#kidbkgrp 2014 schedule

So here we are. The first Thursday of every month, 9-10pm – let’s talk about children’s literature on Twitter with the hashtag #kidbkgrp. Do come along – I’d love to see you there :) Continue reading

A couple of thoughts on Mockingjay Part One and the nature of heroism

I’m conscious that this is a children’s literature blog and I don’t want to start segueing off into telling you about what I had for dinner or things like that, but I do want to tell you a little bit about Mockingjay Part One.

The film is an adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ novel Mockingjay (part of it – it’s been split into two films) and it is rather blindingly awfully brilliant. I saw it last night and can’t quite shake that dark pained truth that it has; that way that it situates stillness against rage and pain against love. Love, as President Snow knows, is destructive. Deathly.”it’s the things we love most that destroy us.”

Jennifer Lawrence is the raging anti-centre of these films. She is the Mockingjay; this figure isolated, this totemic individual that says a thousand things with just the look of her eyes and the shift of her body. Her stillness is immense.

Is Katniss likable? To me, yes. Immensely so.  She is a hero. She is heroic. She fights for what she believes in, even though she may not know what she’s fighting for. Freedom? Love? Hope? She is the after-effect of a former world, she is the impact of the Hunger Games, she is not the same person she once was. She is a teenage girl but she’s more than that and less than that, all at the same time.

She is a hero. A complex messed up individual who stands for something deep and strong and hopeful and shameful all at the same time. A dilemma of sorts encapsulated in a stubborn, bruised shell of a person.

Heroism. Dark blues, greys and blacks; a colour spectrum of heroism encapsulated in the muddy tones of a film bedding in to say big things and horrible things and necessary things and awful, timely, relevant things.

I think of heroism a lot with young adult literature. I think that that framing of a person in the centre of a dialogue, of a narrative, is in a way creating heroes. A centre of story, a breaker against the tide.

And I think that reading that narrative is heroic, I think that every time you pick up a book you’re creating a little intervention in the narrative of the everyday. You are sticking your hand up, marking your flag in the sand, stopping in your way down the road of your life to say – this matters. This moment matters, right here, this story I am engaging with, this moment of text and I.

And that story, right there, that involves a thousand moments of heroism. A redefinition of heroism, no – perhaps a wider interpretation of heroism is required. The heroic nature of the young adult protagonist; the mark of placing themselves against the world and fighting to hold onto it.

I love Katniss. I love what she is. I love that she is. Complex, brave, shattered women exist.

Heroes exist.

We should not ignore that.

 

“Only the Other could write my love story, my novel”

Sometimes there are moments when I realise how much I love story. Storying. Telling something to somebody else, nobody else, just telling a story to the world and hoping, knowing, longing that somebody will hear. Just telling. Telling. It is all in the telling and the shaping and the forming and the making, making, making.

I feel feverish. I feel as though I want to lock the door and let everything spin past me.

I believe in story. I love story. I reaffirm myself to it, I cleave to it and wrap my arms around it and will not let it go.

I write for moments. I write for the moment when a girl looks in a mirror and sees herself, properly, wholly, painfully, for the first time. I write for the moment when a girl is able to describe herself and not pause and not wonder where to begin. I write for the moment when two people look at each other and realise that that moment, right there, when they see themselves in another’s eyes, that is everything. I write for the space in between people where we touch, so briefly, so endlessly. I write for the life that we live for the life that we could live for the life that we don’t want to live, for the life that we dream of each and every day.

I write for that space just beyond the fingertip touch.I write for the edge of forever and the moment when your skin touches the one you love.

I shiver for those moments. I ache for them.

I adore them.

Their story. My story. Our story.

A Children’s Literature Tour of Great Britain : Mark West

A Children's Literature Tour of Great BritainA Children’s Literature Tour of Great Britain by Mark I. West

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

West’s tour of Great Britain from a children’s literature perspective both satisfies and frustrates in fairly equal measure.

What interests me about this book is the palpable tension between the nature of such a guide and the literature it concerns. The blurb on the back cover comments that: “Many of the sites on West’s Tour are geared toward children, while some are clearly intended for adults. All will add depth and delight to your next excursion into the fantastic (and fascinating) world of British children’s literature.”

There’s a lot to unpick there, so let’s begin. The initial sticking point for me is this distinguishing between sites for adults and sites for children. This is a tension which surfaces quite often critical work around literary tourism as a whole. Fairly early on in The Literary Tourist: Readers and Places in Romantic and Victorian Britain, Watson comments that: “[visiting] places with literary associations is essentially an adult vice” (2). Other theorists suggest how literary tourism allows us to regain our childhood (therefore suggesting that the ‘regainee’ is old enough to have had a childhood) or stating that literary tourism is an attempt to memorialise (or to commercialise?) creativity (therefore suggesting that the memorialisee (sp!) is able to validate and register the value of creative cultural capital).

I grant that many of the points in the previous paragraph are cherry picked, but I hope to share with you my rationale and that is this: all of these schools of thoughts presuppose an adult tourist.

Whilst juvenile tourists most certainly do exist, they exist within certain parameters and these are mostly adult defined. However these defining parameters do not define the experience of the juvenile tourist. They also do not obliterate the experience of the juvenile tourist and it is vital to remember that, when discussing literary tourism and children’s literature, that these tourists exist and that, whilst we may not understand their interpretive strategies or their communication strategies, we need to understand that they exist.

