children's books, fiction, genres, iconic characters, joys of reading, just for fun

Our love affair with magical nannies.

mary poppins

There was a nanny debate the other night in our house. No, we’re not considering getting a nanny! The debate centered upon which is the most magical magical Nanny. Is it Nanny McPhee  (originally Nurse Matilda) or Mary Poppins? After this post at Of Maria Antonia recently reminded me of the similarly delightful Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, I came away wondering about our love affair with magical nannies, and began Googling in an earnest search for others I may have forgotten.

Including the delightful dog Nanna in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan,  it was clear that the magical nanny trope extends beyond my original limited imagination of what a magical nanny is. She’s not only characterized by the possession of literal magical powers, but also has a magical effect on the entire family as she serves. The literary blog Slap Happy Larry outlines the general story arc of children’s books which employ the magical nanny trope:

  • The parents are colourless and unremarkable except for their utter cluelessness.
  • The nanny might be actually magic, or seems to work magic due to being a ‘child whisperer’
  • The children are highly spirited tricksters
  • The nanny sees right through the children and although she may have a harsh exterior, has a heart of gold
  • The children are at least upper middle class
  • Nanny stories of the old-fashioned kind, set in large houses, are probably from an earlier era such as the Edwardian
  • The plots tend to be episodic rather than dramatic, with each day bringing a new adventure which is over and solved by bedtime. But there is still a character arc whereby the children become better behaved (or more morally upstanding) by the end of the story.

Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, an American story, necessarily demands a slightly different twist on the notion than we find in the the other renown stories, typically written by British authors. In contrast to Nurse Matilda, Mary Poppins, or even Nanna, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle doesn’t live with her charges. Instead, she is a kindly neighborhood lady whom all the children love and all the parents trust to know just the trick to rectify their children’s bad or detrimental behavior.

This short exploration doesn’t even begin to address the numerous nannies and nursemaids to be found in adult literature, who are far more likely to have a significant effect than magical powers. The unrefined but devoted Mrs. Wix from Henry James’ What Maisie Knew springs to mind here. I’m not sure I could even exhaust the list in a short post as short as this one. This leads  me to the question:

What is it about the magical nannies that grabs hold of our imaginations and makes us enjoy them so? I have my own hypothesis, but I’d much rather hear yours first!

 

 

 

 

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children's books, joys of reading

Beyond Early Readers — marginalia books

Our youngest two children -10 and 12- are beyond early reader and even the newly independent reader stages. They are currently reading Tom Sawyer for their literature class. However, those early years when young kids are just beginning to read independently are precious, and Marginalia Books offers some excellent suggestions for nurturing that stage of a child’s literary development.

 

My two oldest weren’t exactly fluent readers yet but old favorites like Mouse Soup and Frog and Toad were too easy. They needed something interesting and challenging but weren’t ready for most chapter books. Here are some of the early chapter books we found and loved: Mercy Watson Series by Kate DiCamillo We loved the […]

via Beyond Early Readers — marginalia books

children's books, fiction, Uncategorized

Nurse Matilda

nurse matilda

Nurse Matilda, from Nanny McPhee, the collected tales of Nurse Matilda, by Christianna Brand. Originally published in 1964. I read the first story in the book, which was 132 pages. The entire volume (published in 2005) is 384 pages.

The past couple of weeks have been a little hectic. How hectic? I haven’t even made it to the library hectic. When coupled with the fact that I was spending far too much time imbibing the sensational, depressing and slightly infuriating news of the day, I decided what I needed was a good, funny children’s book. I don’t really need to go to the library to find a book, since I haven’t even read all of these yet:

wp-1470260885827.jpg

Given that there are shelves and shelves of books here, many that I haven’t ever read, I decided to poke around and find something cute and funny, and landed on this collection of beloved stories by Christianna Brand. They  are the stories on which the Nanny McPhee movies our family enjoys were based on.

