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cda
Jan 2, 2010


There are great books of all kinds, and that includes in the area of what is generally called "Children's Literature." I thought we could discuss those books here -- favorite books from your own childhood, books "for children" that you happen to be reading now (either to yourself or to your own children), theoretical and cultural issues surrounding children's books and so on. In this intro post I want to provide a little framing for a discussion of these books. But if you don't want to read that, then you could just start with things like, what's the best children's book you've ever read, what children's books suck or are overrated, what children's books shouldn't be read by children, what adult books should be read by children, and other stuff like that.

The Relationship Between Children's Literature and Adult Literature

I want to start with a basic assumption that many people have and complicate it. Without thinking about it too much, we tend to consider children's books to be dependent on adult genres. In this view a "children's book" is an adult book that has been modified by the removal of certain themes, images, and language, which have been replaced by language more "appropriate" to children.

However, historically* the reverse is true. Through to the 17th century, the division of books was not age-based, as we see now, nor even gender-based (which we see in terms like "chick lit"), but class-based. There were essentially two categories of books -- those which were only for "gentlemen" (i.e. educated propertied men and the scholarly class) -- and those which were for everyone (all men and women, including servants, and children). It should be noted that literacy was not as much of a bar to access in books because reading practices were highly communal; 18th century paintings show entire families, including servants, gathered around a hearth to hear a story read from a book. Reading in pubs and other public places was also commonplace. As long as one person in a community could read, everyone would experience some kind of literature (compare with the early days of radio, television, or video games, when a single set or console in a public place would become a focal point for many families to experience the medium).

But in the 17th century the Protestant Revolution changed things dramatically. Because of the Protestant insistence on personal revelation of God through direct encounter with the Bible, rather than mediated encounter through a religious official, it became important for all children to read because they could not be saved unless they could read for themselves.

There had always been a need to teach upper-class and children going into the priesthood to read, but general issue texts were used for this purpose, albeit with some kinds of concessions to the interests of children; Aesop's Fables were a core component of every schoolbook because kids like animals, but they weren't considered to be children's stories, and they took their place in those schoolbooks alongside marriage manuals, the lives of exemplary people, and so on. This teaching took a long time and needed to be facilitated by a lot of direct instructional supervision because the texts were not made easier to account for the different knowledge of children. But the Protestant conception of themselves as "a people of the Book" led directly to the development of a literature that not only taught children to read, but taught them to read as soon as possible. Every day that a child was unable to read the Bible for itself was a day that the child was in imminent danger of going to Hell. It also led to the erosion of class-based conceptions of reading. Everyone needed to be able to read so everyone could be saved, even if the only book they were allowed to read was the Bible.

And this is roughly the position that books remained in until the end of the 19th century, through a major expansion of children's literature that began with the publications of the first visual encyclopedia for children, Orbis Sensualium Pictus in 1658 and Janeway's A Token For Children in 1671, to the 18th century where we start to see many of the first children's classics -- Alice in Wonderland, Tom Brown's Schooldays, The Treasure Seekers, Treasure Island, and many more.

A related area of interest is books, many written in the 18th and early 19th century, which were originally not written for children but which over time shifted their status to become thought of as children's books, such as Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Gulliver's Travels is an especially interesting case because it contains distinctly inappropriate scenes (I'm thinking of the scene in Brobdingnag where a 16-year-old giantess uses Gulliver as a sex toy), which were excised from the version provided to children. In addition, the last half of the book, voyages 3 and 4, were completely omitted as being uninteresting or wholly inappropriate for children (book 3, uninteresting, book 4, inappropriate). Grimm’s Fairy Tales is interesting for the opposite reason; nothing was left out no matter how hosed up. One aspect of reading culture to consider at this time is that, in addition to reading practices that encouraged communal experiences of reading out loud, most reading families didn’t own books; they were members of lending libraries. The result was that given the choice between the expurgated children’s version and a full version, libraries were likely to opt for the children’s version. Eventually this process created the need for children’s sections, but in the 18th and 19th centuries, those sections were few and far between.

As the case of Gulliver’s Travels indicates, a distinction was already being made between books that were appropriate for children and those appropriate for adults, but to be clear, what set a work like Gulliver apart wasn’t that it was explicitly written for adults, but simply that it wasn’t explicitly written for children. The idea of there being a distinct “adult” literature didn’t really come into being until the late 19th and early 20th century, when we have writers like Henry James directly and explicitly theorizing about how to write “adult” books; that is, books containing material appropriate to only adults, rather than being inappropriate for children. This may seem like a distinction without a difference, but what we’re talking about is that an adult may in fact find the subtle operations of consciousness in the mind of a middle-aged woman to be fascinating, while children generally will not. This material is not inappropriate to children in the same way that Gulliver being used by a teenager as a tiny living dildo would be. It is simply uninteresting to them. It doesn’t involve them. Here, James was part of a broader trend that, through the 19th and 20th centuries had arrived not only at a commonly accepted (if fuzzy) definition of childhood, but had also developed and stabilized that definition through the construction of spaces – the nursery, the public school – and times (“the Golden Hour” before bed when parents and children were expected to spend time with each other, the 9-month school calendar) that set much firmer boundaries between children and adults.

So it’s not until the start of the 20th century that we really see the emergence of “adult” literature, at which point children’s literature had been in visible existence for over 200 years.

Special Considerations for Children’s Literature

Unlike almost any other kind of literature in existence, children’s literature is generally neither written by nor purchased by, the people who it is supposedly for. As a point of comparison, “chick lit” is generally written by women and presumed to be purchased by them as well. But books for children are almost always written by adults, and almost always purchased for children by a community of gatekeepers – parents, teachers, librarians. As a result, children’s books have a special relationship to audience. In order to be successful, every children’s book needs to appeal to adults, to their ideas of what children are, what children want, and the role of books within the development of children into adults. A book which does not do these things will never reach children no matter how much they might enjoy or get from reading it.

