Archive for Big Readers A place for discussing books and all things bookish.

       Big Readers Forum Index -> Discuss children's books here.

Examination In Children's Literature

Question 1. †Given the opportunity which of the following would you
† † † † † † † † † rather do? Give entirely subjective reasons for your answer.

† † † † † † † A. Help Jo, Amy, Beth and Meg prepare a surprise party for
† † † † † † † † † Laurie.
† † † † † † † †
† † † † † † † B. Sail down the Mississippi on a raft with Huck Finn and Tom
† † † † † † † † † Sawyer.
† † † † † † †
† † † † † † † C. Do some gardening with Mary, Colin and Dickon.

† † † † † † † D. Go swimming in the lagoon with Peter, Wendy, John,
† † † † † † † † † †Michael, the mermaids and the Lost Boys.

† † † † † † † E. †Play croquet with Alice and the Queen.

† † † † † † † F. †Go with Christopher Robin and Pooh to visit Owl.

† † † † † † † G. Have a picnic with the Railway Children.

† † † † † † † H. †Go on a shopping expedition in the Emerald City with
† † † † † † † † † †Dorothy, Tin Man, Scarecrow, Lion and Toto for gifts
† † † † † † † † † †to take home. †

† † † † † † † I. Go boating with Mole, Ratty and Toad.

† † † † † † † J. Play Quidditch with Harry, Ron and Hermione.

              K. Sail on the Hispaniola to find treasure with Jim Hawkins and
                  Long John Silver.

† † † † † † † † †

I did a three-hour exam last week on Professional Awareness and this is far more challenging. I can rule out horrid Alice immediately, and have preconceptions about both Little Women and The Wizard of Oz as being alternately anodyne and saccharine which I can't be bothered to change at the moment, so that narrows the field. Mr Toad, Peter Pan, Secret Garden - all fine, but not a big part of my reading. Which leaves Huck Finn, the Railway Children, the Hundred Acre Wood and Hogwarts. I think I'll rule out Huck Finn with some regret on the basis that the society he lived in would not be the most comfortable to my modern sensibilities. The Railway Children are lovely, but if it's the ones in the book rather than the film I may not get William Mervyn, which is a major point. And how dare I choose Harry Potter over the Milne characters I've loved all my life? But I think that's what I'm going to do. I'm not so keen on the Quidditch, but the fun, the cheekiness and the camaraderie, teenage temper tantrums aside, would carry me through. I'd love to try some of the food and drink in Hogsmeade too, if a trip there is in the offing.

I now see your last-minute Stevensonian addition, but that does not alter my decision. A fun story, but I have no great emotional attachment to it, probably because of it not having been a book I read in childhood.

I think the reason I love the Harry Potter books is that I would have *loved* to have gone to Hogwarts.  I wouldn't want to play Quidditch, but I'd love to with with Hermione, cheering on Harry and Ron!

None of the others appeal remotely, even though I love some of the books.

Chibiabos, I still don't understand your hatred of Alice - two genius books, which I only read in adulthood (as I did Wind in the Willows, also a genius book) - full of amazing language and brimming with inventiveness, and not afraid of being unpleasant, which life is.  It's not really that I can't understand someone not liking them, but I can't understand *you* not liking them!  It was the same with Catcher in the Rye - I felt so sure it would be your kind of book, that I was shocked to realise you didn't like it!  Just goes to show that reading tastes are hard to predict.

I wish I could explain rationally why I have such a strong resistance to Alice. I've only read the first book, and the knowledge that the second one contains the godawful Jabberwocky is enough to keep me away from it perhaps forever. I certainly don't mind its unpleasantness. It's more the nonsensicality of it that bores me. I don't dislike the whole book - I remember liking the more sedate bits, those featuring the Mock Turtle for instance - and I don't always object to whimsy, but somehow the combination of elements leaves me entirely cold. Still, nice to have a blind spot. I sometimes wonder if my raving about how everything's so utterly spankingly beautiful wears others out.

And the fact that I've come around to Catcher after all those years suggests maybe all hope is not lost.

Well, I'll be bound for the Mississipi! Though a visit to WOL isn't too far behind.

What a lovely selection of things to do! †Much better than my real life option of doing a bit of ironing or gardening.

I love boating and swimming so it's between B, D I or K. (I also love shopping but I've had rather a glut of Dorothy through the ALW show on TV recently).

The idea of swimming with Peter Pan and the mermaids is delightful.
(I once encountered a manatee when I was snorkeling in Florida and it did look like a mermaid at quick glance.)

A trip down the Mississippi sounds fantastic but as Gareth pointed out the age that Huck and Tom Sawyer lived in wasn't the most congenial in the Deep South so I think I'll save up for a present day trip in a Mississippi paddle boat instead.