Nurse Matilda is an ugly nanny with a magic stick who is called in by parents whose children are naughty beyond anything anyone else has been able handle, and the Brown children are the worst the nannies of their town have ever seen. Every group of nannies and nurses who run screaming from the Brown house after little more than one day on the job offers the Browns this advice: “You need Nurse Matilda!”

The Browns not only have children who are naughtier than most, they also have more children than most other families which makes their plight all the more lamentable. They don’t know who this Nurse Matilda is or how to reach her, but thankfully she mysteriously shows up at their door one day ready to tackle the task.

The children try as they might to rattle Nurse Matilda, but to no avail. They are no match for her, as she is able to handle all of their hysterical antics with aplomb, emerging victorious as she helps the children learn to be more obedient and mannerly. Along the way, the formerly ugly nanny becomes more and more beautiful to everyone in her midst as the children become better behaved.

I enjoyed this story’s slight twist on the ending that most people are familiar with from the movie, as it did surprise me, and I fully appreciate why Nurse Matilda is a beloved character. She was just what the doctor ordered for me this week.

4 out of 5 Stars

Reading level: This book can be quite enjoyable at the 3-4 grade independent reading level. As a read aloud, children as young as 1st grade would find it quite funny. Especially the baby.

American history, children's books, Culture, intriguing authors, the business of books

Little House Books victim of woke hysteria.

There have been, throughout history, many great books written; books which have rightfully earned their spot on shelves as timeless classics. If we took a microscope to each and every one of those books with the express intent of removing any and all books with language in them which offends any particular group of people, we would have to remove the vast majority of books from the shelves.

If there was ever a set of books which finds me incredulous at the idea that they are harmful, it’s Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House book series. Our children love those books, and we have no intention of removing them from our shelves, despite being well aware of the “offensiveness” found within their pages. The Association of Library Services to Children cannot abide Wilder’s handling of Native Americans in her stories:

Laura Ingalls Wilder was on the brink of having an award named in her honor, from the Association for Library Service to Children, when in 1952 a reader complained to the publisher of “Little House on the Prairie” about what the reader found to be a deeply offensive statement about Native Americans.

The reader pointed specifically to the book’s opening chapter, “Going West.” The 1935 tale of a pioneering family seeking unvarnished, unoccupied land opens with a character named Pa, modeled after Wilder’s own father, who tells of his desire to go “where the wild animals lived without being afraid.” Where “the land was level, and there were no trees.”

And where “there were no people. Only Indians lived there.”

Although the complaint didn’t spark action at the time, the American Library Association has decided to make things right:

Now, after years of complaints, the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, says it voted Saturday to strip Wilder’s name from the award.

The decision makes Wilder the latest target of efforts to purge from the cultural landscape symbols that honor historical figures who owned slaves, espoused racist views or engaged in racist practices.

Books, as well as their authors, are products of the time and place in which they are set and in which the author lives. All of these elements are an important part of what makes books rich and interesting, providing depth and context of history. If we strip away all evidence of cultural and linguistic markers which are out of step with our modern sensibilities, we lose far more than we gain.

In exchange for the temporary and shallow pride of being able to signal our postmodern virtue, we miss out on the opportunity to discuss the why, hows, and wherefores of the cultural past. We miss out on the opportunity to explain to our children cultural and linguistic evolution, including the things which we find objectionable today.

In our home, we do not shield our children from books which contain derogatory racial terms, including or even especially terms which may be personally offensive to us as a black family. Why should we forgo an opportunity for them to learn, grow, and acknowledge the amount of progress our country has made in its treatment of black Americans, something we believe is generally true against the recent backdrop of inflammatory headlines?

When reading the Little House books, or Peter Pan, or any number of books which refer to Native Americans in ways that our current cultural iteration finds offensive, our children inevitably ask questions. These questions open the door to dialogue and understanding.

Further, I find it offensive to hold authors or anyone else who lived 100 years ago to a standard of behavior which didn’t exist when they were alive so as to retroactively smear their work and exact punitive redress. Laura Ingalls Wilder was a product of her time, and her books reflected that.

