Happy Birthday KM Peyton!

KM Peyton is my one of my literary heroes. (The others, fyi, are Michelle Magorian, Patricia Leitch, Elinor M. Brent-Dyer and Frank Cottrell Boyce. But it’s not their birhtday today, and it is KM Peyton’s so I shall save them for another time.)

Happy birthday KM Peyton! She’s a bit amazing she is. More than a bit amazing, she’s outstanding. (coughMBEHERALREADYcough) I’ve spoken before about how much I love her, about how she catches the pure soul-consuming nature of first love, or the way she handles the delicate painful shift of growing up, or how she catches that sudden realisation that you’ve got into situation that is over your head or how she says in such few words everything that ever needs to be said. (KM Peyton archive here. She good, yo.)

So this, really, is to say thank you KM Peyton.

Thank you for Ruth, brave stubborn and brilliant Ruth. Thank you for Sweetbriar, my first equine crush. Thank you for Pennington who wrote an entire section of my MA thesis all by himself. For Dick, gorgeous, wondrous Dick. For the sprawling, luscious and heartbreaking layers of Flambards. For everything, really.

Thanks.

I owe you.

Sunday round up and reflections

Happy Sunday! I hope you’ve managed to have an ice-cream this lovely sunny weekend and have had chance to put your feet up and enjoy things :-) Here’s the round up of things that caught my eye this week.

1. Zoe from @playbythebook pointed me in the direction of this excellent and powerful piece: “How to Really Read Racist Books to Your Kids” It’s one of those things you really need to read.  It reminded me of this other blog post: “How to be a fan of problematic things”. Both posts are really brilliant in how they approach the issue of reading difficult and problematic texts with a modern day perspective.

2. If you’ve not discovered KM Peyton (who is one of my utter author loves) have a look at this review of Fly-by-night. It totally sums up why KM Peyton is the wonder that she is. Also on a KM Peyton note, have a look at this beautiful piece from Meg Rosoff.

3. I *loved* this. One professor asked his students to do him a comic instead of take a final exam. Clearly the students chose the right option in comic-making ;) and here are the results.

4. And finally, here’s some excellent posts on diversity with a lot of links in them that are worthwhile to take a bit of time in exploring: “Female Sexuality in YA Fiction : Exploring the range of experiences” and “Heck YA, Diversity! Pro-Tips Edition”.

If you’d like to view other posts in this series, they’re available here. See you next week!

A Pattern Of Roses : KM Peyton

A Pattern of RosesA Pattern of Roses by K.M. Peyton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have a great love for KM Peyton. She’s one of the authors that has defined my attitude towards children’s literature, to what it can and could be and to what it so very often is. And so it was with great, gleeful, giddy delight that I picked this one up.

A Pattern of Roses is a dual narrative story, balancing modern day Tim Ingram’s life against the story of Tom Inskip who lived in the same house many years ago. It’s a coming of age, timeslip, sort of story which plays the tensions of the boys lives against each others and it’s one that Peyton, as ever, delivers.

“A brief, flaming sunset was scorching the horizon, inked over by a mesh of old elms and black hedgerow and circling rocks.”

If you’ve not discovered Peyton yet, that’s how she writes. A sort of vivid understatement, a painterly writer that draws her images together with a very precise control and vivid skill. She is intoxicating to read for me because I always find something new in her work. Here, she catches that subtle beauty of falling in love when you don’t ever know what love is:

“[She] put out her hand and touched his. His own hand shied away, frightened, but hers followed and took it very firmly and held it. She still walked along, not saying anything, with the primroses round her neck, and he walked beside her, very carefully, feeling that the day had come to a standstill.”

She makes me cry does Peyton, and she makes me very envious. She makes me cry at how she can just – capture – things and hold them and make you see them. She’s one of, if not, the greatest writer of children’s literature that I’ve ever read.

View all my reviews

The New Normal : The Normalising of Creativity

Recently I’ve been thinking about doing a PhD ( Me! A PhD! Me who didn’t even get her GCSE Maths!), and as part of this I’ve been considering what I’d do it on. There’s a part of me that yearns, genuinely, just to get buried in the books and occasionally pop up and produce a paper on the Freudian significance of Hilda Annersley’s changing eye colours … or something.

Anyway, my big passion remains the Chalet School, but my other thing is the treatment of creativity and talent in stories like this. You know my thing by now, I hope, but if you don’t, my big book loves are pretty much: school stories (Chalet School / Malory Towers / St Clares), dance books (Drina! Veronica! Inordinately sexy Angelo!), horses (Jill! Shantih! Ruth!), KM Peyton and every Angela Brazil where she’s not racist or doesn’t bang on about nature. Something’s been striking me recently which is a sort of confluence of a couple of these divergent strands.

And that is this:  these stories tend to normalise creativity.

