desert island question

Nat Case ncase at
Mon Apr 26 13:52:14 EDT 2004

>>Or.... what would be a similar range in kids fantasy? I think of 
>>fantasy as beginning somewhat older, and it merging into something 
>>all its own in the younger-reader category, sort of a cross between 
>>fantasy and fairy tale. Maybe Narnia, a younger Margaret Mahy 
>>(maybe one of her picture books), a younger Roald Dahl (The Magic 
>>Finger creeped me out as a child, I recall), all or part of an E 
>>Nesbit fantasy (Five Children and It, for instance), and some Grimm 
>>or Perrault for pre-"children's literature" context, some Sendak 
>>(Where the Wild Thins Are seems pretty de rigeur, I'd think).
>This is actually closer to the focus I am thinking about. 
>Thematically, I want to examine ideas about how literature empowers 
>children. It's really obvious in a lot of fantasy books where kids 
>get special powers and that helps them to deal with problems and the 
>unfairness of the adult world. In picture books, there are heaps 
>that celebrate children being bad as a similar kind of empowerment. 
>I want to have a class about farting and showing your underpants and 
>other taboo things.

A few different models of empowerment that leap to mind (also not 
coincidentally books that made a big impression on me as a kid, 
probably reflecting my sense of what empowerment I needed):

- Black Stallion, Walter Farley: Boy acting alone doing things even 
grownups would have a problem with. I was struck on rereading years 
later on the writing style's similarity to Boys Life (the Boy Scout 
magazine): Gee Whiz mixed with testosterone-infused heroics. But it 
works for younger readers. Age 7-8 for me I think.

- Brothers Lionheart, Astrid Lindgren: Powerless ill boy regaining 
the perfect body in the afterlife morphs into story of how to be a 
hero (it would be interesting in another context to contrast with the 
model of heroism in Fire and Hemlock...). As an adult, I found lots 
of rather odd overtones: echoes of Sweden's experience in WWII, of 
Lutheran theology, of the heroic sense of the sagas.

- Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper: Yeah I know it bugs us as adults but 
it really got me as a kid: empowerment via accessing "secrets," 
releasing inner potential. Really powerful image for kids faced with 
inaccessible adult knowledge.

- Summer Birds, Penelope Farmer: Again with the mysteries, but 
coupled more with straight magic than with a system  of knowing and 
power (as in Cooper). And what the kids do with the magic is more 
purely play... The end still makes me tear up a little.

I don't think I really found deep empowerment in books much before I 
hit those last three books. Each one kind of took my breath away, in 
a sense I don't recall books doing before. Earlier books had been 
comforting and fun and exciting, but in a stimulative rather than a 
digging-deep sort of way. I remember a little kids book "Hippity Hop 
Around the Block" I found exciting in an adventuresome-toddler way. 
And I loved Ferdinand the Bull, and Mike Mulligan and his 
Steamshovel, and Pelle's New Suit... are these empowering? dunno.

Nat Case
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