To publicly flog her for a series of books which have an imperfect presentation of current ideology, while ignoring the virtues and morals within their pages is just another example of how “wokeness” is killing our humanity, our ability to enjoy life and our ability to enjoy truly great literature.

More than that, to emphasize a cultural negative at the expense of all the hard work, family togetherness, faith, charity and community the Little House books offer does more than shield us from the bad. It shields us from the good as well.

 

children's books, genres, homeschool

On morals in children’s books

In addition to books we are reading individually, I like the idea of having something we are reading aloud together. Over the years, we’ve had some very memorable experiences reading aloud. The Wind in the Willows was a particular favorite, as well as Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, and more recently Peter Pan.

Currently, our read aloud book is Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Little Women is interesting in that the morality and lessons to be learned from the daughters’ struggles are laid bare; often complete with a sermonette from their mother.  I myself am not particularly fond of what is known as “preachy” entertainment, but in this book, I have determined that the detours are a net advantage to the story. I and my children rather enjoy the brief, overt moments in the book which extol virtue, but not everyone does.

In recent weeks I have had the opportunity to muse on this issue of “preachy” or overt morality presented in children’s books as writers far more articulate than me have tackled the subject. First, Krysta at Pages Unbound makes the very astute point that despite any protestations, most people do prefer children’s books with moral. Indeed, the problem most people have with the older children’s books is not that they are overtly moral, but that the morals presented are out of step with our postmodern sensibilities and current morality.

However, moral messages are not relegated to books of the past.  Indeed, moralizing remains alive and well in children’s stories.  It’s simply that many of our moral messages have changed.  While books of the past may have emphasized virtues like honesty, cheerfulness, humility, and a good work ethic, books today often focus on themes of confidence, individuality, and inclusion.  Perhaps some readers do not see these books as moralizing because they agree so whole-heartedly with these themes that they see them as self-evident and not as lessons to be inculcated.  However, a good many readers actively expect such messages–and are disappointed or offended by stories that do not include them.

She is absolutely correct. In fact, our moral lessons of today actively discourage cheerfulness, humility, and a good work ethic if those virtues in any way conflict with our ability to be a confident individual. Hence, it’s not particularly hard to see why Little Women’s overt moral lessons might be offensive to contemporary readers.

Additionally, there is the presumption that Marmee, the mother of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, offers her lessons and sermonettes in a way that is unrealistic or stilted. I find the assertion curious as it is not at all unusual in our home for events to evolve into teaching lessons complete with reminders of what our faith and the rules of our family demand. Our children seem to connect with, enjoy, and be enriched by those moments. we do our kids a disservice when we project our hardened resistance to being influenced to a higher standard onto them. The teachable, open hearts of children are much more receptive to such messages than adults tend to be.

In addition to Krysta’s post, there is another well presented argument in defense of preachy children’s books by Lindsay Brigham Knott at Circe Institute. One of the thoughts she offered is our error in presuming that children’s books are to be read solely for entertainment in the first place:

As near as I can tell, the arguments against preachy children’s stories range from shallow to significant. On the shallow end is the argument that children will, by nature, “tune out” anything that smacks of a sermon. The following excerpt (again, compliments of Google) typifies this argument:

Adults patronize kids almost all day, so as an adult ourselves, it is too easy to make this mistake. The key here is to make your point without going too preachy or didactic. Nothing can turn children off faster than a lecture, or worse, a moral lesson. Kids want to be entertained and delighted. The first thing you can do is erase the words moral, teach, message, and lesson out of your vocabulary. Instead, trust your readers to figure it out through the storyline and actions that your characters take. Another tip is to keep authoritative figures, like parents, teachers, or older siblings, in the background. Lastly, never let the adults in the story tell what the main character should do. Remember, it is a sin to preach in fiction.

I shall let that argument stand for itself, and not belabor a rebuttal; anyone already committed to classical education likely does not need to be convinced that kids’ desire for entertainment should not determine the content of their reading, nor that authoritative figures ought to be honored rather than stuffed in the closet.