Children’s literature also has a much more direct institutional connection than many other types of literature. Since the 19th century, schools and libraries have been the major centers of children’s literature over and above the home. The fundamental assumption of children’s literature is that it is instructive. To the extent that it is entertaining, this entertainment is seen as a necessary vehicle for instruction. While a small handful of children’s books have intentionally resisted instructional purpose, this resistance has had to be of a particularly complex variety because educational institutions subsume the books into instructional paradigms (that is, you might have intended your book to teach nothing, but a teacher can present that to children in a way which teaches them something).

Children’s books are much more likely to be highly theoretical, especially books aimed at young children. Abcedariums, picture books, etc. often explicitly incorporate theories of childhood, linguistic development, socialization, and more. Green Eggs and Ham, famously, was written to introduce children to a very particular set of words which were seen as fundamental to English-language expression and understanding.

For this reason, children’s books are also much more likely to be highly experimental. They not only instruct through language, but they teach children the technology of the book itself. Board books, cloth books, plastic books that can be read in the bath, books meant to be read upside down or backwards, books which encourage children to interact with the physical book in a variety of ways, or to consider the construction of narrative from a variety of perspectives, are all quite common. It should be noted that this experimentalism is interesting not only by itself, but as a testing ground for experiments in adult literature – books like Hopscotch,, House of Leaves, or just about anything by Gertrude Stein owe part of their structure to children’s literature (Choose Your Own Adventure Books in the first two cases, grammar primers in the latter).

At the same time, because children’s books have to pass through gatekeepers that not only assess their instructional value, but also their moral values, children’s books tend to be much more socially conservative than books in general. If you are seeing values expressed in a children’s book, you can almost be sure that they are on their way to being widespread in culture (even a book like Heather Has Two Mommies or Sex: It’s Not a Dirty Word). Children’s books are a primary source of ideological implantation, and because they’re supposedly written for children who are presumed to be less politically aware, this implantation is often not at all subtle. In a way, this makes the study of children’s literature a particularly good place to look at how ideological discourse works, because writers are less likely to hide what they’re doing.

There are many other things I could say about children’s books, but I hope I’ve at least covered some of what I think is interesting about them. I am interested in seeing what other people might have to say.

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Cicero
Dec 17, 2003

Jumpjet, melta, jumpjet. Repeat for ten minutes or until victory is assured.

quote:

children’s books tend to be much more socially conservative than books in general.
Interesting that you say this. As an American living in Germany with a kid, one of the things I noticed here is that the kids' books all seem way more straightforward/straight-edged, I couldn't really find many weird or subversive books in the stores, and the ones I do find there or in Amazon were all translated from English. Whereas for English, in addition to the standard cutesy stuff, there seems to be a lot of weird or subversive popular children's books: The Numberlys, The Book With No Pictures, The Day The Crayons Quit, Captain Underpants, etc.

To me, this difference reflects basic cultural values: Americans place more emphasis on novelty, individualism, and rebellion, and so we teach it even through children's media. Like for rebellion, Captain Underpants has authority figures at school mostly as idiots, villains, or both. It celebrates the protagonist kids who constantly break the rules and play pranks on the teachers. Living here now, I find it hard to imagine a native-born German book series/TV show doing something similar.

CestMoi
Sep 16, 2011



why does the forum need another scifi/fantasy thread?

Apparatchik Magnet
Sep 25, 2019

by Nyc_Tattoo


CestMoi posted:

why does the forum need another scifi/fantasy thread?

Alan Garner doesn’t have enough fans.

cda
Jan 2, 2010


Apparatchik Magnet posted:

Alan Garner doesn’t have enough fans.

He was definitely a favorite of mine when I was a kid. I haven't gone back to see how they hold up but I remember at the time feeling like his books were better than they needed to be.

Android Blues
Nov 22, 2008



The books of E. Nesbit were massively influential on me as a little kid, and, having gone back to The Enchanted Castle last year, they still hold up for the most part very well. There's a segment in The Enchanted Castle where Gerald figures out the mathematical logic to the changing powers of an invisibility ring, and I remember it striking me as having a massive, and deserved, confidence in the intelligence of the reader that many contemporary books for adults don't have.

I have a feeling that a lot - by no means all - of adult literature aims for "voice" and authenticity over interest through complexity. I think that winds up being dichotomous, like, are you enjoying a book because it features themes and matter that you recognise and find interesting due to their gross and literal relation to the facts of your experience, or are you enjoying a book because it features themes and matter that would be interesting even to someone who was previously unfamiliar with them? Most narratives need both, but I feel like outside of fairly ambitious work, most fiction targeted specifically at adults tends to lean towards the former.

It's comfort food that reaffirms a certain received truth about everyday life. Relatability is key, to the point where a plot is often secondary, arbitrary, and swift. A lot of it worships this weird cargo-cult naturalism that's actually a fairly fantastical entity in itself - naturalism as delivered by a TV drama, with characters trading snappy but recognisable aphorisms and never pausing, or saying something that the imagined Average Person wouldn't say, or using words that might be unfamiliar to the casual reader. This is called "good dialogue".

In fact, outside of the more rarefied branches of literary fiction, complexity is often seen as an active deficit in a way that it isn't in many popular children's books. Instead, characters act and speak in the most mundane, believable ways possible, in the hope that the affair they're having or the ghoul who menaces them or their struggles with their children will "connect" to an audience for which the publishing market generally has vanishingly slim amounts of respect.

Not that a lot of children's fiction isn't like that too. But I feel like...there's more respect there, somehow? It's less patronising. It often feels like children's authors are somewhat more aware of the risk of patronising their audience, and at least have some level of respect for children. You can tell when you're reading a James Herbert novel, for instance, that James Herbert thinks you have a room temperature IQ and is taking care to keep things simple for you, while barely hiding his contempt for your prurient hunger for zombies and monsters. Same deal with a lot of stuff in the romance, thriller, detective genres.

