Back in the days of crayons and blocks, every kid wanted the sixty-four box. I was low-spirited; told my talent merited just eight colors of Cray-kray knockoffs.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Out: April 12, 2022
Given my reading of this book, I’m clearly a huge fan of Saint-Exupéry’s “The Little Prince,” and yet I had lukewarm regard for this book and found it a slog to read – despite its short page count and readable style. Don’t get me wrong; the writing is fine and the book raises some interesting points, but still I came away unsure that this book has a reason to exist. Ultimately, I figured out what bothered me is that it’s a little bit like going to hear your favorite comedian and then spending twice as long listening to someone else explain and elaborate upon their jokes. “The Little Prince” is brilliant, but it’s a simple book with a simple theme and simple lessons, and I don’t know what value is added by even a skillfully crafted self-help elaboration upon the book. As far as stars go, I give the book the benefit of the doubt based on the fact [full disclosure] that I almost never like self-help books, and exceptions to that rule only come about if the book can teach me something about which I had no idea or if it is in itself so clever or beautiful of language that I’m moved.
If you liked “The Little Prince” (and, note: you’ll have to have read it for the references in the book to make much sense,) and you like self-help books, this will probably be right up your alley. But if you like “The Little Prince” and aren’t a self-help fan, then just read the original story again.
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My rating: 4 of 5 stars
To make an ineloquent (and possibly disturbing) comparison, what’s been said to be true of pornography is also true of children’s literature – i.e. we take for granted that we’ll know it when we see it, but trying to define its boundaries runs into difficulties at every turn. One imagines an illustrated book, simple of language and subject matter, featuring a child as protagonist, and avoiding the most traumatic or shocking subjects and themes, but none of those conditions has proven necessary and / or sufficient. Reynolds presents a landscape of children’s literature (and the debates swirling about it) through history, one that keeps in mind that the subject is slippery.
The book consists of six chapters and some ancillary matter. The first chapter sketches an overview of the history of children’s literature [restricted to English language books.] Here we see the changing face of kid’s lit over time, and learn how children’s literature only gradually became a distinct field, moving from the earliest English translation of “Aesop’s Fables” in the 15th century to the multimedia literary experiences of today.
Chapter 2 is the longest chapter and it investigates the many ways children’s books have been studied, and to what ends. As with adult literature, there are many different perspectives by which literary works can be analyzed, and many that apply to adult books are also seen here with their own child-oriented considerations: e.g. psychoanalytical, gender-centric, linguistic, stylistic, and historical. There are also some uniquely child-applicable considerations that are presented as well, such as how well adults can write in ways which optimally resonate with kids.
Chapter 3 investigates how the field has moved beyond the book to convey stories – old and new – in ways that might be more effective in reaching a diverse body of children. Emphasis is given to how the story experience can be more interactive and flexible to the needs of a broad audience.
The fourth chapter is about genre. In one sense, children’s books are considered a genre, but then there are many cross-genre books such as science fiction or fantasy books directed at a youthful readership. Special focus is given to the family story. The advantage of the family story genre is that it’s one area in which the child can be expected to have some level of experience. [Even orphans will have some sense of interpersonal dynamics by which they can relate.]
The penultimate chapter is about children’s literature as a means to prepare children for a future, from personal level considerations of mortality to societal level issues like ecological tragedy. Children’s fiction that looks to the future has become an increasing trend in the modern era.
The final chapter is where Reynolds gets to the most controversial aspect of children’s literature, which is whether (and, if so, how) subject matter should (or shouldn’t) be limited. One worrying concern is that children’s stories can become thinly-veiled means of indoctrination into political or religious (or anti-religious) dogma. It’s not just a matter of adults having greater discernment, but also that they have greater freedom to choose what books are available to them. The other major issue is to what degree children should be protected from traumatic, complex, or controversial subject matter, e.g. sex, suicide, etc.
The ancillary matter mostly consists of graphics (often historic art / artifacts of relevance) as well as a references / further reading section that is arranged by chapter.
If you’re looking for a concise overview of children’s literature and the debates and challenges that exist around it, this book provides a quick outline of the subject which references many exemplary works that can be looked into for more in-depth investigation.