Boating with toad and ratty on the Thames on an idyllic summer's day (when we do have one) appeals to me. †I think it's between that and the Hispaniola.

If we have a "Barbecue summer" then it's with ratty and mole but if the summer is like last year then †I'm off to the Caribbean with Long John Silver.

Despite Fletchís best attempts in that episode of Porridge, those Little Women do very little for me. I did make a start on Little Women once, but didnít get very far. I could be tempted to help prepare for the party, but only if Iím in charge of making the punch. (The punch I made for my 50th recently was absolutely bloody brilliant!) But I guess this isnít that kind of party.

The Deep South at the time of slavery doesnít appear too attractive, but the company of Huck does. (And I take it, Mike, it was Jim you meant rather than Tom drifting down the Mississippi on that raft!) But Iíd rather enter the world of Tom Sawyer than that of Huckleberry Finn. If youíd suggested running off with Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Joe Harper to Jackson Island, then Iíd have been more than tempted. But the world of Huckleberry Finn is not really a world Iíd like to live in. I guess theyíd have to paint me blue and put up a notice ďMad Arab on board Ė Harmless when not out of his headĒ.

I had to read The Secret Garden once when I was at school, and thatís a purgatory I donít think I should have to go through again. Apologies to all Secret Garden fans, but there it is. I remember finishing it one Sunday afternoon when the film Beau Geste Ė starring Gary Cooper Ė was on television, and I was skimming through those last few pages at odd intervals, while actually watching the film.

I never read Peter pan, and, while Iím sure that Barrieís book is far from the cloying confection that is the Disney film, it doesnít really attract me too much.

I do quite enjoy the Alice books, but I canít say I enjoy them enough to want to be part of them.
Winnie the Pooh I only encountered when I was reading the books to my children. Maybe itís something you need to have grown up with: I didnít get it at all. Sorry Gareth Ė (and others) Ė I found it twee and tedious.

Having a picnic with the Railway Children sounds quite attractive Ė although I do insist on the presence of Jenny Agutter and Sally Thomsett.

I havenít read The Wizard of Oz, and, apart from the Somewhere Over the Rainbow scene (which is marvellous), find myself puzzled by the esteem in which the films is held. Not for me, Iím afraid. However, boating with Mole, Ratty and Toad does appeal. Once again, I encountered this book for the first time when reading it to the children, and, after my experience with Winnie the Pooh, was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Boating with these characters on a summerís day sounds delightful, but even better would be joining Ratty and Mole when they are lost in the Wild Woods in the heavy snow, and finding hospitality at Badgerís warm fireside.

Harry Potter passed me by, but I have never been attracted by the boarding school genre Ė not even a boarding school for wizards. And that leaves the best option of all Ė joining Jim Hawkins & co aboard the Hispaniola. Iíve done so many a time in my imagination.

Now, if Little Women was genuinely like the Porridge version I'd start reading it this minute...

I certainly don't begrudge anyone not liking Winnie-the-Pooh, though I think Dorothy Parker goes too far. There are many factors that contribute towards the books meaning so much to me - those lovely Fraser-Simson songs, the BBC Alan Bennett readings (and surely nobody has ever read the stories better), and never having been exposed to the Disney version can't have hurt either. I draw the line at some of the poems, though, which do make me cringe.

I would love to boat with ratty and co but would especaily enjoy driving with Toad, I append an ilustration of what I believe may have been his favourite car

Going boating with Ratty and Mole sounds heavenly - as long as obnoxious Toad fell overboard at the earliest moment.  Nothing to do but lie back and enjoy the pleasant rocking motion of the boat, look up at blue sky through overarching willows and let dreamy thoughts come and go.  But like Himadri, I'd also love to visit Badger, my favourite character in the book and listen to yarns around his fire-place.

Yes, I almost chose boating with Ratty and Mole, but I'm not sure I would enjoy their company.  Though I could ignore them!

Good to see you, Kirtaniya!

You're probably right - they were an odd couple!

Good to see you to Evie, I often wonder if you still come to teach in Oxford?

Oh, yes, it's boating with Ratty, Mole and Toad for me.  I do like cruising and lolling round on boats - I could join up with Toad and let everyone else do the work.  The lasting memory of Wind in the Willows is idyllic though the individual parts of it have darker elements.  

I wouldn't want to make a surprise party for Laurie, but I could have been Amy rowing with him.  (Evie, when you said you wanted to be like Anne, I thought that it wasn't so much that I wanted to be Anne as that I thought I was Anne.  It came as a demoralising shock in my 20s to realise I was nothing like her.)

Certainly don't want to go adventuring with Huckleberry Finn or Long John Silver, though I had a hankering to be part of the Swallows and Amazons.

