10 January, 2010

Book 41 - Boy and Girls Forever: Children's Classics from Cinderella to Harry Potter

Book related link of the day: Did you ever read that picture book Each Peach Pear Plum? LJer fox1013 has created a more contemporary version. The rhyming scheme is at times a little... crazy, but her collages are simply amazing. The first page is here.

Title: Boys and Girls Forever: Children's Classics from Cinderella to Harry Potter (2003)
Author: Alison Lurie

Why this book?
Because I found it in a second-hand bookshop and... it looked good? Basically I should just not be allowed in any second-hand bookshops.

So what's it all about?
Boys and girls forever is a collection of essays exploring various facets of children's classic literature - some on specific books, like Little Women, and some on general themes, like the place of nature in children's books.

The Good and the Bad
I nearly put this book down as soon as I picked it up, thanks to this paragraph:

"Other nations have produced a single brilliant classic of series: Denmark, for instance, has Andersen's tales; Italy has Pinocchio, France has Babar, Finland has Moomintroll. A list of famous books in English, however, could easily take up a page in this volume"
I'm sorry, but I call bullshit. I'll admit that I can't name many books beyond those that Lurie has mentioned (aside from the French Le Petit Prince and Le Petit Nicholas) but then, I'm not Danish or Italian or French or Finish and I wouldn't expect to be familiar with their children's literature. (In fact, I learned French at school, which is why I have at least a passing familiarity with some French works.) Of course, I'm hardly an expert on the subject, but given that most of the books which are considered New Zealand children's classics would be unheard of in the UK or the US, I don't doubt that the same applies even more so to classics from countries where English is not the mothertongue.

I also think it's far too soon to be labelling Harry Potter a "classic". Yes, I read every Harry Potter book and loved them, but without the mania whipped up by both publishers and media, will my kids be interested in reading them? I mean some of the books were just awful. (I'm looking at you, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.)

However! I pressed on, and despite my initial misgivings and Lurie's Anglo-American focus there was still plenty to interest me among her essays. The place of feminism and gender identity in The Wizard of Oz and its sequels, Louisa May Alcott as a fairly revolutionary writer, and an essay on the humanity in modern fairy tales were all of great interest to me. They were all good enough for me to bookmark them for future reading - others, however, didn't interest me at all, or were perhaps a step too far from the "children's classics" theme of the book.

So should I read it or what?
If lit crit lights your pipe (and it certainly lights mine) then this is a book worth dipping into, but it's hardly the seminal work on children's lit (although it doesn't claim to be, either).

1 comment:

Sadako said...

Love kid lit, but that IS a bit anglo centric. Still, I do want to pick it up soon. Great review.