Posted in about childhood, children's books, fairy tales

Beauty and the Beast, Ages 2-102

Have you seen the new live action Beauty and the Beast? The chances are good that you have; according to Forbes the film earned $6.9 million on its second Monday alone. This isn’t really surprising. The landscape of fairy tale is a map we all know so well. Close your eyes and you will see the contours laid out clearly, at times lovingly spiritual in its universality, at others chillingly human in its earthy specificity. There is the castle, shining in the background, flags flapping in the wind. Then there is the dark and murky wood, where wolves and bears and other frightening creatures roam – and where you must go to face your destiny. Upon this landscape live the many stock characters that breathe life into the tales: the cruel witch, the fairy godmother, the lonely Beast, the despairing princess, the courageous prince.   In this land Magic runs rampant and injustice is fought until finally the balance of life is restored. Our collective unconscious stores this map, these characters, and their stories. We seem never to tire of recreating them time and time again.  Most of us were introduced to fairy tales in childhood, some of us reading large heavily illustrated books ourselves, or having them read to us.

To continue that tradition, Silver Dolphin Books has come out with a series of board books for very young children, called “First Stories,” from which I had the pleasure of reading three fairy tales: Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and Rapunzel. Each one is a little gem, charmingly illustrated in bright colors and adorable, detailed illustrations.

Chunky and sturdy, the board books are interactive, with tabs to push, pull, and slide. Pull up on one tab and Cinderella’s rags are transformed into a beautiful ball gown; pull down on another, and the Beast appears in his castle door. You can shimmy the witch up Rapunzel’s hair as she leans out of her tower, or push Cinderella back and forth as she sweeps the kitchen – and then, a few pages later, slide her foot up to the glass slipper! This is Exciting stuff.

Amazingly, each tale is pared down to only four rhyming couplets. Silver Dolphin did a good job picking out those plot points, and somehow the stories manage to come across, in no small part because the illustrations by Dan Taylor are richly detailed, in a deceptively sophisticated way.  And not to worry about being too frightening for little ones; while there are scary moments — these are fairy tales we are talking about — the colors are bright and there is a cheerful atmosphere maintained throughout. The iconography of the fairy tale landscape is all there, giving your toddler the means to start their very own map of the enchanted world we all love.

For the older child, or just the young at heart, comes a gorgeous coloring book of Beauty and the Beast, with quotations from the original story by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, first published as a novel in 1740 and later abridged and rewritten into the tale we know by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. Ornate and lavish, the exquisite drawings, based on the wonderful work of English artist Walter Crane, are reminiscent of 18th century France.  Once I saw it I immediately went out and bought a set of colored pencils. It will take a while to get through the whole coloring book, but who’s complaining? Any girl –big or little –, who loves to color, will sigh with happiness when they get their hands on this one. Just make sure you have colored pencils or crayons at hand – they won’t want to wait to get started.

Beauty and the Beast Coloring Book put out by Silver Dolphin Press
Beauty and the Beast Coloring Book
Posted in about childhood, children's books

If Middle Grade speaks to you

….like it speaks to me, then you need to read this post from Project Mayhem:


It’s a clear, inspiring look at the eight-episode show Stranger Things on Netflix.  I’m going to check it out tonight!

Something about the tween age tweaks at my heart and brain like no other — well YA historical fiction notwithstanding 🙂  And then there’s the beauty of a brilliant picture book…alright, I’m hopeless.  It’s true love, me and kids’ books, what can I say.  But that age, that threshold holds some kind of magnetic pull.

I wrote my master’s thesis on the unreliable narrator in children’s MG books, beginning with E. Nesbit – do you know her?  End of the 19th century…..Five Children and It, The House of Arden, The Wouldbegoods etc.  all the way up to Sharon Creech, Polly Horvath and Rebecca Stead.  More on that later.

But there’s something about the agency of that age, the purity of their focus on themselves, the fierceness of their friendships, and their lives.  As a writer, I may just end up there.  We’ll see.  In the meantime, do check out the post, and that show.

Talk to you later!







Posted in about childhood, children's books, fairy tales

The enduring enchantment of fairy tales

The Legend of the Briar Rose
The Sleeping Beauty, (1890) by Sir Edward Burne-Jones.

Fairy tales from around the world such as Sleeping Beauty are stories that have traveled eons.  They have been part of our collective consciousness for so long that that as P.L. Travers, author of Mary Poppins — a great lover of fairy tales — put it, even if we are reading them for the first time, there is a sense of recognition, of having found something already near and dear and close to our heart. Perhaps a sense of longing for what has been lost and might never be found again spurs us on to re-tell the tales endlessly, crossing and re-crossing the bridge from a dim past into our own time.

Tales of enchantment fell from the lips of storytellers in the 10th century marketplaces of Baghdad and made their way westward with merchants on the Silk Road.  The old wive’s tales of medieval Europe have their roots deep in the orient, and have been re-incarnated time and time again, first orally and then pouring forth into written form.

One of the earliest versions of the tale is The Ninth Captain’s Tale of “The Arabian Nights.” This goes back a thousand years! The story has traveled from the Middle East to Europe, where it resurfaced as The Sun, Moon, and Talia, an Italian literary fairy tale written by Giambattista Basile in his 1634 work, the Pentamerone. Charles Perrault then retold it in 1697 as The Sleeping Beauty.  We know this version well.  We also know the tale as it traveled to Germany and appeared in the Grimms’ fairy tales in 1812, as Little Briar Rose.

Each version of Sleeping Beauty involves the prediction of some terrible thing happening to the young girl, if she pursues her curiosity or desire.  One of the reasons fairy tales are so enduring is that many of the tales involve a curse or prediction of some kind. These can come from animals, who can talk, either being under a spell or whatever..or a wicked fairy, as in Sleeping Beauty. Once the prediction has been uttered, the reader is set up with an expectation of the coming promised event. The sense of fate, of moving towards something, sparks a desire to see what will happen next.

Cultural theorist Catherine Driscoll has pointed out the “…girl’s role as a marker of cultural identity” that also “installs her as representative of the coherence of an historical period.”  If that is true, then the character of Sleeping Beauty is a kind of archetype, The Girl, able to shape-shift throughout multiple times and cultures.

There are multiple modern re-tellings of this tale, from Disney to numerous contemporary re-tellings.  The underlying inborn story continues to fascinate us.  In the contemporary world, as in all ages, she could well be a symbol for that tween or teen girl on the cusp of awakening.   Each one of us has either been or known someone like that — and we all love that girl.


Click here to find my e-book,
Sleeping Beauty: the Evolution of a Fairy Tale
on Amazon

Posted in about childhood

Scholarly Stuff


Woman writing in a coffeeshop                                                Emile Vernon (French, 1890–1920)


The construct of the child…hmm, sounds a bit like working with legos..what does this mean, exactly?  People interested in children’s literature are often concerned not only with book-as-literature, but book-as-barometer, a social barometer, of how we view childhood.  The quest for understanding the construction of childhood appears to be at the root of things, children’s lit-wise.  This seems so dry, so far removed from actual living breathing adorable children, and yet — it is not.  Consider.

It goes back, way back, to people like William Godwin (do most people know about him?) and Mary Wollstonecraft (better known – that infamous drafter of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.  Note: if you haven’t looked at that at least once, you really should.  Kept me up nights, shivering).  Did you know they were married?  Did you know their daughter is Mary Shelley?  Little known fact: 14-year-old Mary met Percy Shelley at her father’s publishing house/bookshop!  That’s when they ran away together, went off on vacation with Lord Byron, and Frankenstein was born….but I digress.  The point is, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft were very much interested in children’s literature, and the construction of childhood.  (Ok – it goes back even farther, back to the Purtians and Jonathan Swift and saving babies souls.  But I’ll talk about that another time).  There was a raging debate at various points about the appropriateness of imagination for children – in fact fairy tales were a big no-no, for a while.  Then came the 1800’s, and then the Victorian age…and the idea of the romantic child.  Ah.  Here we come to the rub, for me.  This debate is, by the way, still going on: the one where we ask ourselves, are children innocent creatures, meant to be protected and sheltered from life until they are ready for it?  Or – are they smart enough to handle real life straight on?  Charles Dickens had numerous child characters, many of whom did not exactly match the concept of the “ideal” child (innocent, sweet, perfect, sheltered, etc.)  E. Nesbit’s kids can be pretty naughty.   And these days, it seems we want to give kids the real raw deal from pretty much day one.

Right?  Wrong?  I don’t know.  I’m just getting into all this, but I feel it’s such explosive stuff that I simply have to write about it sometimes.  So, if you’re at all interested:  stay tuned.



Posted in about childhood

Are Teens Embracing E-books?

Check out this interesting article from Publisher’s Weekly about teens and e-books.  Of course e-books are creating a swirl of controversy these days, what with Department of Justice rulings about the e-book trade (more to come on that) the challenges posed to libraries, etc.  I was recently assured by a published author that the majority of e-books are read by 40-somethings and older.  Publishers are coming out with toddler apps to teach reading on all kinds of personal devices…but do kids actually read e-books?  I know two-year-olds who can scroll through their parent’s cell phones to watch Dora the Explorer, but…

Are Teens Embracing E-books?.