In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

More Magic

Dear Annie,

I wanted to react to a couple of things that have dashed by in recent weeks.  I suspect you've finished Half Magic by now -- I'm so glad you all enjoyed it.  There are six more books in Edward Eager's Tales of Magic, written from 1954 to 1962, and in all he acknowledges his reverence for/debt to the writing of E. Nesbit (yes, yes - we have to write about her!).

I loved your quote from the talking cat chapter, but I still haven't figured out what "Idlwidl bixbax. Grompaw.  Fooz!" mean.  There's one more book about Martha, Jane, Mark, and Katharine,
Magic by the Lake
. In one scene, the children are lost in a sort of magic fog on a desert island and are rescued by another group of children who seem to be in the same magic. Two of the other books -- Knight's Castle and The Time Garden -- are about Martha and Katharine's children.  There's a lovely scene in one of them where the cousins go into a sort of magical fog on a desert island and find and rescue another group of children there.  They all go on their separate ways.

Then there's your entry on editing out too-disturbing stuff as one is reading aloud.  It's true, we keep coming back to this.  In an ideal world, we'd all have time to vet books before reading them to kids, but after the picture book stage, that's next to impossible.  And it's so hard to predict what will just go right by a child, and what will be traumatic. 

You talked about your friend Cyd reading one of the All-of-a-Kind Family books with Rebekah, and her sister writes about the books wonderfully in Even in Australia.  This is not the first time I've felt I should re-visit that series.  A lot of people have a special spot in their hearts for them.  I read the first book once with our girls.  The turn of the last century Lower East Side is very well portrayed.  I remember liking some of it, but recoiling at some of the heavier gender stereotypes.  There was a chapter in which the excitement had to do with a contest among the sisters about who could dust the best/fastest.  And for me the strongest image of the book was of the father crying at the end because he was so thankful he finally had a son.  Heaven knows I've spent plenty of time saying that attitudes about women have changed, but it still was a hard scene to explain to my daughters.  Cyd and/or Rachel, I'll go back and re-read, but feel free to jump in here...



1 comment:

  1. I think the gender attitudes in AOAKF are perfectly representative of their time and place which is one of the main roles of historical fiction.

    The dusting episode is actually not a competition and to me, it is more an example of good parenting - using novelty and fun to make children do something they don't want to do. It also illustrates how back then, everyone had to work to make the household run (another good lesson) - boys had chores or jobs, too but they were often not in the home and, as this family has 5 girls initially, those jobs are not shown here.

    And who wouldn't want a son back when girls couldn't do much of anything, including take on a role of any significance in the Jewish community, particularly the saying of Kaddish (the mourner's prayer, traditionally said by a son for his parents)? My girls are always asking "Why couldn't girls do anything back then?" and what better way for them to appreciate that girls and women now CAN do anything and everything?

    So the roles of women and girls in the book don't bother me at all - if they were in a book set NOW, that would be a different story.