Honestly though, it's not limited to genre. A lot of lit fic does a gentler version of the same thing. You wonder if authors are so worried about reaching an audience in a difficult market that they're intentionally trying to be ultra-approachable, to the ultimate detriment of the prose.

This isn't really a fully developed idea. Just something I've been thinking about lately.

Android Blues
Nov 22, 2008



This could just be because I read The Survivor by Herbert, a truly execrable book, early this year and it made me so mad at the concept of reading that steam blew out of my ears. Recency bias and all.

Pachylad
Jul 12, 2017


Horrible Histories was my poo poo growing up; in hindsight being an Asian kid in an ex-British colony, Terry Deary was probably the best choice for a white British dude inculcating in me a healthy distrust of his own kind.

Android Blues
Nov 22, 2008



Pachylad posted:

Horrible Histories was my poo poo growing up; in hindsight being an Asian kid in an ex-British colony, Terry Deary was probably the best choice for a white British dude inculcating in me a healthy distrust of his own kind.

I really enjoyed those too. They definitely taught me more about the Holocaust than my primary school saw fit to!

cda
Jan 2, 2010


Android Blues posted:

The books of E. Nesbit were massively influential on me as a little kid, and, having gone back to The Enchanted Castle last year, they still hold up for the most part very well. There's a segment in The Enchanted Castle where Gerald figures out the mathematical logic to the changing powers of an invisibility ring, and I remember it striking me as having a massive, and deserved, confidence in the intelligence of the reader that many contemporary books for adults don't have.

Nesbit is really interesting, not only for her children's books, but for her politics (radical left), and, of course, it's interesting to think about the way that the politics might have impacted the children's book. I haven't read The Enchanted Castle but I mentioned The Treasure Seekers in my OP because it's generally credited with being one of the first "modern" children's books, in that it focuses on children's encounters with the real world rather than fantastic worlds, and the development of characters through accumulation of detail and voice. It's also interesting because it has a narrator, but the narrator isn't revealed until the end of the book (although you can guess who it is pretty early on), so in that way it also engages issues of reliability in narration. I should say that there were books which are today considered children's literature, such as Little Women which came before the Treasure Seekers and did some of those things, but Treasure Seekers was specifically and explicitly written for a child audience, which is what made the introduction of these "adult" techniques and concerns important. There's a whole tradition of beloved children's literature, like Harriet the Spy and The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler that can trace its lineage back to that novel and the way that it respects the agency and personality of children rather than seeing them as unformed adults.

Android Blues posted:

It often feels like children's authors are somewhat more aware of the risk of patronising their audience, and at least have some level of respect for children.

I think this is a fascinating point. It seems true to me of contemporary children's literature, but less and less true as you go farther back in time. Your average children's book in the late 19th or early 20th century was tremendously patronizing. One factor to always consider is the development of children as capitalist subjects. As children began to be seen as consumers in their own right, with a culture and priorities distinct from adults, I imagine this awareness of patronization as a problem to be avoided intensified.

Sham bam bamina!
Nov 6, 2012

ƨtupid cat




I have forgotten nearly everything about it, but I remember absolutely loving an omnibus of Elizabeth Enright's Melendy Family novels when I checked it out of the library as a kid. Really need to revisit sometime.

Edit: Of course, the one that I read turns out to be very expensive on AbeBooks.

Sham bam bamina! fucked around with this message at 15:50 on Oct 15, 2019

cda
Jan 2, 2010


Sham bam bamina! posted:

I have forgotten nearly everything about it, but I remember absolutely loving an omnibus of Elizabeth Enright's Melendy Family novels when I checked it out of the library as a kid. Really need to revisit sometime.

Edit: Of course, the one that I read turns out to be very expensive on AbeBooks.

I had never heard of these and they look cool.

Everyone
Sep 6, 2019


A few years back I was getting ready to run a JAGS Wonderland role-playing game and I decided to read the "source material" for it, Louis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass. In a lot of childrens' literature you get one of two general set-ups. The kid either learns some kind of moral lesson to become a better kid or the kid is the hero/Chosen One who saves the day/world/universe/whatever.

Neither of those apply here. Both books follow a kind of "dream logic" where there's any logic at all. Further, the various inhabitants of Wonderland treat Alice in ways that run a continuum between "object of fun that they can prank" to "bothersome intruder they wish would go away." Even as an adult I liked the books. I can see kids reading them and being unsettled by them in a good way. If there is a message to kids in the books it's something along the lines of "You are not, never have been and never will be the center of the universe."

Everyone fucked around with this message at 18:01 on Nov 10, 2019

cda
Jan 2, 2010


Necrotizer F posted:

A few years back I was getting ready to run a JAGS Wonderland role-playing game and I decided to read the "source material" for it, Louis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass. In a lot of childrens' literature you one of two general set-ups. The kid either learns some kind of moral or lesson to become a better kid or the kid is the hero/Chosen One who saves the day/world/universe/whatever.

Neither of those apply hear. Both books follow a kind of "dream logic" where there's any logic at all. Further, the various inhabitants of Wonderland treat Alice in ways that run a continuum between "object of fun that they can prank" to "bothersome intruder they wish would go away." Even as an adult I liked the books. I can see kids reading them and being unsettled by them in a good way. If there is a message to kids in the books it's something along the lines of "You are not, never have been and never will be the center of the universe."

