Brain, Child



Here’s the link to an article from the Blog Brain, Child, now one of my favorite sites on reading.…

Wendy Griswold, a sociologist and author of the third book on this list explains that, “A reading class is a social formation, while a reading culture is a society where reading is expected, valued, and common. All societies with written language have a reading class but few have a reading culture.” Let’s just say that if you are a Brain, Child reader, you are a member of the reading class. Though you probably also know then that more than raising readers, it would be wonderful to help create a reading culture. That is the ultimate goal of these ten books together, which move from the theoretical to the practical and pragmatic. But of course we must also be concerned about the other iteration of raising readers—from basic literacy to love of a book to love of literature, etc. and each book individually addresses one of these issues in some way. As Jason Boog, author of book #4 on this list, explains, snobbery really has no place in children’s worlds; we should encourage them to read whatever interests them in any form including comics and eBooks in addition to treasured hardcovers and sacred board books. Happy Reading!

Perri Klass on Bedtime Stories


Below the link to Perri Klass’s post on bedtime reading and how children process the stories they hear.  I love the accompanying image, which reminds us of the tactile experience of reading together and how books create a contact zone between child and adult, giving them something to talk about as well as to hear and see.

What was especially novel was that children who were exposed to more books and home reading showed significantly more activity in the areas of the brain that process visual association, even though the child was in the scanner just listening to a story and could not see any pictures.

“When kids are hearing stories, they’re imagining in their mind’s eye when they hear the story,” said Dr. Hutton. “For example, ‘The frog jumped over the log.’ I’ve seen a frog before, I’ve seen a log before, what does that look like?”…

Mayoral Moral Panic about “Gay Fairy Tales”


Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up!  Did we need any more evidence that the stakes are high when it comes to fairy tales and children’s literature?  On the plus side, I feel sure that this kind of lunatic move of banning children’s books ends up being a net positive by revealing exactly how narrow-minded, misguided, and downright thick-headed the Mayor of Venice is.  The Venetians will come to their senses in the next election.  So grateful for NYT “Watchdog”:…

There is the story of the male dog who aspired to be a ballerina. The one about the little boy who wanted to be a princess, and a princess who wanted to be a soccer player. The tale of the penguin egg hatched and adopted by two male penguins (based on a real story at the Central Park Zoo in New York). And another about a little boy who learns to live with a physical disability, metaphorically depicted as a little saucepan that bangs around in his wake.

Yet one of the first formal acts of Venice’s new conservative mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, was to announce that he would ban them from the city’s preschool libraries. After an outcry — from residents, authors, publishers, librarian associations and even Amnesty International — he whittled his list of banned books to just two.

But that was not before the mayor had ignited a lively debate about the right of educators to choose their teaching tools without political interference, and about Italy’s continuing struggle with broadening civil rights for gays.

The two banned books touch on same-sex families living happily ever after. It only inflamed matters further when some national news outlets dismissively referred to the titles as “gay fairy tales.”


Armando Maggi brings back Basile’s TALE OF TALES

51TK02HYgmL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Fairy tales are supposed to be magical, surprising, and exhilarating, an enchanting counterpoint to everyday life that nonetheless helps us understand and deal with the anxieties of that life. Today, however, fairy tales are far from marvelous—in the hands of Hollywood, they have been stripped of their power, offering little but formulaic narratives and tame surprises.

If we want to rediscover the power of fairy tales—as Armando Maggi thinks we should—we need to discover a new mythic lens, a new way of approaching and understanding, and thus re-creating, the transformative potential of these stories. In Preserving the Spell, Maggi argues that the first step is to understand the history of the various traditions of oral and written narrative that together created the fairy tales we know today. He begins his exploration with the ur-text of European fairy tales, Giambattista Basile’s The Tale of Tales, then traces its path through later Italian, French, English, and German traditions, with particular emphasis on the Grimm Brothers’ adaptations of the tales, which are included in the first-ever English translation in an appendix. Carrying his story into the twentieth century, Maggi mounts a powerful argument for freeing fairy tales from their bland contemporary forms, and reinvigorating our belief that we still can find new, powerfully transformative ways of telling these stories.  Fairy tales are supposed to be magical, surprising, and exhilarating, an enchanting counterpoint to everyday life that nonetheless helps us understand and deal with the anxieties of that life. Today, however, fairy tales are far from marvelous—in the hands of Hollywood, they have been stripped of their power, offering little but formulaic narratives and tame surprises. From the Amazon webpage for the volume.…

Armando Maggi begins with “Cupid and Psyche” and takes us through the Brothers Grimm up to Robert Coover and Beasts of the Southern Wild.  He begins with a remarkable passage from The Art of Remembering, by Giovan Battista Della Porta, set down in 1566:

“I better remember the poorly composed fairy tales that my nurse used to recite when I was a child than the tales of poets that I read every day.”

Wonderfully exacting and erudite as a scholar, Maggi gives us startling windows into fairy-tale magic and poetry.  My only disagreement has to do with the critique of Hollywood’s recycling of fairy tales.  While it is true that some fairy-tale films are opportunistic and kitschy, others use fairy-tale tropes and plot elements in remarkably original and imaginative waysas I discovered this weekend, while watching The Gift.  I have a feeling that Armando Maggi would agree that the Dream Factory may not always get it right, but sometimes it fires on many cylinders.




Here’s a fresh new take on fairy tales, with stories oriented toward adult audiences but with enough burlesque humor to make them attractive for the very young.  One king, for example, spends tax money on cheese and crowns and “fancy socks.” Another is married to a woman who eats too much cake and “falls off her shoes.”  The happy endings carry satisfying morals that are less disciplinary than inspirational, e.g., “I learned that lesson from you, my boy!  After all, there is nothing worse than being bored.”  It’s always a positive in my book when the young teach a lesson to the older and “wiser” generation.

The book comes out officially in October 2015 and then you can read about “kings, bogs and marrying frogs–and a queen with very bad hair.”

The Annotated Alice for the 150th Anniversary



Mark Burstein has edited the new Annotated Alice, expanding the notes and adding illustrations.  I will always treasure Gardner’s first Annotated Alice, but I am completely under the spell of this new Alice, with over 100 illustrations added by Arthur Rackham, George Soper, Barry Moser, and others.  As for the annotations, you can never know too much about Alice, the Cheshire Cat, e tutti quanti.

Translating Alice into 174 Languages



Read all about Alice in a World of Wonderlands:The Translations of Lewis Carroll’s Masterpiece.  Below some extracts from the Smithsonian article, and a link to the webpage for the 3 volume study of translations of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.…

Middle Welsh and Manx, Lingwa de Planeta and Latgalian. In its 150-year history, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has been translated into every major language and numerous minor ones, including many that are extinct or invented. Only some religious texts and a few other children’s books—including The Little Prince by French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry—reportedly rival Alice for sheer number of linguistic variations.

A massive new work, Alice in a World of Wonderlands, devotes three volumes to exploring such questions. Published by Oak Knoll Press, the books include essays by 251 writers analyzing the beloved children’s book in 174 languages. The essays are scholarly but peppered with anecdotes illuminating the peculiarities of language and culture as they relate to Carroll’s book.

While the three volumes of Alice in a World of Wonderlands may seem extensive, they are no match for the continuing popularity of Carroll’s creation. Even now, new Alice translations are appearing. An emoji version came out online a few months ago, and Everson says he just typeset the first translation in Western Lombard, a dialect spoken in Italy. “I hate to say it,” he says, “I think [the project is] already out of date.”
Read more:…
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12!
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter