Surprising Jolts of Children’s Literature
It’s that time again! Time to take a gander at what’s happening in the world of books for grown-up types. Oh sure, half the time it’s quickie diet books and memoirs of Churchill (I can guarantee that if there’s a Churchill book out there, the patrons of my library will snap it up, lightning quick) but once in a while I’ll find a title with a connection to the world of books for kids. Here are the latest titles to slot neatly into that category. Some are already out. Some are on the horizon. All of them have a kidlit connection. Can you find it for yourself?
All descriptions are from the publishers’ annotations:
“National Book Award-winning poet and author of the internationally best-selling Iron John, Robert Bly revisits a selection of fairy tales and examines how these enduring narratives capture the essence of human nature.
Few forms of storytelling have greater power to captivate the human mind than fairy tales, but where do these tales originate from, and what do they mean? Celebrated poet and bestselling author Robert Bly has been asking these questions throughout his career. Here Bly looks at six tales that have stood the test of time and have captivated the poet for decades, from “The Six Swans” to “The Frog Prince.” Drawing on his own creative genius, and the work of a range of thinkers from Kirkegaard and Yeats to Freud and Jung, Bly turns these stories over in his mind to bring new meaning and illumination to these timeless tales.
Along with illustrations of each story, the book features some of Bly’s unpublished poetry, which peppers his lyric prose and offers a look inside the mind of an American master of letters in the twilight of his singular career.”
“From Mallory Ortberg comes a collection of darkly mischievous stories based on classic fairy tales. Adapted from the beloved “Children’s Stories Made Horrific” series, “The Merry Spinster” takes up the trademark wit that endeared Ortberg to readers of both The Toast and the best-selling debut Texts From Jane Eyre. The feature has become among the most popular on the site, with each entry bringing in tens of thousands of views, as the stories proved a perfect vehicle for Ortberg’s eye for deconstruction and destabilization. Sinister and inviting, familiar and alien all at the same time, The Merry Spinster updates traditional children’s stories and fairy tales with elements of psychological horror, emotional clarity, and a keen sense of feminist mischief.”
And, as I was gently corrected the other day, Ortberg is now officially Daniel Mallory Ortberg.
“In the vein of Wicked, The Woodcutter, and Boy, Snow, Bird, a luminous reimagining of a classic tale, told from the perspective of Agnes, Cinderella’s “evil” stepmother.We all know the story of Cinderella. Or do we?
As rumors about the cruel upbringing of beautiful newlywed Princess Cinderella roil the kingdom, her stepmother, Agnes, who knows all too well about hardship, privately records the true story. . . .
A peasant born into serfdom, Agnes is separated from her family and forced into servitude as a laundress’s apprentice when she is only ten years old. Using her wits and ingenuity, she escapes her tyrannical matron and makes her way toward a hopeful future. When teenaged Agnes is seduced by an older man and becomes pregnant, she is transformed by love for her child. Once again left penniless, Agnes has no choice but to return to servitude at the manor she thought she had left behind. Her new position is nursemaid to Ella, an otherworldly infant. She struggles to love the child who in time becomes her stepdaughter and, eventually, the celebrated princess who embodies everyone’s unattainable fantasies. The story of their relationship reveals that nothing is what it seems, that beauty is not always desirable, and that love can take on many guises.
Lyrically told, emotionally evocative, and brilliantly perceptive, All the Ever Afters explores the hidden complexities that lie beneath classic tales of good and evil, all the while showing us that how we confront adversity reveals a more profound, and ultimately more important, truth than the ideal of “happily ever after.”
“The first English‑language biography of Astrid Lindgren provides a moving and revealing portrait of the beloved Scandinavian literary icon whose adventures of Pippi Longstocking have influenced generations of young readers all over the world. Lindgren’s sometimes turbulent life as an unwed teenage mother, outspoken advocate for the rights of women and children, and celebrated editor and author is chronicled in fascinating detail by Jens Andersen, one of Denmark’s most popular biographers.
Based on extensive research and access to primary sources and letters, this highly readable account describes Lindgren’s battles with depression and her personal struggles through war, poverty, motherhood, and fame. Andersen examines the writer’s oeuvre as well to uncover the secrets to the books’ universal appeal and why they have resonated so strongly with young readers for more than seventy years.”
I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well this has been circulating in my library, by the way. Wouldn’t necessarily have pegged this one as a circ buster.
“Four sisters desperately seeking the blueprints to life—the modern-day retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women like only Anna Todd (After, Imagines) could do.
