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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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Total Eclipse of the…

Sun

With a common impulse the multitude rose slowly up and stared into the sky. I followed their eyes, as sure as guns, there was my eclipse beginning! The life went boiling through my veins; I was a new man! The rim of black spread slowly into the sun’s disk, my heart beat higher and higher, and still the assemblage and the priest stared into the sky, motionless. I knew that this gaze would be turned upon me, next. When it was, I was ready. I was in one of the most grand attitudes I ever struck, with my arm stretched up pointing to the sun. It was a noble effect. You could see the shudder sweep the mass like a wave…I said: “Stay where you are. If any man moves—even the king—before I give him leave, I will blast him with thunder, I will consume him with lightnings!”

-From A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

Heart


Off of Faster than the Speed of Night by Bonnie Tyler

Year 1878

This is the story of the 1878 eclipse that shadowed much of the American west. Scientists, spurred on by a rivalry with Europe, flocked to the dusty, ramshackle railroad towns in the line of totality, hoping to find something to cement their places in history. They encountered Native Americans, women aiming to prove that they had a place in science, horrid weather, and a lot of big egos. I found the interpersonal relationships mentioned in this book almost as interesting as the science itself.

From BookPuke On American Eclipse: A Nation’s Epic Race To Catch The Shadow Of The Moon And Win The Glory Of The World by David Baron

Glum Teenage Vampires

I want to be a monster too!

Bella, from Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer

Automated Plug-In

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From The Eclipse Plug-in Development Beginner’s Guide by Alex Blewitt

 


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April 15th is the Anniversary of the Titanic’s Sinking

The British luxury passenger liner The Titanic sank on April 15, 1912, and there has been no shortage of books and films to commemorate the tragic event. Although the 1997 epic with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio may be the first thing that comes to mind, there is a wealth of books available for those of us who want to learn more about the fascinating cast of characters on this doomed voyage.

If you’re looking for fiction, try Kate Alcott’s The Dressmaker or Jack Finney’s time-traveling novel From Time to Time. For nonfiction, read Titanic Survivor: The Newly Discovered Memoirs of Violet Jessop Who Survived Both the Titanic and the Britannic Disasters or Voyagers of the Titanic: Passengers, Sailors, Shipbuilders, Aristocrats, and the Worlds They Came From. And, if you’re looking for a classic, there’s always A Night To Remember.