Archive for July, 2009

For my final year at university, we were required to produces a 10,000 word dissertation. aka the FYP (Final Year Project) I of course call it a dissertation because it sounds far more superior. After many fretful hours in the library I decided I wanted to focus on anthropological studies within literature, whether I fancied myself as Dr Temperance Brennan from the TV show Bones, I don’t know but regardless this is what i wanted to do.

I narrowed this down more succintly to the gothic genre. dun dun dun! In particular the classics of Frankenstein and Dracula. In the end however I became stumped at what to study in particular. These novels are such obvious studies of the human detail that I thought I wasn’t pushing myself enough. So, over the summer holidays I researched fairy tales. The only reason for this is because I discovered, or more correctly my big toe discovered my huge anthology of fairy tales under my bed which I had long ago forgotten about. After flicking through, the tales brought such a smile upon my face I knew SOMETHING to do with fairy tales was what I wanted to do.

The writing of a dissertation is a fine production. One which requires many re-writes, rehearsals and refills of an alcoholic beverage but what became evident is how much fairy tales are not to be scoffed at. They tell us so much about our lives that we live even today in the 21st century that it’s uncanny and perhaps this is why the age old tradition of reading fairy tales to children before bed still stands as so important today.

We are all born perfect and according to some Indian cultures, as Gods. But the world we live in negates us of this perfection and we grow up dealing with life’s many hands. As children, we listen in awe and amazement as a Prince climbs Rapunzel’s hair and rescues her from the evil sorceress and we go to bed with it in our minds and with our innocence and beliefs reignited and redefined.

Like any beliefs we have to maintain them in some way, which is why the tradition of a bedtime read every night is so important. For that matter, I heartily recommend the Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I studied this anthology over any else because it maintained the iconic storylines of each tale but announced itself as a grotesquely nineteenth century piece of writing for its new audience.

My dissertation is not one to be read by children, it is for adults only and could arguably make you question every fairytale you might ever read again. But what it also does is highlight the importance of the fairy tale to a childs youth as it draws the reader in to each stage of their own maturation.

So for the more mature reader like myself, please I urge you to purchase or dig out a copy of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, published by Vintage and dip in and out whichever tale you want to escape in. I studied four, arguably the classics Rapunzel, Cinderella, Snow White and Little Red Cap (Little Red Riding Hood) The stories are enriched in culture, tradition and wonderful imagery which you can’t help but get tempted into like poor Hansel and Gretel. The vintage edition is an accessible price but also has great illustrations within each tale and most tales are ensigned with a pattern header.

For the children, this is where a little more money should be spent as it’s an opportunity to give the kids a precious keepsake. A sturdy hardback book with gorgeous illustrations is in abundance in the fairy tale and gift section of any store but with the Grimm’s fables in mind, I love the Everyman Children’s Library Edition or another edition published by Bounty Books with very traditional illustrations. It’s currently reprinting but is available to order.

I continue to read fairy tales now and then and whilst the stories do adhere to certain idealised, archetypal stages as discovered by Vladimir Propp in his Proppian Analysis, there is something to be said about the neglected importance of the fairy tale in our lives. As German poet Friedrich Schiller wrote: “Deeper meaning resides in fairy tales told to me in my childhood than in the truth that is taught by life.”

Take the time to read with your kids, or read alone. But most importantly, take the time to remember that most wonderful feeling of possibility in obscurity.

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First and foremost, welcome to my first blog. I am truly excited about it.

Blogs, I have come to discover are a most convenient and fun way of writing.  Whilst the art of blogging is a relatively new form of the ever-evolving forms of literature there is something to be said about the timeless ability of it all.

What I want to achieve from my blog is not only a form of writing experience for myself, but also to any readers out there who have an interest in children’s literature; I want them to feel that they can visit my blog and find a genuine review of a book whether this is for their own pleasure or to pass on to their child.

These reviews will vary and ultimately, I want my blog set up so that it is organised by genre making it accessible to those who visit. I certainly do not want to give those who visit a false sense of excitement when they see the name of my blog, hoping to enter a serene virtual space only to find a jumble of words lost in a genre-palooza.

So, why children’s literature? And why now? Well i have recently graduated from a B.A Honours degree in English and might I say what a pleasure it was to study. Without realising, I honed my writing skills, I became a keen debater and I fell in love with the written word. During this time I also got a part-time job in Waterstones which I just adore. It is possibly the best retail job, simply because it does not put upon you the strains and stresses of any other retail job I have had the displeasure of working. Certainly there are expectations and commitments, but my job focuses on one thing and one thing only…the books.

And of course, we each have our own favourite parts of the shop. For a long time the Cookery section and the Children’s section were locked in a tense battle over who would become my favourite place and in the end, the Children’s section won out simply because it keeps that magical feeling throughout the year. The Cookery section for me seems to sparkle most only during the Christmas season.

I just love Children’s literature and the giant ‘Where’s Wally?’ figure placed high above the picture books. What’s wonderful about children’s literature, I believe, is the disctinctions of the old and the new but both flourish so well together. These days we have Beast Quest in amongst Mrs Pepperpot and Twilight leaning against  Stig of the Dump but what becomes apparent when helping customers find their perfect book is that there is room for both the old traditions and the creating of the new.

Certainly my love for the children’s book would not be so strong would it not be for John Cook who is the children’s specialist in my particular branch. His knowledge is astounding and he is a simple, no nonsense, genuine man, who nonetheless can inspire greatness in each and every person and who can read people so well, it is spooky. He himself is a budding author who can be very proud of what he has written and I wish many great things upon him. Perhaps one day when he is far too rich and important to be seen amongst the lowly bookseller, I can beg him to come and do a book signing in my own bookstore, aptly named ‘FiveMinutesPeace’ in homage to Jill Murphy’s wonderfully simple yet telling tales of the Large family. Of course this is just the dream, but it is my dream all the same.

So back to the blog in hand. I will aim for a few updates a week and whilst I am always one for nostalgia, I will also be writing reviews for new picture books and reprints so that the children of today, in years to come can pass on to their own kids, their copies of the books they once loved. Because really, that’s what it’s all about. For now, i’m not interested in writing about politics, or world affairs or the environment. It is just not my calling. My calling, I know in my heart of hearts is books and it is just the most wonderful, exhilarating and enlightening feeling to go into a children’s bookstore and find a book you had completely forgotten and remember it, simply for it’s front cover or illustration or particular moment in the story. A book can embue such vital, precious memories and I am certainly evangelical about my passion for each and every children’s book out there.

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