Cheers, Caro.

That's funny, Caro - about Anne!  I just wanted to be more like her - and still do!

Chibiabos - no Jabberwocky - ah, that's that then, what a shame.  I love Jabberwocky!

Kirtaniya - I do still teach in Oxford, for three weeks in September - will be there again this year.  Can't wait!

What a lovely lot of responses!  
I think my own choice would be the Neverland with Peter and the rest, although you'd have to watch out for the Crocodile and Hook.  I think very highly of the play 'Peter Pan' which Peter Llewellyn-Davies, the original of Peter, called 'that terrible masterpiece'.  Barrie created a real original in Peter. But the idea of a child who never grows up while everyone else does is quite disturbing if you think about it.  The play says such a lot about childhood and growing up. And the epilogue where Peter returns to Wendy after many years, having forgotten her in the interim, is very moving.  Especially the moment when Peter asks Wendy to come back to the Neverland and she says 'I've forgotten how to fly', a line that seems to me to sum up the sadness of leaving childhood behind.  The film adaptations and - God help us - the pantomime versions miss the play's strangeness and its dark corners - 'To die will be an awfully big adventure'.
Himadri - I won't hear a word against 'The Secret Garden'.  And I meant Tom Sawyer not Jim.  Just a lazy afternoon on the river.
Gareth - Your antipathy towards Alice and Jabberwocky is just mysterious.

I find the boundless adoration of everyone else for it just as mysterious, I assure you. I do like some of Tenniel's illustrations, but that's about it. Here's what I wrote about it when I read it in 2008, in case it helps clarify anything. I'm fully aware I'm the freak here...


I wanted to like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, I genuinely did, and the excerpt posted by the Baron in his recent literary challenge gave me reason to hope for the best, but I regret that I found it intensely irritating. The problem is mine - it just contains too much that is not to my taste. Some not-always-true generalisations follow here, but I don't like fantasy worlds (Wonderland seems a ghastly place populated by eminently dislikeable people and animals, that I would never wish to visit in a million years), I don't like silliness for its own sake (Alice's growing and shrinking for no reason was just the tip of the iceberg), and I don't like whimsy or nonsense (always a bad starting point for reading this author).

Lewis Carroll was clearly blessed with a prodigious imagination, but there was far too much of it for me - from the very start of the book each idea comes fast on the heels of the previous one, as a result of which I felt like I was tripping over myself and unable to get into the book until several chapters in when things had got more settled. The episodes I enjoyed most tended to be the calmer ones, particularly the Mock Turtle and Gryphon's reminiscences of their schooldays. The tea party also amused me, though I found Carroll's wordplay, here and elsewhere, while clever and often bordering on funny, eventually came across as flippant through its sheer persistence. On top of this all, a stumbling block I found insurmountable was the character of Alice - annoying, opinionated and deeply boring. I wouldn't relish spending more than five minutes in her company in real life. Oh dear, I think I've located one of my blind spots, haven't I? In the book's defence, Tenniel's illustrations are charming, particularly those of Alice, who looks a bit gothy around the eyes at times (nice). I'm sure there are people who come to Alice as adults and love it and appreciate it for what it is, and I have asked myself whether it would mean something to me now if I had read it as a child, but there was something even at an early age that told me I wouldn't like it and that it wasn't my cup of tea, which instinct has been proved right.

I searched in vain on Amazon for an amateur review that might express some of these feelings, but it seems I am more or less alone in the world - others see the Alice books as "profoundly penetrating statements, or summaries, of the human condition" with a "unique ability to transport even the most cynical reader into an extraordinary realm of nonsense". I'm sorry, though not unbearably so, that none of this was conveyed to me. I simply find that, as with his poetry, a little Lewis Carroll goes a long way, and even a very little is too much for me.

Mikeharvey wrote:
Himadri - I won't hear a word against 'The Secret Garden'. †And I meant Tom Sawyer not Jim. †Just a lazy afternoon on the river.

Oh I see Ė well, if itís just an afternoon with Tom and Huck on a raft, thatís a different proposition altogether from what Iíd imagined, and I do find myself tempted!

And if you wonít hear another word against The Secret Garden, Iíd better shut up about it! But can I at least say how much I enjoyed Gary Cooper in Beau Geste when I was supposed to be reading the last few chapters of The Secret Garden?

Thanks for your comments on Peter Pan. I really am not acquainted with this work at all.

I am the sort of person who gets far too nostalgic over all sorts of things, and while I am, naturally, nostalgic about childhood, I really do not think I would want to be a child again: Iíve forgotten how to fly, and in a way, Iím rather glad I have. For while innocence is certainly an aspect of childhood Ė and a very attractive aspect, I admit Ė the flip side of it is ignorance: a child says and does all sorts of things out of innocence (or ignorance) without realising their significance. And I remember also all those very real fears and anxieties I had over matters that seem trivial now, but certainly didnít seem trivial then.