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At the sight of I know not what,
something — or, maybe, someone —pointed out by his grinning granny,
I saw a boy run in place,
overcome by enthusiasm from the waist down —
like a cherubic Michael Flatley sans the coordination, but with exuberance to spare.
At the sight of the boy,
I couldn’t help but ask myself when my idle setting got turned down so low.
Surely, once upon a time, there was something that so excited me that my limbs bypassed central control and spastically did their own thing…
but I can’t remember when.
“Just So Stories” is a collection of 12 children’s stories. The theme that runs through the dozen stories is that they are mostly tall-tale answers for questions that children might have. All but two of them focus on animals and nature, and the two divergent stories deal with the origin of written language. Since it’s such a small collection and the titles tend to synopsize the stories, I’ll include the table of contents below, which may give one greater insight into the nature of the stories.
1.) How the Whale Got his Throat
2.) How the Camel Got his Hump
3.) How the Rhinoceros Got his Skin
4.) How the Leopard Got his Spots
5.) The Elephant’s Child
6.) The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo
7.) The Beginning of the Armadillos
8.) How the First Letter Was Made
9.) How the Alphabet Was Made
10.) The Crab that Played with the Sea
11.) The Cat that Walked by Himself
12.) The Butterfly that Stamped
The edition that I have (i.e. 2006 Scholastic Junior Classics Edition) has a number of black-and-white graphics (block print and line drawn style)—one or two per story. Given the genre, I imagine most editions have some kind of pictures, but your edition’s graphics may vary. A number of the stories include short poetry—usually at the end. The poetry is part of the original Kipling product and so are likely included in all unabridged editions.
I’d recommend this book for those looking for short stories that are relatable to young children.
Mama said, “Don’t touch that!
“That’s a Ming vase.”
[pronouncing it “vaaz”]
It probably wasn’t.
Mama calls things pricier things—e.g. Timex = Rolex.
Her gist is she can’t afford a broken one.
I’ll admit I’m no stranger to breaking stuff,
and not just flimsy stuff– cast iron, granite, you name it.
You could say breaking things is my superpower.
Anyhow, the vase is Chinese and looks old.
But my hand was already on it.
You’d think it would be cool and smooth.
But, it was tingly and, well, not solid.
My fingers seemed to sink into it–
like a hologram or a ghost.
So I nudged it a bit.
Turns out it was solid; it tipped.
I moved to catch it,
but it just hung there, tilted on air.
Well, I had to know how long it would stay tipped.
I stared, wondering if mama would snap a pic with her camera.
As I had this thought, the vase tumbled off its stand.
I grabbed for it, touching it with my fingertips
just as its lip—it was upside-down—crashed into the floor.
Time oozed; cracks spread through the vase and the world.
It shattered in slow motion.
A crackly light—blue and white—crinkled through the room.
No breaking noise, nor the expected holler from mama.
Just white and blue arcs of light, becoming blinding.
Then I was squatting and reaching in another room.
I toppled face-first onto brown floor boards.
The vase was upright, whole, and sitting by the wall,
seeming like a person watching me fall in quite amusement.
The vase’s glistening white and blue stood out in the dark brown room.
Dust or tarps covered everything else.
It was a storehouse packed with fancy junk.
It couldn’t be confused with the temple I’d been touring with my mom.
That was bright and neat, red and gold, and had ornamental dragons.
The door flew open.
I gasped, expecting a whooping, or at least a stern talking to.
I crab-walk scurried when I saw the man who charged in.
He wore an armor that looked like rows of little roof tiles.
And he had a straight sword stuck into his belt.
I feared he’d draw the sword and poke me in my tender bits,
but he didn’t seem to see me—hard to miss as I was.
Calmed by my invisibility, my attention went to soldier’s hand.
In it I spied the spitting image of the vase I’d knocked over.
I thought the soldier would notice the resemblance,
but he didn’t notice the vase on the floor–
even though it was clean and shiny like nothing else in the room.
He put his vase on a shelf with some cobwebby bric-a-brac.
Then he spun, moving back toward the door.
He didn’t get outside before a woman barged in.
She had a lot of hair parked up on top of her head.