Maybe unsurprisingly, there is more critical commentary on the Alice books than just about any other works of children's literature, in part because of the sheer number of parodies they contain. For instance,
"looking glass books" were a genre of children's books that stretches back to at least the 17th century with Abraham Chear's 1673 A Looking Glass For Children. These books held up a didactic "mirror" for children, either showing good children engaged in exemplary behavior, or using comedy to make fun of children acting badly. Throughout both books, Alice tries to apply a didactic logic to the situations she encounters, a process that includes both trying to understand irrational behavior in standard Victorian moral terms, and to employ the instruments of Victorian pedagogy and knowledge-making -- instructional poems and songs for instance -- to instruct the characters she interacts with. She appears to think that she is in an ordinary "looking glass book" when she is, in fact, in a reversed "looking glass book," so your suggestion that there's no moral lesson in them is plausible.

At the same time, some critics have observed that a key recognition of adulthood is precisely this fact: that the world doesn't follow moral rules, that it has no inherent moral "content," and that all it contains is forms that follow formal rules, sometimes to the point of psychosis or self-contradiction. In this line of reasoning the Alice books absolutely teach, and were intended to teach, a lesson; not a lesson that makes a better *kid* but rather a lesson that demonstrates the process of becoming an adult and mastering a universe of empty forms.

An interesting tangent to this discussion is that Carroll eventually revised Alice for younger audiences, producing The Nursery Alice, which was aimed at children "0-5" years old. Although much of the content is the same, and the illustrations are still Tenniel's famous drawings, the style is very different; didactic in a different sense. Critical opinion is that The Nursery Alice ruins a lot of what makes the original books work, but particularly when we want to consider the relationship between the original books and didacticism, it's a great resource. If you've never seen it, here's a link to the full text: http://www.aliang.net/literature/th...e/tna_ch01.html

Consider the following passages: the original scene in Alice in Wonderland where Alice meets a puppy after eating a cake that makes her small, and the same scene in The Nursery Alice (both are right before she meets the Caterpillar.

Alice in Wonderland posted:

So she swallowed one of the cakes, and was delighted to find that she began shrinking directly...

‘The first thing I’ve got to do,’ said Alice to herself, as she wandered about in the wood, ‘is to grow to my right size again; and the second thing is to find my way into that lovely garden. I think that will be the best plan.’

It sounded an excellent plan, no doubt, and very neatly and simply arranged; the only difficulty was, that she had not the smallest idea how to set about it; and while she was peering about anxiously among the trees, a little sharp bark just over her head made her look up in a great hurry.

An enormous puppy was looking down at her with large round eyes, and feebly stretching out one paw, trying to touch her. ‘Poor little thing!’ said Alice, in a coaxing tone, and she tried hard to whistle to it; but she was terribly frightened all the time at the thought that it might be hungry, in which case it would be very likely to eat her up in spite of all her coaxing.

Hardly knowing what she did, she picked up a little bit of stick, and held it out to the puppy; whereupon the puppy jumped into the air off all its feet at once, with a yelp of delight, and rushed at the stick, and made believe to worry it; then Alice dodged behind a great thistle, to keep herself from being run over; and the moment she appeared on the other side, the puppy made another rush at the stick, and tumbled head over heels in its hurry to get hold of it; then Alice, thinking it was very like having a game of play with a cart-horse, and expecting every moment to be trampled under its feet, ran round the thistle again; then the puppy began a series of short charges at the stick, running a very little way forwards each time and a long way back, and barking hoarsely all the while, till at last it sat down a good way off, panting, with its tongue hanging out of its mouth, and its great eyes half shut.

This seemed to Alice a good opportunity for making her escape; so she set off at once, and ran till she was quite tired and out of breath, and till the puppy’s bark sounded quite faint in the distance.

‘And yet what a dear little puppy it was!’ said Alice, as she leant against a buttercup to rest herself, and fanned herself with one of the leaves: ‘I should have liked teaching it tricks very much, if—if I’d only been the right size to do it! Oh dear! I’d nearly forgotten that I’ve got to grow up again! Let me see—how is it to be managed? I suppose I ought to eat or drink something or other; but the great question is, what?’

The Nursery Alice posted:

When Alice had eaten one of those little magic cakes, that she found in the White Rabbit’s house, it made her get quite small, directly, so that she could get through the door: or else she could never have got out of the house again. Wouldn’t that have been a pity? Because then she wouldn’t have dreamed all the other curious things that we’re going to read about.

So it really was a little Puppy, you see. And isn’t it a little pet? And look at the way it’s barking at the little stick that Alice is holding out for it! You can see she was a little afraid of it, all the time, because she’s got behind that great thistle, for fear it should run over her. That would have been just about as bad, for her, as it would be for you to be run over by a waggon and four horses!

Have you got a little pet puppy at your home? If you have, I hope you’re always kind to it, and give it nice things to eat.

Once upon a time, I knew some little children, about as big as you; and they had a little pet dog of their own; and it was called Dash. And this is what they told me about its birthday-treat.

“Do you know, one day we remembered it was Dash’s birthday that day. So we said ‘let’s give Dash a nice birthday-treat, like what we have on our birthdays!’ So we thought and we thought ‘Now, what is it we like best of all, on our birthdays?’ And we thought and we thought. And at last we all called out together ‘Why, it’s oatmeal-porridge, of course!’ So of course we thought Dash would be quite sure to like it very much, too.

“So we went to the cook, and we got her to make a saucerful of nice oatmeal-porridge. And then we called Dash into the house, and we said ‘Now, Dash, you’re going to have your birthday-treat!’ We expect Dash would jump for joy: but it didn’t, one bit!

“So we put the saucer down before it, and we said ‘Now, Dash, don’t be greedy! Eat it nicely, like a good dog!’

“So Dash just tasted it with the tip of its tongue: and then it made, oh, such a horrid face ! And then, do you know, it did hate it so, it wouldn’t eat a bit more of it ! So we had to put it all down its throat with a spoon!”