What I find interesting about these posts on childhood reading is the question of the extent to which our childhood reading experiences have shaped our adult tastes. The child is father of the man, as Willie Wordsworth used to say. I sometimes wonder whether we have any strong likes or dislikes at all that didnít have their seeds somewhere in our childhood.  The influence of our childhoods in our adult lives is one of the major themes of the novels Pather Panchali and Aparajito, and it is something I find fascinating.

TheRejectAmidHair wrote:
What I find interesting about these posts on childhood reading is the question of the extent to which our childhood reading experiences have shaped our adult tastes.

I've often considered this question myself. It's not exactly pertinent to that point, but I wonder now whether my dislike for Alice has somehow grown from childhood experience. It's hard to see exactly how that could have happened, considering I didn't read it until my mid-twenties, but I was aware of it as a child. I suspect the reason it wasn't read to me is that my mother, who was the bedtime story reader, didn't like it any more than I do now, though I don't believe I was aware of that at the time. Perhaps her dislike of the book has somehow been transferred to me. I loved Winnie-the-Pooh and could see the attraction of The Wind in the Willows in spite of Mr Toad being a bit of a tool, but there was something about Alice, something I still can't divine exactly, that put me off.

I always felt there was something strange about "Alice in Wonderland" as a child.  I was aware of Lewis Carroll's academic background and I  believed that there was another intellectual level to the book which I couldn't grasp. This annoyed me.

Also, Alice shrinking and going down the rabbit hold made me feel claustrophobic.

Later on in life when I read about the Carroll/Alice relationship and all the speculation about it this put me  off the book even more.

However, since reading the book to my son, I've really come to enjoy it.
I love the Tenniel illustrations and I find episodes, such as the Mad Hatter's tea party, amusing.

This is one example where I've completely revised my opinion of a book.

Oh, I would *love* to be a child again.  I don't think I have ever been happy in adulthood, and even as a child I had my problems, but I long for that world of the early 1970s, before I went to secondary school in 1975.  (That was when the rot set in!)  I hate being an adult, despite the freedoms and independence - too much of both, for me.  But being a child, even in a vaguely unhappy home, was better than anything I have experienced since.

Having moved back almost a year ago to the town where I spent those years, I find the nostalgia almost unbearable.  Maybe reading some of those books again would help!  Though moving to New Zealand might help more...   Very Happy

I do think my childhood reading shaped my adult reading.  I still love books about people's lives and thoughts more than those about story and plot and action.  Even though I loved some fantasy works then, I loved them because of the characters in them, and the way they seemed to fire my social and intellectual as well as imaginative aspirations.  Fantasy even then had to be rooted in human life - no interest in imaginary creatures or aliens of any kind, then or now.

The books I sought out were the ones that created a world I wanted to inhabit, and while my reading is broader than that now, that is still something at the core of my favourite books.  I now read sometimes to appreciate literary inventiveness for its own sake, which was not something I was consciously aware of as a pre-12-year old, which is when I read all the books I have listed.  I also read to challenge myself and broaden my interests and mindset, and to see what human beings are capable of in terms of artistry.  But the books I *love* rather than admire are those that have that same impact as my favourite childhood reads - that sense of giving me something to aspire to, of connecting with my inner longings about my own life and future, of being about people I can connect with at some fairly deep level.

I wouldn't want to go back to childhood. I recall far more unhappiness from that period than I've had in my adult life - though I can't say I endured any great hardships really.

I'm not sure how much my childhood reading informs my adult preferences - I went through a whole period, maybe 3 or 4 years, of hardly reading at all, and also read a lot of factual books rather than fiction. But I think the joy of flexing the imagination, enjoying the magic of language, and exploring other people's perspectives are the common thread between my pleasure in childhood and adult reading.

I was wondering - when readers have imagined spending time with these fictional characters - are you again a child or as you are now? Or some strange amalgam of both.

Mike, that was definitely an issue in my choice - I was very much thinking about who I would like to spend time with now.  As a child, I might have chosen differently (Harry Potter wasn't around when I was a child, though!).

I'm not sure my imagination stretches that far, Mike! At least, not with Winnie-the-Pooh or things like that. I can place myself more easily in the world of Harry Potter because the characters look like humans (mostly). I imagine myself as a student there. When I was 16 I had round glasses and looked like Harry Potter, so I imagine there might be some hilarious confusions to be enjoyed. I've just done some tests and apparently I'm in Ravenclaw.

       Big Readers Forum Index -> Discuss children's books here.
Page 1 of 1
Create your own free forum | Buy a domain to use with your forum