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Engaging Methuen Readers


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When Children’s Fantasy Became A Reality

Fantasy isn’t new. The Brothers Grimm recorded fantastical stories back in the 19th century, and prior to that time, tales of dragons and warriors of stunning prowess dominated ancient literature and mythology. Originally, however, there was no distinction between fantasy for adults and fantasy for children. In fact, when the Grimms originally published the fairy and folk tales they collected from the hardworking people of far-flung corners of Europe, they were stunned to realize that well-off city people were reading them to their children. These were dark, gory tales, replete with violence and rape, that expressed complicated adult topics in metaphorical language. The Grimms had never dreamed that people would try to use them as bedtime stories.

Needless to say, they hastily printed a more kid-friendly “small edition” of their fairy tales, filing down some of the grittier details and adding a lot of pictures and Christian imagery.

The whole idea of kid-friendly stories was relatively new to the 1800s. Prior to that, kids were, at best, little adults. At worst, they could be put to work on a farm or in a factory. Childhood wasn’t considered a special time until industrialization generated a middle class, which then advocated against child labor and for education. We have an 1800s reform movement, which arose in reaction to the Industrial Revolution, to thank for the idea that people should spend their early years being educated.

Once people decided to start teaching kids instead of exploiting them, they quickly realized the value of letting kids read. Already, public libraries had caught on as a way to improve the masses and make them content in their social stations, although the reality of libraries often skewed toward entertaining the masses and making them question the status quo.

Thus it was with the development of children’s fantasy. Brothers Grimm stories painted over with Christian morality paved the way for Victorian fables like Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies, an 1863 morality story so mawkish and racist that it’s a little shocking that it was ever considered a mainstay of children’s literature. Nevertheless, it was an entertaining way to force moral and social education down the throats of children. Speaking Likenesses by Christina Rosetti (1874) fell along the same moral themes. Even Oscar Wilde’s fables usually imparted a lesson of some kind. However, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published just two years after The Water Babies, moved away from moral education and proved much more enduringly popular with both adults and children. Despite its wacky, nonsensical veneer, Alice was essentially about growing up in a world that often seemed distressingly random and absurd.

Subsequent fantasies for children, like J.M. Barrie’s early 20th-century novelization of his popular play, Peter Pan, explored territory that the Grimms might have recognized. Barrie’s titular hero, Peter, wore dead leaves, kidnapped children, never aged, and flew – all traits of a ghost in a story that grappled with mortality. The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, which debuted in 1900, also opted to entertain rather than preach and tapped themes of responsibility and friendship.

The 20th century would see a boom in children’s fantasy literature. In 1950, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe sought to revive the Christian allegory couched in an entertaining fantasy novel for children, while The Fellowship of the Ring generated a British mythology in 1954. Children’s fantasy continued to flourish in the 1960s, when books by Madeline L’Engle would follow in the religiously overt footsteps of C.S. Lewis, while others by Ursula LeGuin would seek to express more primal, mythologically inspired themes.

Since the 1960s, children’s fantasy has burgeoned to include works as diverse as Roald Dahl’s Matilda and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. They run the gamut of themes and serve a vast array of audiences. Recently, fantasy for children has begun to focus on authors and characters of marginalized demographics, who haven’t generally historically experienced a great deal of representation in this genre. Female authors, authors of color, and LGBTQ authors are all experiencing an increase in representation among children’s fantasy.

As children’s fantasy continues to grow in popularity, it will continue to evolve to suit new generations of reading children. Where it goes next is anybody’s guess. However, wherever that is, both kids and adults will avidly follow.

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One Minute Book Review: Warriors by Erin Hunter

Cover image for Into the WildAs a child, I’ve grown up reading Warriors since the third grade. I’m now in my second year of college, and I continue to keep updated with the series. I just can’t bear to leave these characters and their intricate plots behind. In my opinion, Warriors may be simply written but the ideas and the themes are definitely complex. After all, what’s so childish about politics, murder, and forbidden love?
Characters are pushed to their breaking point, and if the series were written for an older audience, I think we would see even more turmoil. However, as it’s marketed for children, most scenes are limited to the true gore and turmoil it could’ve portrayed. The authors could’ve gone further and beyond if they targeted an older audience. Personally, I believe targeting the books to an older audience would have allowed the authors freedom to expand their horizons on more “adult” topics. And as the series carries on, it loses the edge and spunk that the first mini-series held.  Are the ideas underdeveloped? Yes, truthfully, they are. Is Warriors worth the read then? It definitely still is.

                                                                                                                                     ∼ Samm, Library Page
Warriors Series by Erin Hunter
(first title in series:  Warriors:  Into the Wild)
New York : HarperCollins, 2003


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Welcome to StoryWalk 2018!

Welcome to StoryWalk 2018!

The Children’s Department has once again created a “Story Time Walk” for young children around our lovely library grounds.  The big colorful pages from Jarrett Krosoczka’s storybook Punk Farm, with its band of rockin’ farm animals, will have kids cheering and singing along as they make their way from page to page.

Nature lovers of all ages may also enjoy strolling the grounds to view the blooming day lilies and the beautifully landscaped trees and shrubs from around the world.  These were planted here by Henry Nevins when he and his family established the library in memory of his father, David Nevins Sr, in 1883.  Maps including the names and locations of the Library trees are available at the Reference Desk.