I wonder if Alice will give this little Puppy some porridge? I don’t think she can, because she hasn’t got any with her. I can’t see any saucer in the picture.

There are lots of different things to notice about these two portrayals. A few of them are:

1) The Nursery Alice contains a digression about Dash which is not in the original. The digression is kinda hosed up and, in true "looking glass book" style emphasizes the narrator's admonition "I hope you're always kind to it, and give it nice things to eat" by giving an example of children who, though well-meaning, comically do precisely the opposite.

2) In The Nursery Alice the narrator explicitly refers to Tenniel's illustration. By doing this, the narrator demonstrates the book's status as a book, which both distances the reader from the events in the book, and also fulfills a common didactic function of early children's literature in which the books explicitly or implicitly teach children how to read and understand books. Here's the illustration btw:


3) In Alice in Wonderland, Alice's subjectivity is represented through the exposition of her thoughts in a way that The Nursery Alice does not reproduce. Interestingly, these thoughts are all about finding a way to control Wonderland by organizing, planning, and managing. One of her thoughts, in fact, very nearly serves as Alice's mission statement throughout both books in the series: "I’d nearly forgotten that I’ve got to grow up again! Let me see—how is it to be managed?" Part of the "lesson" these books teach may be that growing up cannot be "managed" at all; you don't control your psyche or your society; they control you.

There's so, so much to talk about w/r/t Alice. Thanks for bringing it up.

cda fucked around with this message at 05:57 on Oct 16, 2019

xcheopis
Jul 23, 2003




I have boxes and boxes of pre-1980s children's book but not a working computer, so I can't post images. (Stealing from my employer right this very second!)

E. Nesbit and Edward Eager are probably my favourite children's authors and I also like Baum's non-Oz books. My siblings and I were fortunate that our mother didn't try to restrict our reading to "nice" stories, so Charles Addams comics, Edward Gorey, and the likes of Der Struwwelpeter were much beloved.

My father gave me McGuffey's Sixth Eclectic Reader when I was, I think, nine. When my mother died, I found various volumes from other, similar, series, which are amazing to read for the ways in which they indoctrinate.

Maurice Sendak is the greatest illustrator in human history.

CestMoi
Sep 16, 2011



cda posted:

At the same time, some critics have observed that a key recognition of adulthood is precisely this fact: that the world doesn't follow moral rules, that it has no inherent moral "content," and that all it contains is forms that follow formal rules, sometimes to the point of psychosis or self-contradiction. In this line of reasoning the Alice books absolutely teach, and were intended to teach, a lesson; not a lesson that makes a better *kid* but rather a lesson that demonstrates the process of becoming an adult and mastering a universe of empty forms.

i find this super interesting, particularly given carroll's love for formal logic & maths. never delved that much into his writings on that beyond 'what the tortoise said to achilles' but that's an essay that clearly demonstrates ways in which formal rules are not sufficient to actually do things in the world, or rather that any rule inherently presupposes further rules to infinity. good post.

anyway, lewis carroll leads me neatly into edward lear, since the two of them are really THE english language nonsense poets. i have a huge love for the both of them because they perfectly demonstrate the way in which poetry should work, where the form of the poem and its content are one and the same. understanding the way in which jabberwocky or the ahkond of swat work is a) much easier and b) much more instructive as to what a poem should be than going through all the sonnets or reading the waste land or whatever. it's easy to dismiss them as being empty forms but they're really not, they just lessen the burden on the meanings of the individual words to provide the drive of the poem.

Bonaventure
Jun 23, 2005



i recently became aware of 'The Sight of Hell' by John Furniss, and it is now my favorite children's book

quote:

XXXIII. What are they Doing?

Perhaps at this moment, seven o'clock in the evening, a child is just going into hell. To-morrow evening at seven o'clock, go and knock at the gates of hell, and ask what the child is doing. The devils will go and look. Then they will come back again and say, the child is burning! Go in a week and ask what the child is doing; you will get the same answer -- it is burning! Go in a year and ask; the same answer comes -- it is burning! Go in a million of years and ask the same question; the answer is just the same -- it is burning! So, if you go for ever and ever, you will always get the same answer -- it is burning in the fire!

Hieronymous Alloy
Jan 30, 2009


Why! Why!! Why must you refuse to accept that Dr. Hieronymous Alloy's Genetically Enhanced Cream Corn Is Superior to the Leading Brand on the Market!?!



Morbid Hound

There is a truly *excellent* annotated Alice edition.

cda
Jan 2, 2010


Hieronymous Alloy posted:

There is a truly *excellent* annotated Alice edition.

The Martin Gardner one? Yeah, that's a high-water mark for annotated editions of all kinds. That's a case where the text absolutely required an annotator who had an inside-out knowledge not only of who the author was and their historical context but of how they might think and probably nobody but Gardner could have done it because Carroll thought in such a peculiar way.

That said, maybe Raymond Smullyan could have done it, and the proof is Alice in Puzzleland, a book of narrative logic puzzles which is so good and so similar to the best of Carroll that even if you don't want to solve the logic puzzles at all, you can just read it as the Alice book Carroll never got around to writing.

cda
Jan 2, 2010


Bonaventure posted:

i recently became aware of 'The Sight of Hell' by John Furniss, and it is now my favorite children's book

Interesting. Early children's books were intended to do two things: teach them to read so they could read the Bible and be saved, and scare them so they'd want to read the Bible and be saved. A lot of them featured kids meeting gruesome ends, sometimes safe in the knowledge of their own righteousness, and sometimes getting plunged straight into hell. So in a way this isn't that different, but it's weird because it was written a lot later -- like 100 years or so -- than most of those. It's like a holdover from another time, and it's metal as gently caress.

quote:

Did you ever see two deadly vipers fly at each other? Their eyes burn with rage. They shoot out their poisoned stings. They struggle to give each other the death-blow. They struggle till they have torn the flesh and blood from each other. You may see the like of this in hell. See that young man and young woman -- how changed they are! They loved each other so much on earth, that for this they broke the laws of God and man. But now they fight each other like two vipers, and so they will fight for all eternity.

