ruined.Mikie (a.k.a Lord Vader)
Thanks, Mikie---I mean, Lord Vader. As I said, it's good to know so many people care.
And I'm glad you guys kept on reading. It's really important and will help you as you grow up. Reading is one of those unusual things that are both good for you and fun at the same time! Let me know how you like Prince Caspian--both the book and the movie. (did you see my review from June 6?)
Cyber kid also sent us a good comment:
I did read No More Dead Dogs because Mr. Bill suggested it on the blog. In the book, the character complains that all the dogs in dog books die. I noticed most of those books turned into movies. I found a dog movie the other day where the dog doesn't die! It's called Big Red.
I finally read Diary of a Wiimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney. It's about a middle school kid named Greg and his friends and family. Greg and his friend, Rowley, go trick-or-treating,wrestle and get bullied by teenagers in this funny book. (Even though being bullied is never funny in real life.) It's a very popular book. When I requested it from the library system, I was 61 on the request list. It was worth the wait.After I read Diary of a Wimpy Kid I wanted to read the second one, so my friend across the street loaned it to me. It's called Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules. It's like the first one, only better!
Thanks once again, everybody! It's good to have friends. I'll tell you all about some good stuff later, especially about our Percy Jackson Summer Book Club.
Last night, after becoming bored with paying work (which is something my wife says REALLY needs to stop happening) I took a little break and sketched some of the characters from the children's novel I'm currently writing.
I would say that I'm about halfway though the story, which I think I may have to extend out to a second book in order to tell properly. Thus far, I like what I've written - which is weird because I'm usually my toughest critic.
This is either a good thing, or a very, very bad thing. Only time will tell I suppose.
Talk about taking all the fun out of a series: the Guardian reports about an upcoming BBC documentary about the third layer of hidden meanings within the Chronicles of Narnia. Evidently, each of the books can be linked to a planet in our solar system. To quote the article:
"There are three layers of meaning - it's like three-dimensional chess. Instead of wishy-washy fairy tales, in fact this
It is that time of year.....and rather than create yet another Christmas post at the moment, I'm going to ask you to consider giving the gift of Story this Christmas. If you're reading this blog, of course, you probably already have books on your gift list for your nearest and dearest.
But I'd like you to also consider giving a book for older kids or teenagers to your local Christmas bureau. These older kids in need are often forgotten at this time of year. Chances are, these kids are not from bookish homes, so the challenge is to present something that will grab them.
Obviously, The Chronicles of Narnia are one of my own favorite suggestions. Packaged to tie in with the films, they are appealing to a whole new generation of kids. And of course the Harry Potter phenomenon has made reading a bit cooler than it was before-- film tie-ins are good here too.
CDs and films that tell or tie in with good stories are also good bets for this purpose. A recent underappreciated film that I hope to blog on at some point is Penelope. This one is wonderful for girls.
Please do chime in and offer your own suggestions, particularly of stuff that's currently widely available.
Meanwhile, if you came here looking for a seasonal read, click on one of these:
"Cold Hands, Warm Heart"-- what could make Jack Frost decide to rebel against the Winterfolk and join the side of Summer? Short fiction from my archive of previously-published stories.
The Guardian reports that Disney will no longer partner with Walden Media to produce the film version of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I find this strangely annoying. I say "strangely" annoying because I have not been a fan of recent film adaptations of beloved books. I should be relieved--"Treader" is safe and can stay just as I remember reading it, rather than how someone chooses to translate
"A lot of people remember the bliss of their earliest reading with a pang; their current encounters with books offer no more than faint echoes of what they once felt. I've heard friends and strangers talk about the days when they, too, would submerge themselves in a story, surfacing only to eat and deal with the minimal daily business of childhood. They wonder why they don't get as much out of books now. If you dig deep to the roots of what makes someone a reader, you'll usually find the desire to recapture that old spell."
Maybe that's what makes a writer, too. I admit that it's hard to completely lose myself in a book these days--I'm either admiring or critiquing or learning from it. As a child, I read so deeply that my mother once had to sprinkle my head with her watering can. But when I write, and it's going well, I do feel under that spell. I also realize that I've always told myself stories---elaborate sagas in which I released Spock's inner emotional life and natural passion (I must really, really trust you guys), or terrifying tales about that loose bedroom window screen or yes, how I would meet Tumnus the Faun and have mercy on his Witch-tortured soul. I just didn't always write those stories down. (Thank God!)
Like Lucy, I have no idea whether I'm going to find the back of the wardrobe or the snowy branches of Narnia each time I sit down to work. But who can resist looking?
Hey, reader guys everywhere, it's Carl and I'm glad to be blogging again. I was gone all last week on an awesome vacation on an island off the Georgia coast. It's a beautiful place, as you can see, and has some great beaches. Of course, I couldn't go to the beach without thinking of Capt'n Eli:
The only bad thing about vacation was that I had to miss Joe Piscopo's visit to the library. But Darth Bill said it was really fun and is working on a post about it.
Of course, I couldn't go without taking some good reading. I didn't get much time to sit and read but I did get to hear a couple of good books on CD. The first was Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing by Judy Blume, read by Judy Blume. It was funny! 10-year Peter has a two-and-a-half-year-old brother that everyone calls Fudge (it's a better name than Farley) and that little brother is almost always a royal pain. From trying to fly from a jungle gym to almost ruining a TV commercial to stashing Peter's pet turtle in a most unusual place, Fudge always seems to cause headaches for everyone. Especially Peter. This made me laugh out loud, it was so funny.
The other one was The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis, read by that terrific British actor, Derek Jacobi. Lucy and Edmund Pevensie, from the first two Narnia books, find themselves onboard a ship with Prince Caspian, who is now King Caspian. All is well in Narnia, so Caspian sets sail to find seven Narnian lords who disappeared 7 years before. This would be a real treat for Edmund and Lucy except that Eustace Clarence Scrubb, that real stinker of a kid, happened to be pulled into Narnia with them. What happens next? Well, you'll just to read to find out, won't you? This is my favorite of the Narnia books and is just fantastic--there are close encoutners with sea serpents, deadly unknown islands, and storms at sea. Plus a whole lot more! Excitement and adventure abound! And the last few chapters are so good that your jaw will hang open. Derek Jacobi gives a nearly-perfect reading of this nearly-perfect book and makes the characets sound exactly as you'd think they would. These books are great if you ever have to spend a lot of time in the car, whether you're going on vacation or just have to ride a long way to school every day. So get on down to your local library and get them!