She was pretty, except that her skirt went from her armpits to the floor.
She was shouting in Chinese.
I don’t know exactly what she was saying,
but she was angry and her gist was that she wanted the vase.
And it didn’t seem like she just needed to hold some flowers.
Well, the soldier shoved her roughly.
She fell square on her caboose.
He drew the sword, and started shouting back.
His gist was that the vase wasn’t hers anymore.
He pointed the tip of the sword right at her face.
I shouted, but he didn’t hear me any better than he saw me–
my voice like one of those whistles that dogs hear, but people can’t.
I was going to shove him,
but shoving an angry man with a pointy object seemed like a bad idea.
Anyhow, she stood, sobbed, talking less angry and more pleading.
He backed her out the door at sword point.
The door closed to wailing sobs and rattling chains.
It occurred to me then that I was locked in a storehouse for confiscated fancy junk.
I searched my musty new cell up and down.
There were stairs to a loft, and I climbed them.
It was more storage,
but there was a door to bring things up by a pulley that dangled from the ceiling.
But it wasn’t a door, more of a piece of wood cut to cover the opening.
I unlatched it.
It fell smack down onto the head of a green, glassy doggish-liony statue.
The dog-lion’s head broke right off at the neck.
[Establishing that my knack for breaking stuff extends to worlds in which I can’t be seen or heard.]
Anyhow, I looked out to see if I was clear to escape—
forgetting that no one seemed to be able to see me.
There was just the woman—once angry, now sad.
She was kneeling in the mud in her fancy up-to-the-armpits skirt.
She sure was broken up about that vase.
You’d think it was her dog or her granddaddy.
I couldn’t see why she was so upset,
but it only seemed right to give the vase back to her.
So I went and got the vase that the soldier put on the shelf.
[Right then, my plan was to put the vase that came with me in its place, but more on that…]
I couldn’t very well chuck the vase down to her, her all teary-eyed.
So I snagged a small tarp, folded it, and put the vase into the tarp.
Taking the tarp upstairs, I called to the lady.
But she couldn’t hear me—maybe she was just too sobby.
So I took a shard of the lionish-dog’s neck, and winged it in her direction.
The green piece bounced, spattering some mud onto her skirt.
She looked over.
She scurried toward the storehouse, wiping her eyes, when she saw me lowering the vase.
Wouldn’t you know it, that slippery vase shifted in the tarp, falling out the end.
I gasped again, remembering that my superpower worked here,
but the woman caught it, hugging it to her chest.
I dropped her the tarp, and she swaddled the vase in it.
She cradled the vase like a baby,
looking up in my direction, seemingly happy and grateful.
I had to work my nerve up to jump out of that loft,
but figured I should put the other vase in place of the one I’d given away.
I was sick with sad and lonely.
I was stuck in a place where I knew no one and couldn’t speak the language.
Even if I had spoken Chinese, no one could see or hear me.
But an idea formed.
I picked the vase up, and, instead of putting it on the shelf,
I smashed it against the floor.
[blue and white crackly light]
And there I was once again, a tourist in a temple in a far away land,
my fingers barely touching the vase.
I yanked my hand back like that vase was a scalding pot.
Mama said she had something called “temple fatigue.”
So we went for ice cream.
Ice cream is safe.
Ice cream never banished anyone to ancient lands or to an alternate dimension.
At least, I’d like to think that…
Taken at the Wagah (Attari) Border Crossing Retreat Ceremony. Kids running with the Indian flag toward the border with Pakistan. These were some of the more skilled flag wavers, which–oddly enough–meant they did less “waving” of the flag. Those who waved the flag tended to wrap it around the pole. These kids had technique, just hold on tight and run like the dickens.
They ask you when you’re just a little pup.
So, what part of what I must BE,
is different from the me you see?
Dad thought, “the part that they’ll pay you for.”
Like an allowance for finishing a chore?
“Yes, young man, but you can safely assume,
no one else will pay you to clean your room.”
Kids don’t think of being gainfully employed.
Which seems to make grownups quite annoyed.
At five, I wanted to be a cowboy.
“Son, there’s no jobs in that line of employ.”
That’s OK, then I’ll be an Indian.
