The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Children’s literature’


January 28, 2016 | by

Quentin Blake’s illustration for Kitty-in-Boots. Image via Penguin

Earlier this week, many of us were electrified by the announcement that an unpublished Beatrix Potter book, The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots, would come out this September. The story was discovered in a cache of papers by the editor Jo Hanks. And Penguin has already released a tantalizing teaser: Read More »

I Tried Always to Do My Best

November 30, 2015 | by

Lucy Maud Montgomery. Photo: KindredSpiritMichael

Should you visit Google today, you’ll find that the daily “doodle” commemorates the birthday of Lucy Maud Montgomery, born November 30, 1874. The animation portrays Montgomery’s most famous creation, the red-haired Anne-with-an-e Shirley, turning green as she cuts into a piece of adulterated cake. (Herein lies my acknowledgment of Cyber Monday—and understand it is not intended as an ad.)

Like so much of Montgomery’s writing, this moment in Anne of Green Gables is heartwarming and gently funny, part of the long journey toward love and acceptance by Anne’s strict guardian, Marilla Cuthbert. These early books—before Anne becomes overly ethereal and perfect and beset with dozens of clamoring suitors—are the best loved, and certainly my favorites. But in her day, all Montgomery’s novels sold well, even less-inspired fare like Kilmeny of the Orchard or the mopey Emily series. By the time of her death the author was a bona fide celebrity, and Mark Twain called Anne “the dearest and most moving and delightful child since the immortal Alice.” Read More »

Playing Cards with Enid

September 16, 2015 | by

The British Pathé newsreel series Personality is fascinating. Each consists of clips of the “home life” of a British celebrity of the 1940s or 1950s: artists, actors, musicians. We see them romping with dogs or wandering on lawns or, in the case of Daphne du Maurier, looking over the Cornish coast. 

No one could call this hard-hitting stuff. The cheery narration and jolly music give every life a sense of ordered industry. (No domestic strife here!) And yet, I fancy, if you really listen hard, there are dark things stirring below the produced surface. Take, for instance, this clip of Enid Blyton, the children’s writer, from 1946. Read More »

Metaphor Map (from the Makers of Allegory Atlas), and Other News

July 1, 2015 | by

The University of Glasgow’s Metaphor Map.

  • Our Summer issue features illustrations by Jason Novak for the first installment of Chris Bachelder’s new novel, The Throwback Special. Now you can see them here—including a particularly enchanting representation of an oviraptor ...
  • With his suicide, David Foster Wallace set into motion a saccharine revisionism that has now, with the release of the movie The End of the Tour, reached full power. The film is “high-gloss true-story after-school special”; the writer is gone; a weird kind of self-help saint has taken his place. “A writer who courted contradiction and paradox, who could come on as a curmudgeon and a scold, who emerged from an avant-garde tradition and never retreated into conventional realism, he has been reduced to a wisdom-dispensing sage on the one hand and shorthand for the Writer As Tortured Soul on the other … ”
  • Are you lost on the roadside of figurative language? Fumbling in the dark through the land of the simile? Friend, consult the Metaphor Map, “which contains more than 14,000 metaphorical connections sourced from four million pieces of lexical data, some of which date back to 700 AD.”
  • If you’re feeling down, spend a little time with pro-Confederacy children’s books, and you’ll feel no better at all. In fact, you’ll enjoy only a sense of deep inner turmoil. In Debra West Smith’s Young Heroes of the Confederacy, for instance, “readers are told that the children of a particular plantation-owning family were always taught to respect their slaves; on the next page, the patriarch is horse-whipping a cook … In one of the book’s rare direct mentions of slavery, Smith compares slavery to a foreign diet: ‘Whether we grow up eating snails in France, sushi in Japan, or crawfish in Louisiana, the foods we know are what we consider to be “normal.” ’ True so far as it goes, but Smith never quite gets around to saying directly that slave-owners, ‘known from their diaries and letters to be moral people,’ were doing anything worse than eating something icky.”
  • In which two “unbearably sad” newish novels with life in their titles face off: A Little Life versus Preparation for the Next Life. “In A Little Life, the dirt is on the inside, hiding in a shadowy group of monks and suburban pedophiles, and in the psyche if their victim; in Preparation for the Next Life, it’s on the outside—it’s on our streets and our food and our national conscience.”

Civilization Was a Crust

June 22, 2015 | by

Konigsburg Book Cover

From the cover of Frankweiler.

Long before museums were pandering to callow visitors bearing selfie sticks, they were trying to attract young people the old-fashioned way. Any big collection worth its salt has had some sort of children’s guide for decades now: museums encourage kids to look for dogs and cats in Dutch tavern scenes, giving them Bingo-style checklists, colorful maps, and bits of trivia. (Fact: pointillist paintings are made up of lots of little dots.)

The Met has always had an especially good kids’ program, and one indication of this is how enthusiastically—and diplomatically—they embrace the classic E. L. Konigsburg novel From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. For the uninitiated, though I suspect there are few of you: this book chronicles the exploits of the Kincaid siblings, who run away and hide out in the Metropolitan Museum. There, they sleep in a sixteenth-century bed, bathe (and fish for coins) in a fountain, and, into the bargain, solve an art-world mystery. Read More »

Say Your Prayers

June 18, 2015 | by


Christopher Robin Milne with Winnie the Pooh in 1928.

Christopher Robin Milne’s first two memoirs, The Enchanted Places and The Path Through the Trees, are in the canon of great ambivalence books. Perhaps you’ve read that Christopher Robin, as A. A. Milne’s son and muse, grew to loathe his fame and the hordes of Pooh fanatics who stalked him even as an adult. (Milne fils supported himself as a successful bookseller; all the royalties went into a trust fund for his disabled daughter.) “It seemed to me almost that my father had got to where he was by climbing upon my infant shoulders,” he wrote, “that he had filched from me my good name and had left me with the empty fame of being his son.”

But the books don’t read as an angry indictment so much as an attempt to grapple with his condition. Yes, there’s some record straightening—but the author’s sense of frank exploration is sympathetic, and it feels honest. Although he’d ultimately detach from his remote parents, his feelings are complex, and he describes his experiences with sensitivity and nuance. Milne died in 1996; in later life, he’d even come to embrace his father’s legacy, gamely showing up at the occasional official event coming to appreciate the love of nature bestowed by his Sussex childhood. Read More »