Sounds like...my marriage!

cda
Jan 2, 2010


CestMoi posted:

i find this super interesting, particularly given carroll's love for formal logic & maths. never delved that much into his writings on that beyond 'what the tortoise said to achilles' but that's an essay that clearly demonstrates ways in which formal rules are not sufficient to actually do things in the world, or rather that any rule inherently presupposes further rules to infinity. good post.

anyway, lewis carroll leads me neatly into edward lear, since the two of them are really THE english language nonsense poets. i have a huge love for the both of them because they perfectly demonstrate the way in which poetry should work, where the form of the poem and its content are one and the same. understanding the way in which jabberwocky or the ahkond of swat work is a) much easier and b) much more instructive as to what a poem should be than going through all the sonnets or reading the waste land or whatever. it's easy to dismiss them as being empty forms but they're really not, they just lessen the burden on the meanings of the individual words to provide the drive of the poem.

It's interesting that the rise of nonsense verse coincided with the height of the British Empire. I don't know if this argument has been made before, but I think you could probably argue that that's not just a coincidence; nonsense verse was one way to process, linguistically, an Empire that had become so vast that its cohesion was entirely a formal property and not the result of any actual national purpose. A poem like the Akond of Swat is an especially clear example of this since the premise is that the British speaker does not know what an Akond is or where Swat is.

quote:

Does he sing or whistle, jabber or talk,
And when riding abroad does he gallop or walk,
OR TROT,
The Akond of Swat?

Does he wear a turban, a fez or a hat?
Does he sleep on a matress, a bed, or a mat,
OR A COT,
The Akond of Swat?

Emphasis there is mine. The question of "jabber or talk" (note the echo of "Jabberwock," which had been published several years before and which Lear would undoubtedly have known about) is the question of nonsense verse and also the question the speaker of the poem has about the Akond of Swat. Note, too, the geographic scope of the Empire described by the "turban..fez, or..hat." Lear himself was an lifelong traveler; he had no permanent address for the 43 years between 1837 and 1880.

Or consider in the following poem how the Hindi words clearly stand in the place where nonsense words would usually be used:

quote:

THE CUMMERBUND.
AN INDIAN POEM.

I.
SHE Sat Upon her Dobie,
To watch the Evening Star,
And all the Punkahs as they passed
Cried, “My! how fair you are!”
Around her bower, with quivering leaves,
The tall Kamsamahs grew,
And Kitmutgars in wild festoons
Hung down from Tchokis blue.

II.
Below her home the river rolled
With soft meloobious sound,
Where golden-finned Chuprassies swam,
In myriads circling round.
Above, on tallest trees remote,
Green Ayahs perched alone,
And all night long the Mussak moaned
Its melancholy tone.

III.
And where the purple Nullahs threw
Their branches far and wide,
And silvery Goreewallahs flew
In silence, side by side,
The little Bheesties’ twittering cry
Rose on the fragrant air,
And oft the angry Jampan howled
Deep in his hateful lair.

IV.
She sat upon her Dobie,—
She heard the Nimmak hum,—
When all at once a cry arose:
“The Cummerbund is come!”
In vain she fled;—with open jaws
The angry monster followed,
And so (before assistance came),
That Lady Fair was swallowed.

V.
They sought in vain for even a bone
Respectfully to bury;
They said, “Hers was a dreadful fate!”
(And Echo answered, “Very.”)
They nailed her Dobie to the wall,
Where last her form was seen,
And underneath they wrote these words,
In yellow, blue, and green:—
“Beware, ye Fair! Ye Fair, beware!
Nor sit out late at night,
Lest horrid Cummerbunds should come,
And swallow you outright.”

As a side note, because I didn't know this, cummerbunds were originally Persian in origin and were adopted by British officers who saw them worn by Indian men, so the history of the cummerbund is a history of the Empire in miniature -- appropriation from the colonial dress became the sign of culture and high fashion. Lear using it here as the name of a dreadful Jabberwock-style monster is fairly interesting, I think.

Heather Papps
Nov 1, 2007


hello internet friend






i like this thread, mods please don't ban me!

Everyone
Sep 6, 2019


Heather Papps posted:

i like this thread, mods please don't ban me!

Read the rules. Comprehend them. Then stop doing stuff that gets you banned. It's really not that hard.

cda
Jan 2, 2010


One thing that interests me is the use of children's literature in works for adults, for example in The Babadook, and what this says about cultural understandings of what children's literature is for.

TheGreatEvilKing
Mar 28, 2016



I have fond memories of Prydain but it's been a long time.

Luvcow
Jul 1, 2007




thank you for this thread, bookmarking now and will post more when i've caught up and read all the posts

Everyone
Sep 6, 2019


I don't know if it counts as "literature" but I recall reading Susan Cooper's "The Dark Is Rising" sequence (I don't exactly think of it as a "series" because it's five books telling one overall story) in college 30+ years ago. I remember liking it quite a bit, but I'm a little reluctant to re-read it because I don't it will hold up.

I remember watching the movie version The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising. Some bits I liked. The beginning was decently suspenseful and there was one part that looked to be a really cool tangent into quantum physics (though 12 years later I don't recall what it was), but it never went anywhere. Otherwise the movie is was kind of "not Harry Potter" with one person whose "betrayal" was so telegraphed the character might as well have been wearing a neon glowing Christmas sweater with "Traitor" spelled on it. Still, it's hard to completely screw up the presence of Ian McShane and this movie used Christopher Eccleston far better than Thor 2 did. Still, even if it had been better, it wouldn't compare to the movie in my head with the Rider channeling the Ninth Doctor and "Merriman" channeling Al Swearengen.

