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:…
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Getting Inside the Mind of The Child



Before reading Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, I decided to reread To Kill a Mockingbird, a book that I did not love when I first encountered it.   The novel had been assigned to my son, in eighth grade at the time, and we read it together, aloud.  Imagine my shock when, the second time around, I fell under the spell of To Kill a Mockingbird, and–its imperfections aside (the ending always struck me as melodramatic and contrived)–would make myself stop reading from time to time to make the book last longer.

Most will agree that Harper Lee lets us see the world through the eyes of a child in powerful ways.  Scout tells the story as an adult but she slips back with ease into the consciousness of her experiencing self, seamlessly moving back to the older and wiser adult, who adds information and clarifies the child’s account.  Scout is young, yet To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming-of-age novel, a genre designation that moves the book into the YA fiction camp.  But like Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (why all the birds in fiction about the young?), To Kill a Mockingbird is a book for adults as much as for the young, perhaps more for adults than children.  My discontent during that first reading stemmed in part, I believe, from the sense that you had to be an adult to understand how Harper Lee lets us go back to our own childhoods and immerse ourselves in all the perils of childhood–the injustices, the powerlessness, the transgressive energy–and also its comforts and pleasures.  When you are 13, you get that and don’t need a Proustian nudge.

To Kill a Mockingbird takes us inside a child’s mind, but it also self-reflexively sends a powerful message about the importance of perspective, identification, and empathy.  “You never really understand a  person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it” Atticus tells Scout.  And the golden moment near the end of the novel, when Scout’s voice shifts into the third person and describes the events in her story from Boo Bradley’s point of view, tells us that she has internalized her father’s wisdom.  In some ways, Harper Lee’s book inaugurated an age of empathy.

Last night I went to see Inside Out, with my son, now grown up.  Imagine my surprise when he found it captivating and true, and I found the execution lifeless even as I loved the concept.  I made a quick note to myself to see it again, though this time I won’t wait fifteen years to come to my senses


Pixar Post - Inside Out characters closeup


Andrew O’Hagan Goes to Disneyland and Discovers That We Are All Imagineers

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O’Hagan captures the transformative experience of going to a Disney theme park—transformative for adult and child, with adults basking in the glow of their own superlative parenting skills and children finding a world where everything is “legible, self-representational, literal and witty.” When you want ice cream, for example, you just look for a cone-shaped building with a scoop of vanilla on top of it.   A brilliant analysis that supplements and surpasses Baudrillard in its tongue-in-cheek embrace of the culture industry, consumption, and the hyperreal.

The trace of Nabokov in the writing is sheer genius, and I now fully understand why I called my book about the power of stories in childhood Enchanted Hunters.  Can you identify the paragraph below that is vintage Nabokov?

We went into the Disney California Adventure Park and found ourselves in a colored clamshell, entering the Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, a ride in the Paradise Pier section. Lights and cold air gave us the illusion of floating underwater, and Nell looked up at me to see if I was believing. “This is awesome,” I said.

“A bit awesome,” she said.

“You mean, ‘not really’?”

“I dunno. I like her face,” she said. By this point in the ride Ariel was singing “Part of Your World” and every fiber in my sick being was saying “Yes. Yes, we are.”

“I think Daddy likes it more than me,” Nell said.

Reader, I am not beyond shame. But I was so happy I wanted to cry. I suddenly needed to live in this lagoon with all these fake bubbles. Nell is one of life’s natural stylists. She might only be 11 but she knows what’s what. When we stood in front of a giant painted billboard near Mickey’s Fun Wheel, and Sophia went to take a picture, Nell started doing the Charleston and I felt that the best spirit of all the best girls resided in my daughter. She ate a corn dog and we ate popcorn and bad food never tasted so good.

My daughter responded immediately to the idea of America as a built environment and of Americans as built too, by themselves. I think we all do. I took Nell to Paradise Pier in the hope she’d feel like Dorothy in the land of Oz, and she did, seeming entitled to her own large sense of belonging in a place that she’d dreamt of. And that place, Disneyland, is then a part of parental self-creation: In America, in Disneyland, you’re all the father or mother you can imagine yourself to be, creating — along with the Imagineers — a place for childhood that is larger and purer than you remember it being the first time round. So that is an evening we will always remember, the evening we looked up and imagined the sky too must be Disney.