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A Valentine for President Lincoln

Lincoln:  a photobiography by Russell Freedman Cover image for Lincoln : a photobiography

Many years ago when I was a student pursuing my Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science, I was introduced to Russell Freedman’s stellar non-fiction and biographical accounts for young people.  One of Freedman’s books that made a lasting impression on  me was his Newbery award-winning photobiography of President Lincoln.  Freedman presents a well-rounded portrait of Abraham Lincoln, the very real and complicated man, not just the legends and myths previously spun for children’s literature.  Lincoln was a man of great contrasts:  he had a rollicking wit and sense of humor as well as terrible bouts of depression; he had little formal “eddication” but became an eloquent public speaker and a great writer whose words continue to live on; even though he is venerated and honored today as a hero, he was vilified during the war years.

With clear prose and with photographs and other primary documents, Freedman takes the reader through Lincoln’s tumultuous life from his humble beginnings,  to his presidential ambitions, the complex issues surrounding the Civil War, and finally, to his assassination.  One touching part among many shows four portraits taken of Lincoln during the war years.  You can see how the pressure and anxieties of that terrible time become etched into his craggy visage.  Freeman concludes with a “Lincoln Sampler” of quotations and letter excerpts, a listing of historic sites, a bibliography and an index.

Although published 20 years ago, this title still remains a very relevant, well-organized, and thoughtful biography that both children and adults may enjoy.


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For a good time, stroll the library grounds!

Once again, the Nevins Library Children’s Department has created a “Story Time Walk” by posting the pages from the highly original picture book, “Not a Box” by Antoinette Portis, around the outside of the library.  To an imaginative bunny, a box is not always just a box!  Go from page to page and explore the lovely library grounds.

Nature lovers of all ages may enjoy strolling the grounds to view the blooming day lilies and the beautifully landscaped trees and shrubs from around the world. These were planted here by Henry Nevins when he and his family established the library in memory of his father, David Nevins Sr, in 1883. Maps including the names and locations of the Library trees are available at the Reference Desk.

Whether you’re doing the Story Time Walk, or just having a ramble, stop by and see the majestic turn-of-the century 8 foot-tall Blue Heron sculpture that has recently been resurrected on our property.  The statue, made of white bronze, was original to the Nevins Family homestead and had been in storage for years until it was re-discovered in pieces.  The statue has been painstakingly restored and dedicated to the memory of Red Winn, a long-time and beloved Nevins Library employee and groundskeeper. See the July 2017 issue of Methuen Life for an article on our other recent dedications and the stunning new/old Heron sculpture.

Happy strolling!

 

 

 

 

 


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New Picture Books 2017

2017 has been a great year so far for picture books. Here are a few that you can check out now from the Children’s Room of the Nevins Memorial Library:

 

Dragons Love Tacos 2: The Sequel by Adam Rubin

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The much anticipated Dragons Love Tacos 2 is finally here! The world has run out of tacos and the emergency supplies have been depleted. Our protagonist must travel back in time with the dragons to procure some tacos to bring back to the present and plant taco trees. But like last time, he needs to watch out for that spicy salsa that will give the dragons the tummy rumblies.

 

Happy Dreamer by Peter H. Reynolds

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The newest from the creator of The Dot encourages the reader to be a dreamer. When the world tells you to be quiet and stay still, keep on dreaming! With gorgeous color illustrations, discover what type of dreamer you are and persevere even if you feel boxed in by outside expectations.

 

Cinnamon by Neil Gaiman

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Previously available only in audiobook format, Neil Gaiman’s text Cinnamon becomes vibrant with Divya Srinivasan’s illustrations. Set in ancient India, a young princess is blind and refuses to talk. When a tiger offers to help her family is suspicious, but he may be their only hope.

We’re All Wonders by R.J. Palacio

R.J. Palacio’s novel Wonder was the inspiration for this picture book. Auggie knows that he looks different than most kids and it hurts when people don’t accept him. He wants everyone to know that he is a wonder and they are too. We’re all wonders and just need to see each other with kindness.


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Children’s Book Week!

Image result for childrens book week 2017

Nevins Memorial Library is Proud to Be a 98th Anniversary Children’s Book Week Event Host

May 1-7 is also the finale of voting for the sole book awards chosen only by kids & teens

As the longest-running national celebration of books for young people and the joy of reading, over 650 schools, libraries, and bookstores will host official Children’s Book Week events between May 1-7 from coast to coast in all 50 states.

 

This May marks the 98th anniversary of Children’s Book Week; the theme for this year’s celebration is “One World, Many Stories.”

Voting for the 10th Annual Children’s & Teen Choice Book Awards, the only book award voted on solely by kids & teens, has been in progress since March 3, and many locations will hold group voting in the class, store, or library from May 1-7, when voting ends.

We are proud to be hosting the following event in celebration of Children’s Book Week:

Wednesday, May 3rd 2017

Nevins Memorial Library, 4:00-5:00pm

Kids in grades K-3 are invited to join in on special activities and games

to promote a wonderful week of reading!

To register go to nevinslibrary.org and check out our Calendar of Events.

Children’s Book Week is a cornerstone program of Every Child a Reader, a 501(c)(3) literacy charity dedicated to inspiring a lifelong love of reading in children and teens across America. Other national programs include the Children’s and Teen Choice Book Awards, Reading Without Walls, and the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, in partnership with the Library of Congress. Individual and corporate donations, grants, and the Children’s Book Council support Every Child a Reader.

Go to nevinslibrary.org for more information about children’s programs and to register for the event.