Unexpected Jolts of Children’s Literature: You Had Me at “Hellenic Mystery-Cult”
It’s that time again. The adult world constantly infringes upon or draws from the rich roster of children’s books we have out there. Here’s the latest crop of titles you might not have heard about otherwise:
Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller
At first this looks pretty standard. An adult novel about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s mother and her life. I guarantee you there are probably a hundred fan fiction sites sporting similar stories. The difference comes when you take a good close look at the description of the book that begins, “In this novel authorized by the Little House estate . . .”
Oh so? Now imagine that this became a trend. Adult novels based on popular children’s books. We already got a bit of a hint of that when Dave Eggers did his own version of Where the Wild Things Are (with Sendak’s blessing and let me tell you The Little Fur Family had NOTHING on that fuzzy wuzzy shelf sitter). But think long and hard about it. This takes fan fiction to a whole new level when you’ve got the backing of an estate. They’ve been doing “authorized” children’s book sequels for years. The adult market? Virtually untouched. And speaking of Wild Things . . .
Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature As an Adult by Bruce Handy
There’s a big marketing push behind this book, which is good for me. Notice that the first part of the title is easy to mix up with the book I co-wrote with Jules Danielson and Peter Sieruta Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature. Here’s hoping for a little confusion! Until then the gist of the book is a Vanity Fair editor just discovered children’s books because he became a father. It’s the usual story. He’s giving some background on the “canon” and I was heartened to see a mention of Mildred Taylor. I’m also interested in looking at his sources. Come on copious Leonard Marcus!!
Literary Yarns: Crochet Projects Inspired by Classic Books by Cindy Wang
Amigurumi is the Japanese art of crafting small figures. It’s a short step from tiny people to tiny classic book people. I’m a little sad they didn’t feature a teeny tiny Hester Prynne with her itty bitty red A on her chest on the cover but we can’t have everything in this world. Besides, they do get extra points for sticking those knives in Julius Caesar. The book contains some Alice in Wonderland and some Anne of Green Gables as well as some Huck Finn. Not, one suspects, any Jim.
Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker by Gregory Maguire
Are you excited? I am. I am very excited. Granted Maguire’s last book After Alice landed like a ton of bricks, but this one has such potential. It taps into the highly baffling but clearly present current trend of reinterpreting The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman. See that nut on the cover? That gives me a hint that there might be some discussion of that bizarre backstory about the hardest nut to crack. By the way, if you haven’t read the original Hoffman tale, I highly recommend that you find the version illustrated by Sendak (Sendak, Sendak, always with the Sendak today). It’s highly memorable. Not to mention, unforgettable. This book is described by its publisher this way: “Maguire discovers in the flowering of German Romanticism a migrating strain of a Hellenic mystery-cult, and ponders a profound question: how a person who is abused by life, short-changed and challenged, can access secrets that benefit the disadvantaged and powerless.”
The Wendy Project by Melissa Jane Osborne, ill. Veronica Fish
Baker & Taylor sold this one to me as adult but I’ve been seeing a lot of review journals reinterpret it as YA, so it may not strictly belong on this list. Even so, the topic’s appropriate. Here’s the plot description:
“16-year-old Wendy Davies crashes her car into a lake on a late summer night in New England with her two younger brothers in the backseat. When she wakes in the hospital, she is told that her youngest brother, Michael, is dead. Wendy — a once rational teenager – shocks her family by insisting that Michael is alive and in the custody of a mysterious flying boy. Placed in a new school, Wendy negotiates fantasy and reality as students and adults around her resemble characters from Neverland. Given a sketchbook by her therapist, Wendy starts to draw. But is The Wendy Project merely her safe space, or a portal between worlds?”
And while we’re on the topic of Peter Pan . . .
Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook by Christina Henry
See what I did there? Tying in the adult fanfiction-ish Little House title at the beginning of this post with this adult fanfiction-ish Peter Pan title at the end (and weren’t both original books soooo kind to American Indians too?).
Children’s books like to imagine things from Captain Hook’s p.o.v. too, and why not? He’s one of literature’s most charming villains. Something about the curls. This book sort of goes the route of the Hook’s daughter series by Heidi Schulz, postulating that pirates are just grown up Lost Boys (at least in the case of Hook himself). Boy, is it just me or does any modern reimagining of Peter Pan make him into a #1 top notch jerk? This. The TV show Once Upon a Time. And so on and such.
Filed under: Surprising Jolts of Children's Literature
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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