Rider: "I'm going to cover the world in darkness and cold. Isn't it fantastic?!"

Merriman: "Aw ****** off you ******* piece a ****. I seen scarier turds floating after me mornin' ****!"

Everyone fucked around with this message at 23:01 on Nov 10, 2019

Heather Papps
Nov 1, 2007


hello internet friend






Everyone posted:

Read the rules. Comprehend them. Then stop doing stuff that gets you banned. It's really not that hard.

i made some bad posts in this forum a decade ago, it's a joke.

regardless, here is some effort in this good thread.

as a canadian https://robertmunsch.com/ has been a part of my life as long as i can remember. his stories were smart, funny, irreverent and vital to my childhood development.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_You_Forever is one of the most heartbreaking masterpieces ever. if you have a mother, are a mother, or have a beating heart this story will destroy you emotionally.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Paper_Bag_Princess completely neutralized any weird princess saving toxic masculinity that the legend of zelda and culture were building in my head.

We Share EVERYTHING! doesn't have a wiki page but it's one of the reasons i rejected capitalism as a child.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Jacques and his redwall books dominated a large portion of my adolescence. if you are not aware of them, it's a weird middle fantasy series about mice and squirrels and moles and badgers living in a medieval society or something? lotsa food description, and i used to read the mole dialouge aloud on the bus to make my friends laugh.

lastly, this book https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_E...Eye_and_the_Arm is one of the best of my childhood, and this thread makes me want to dig it out and re read it for the 30th time. it's set in a futuristic pan africa and there are 3 mutants who are detectives. one has longer arms then normal and is tall and flexible, one has big ol mega eyes, and one has super hearing. a couple kids escape a coup and like, traverse africa while their folk hire the mutants to find them. it's so loving good.

also i read anthem by ayn rand as a 12 year old and was like "lol no" but then i read dune and was like "lol yes"

Sham bam bamina!
Nov 6, 2012

ƨtupid cat




Heather Papps posted:

i used to read the mole dialouge aloud on the bus to make my friends laugh, hurr hurr

Bandiet
Dec 30, 2015



Heather Papps posted:

as a canadian https://robertmunsch.com/ has been a part of my life as long as i can remember. his stories were smart, funny, irreverent and vital to my childhood development.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_You_Forever is one of the most heartbreaking masterpieces ever. if you have a mother, are a mother, or have a beating heart this story will destroy you emotionally.

One of the worst books ever conceived. Even as a small child I knew it was abhorrent. The mom goes to her adult son's house in the middle of the night with a ladder and breaks into his room through the window so she can cradle him and sing to him.

Heather Papps
Nov 1, 2007


hello internet friend






Bandiet posted:

One of the worst books ever conceived. Even as a small child I knew it was abhorrent. The mom goes to her adult son's house in the middle of the night with a ladder and breaks into his room through the window so she can cradle him and sing to him.

i love you, forever. i'll love you, for always.
as long as i'm living
my baby you'll be.

cda
Jan 2, 2010


Everyone posted:

I don't know if it counts as "literature" but I recall reading Susan Cooper's "The Dark Is Rising" sequence (I don't exactly think of it as a "series" because it's five books telling one overall story) in college 30+ years ago. I remember liking it quite a bit, but I'm a little reluctant to re-read it because I don't it will hold up.

Those were among my absolute favorite books when I was a tween. Everything I remember about them suggests that they will hold up as far as the writing and characterization goes. Like Alan Garner's books, they didn't gently caress around and took the mythology and magic seriously. As an adult I wonder what kinds of things I might pick up on that I missed. They're on my short list to reread when I get a second.

Also on that list: Zylpha Keatley Snyder.

Heather Papps
Nov 1, 2007


hello internet friend






the subtle knife, etc

xcheopis
Jul 23, 2003




cda posted:

Also on that list: Zylpha Keatley Snyder.

My sister and I have autographed books from when she came to our elementary school.

cda
Jan 2, 2010


xcheopis posted:

My sister and I have autographed books from when she came to our elementary school.

!!! Which ones.

cda
Jan 2, 2010


Heather Papps posted:

the subtle knife, etc

BYOB poster HappyKitty wrote a real good essay about Philip Pullman, Geography, Imperialism, and the residential school system in Canada. It just covered Golden Compass iirc though.

cda fucked around with this message at 02:09 on Nov 11, 2019

cda
Jan 2, 2010


Heather Papps posted:

i made some bad posts in this forum a decade ago, it's a joke.

regardless, here is some effort in this good thread.

as a canadian https://robertmunsch.com/ has been a part of my life as long as i can remember. his stories were smart, funny, irreverent and vital to my childhood development.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_You_Forever is one of the most heartbreaking masterpieces ever. if you have a mother, are a mother, or have a beating heart this story will destroy you emotionally.


Apparently this was the fourth most selling children's book by 2001 when publisher's weekly put together a list, but I'm skeptical. Goodnight Moon has sold over 48 million copies, so unless it somehow sold 44 million copies in the last 18 years (because #20 on the list is The Very Hungry Caterpillar at about 4 million sold) after selling 4 million copies from 1947-2000, then the list is wrong, or they count books differently.

Anyway, it's a hell of a lot of books to have sold. Some interesting choices in this one. The theme is obviously love's ability to resist the passage of time, particularly love figured as a kind of forgiveness, and within that framework it's interesting to see the way that the interior spaces reflect the progress of culture. It's especially telling that when the mom is an old lady, the room in which her son rocks her to sleep is done up Victorian-style even though there's no evidence that her house was previously decorated in that style. The Victorian is both a tried-and-true image of oldness in children's literature and at the same time, a space of nostalgic childhood. Part of what's interesting about that is that it hasn't fundamentally changed in 60 years. The little bunny's room in Goodnight Moon also includes callbacks to the Victorian era, including the tiger-skin rug.