The Spring Girls—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy—are a force of nature on the New Orleans military base where they live. As different as they are, with their father on tour in Iraq and their mother hiding something, their fears are very much the same. Struggling to build lives they can be proud of and that will lift them out of their humble station in life, one year will determine all that their futures can become. The oldest, Meg, will be an officer’s wife and enter military society like so many of the women she admires. If her passion—and her reputation—don’t derail her. Beth, the workhorse of the family, is afraid to leave the house, is afraid she’ll never figure out who she really is. Jo just wants out. Wishing she could skip to graduation, she dreams of a life in New York City and a career in journalism where she can impact the world. Nothing can stop her—not even love. And Amy, the youngest, is watching all her sisters, learning from how they handle themselves. For better or worse.
With plenty of sass, romance, and drama, The Spring Girls revisits Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women, and brings its themes of love, war, class, adolescence, and family into the language of the twenty-first century.”
“A History of Children’s Books in 100 Books takes a global perspective and traces the development of the genre from ancient stories, such as Aesop’s Fables and the Indian Panchatantra, through the Puritan primers of the 17th century to the Harry Potter series and books as technology.Taking the approach of its precursor, The History of the Book in 100 Books, this book is about children’s books as artifacts, as well as the texts they contain, and the industry and society that produced them. It covers aspects of selection, design, production and marketing of books for children. For the most part, illustrations are key components of children’s stories, visualizing fantastic scenes and making them instantly recognizable, and such artwork is beautifully reproduced throughout.
The chapters, with topic examples, are:
1. Oral traditions and pre-literacy; baby’s first book; folk tales; nursery rhymes; board books; Sumerian “lullaby” tablet; Dr. Seuss.
2. Fables around the world for the young; Panchatantra (India 200 AD).
3. ABC of Aristotle (Middle English); pop-ups, picture books, early learning; alphabet books.
4. Educational books, non-fiction; adult influence; behavior; The New England Primer.
5. Smaller books for small readers; child protagonists; miniature books; chapter books.
6. Animal Magic; Mother Goose; Charlotte’s Web; Beatrix Potter; The Jungle Book; A. A. Milne.
7. Innocence, experience, genre books; imperialism; religion; Little Women; Black Beauty.
8. Fairies and Frighteners: Grimm Brothers; Japanese Fairy Tales; Edward Gorey; Maurice Sendak; Der Strewwelpeter.
9. New genres, adventure stories; pulp fiction; C. S. Lewis; Pippi Longstocking; H. G. Wells.
10. Wartime: Destruction of books; series; awards; Le Petit Prince; Nazi button book; Roald Dahl; Matilda.
11 Comics; new media; Manga; survival manuals; cartoons; advertising; political correctness; awards.
This is an authoritative introduction for general readers, for those interested in illustration arts, and for students of children’s literature, its history, and the history of books. It is an essential selection for specialty and general collections.”
One of these days we’re going to read a chapter title like “Fairies and Frighteners” and we’ll finally see Stephen Gammell and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark get its proper due. Someday.
“A miscellany of sorts, preeminent author and critic Nicholas Delbanco’s Curiouser and Curiouser attests to a lifelong interest in music and the visual arts as well as both “mere” and “sheer” literature. With essays ranging from the restoration of his father-in-law’s famed Stradivarius cello—known throughout the world as “The Countess of Stanlein”—to a reimagining of H. A. and Margaret Rey’s lives and the creation of their most beloved character, Curious George, Delbanco examines what it means to live and love with the arts.
Whether exploring the history of personal viewing in the business of museum-going, musing on the process of rewriting one’s earliest published work, or looking back on the twists and turns of a life that spans the greater part of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, Delbanco’s Curiouser and Curiouser invites adventurous readers to follow him down the rabbit hole as he reflects on life as a student, an observer, a writer, a lover, a father, a teacher, and most importantly, a participant in the everyday experiences of human life.”
I can’t speak for you but I did NOT see that inclusion of the Reys coming there.
