desert island question

Elizabeth Evans er.evans at
Mon Apr 26 16:47:14 EDT 2004

I just read an article on Joy Cowley (author of about 600 books, mainly
picture books, including 'Mrs Wishy Washy' and 'The fierce Little Woman and
the Wicked Pirate') who talking of her early reading problems, largely due
to an itinerant childhood, recalls the sense of release she discovered on
reading 'The Story of Ping'.

> -----Original Message-----
> From: owner-dwj at [mailto:owner-dwj at]On Behalf Of
> Nat Case
> Sent: Tuesday, April 27, 2004 05:52
> To: dwj at
> Subject: Re: desert island question
> >>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.
> >
> >Robyn
> 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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