So, now that that is said, West’s book is problematic due to this nature of partial audience erasure but also, I think, because of his selection of authors / topics to feature: King Arthur, The Rev W. Awrdy & Christopher Awdry / JM Barrie / Michael Bond / Frances Hodgson Burnett / Lewis Carroll / John Cunliffe / Roald Dahl / Ian Fleming / Kenneth Grahame and Thomas Hughes.

The gender split of these chapter headings is obvious, as is the temporal split. I was surprised to read the publication date for this book being 2003 as, from the selections of authors chosen, I had read a much earlier date for the research. Whilst the entries for each author / topic are interesting, they are brief. Each chapter picks out a relevant attraction for tourists to attend and sometimes the rationales for selection are somewhat oblique. In addition to this, the practicalities of West’s book have suffered due to time as books of this nature often do. Several of the attractions he references are now closed. Certain other details, such as the prices, have also inevitably been affected.

I do laud West’s commitment to his subject throughout this book. Children’s literature and literary tourism is a rich, rich topic and work that focuses on it is welcome and overdue. However, I think if I were to be asked to reccomend a specific guide to Britain for children’s literary purposes, I would put West’s tome aside and head over for the infuriating and yet wildly magical How the Heather Looks: A Joyous Journey to the British Sources of Children’s Books (a book I originally reviewed here), primarily because of Bodger’s itchingly vivid stylistics when compared to West’s more practically inclined tome. And yet, I wonder why I make that decision, why I ache for that wilderness of text that sings of its subject and I wonder if that is to do with my hope, my love, my fervent belief in the space of children’s literature, and of allowing the reader, of whatever age that reader may be, that space to breathe in and to bring their own story towards.

I wonder, perhaps, if that is at the heart of this issue of children’s literature and literary tourism. I wonder if that distinctly un-academic edge is necessary.

I wonder, perhaps, if I need to stand outside a house in London and clap my hands and believe in fairies.

View all my reviews

Indigo’s Star : Hilary McKay

Indigo's Star (Casson Family, #2)Indigo’s Star by Hilary McKay

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second in the Casson Family series by Hilary McKay. It reads well as a standalone (an understatement, it reads perfectly and joyously and richly, like the best slice of cake at the best possible time on the best possible day) but treat yourself and read the others. It has been too long since I read these books and I have reserved them all at the library to wallow in on a rainy day. Or a sunny day. Any day, really, for these books are worth cancelling worlds for.

Indigo’s Star focuses on Indigo and his return to school after a long bout of illness. He is not keen to go back but go back he must and face the bullies who are there and seem centred on him. That is, until a new boy arrives to join Indigo’s class and Tom, as the blurb on the back says, “will make all the difference.” Alongside this plot, we have Rose being vividly gorgeous and writing letters to make her dad come home: “Darling Daddy. This is Rose. The shed needs new wires now it has blown up. Caddy is bringing home rock bottom boyfriends to see if they will do for Mummy. Instead of you. Love Rose.”

I love what Hilary McKay does. Sometimes I think through reading so much and simply having so much to choose from, we can miss the great perfect things that are here for us and just aching to be read. Reading McKay is like therapy. This book is full of a tumultuous joy. She captures family quite perfectly; the layering of relationships, the mixture of love and hate and awkwardness and pain and secrets that is family and she does it quite perfectly.

This book (and, to be fair, all of her books) are joyful, joyful things. Indigo’s Star shifts from hilarity through to intense vivid pain and right back again and oh God, how you miss it when it’s done.

View all my reviews

#kidbkgrp recap : Picture Books

Last night #kidbkgrp (and lots of lovely new Tweeters – welcome!) met to chat about picture books. Picture books are one of my great literary loves and so basically I spent the chat going “YES!” at every title suggested. There are a *lot* of lovely books recommended in this chat so it’s definitely worth having a look at it. (And perhaps one day I’ll be able to spell recommendations…).

You can find the storify of the chat here and here’s a link to the previous chats.

The next chat is on December 4th and we talk about Christmas!. See you there :-)

A question of fit

I have been thinking about fit for a while now, that idea of fit and of absence of shape and of completion.

I have been thinking about books. About reading, to be precise, about the hunger of it and the twisting aching longing of it.

We read, I think, for completion. Not always and sometimes not consciously but I think that this need to feel completed, to have the shadows of your being explored and split open for the light to shine through, this need is something that is at the heart of what we do as readers. We read to escape, yes, of course we do, but in that, we’re reading to complete. We read to find our edges. We read to discover what they are and what they could be and we read to push our selves against the edge of that world and find out where we fit. We read to find out the shape of ourselves.

The idea of shape, that idea of knowing what and who we are and of finding that out, that’s why we read. But isn’t it why we do anything? Everything? It’s why we select Bulbasaur instead of Squirtle, why our heart burns at the sight of the ones we love, why we eat the chips first instead of the fish. We are finding the limits of ourselves and understanding that and rationalising it and learning that we can and we may love that.

And that is a fight, an argument, a hard fought for thing, and it’s something which happens everyday in this alchemical space between reader and text, between eyes and words printed black upon white upon the page. We accept that fight. We long for that fight. We want to split ourselves open before a book, we let it burrow inside of us so we can remake that book inside our head. So we can see Shantih, or Manchee or Charlotte and recreate them inside our mind and hold them to us, in that space where they fit and that space that they make themselves fit in to. We read to find ourselves and once we do find ourselves, we don’t let that go.

We come back to a text, we reread this story that we read weeks ago, years ago. A different life. A different us. And then we have the best of things, that magical thing, that heartbreaking, world shattering, perfect perfect thing. We realise that that space inside us, that space that the book fit in, so softly, so comfortably, it still exists. And the book still fits in it. In you.

Reading is coming home, always, ever.