“Anne of Green Gables is a worldwide phenomenon that has sold over fifty million copies and inspired numerous films, plays, musicals, and television series. It has turned Prince Edward Island into a multimillion-dollar tourist destination visited by hundreds of thousands of people each year. In The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables, Catherine Reid reveals how Lucy Maud Montgomery’s deep connection to the landscape inspired her to write Anne of Green Gables. From the Lake of Shining Waters and the Haunted Wood to Lover’s Lane, readers will be immersed in the real places immortalized in the novel. Using Montgomery’s journals, archives, and scrapbooks, Reid explores the many similarities between Montgomery and her unforgettable heroine, Anne Shirley. The lush package includes Montgomery’s hand-colorized photographs, the illustrations originally used in Anne of Green Gables, and contemporary and historical photography. “
“A charming biography of the artist behind the bestselling “This is…” series of children’s books—which have sold over a million copies since being reissued by Universe—illustrated in the style of Miroslav Sasek himself.
Replete with documents, memories, and images from the life of Miroslav Sasek, this book is richly illustrated with material from Sasek’s books as well as such archival material as previously unpublished illustrations, photographs, and vintage fan letters from children inspired by his books.
Born in Prague in 1916, Sasek studied architecture but worked as a painter and illustrator for most of his life. Having moved to Paris in 1947 to study, he chose not to return to Prague after the Communist takeover. He earned a living as a graphic artist and from 1951 worked for Radio Free Europe until his death in 1980. Starting with This is Paris, published in 1957, his books painted a charmingly cosmopolitan and evocative picture of the world’s great places. Beginning in 2003, all the This is… books have been reissued by Universe Publishing. This book about the beloved illustrator will delight graphic designers, illustrators, and lovers of classic children’s books.”
“Walt Disney is exhausted both physically and mentally. After a breakdown where he trashes his office, his wife Lilian brings him to a retreat to recover—the Von Spatz Rehabilitation Center. With a campus that includes studio buildings, a gallery, an art supply store, a hot dog booth, and a penguin pool, the clinic is a paradise for artists in crisis. There Disney meets Tomi Ungerer and Saul Steinberg, and together, they embark on a regimen of relaxation and art therapy. Anna Haifisch looks at the fervent drive and crippling insecurities of the average artist and places those same issues on the shoulders of three celebrated 20th century artists. Part study of isolation, part tale of a begrudging camaraderie, daily life at the center mixes with reminiscences from the world outside. Wryly written, precisely composed, and glowingly colored, Von Spatz is a hilarious, heartwarming absurdist tale.”
Yep. You read that right. Ungerer and Steinberg. This I gotta see.
“Once a week, I chase men who are not my husband. . . .
When eccentric novelist Robert Eady abruptly vanishes, he leaves behind his wife, Leah, their daughters, and, hidden in an unexpected spot, plane tickets to Paris.
Hoping to uncover clues–and her husband–Leah sets off for France with her girls. Upon their arrival, she discovers an unfinished manuscript, one Robert had been writing without her knowledge . . . and that he had set in Paris. The Eady women follow the path of the manuscript to a small, floundering English-language bookstore whose weary proprietor is eager to sell. The whole store? Today? Yes, but Leah’s biggest surprise comes when she hears herself accepting the offer on the spot.
As the family settles into their new Parisian life, they can’t help but trace the literary paths of some beloved Parisian classics, including Madeline and The Red Balloon, hoping more clues arise. But a series of startling discoveries forces Leah to consider that she may not be ready for what solving this mystery might do to her family–and the Paris she thought she knew.
At once haunting and charming, Paris by the Book follows one woman’s journey as her story is being rewritten, exploring the power of family and the magic that hides within the pages of a book.”
“In Cake, renowned artist and author Maira Kalman and food writer Barbara Scott-Goodman bring us a beautifully illustrated book dedicated to their mutual love of cakes. Kalman’s enchanting illustrations, in her inimitable style, and Scott-Goodman’s mouthwatering recipes complement each other perfectly, making Cake a joyful whimsical celebration of a timeless dessert.”
“We know Edward Lear as a genius of nonsense, full of shocks and surprises, and as a poet of strange loves—“The Owl and the Pussy-Cat,” “The Dong with a Luminous Nose.” We may know him, too, for his paintings of parrots and owls, or for his luminous landscapes. But do we know that he taught Queen Victoria to draw, traveled alone across the wild Albanian mountains, and waded through muddy fields with Tennyson?
Lear lived all his life on the borders of rules and structures, of disciplines and desires. Children adored him and adults loved him, yet somehow he was always alone. In this beautiful volume, a fresh and joyful appreciation by the award-winning and compulsively readable Jenny Uglow, we follow Lear from his troubled childhood to his striving as an artist, tracking his swooping moods, passionate friendships, and restless travels. And, as we travel with him, his “nonsenses” are elegantly unpicked—without losing any of their fun.”
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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