“You’d have to be born that way, my friend.”
I wasn’t born a doctor, but you said that’s OK.
“That’s not the same, son, what can I say?”
I know what then, Dad, I’ll be the Batman!
“Come on, son, that’s not a feasible plan.”
You’re thinking Superman, Batman has no powers.
“Bruce Wayne by day, Batman at night, where’s the sleeping hours.”
You have a point there, you’ve got me stumped.
Thinking myself prematurely defunct.
During the last half of April, I taught a kid’s camp at a1000 yoga‘s Kormangala studio. Below are some ideas about my experience.
1.) Kids can’t down shift from 4th to 1st like adults. This was once a major point of frustration for me in teaching kids. When you ask kids to settle down after an activity they were really excited about, there’ll be a lag. There’s a temptation to see this unresponsiveness as a lack of respect, but it probably isn’t. (Which isn’t to say that the kiddies never attempt to test the waters.) The fact is that adults don’t get so amped up, and so it’s not so difficult for them settle down. Instead of getting frustrated with the kids, maybe one should feel sorry for the adults.
2.) Kids need a more advanced class, but not because they’re more advanced. Attention to detail isn’t a child’s strong suit. They have difficulty focusing on the finer points of alignment and breath–unless they’ve found a fun challenge in the pose. During the camp, we played with vrschikasana (scorpion pose) during the first few days. That’s not something I would do with adults. Kids get in the zone and, therefore, they don’t tense up and injure themselves so easily.
3.) Kids are natural flow hackers. If you don’t know what “flow” is, I’d recommend Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book Flow, Steven Kotler’s The Rise of Superman, or Marer / Buzady / Vecsey’s Missing Link Discovered. (Depending upon your point of interest: psychology, athletics, or business, respectively.) However, in a nutshell, flow is the state of mind in which we perform at our best because of a combination of concentration and the quieting of one’s inner critic. One of the keys to catching the flow is finding a challenge of the appropriate level. The challenge should be just beyond one’s current capability. If it’s too easy, one gets bored. If it’s too difficult, one gets frustrated. Children instinctively seek out the Goldilocks’s zone in challenges.
I noticed this when we were playing a game in which each kid had to cross the floor walking only on wooden yoga blocks. This helps with balance, which tends to be a weakness among kids. Every time all the kids have finished crossing, a block or two is removed. So, the game gets harder the longer it goes on. The position of the remaining blocks can be adjusted, and, after a while, the kids wanted to adjust the blocks themselves because I was making it too easy. In other words, they wanted to make gaps that they would have to stretch to their utmost to succeed.
4.) Don’t assume that kids experience fear the same way you do. I suspect there may be some readers who will say, “that guy had kids doing scorpion on their second day of yoga, he must be a complete lunatic.” But, adults superimpose their fears on children. Kids’ excitement more easily overcomes their anxieties. In my last post on yoga, I referred to a FaceBook meme that I saw recently that said, “A child who falls down 50 times learning to walk, never says, ‘I don’t think this is for me.'” Somewhere along the line, people become mortified of failure or the risk of a bruise, but it’s not in childhood.
Have you ever seen a child fall down and start to get up–everything apparently fine–until he or she sees the gasp from mom (or another adult,) and then the child bursts into tears? If you’re the adult in the aforementioned scenario, let me suggest that teaching kids physical activities isn’t yet for you–at least not until you can manage your own anxiety a bit better. That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with such people, but a teacher’s job is to show the child a world of possibilities and not to infect them with his or her own limitations.
5.) Finding the balance between inner child and outer adult can be a challenge, but is necessary. My working theory is that kids don’t trust an adult whose inner child doesn’t show through at least a little bit. Kid’s yoga is typically taught differently from the adult version. When teaching adults, one doesn’t practice alongside the students, but that’s the norm in teaching kids. (Kids can mimic better than they can follow complex verbal instructions.) The kids enjoy having the teacher participate, but one must also ensure that it remains clear who is the teacher. Otherwise, kids may be confused. When you’ve been participating in practice, playing games, and letting the children have some say in what they do (which is also a sound practice to some degree) they may gradually start to forget about your role as authority figure.