Creativity / talent / giftedness is, at its heart, a symbol of difference. Plucker and Stocking (2001) talk about this in their work. They state that students have two key schools of thought and influence by which they compare themselves against : the “internal comparison” whereby the student compares their ability at carrying out task X with their ability at carrying out task Y, and the “external comparison” of the ability of their immediate peer group (537).They also discuss the phenomenon that gifted children, once placed in gifted and talented programmes, regularly suffer a fall in grades (538) because they are then surrounded by other gifted and talented children. The initial gifted child is no longer ‘gifted’ when surrounded by their peers who are of a similarly talented nature as their gift has become normalised through context; the gifted and talented child is no longer unusual and different to their peers.

This is a sort of inverse scenario, the normalising of creativity because creativity itself becomes the new norm. The uncreative – the ungifted – become the oddities. That is what I’d argue swiftly happens in Lorna Hill’s Sadlers Wells books. Dance, artistry, creative expression becomes the norm and those characters who do not achieve an appreciation of this remain ‘out of the loop’. We do not empathise with them because our empathy is based on this mutual code of contextual appreciation and that context is the Arts. Dance. Caroline, gorgeous cake-loving Caroline, practically becomes a new character by the time of the events of No Castanets at the Wells. She becomes normalised within the context of these books.

To survive is to adapt, to fit in is to remain part of the dominating ideology of the narrative – even Grizel Cochrane from the Chalet School series finally gets her doctor and finally fits in, over fifty books since her first appearance in the books . “It’s time for you to eat white bread at last,” says her sagacious, doctor-having, best friend. (shut up Joey). The Collège des Musiciens from The School by the River normalises the creativity inherent in its purpose by only playing host to creative characters – therefore almost neutering the moments of great artistic achievement. There’s a curious sense of flatness to great parts of The School by the River for me. Jennifer’s brilliance, the whole ‘revolution in the city thing’, it’s all just a little bit too run of the mill which is a curious thing indeed for a book solely focusing on gifted and talented characters.

There’s an argument though that the school story (particularly in the era of Girlsown) has this normalising effect by the very fact that it is a school story. The school story genre is one which thrives on nominal equivalence between the characters. Difference is celebrated when it is in forms understandable to the genre: sport, academia, art – but this difference is ultimately subsumed by the needs of the school – the community. The individual matters to an extent, but the greater weight is and always will be the needs of the school.

But then again, there’s an element of normalising talent – of neutering talent – outside of the school story. One of the great examples that strikes me is in Elsie Oxenham’s Abbey books. Maidlin, as a child, is lovely. She burns from the page. And then, when she grows up, she becomes, well - deeper. “You know how love and marriage have developed Maidlin, who was far too much the artist at onetime [sic]. She’s still an artist and a much finer one than she would have been if she hadn’t met Jock. She’ll be singing again in public in the autumn … and everyone says how much her voice has deepened since she married” (1959:66). So here we’ve got a character who is gifted, intensely so, and one who has been ‘improved’ by her marriage. Her voice has deepened (therefore losing the presumably more girlish higher notes of her youth) and become rounder due to her life experience. Maria Nikolajeva in her excellent  The Rhetoric of Character in Children’s Literature talks about marriage  as an archetypal enclosure suggesting that marrying off a female character allows them to be subsumed into a feminine archetype. (2002:45) If we think about Maidlin, society has effectively normalised and in a way neutered her talent because the gifted wife is more acceptable than the gifted talented, tempestuous and socially abjected teenager. Don’t even get me on to talking about Damaris and her whole marriage episode!

Do you know what? I think I might have an idea for that PhD after all…

(And is traditional here in the land of DYESTTAFTSA, here’s a ‘you made it to the end’ Pikachu. Congratulations! )

Works cited -

Nikolajeva, Maria (2002a) The Rhetoric of Character in Children’s Literature Scarecrow Press Inc: Boston

Oxenham, Elsie (1953, this ed. 1959) A Dancer From the Abbey Wm Collins and Co: London

Plucker, Jonathan; Stocking, Vicki B (2001) Looking outside and inside: selfconcept development of gifted adolescents Exceptional Children Summer 2001: 535-548

This is why KM Peyton is so great

This is a  quote from ‘Seventeenth Summer’, the debut appearance of Patrick Pennington. Pennington is an incredibly talented pianist who comes from a lower class social context. In this quote Pennington has just met the ‘Professor’, a gentleman who has offered to help teach him. And it’s a quote that says everything. It is a moments like this that make me remember why KM Peyton is just so outstandingly brilliant.

“[Pennington] knew that … the Professor was going to manipulate him, smoothly and cleverly. He was another of them, telling him what to do. But the Professor was more clever than any of the others. Penn sensed it, and it frightened him. He knew he could neither despise not disobey the Professor. He walked beside him in silence. The fact that he had got out of [Prison] meant very little beside the significance of what he had got into.” (p268/269)