Over the course of the recently ended school year, our 11-year-old, in her fulfilled assignment of writing a short story, was admonished by her teacher that her story didn’t direct the reader to draw a conclusion with regard to the behavior of her characters. Because I was stuck on my concern that it sounded so much like a Disney movie, that particular aspect of her presentation eluded me.

Rather than ask her what she wanted to convey, I read the story again, and again was struck with the notion that the problems inherent in the behavior of the characters was evident because of the troubles their decisions wrought. The fact that there was no overarching, ultimate consequence could certainly be perceived as problematic.

However, on the heels of having read Rudyard Kipling’s Captains Courageous, which was also very matter of fact in its presentation of behavior and consequences, I was prepared to accept my daughter’s presentation as valid. What to do about the canned plot development is another issue.

It left me wondering what positions others general have when it comes to presenting morality and life lessons in children’s books.

What say you?

 

 

 

 

children's books, Culture, tales from the local library

Feminist Baby: The Sequel

A while back, gripped by incredulity, I mentioned this book which I ran across while in Barnes and Noble, the Feminist Baby.

Because I was incredulous, it never occurred to me that such a silly book as Feminist Baby could evolve into a series of note, but apparently, it has. My incredulity is more symptomatic of how out of touch I am. This lately occurs more often than I realized, but I digress.

Feminist Baby is back, and finding her voice, no less:

Feminist Baby Finds Her Voice!

Feminist Baby is learning to talk
She says what she thinks and it totally rocks!
Feminist Babies stand up tall
“Equal rights and toys for all!”

Let’s disregard for the moment my sincere and well known problems with the ideology of feminism as a whole. This increase in political “literature” for toddlers combined with feminist “fashion” for toddlers (yes I’ve seen it in the flesh), raises a larger question for me, and it’s this:

With so many things in the larger culture encroaching on the innocence and wonder of childhood, why would anyone choose to read this to their toddler in lieu of real, living books which highlight wonder and beauty? How are children served by political indoctrination as early as possible?  In whose universe does a bull horn toting, equal rights clamoring baby belong aside the likes of:

Cover image - Goodnight Moon

Image result for the very hungry caterpillar

Image result for The Snowy Day

Image result for Madeline

Image result for If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

It doesn’t.

There will be time to infuse our kids with our political thoughts and ideologies. They’ll pick most of it by osmosis anyway. There’s no need to infect them with adult cares before they can even understand what they mean.

Real books never get old and they speak to us, young and old alike, across the generations.

Nonsense is only good for a fixed point in time, such as this nonsensical Feminist Baby series.

 

 

children's books, fiction, homeschool, joys of reading, just for fun, tales from the local library

Picture Book Bonanza!

Our 9-year-old is one of the sharpest tools in the shed. Mother wit is not her strongest suit (we’re working on that), but she was blessed with a hefty bit of cognitive fire power.

I don’t just say that about all of my children. We tend to be very open and honest about gifts, talents, abilities, and how the Giver of all gifts does things the way He does for a reason. There’s a point to this particular line of thought, and it is wholly centered around books.

During our recent trip to the library, the kid surprised me by making a beeline for the picture book section. Since she has read chapter books alongside picture books from the time she was 6 or 7,  I figured she might find picture books less worthy of her time and attention. It turns out that a full school year of reading great literature, even though enjoying it,  gave her a craving for some light-hearted, brightly colored picture books.

After readng them to herself, and reading them with her 11-year-old sister, she wasn’t quite read to return them to the library until she’d had the pleasure of my voice reading them to her. I am very glad we took the time to do that, because these were all very enjoyable books:

 

phobe sounds it out

The fun thing about these books is that they were books I would never would have chosen on my own, since none of them meet the standard guidelines I tend to use when picking out children’s books.

The other interesting thing I noted was how often she gravitated towards boks with characters who looked like her. Although only two of the books listed here met that criteria, she looked at quite a few.

The lesson I took away from this excursion was that no matter how “advanced” kids are, they’re still kids, and they like kid things. Such as brightly colored picture books!