Also of interest are the left-hand pages which include sketches instead of just words. There's the one when the mom is rocking the two year old, of the toilet paper and watch. Then there's the one when she's rocking him when he's nine, of the muddy handprint. There's the pizza when he's a teenager. Nothing when he's an adult. But then when he's on the phone with her, there's the knitting and glasses, and finally, when he's holding his own baby daughter, there's the rattle and pacifier. My initial thought was that the sketches are in a way connected to whatever it is that the caretaker has to forgive in order to reconnect and express their love, but I don't know what that would mean about the knitting and glasses. Could just be items in some way connected with the stage of life of the person being loved. Not sure what a watch has to do with being 2, though, although the toilet paper is accurate enough. The choices not to put a sketch on the page opposite her rocking her adult son, and the choice to put a sketch not on the page where the son is rocking the mom, but instead on the previous page when he's talking on the phone don't make sense to me.

Another thing: I wonder who this book is for. Does it speak to kids? I guess the mom cradling the adult son is probably pretty funny to a child and also reassuring at the same time. Maybe they enjoy the reversal of the son rocking the mom as well. But one of the things I've noticed about a lot of bestselling children's books is that they've crossed over into being associated with certain adult rites of passage. No college graduate is sitting there going, "gee, I really hope someone gets me a copy of Oh, The Places You'll Go!" but I bet spring is when that book makes the most sales by far. And when people become parents, they often end up with a copy of Goodnight Moon or The Little Engine That Could or The Runaway Bunny and maybe if they're Canadian, this one. The goal is to reflect something about the adult's new relationship to childhood, not necessarily to give them something to read to children. And then there's Go The F*** To Sleep.

And also, can we talk about how dumbass Adult Son is for some reason holding a saucepan full of mushrooms over a sink with the water off? What the gently caress is he doing with them? Is he going to sautee them? You do that over the stove, idiot! Is he going to wash them? You need water, dip poo poo!

Everyone
Sep 6, 2019


Heather Papps posted:

the subtle knife, etc

I read that series a while back as well. I liked the Susan Cooper series better. Of course His Dark Materials might have suffered a bit since I read the books within a couple of months of the end of Garth Ennis's Preacher. I did end up taking one thing from the trilogy - the idea of a weapon that could cut pathways between dimensions. That saw quite a bit of use in various RPG campaigns.

Heather Papps
Nov 1, 2007


hello internet friend






cda posted:

Another thing: I wonder who this book is for. Does it speak to kids? I guess the mom cradling the adult son is probably pretty funny to a child and also reassuring at the same time. Maybe they enjoy the reversal of the son rocking the mom as well. But one of the things I've noticed about a lot of bestselling children's books is that they've crossed over into being associated with certain adult rites of passage. No college graduate is sitting there going, "gee, I really hope someone gets me a copy of Oh, The Places You'll Go!" but I bet spring is when that book makes the most sales by far. And when people become parents, they often end up with a copy of Goodnight Moon or The Little Engine That Could or The Runaway Bunny and maybe if they're Canadian, this one. The goal is to reflect something about the adult's new relationship to childhood, not necessarily to give them something to read to children. And then there's Go The F*** To Sleep.

And also, can we talk about how dumbass Adult Son is for some reason holding a saucepan full of mushrooms over a sink with the water off? What the gently caress is he doing with them? Is he going to sautee them? You do that over the stove, idiot! Is he going to wash them? You need water, dip poo poo!

this book, specifically of roberts oeuvre, is one to be read to a baby to settle it. it's a meditative poem to be sung to an unhappy baby, or to soothe it to sleep. i definitely remember being old enough to read on my own and finding this book with my younger siblings "baby books" and it moved something deep within me.
my mother holding all 3 of her children, a baby, a toddler, and me, a small boy, and read it to us is a memory that will never fade unless something really bad happens to my brain.

this idea of a lineage of books, with grandparents reading a story to your parents who read it to you who now will read it to your progeny is kind of fascinating, especially because the "baby books" are only given to those who actually have a baby.
there are books, like lord of the rings, that my father read as a boy, and were read to me when i was a boy, and which i read myself later.
besides religious texts baby books/fairy tales/moother goose/aesops fables style stuff may be the most consistently shared and consumed form of literature, which is uh, weird? hunh.

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cda
Jan 2, 2010


Heather Papps posted:

this idea of a lineage of books, with grandparents reading a story to your parents who read it to you who now will read it to your progeny is kind of fascinating, especially because the "baby books" are only given to those who actually have a baby.
there are books, like lord of the rings, that my father read as a boy, and were read to me when i was a boy, and which i read myself later.
besides religious texts baby books/fairy tales/moother goose/aesops fables style stuff may be the most consistently shared and consumed form of literature, which is uh, weird? hunh.

Generally speaking, books that survive are books that manage to embed themselves in cultural or actual institutions of some kind, to the point that they become seen as an integral part of that institution. The Bible is of course an obvious example: the only reason most people still read it is because it's part of religious institutions that actively promote reading it. That's true for a lot of books that people pretty much only read in elementary or high school as well. Children's literature as a whole happens to demonstrate this very clearly at the present time because public schooling is one of the only really universal* institutions we still have, and literacy is a direct part of the mission of those schools, so the institutional bond is very strong. But the bond is also strong with "institutions" which are just social in nature, such as parenting: from even before the baby is born, there are books which are considered part of parenting as an institution. Some of them, like What to Expect When You're Expecting or Dr. Spock, are not children's books, but a whole heck of a lot of them are. These books are not, strictly speaking, canonical, in the sense that they are not necessarily great literature or seen as great literature. Instead they're talismans. They provide an object, a text, into which powerful emotions are cathected.

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