My love of reading does not distinguish me from the rest of my family. Generations of readers, a few volumes in family for a hundred years, nothing special, but nothing to be ashamed of. High brow, but also crime stories, thrillers… Grandma read French romances in original, Grandpa received boxes full of Chandler, Le Carre and Clancy paperbacks from his brother lucky enough to get to Canada after the War had ended. I’m the book-craziest one, but only by a few degrees.
Fantasy, though, that was something new. Older cousin gave me Hobbit when I was… about ten, I believe, but one of the most beloved books of my early childhood, book that sparked my interest in supernatural fiction, was A Room Full of Leaves, an anthology of short stories by Joan Aiken. Goodreads lists it as a Polish edition of A Small Pinch of Weather, but it’s not precise, Polish version lacks some stories from this collection while including some from A Harp of Fishbones and Other Stories. It’s not strictly fantasy, but mysteries happening to regular people in a world otherwise exactly like ours. So, a tried and true technique older than rigid genre distinctions. I liked the melancholy of most of these stories, the impossible things happening to their young protagonists. I wasn’t able to catch their Englishness, mythical references. I need to revisit this world.
But Aiken’s most famous works were beyond my reach then, and I wasn’t even aware of their existence. The Wolves Chronicles, a long series of novels for younger readers, never translated into Polish. That’s a real problem. Picture books with a few lines written below illustrations, and comics designed for small kids – it doesn’t matter whether they’re in Polish in English, the younglings have to had them read to by someone else and I can translate on the fly. But books you’re supposed to read on your own among your first literary adventures… these, if not available in your native tongue, might miss their perfect moment.
Raising small geeks is a lot of fun. For me – definitely, but my nieces also look quite happy about it. I do not always get it right, and showing Coraline to a three year old… hopefully won’t come out in therapy later in life a source of some major issues 😉 And Brave, after which she was afraid her mother would turn into a bear, was not actually my idea (and Madzia enjoyed both, it’s just that there were some after-effects)
Anyway, there are better and worse ideas. I keep them supplied with Ghibli movies and Marvel plushies and make sure there are plenty of books, carefully screened for artistic value and gender equality issues. I read them age-appropriate manga, we play games and tell each other stories. There even is a very special book she can read me!
It’s a chance for me to revisit some of the childhood’s favourites and find some new and exciting books. And in this area I’m not handicapped by living in Poland. Our fantasy is mostly mediocre (with notable exceptions, but still…), our s/f tends to be politically too far to the right for my liking, but kiddie books – we have plenty of the highest quality stuff. There are even some internationally recognised names, take a look.
Yes, another Scandinavian writer of children literature – but what can you do? I was enchanted by the Moomins a long, long time ago, and the enchantment still holds, even when I read them now aloud, to kids. We’re talking about books here, mind you – not that dreadful Japanese-European animated series, nor the gloomy Polish puppet animated show (although I still remember the Groke from this show – with a memory of lingering terrified fascination).
Actually, Tove Jansson wanted to be a painter; she studied art in Sweden, Finland and France, and she painted intermittently throughout her life, both commissioned and private works. The images of the Moomins’ world were also created by her – apparently the prototype for Moomin was Jansson’s caricature of Immanuel Kant. She drew “the ugliest creature imaginable” on the toilet wall and named it Kant after she lost a discussion about the philosopher with her brother. Fortunately, the final image of the Moomin is much more friendly and blobby, with a big, round nose, a big, round belly, short, fat arms and legs, and a thin, slightly incongruous tail. Tove Jansson’s illustrations form the world of Moomins as much as the text – and they are in perfect harmony with each other.
Foto: Jacob Forsell COPYRIGHT PRESSENS BILD
Today’s post will be a short but heartfelt tribute occasioned by the recent birthday anniversary of Astrid Lindgren, falling on 14th November. Astrid Lindgren was – and still is – one of the most popular, prolific, and influential authors of children’s literature, one of the most translated, too, right on the top with the classics: Grimms and Andersen. And most empathetic, and humane, of them all ;).
But why do I write about her on a blog dedicated to fantasy and science fiction? I have my reasons, rest assured :).
Although she didn’t write many fantasy books, Astrid Lindgren was an exceptional fantasy writer, one of the greatest among all authors of books for children, and probably the best the whole Swedish literature has to offer. Period. And don’t tempt me, I could forever go on about Shakespeare, Goethe or Mickiewicz being great fantasy writers as well :D.
I’ve been toying with the idea for this review for a time now. It’s such a small book, slim and unprepossessing in the face of all those bricks like Erikson or Tchaikovsky or even Hobb, forming literal walls on my shelves. And I’ve written two reviews of McKinley’s novels already. But The Hero and the Crown is a special book, and not just because it has won the Newbery Medal, awarded for “The most distinguished contribution to American literature for children”.
Don’t be misled by the “children”, in no aspect this is a childish book. I am quite irritated with the whole “genre” thing anyway, doubly so for fantasy and so called “children’s literature”, which, contrary to popular belief, is often more mature and artful than literature for grown-ups. But it’s a separate problem, one we’ve already mentioned here and we’ll probably tackle it more thoroughly another day.
The Hero and the Crown is often perceived as a prequel to Blue Sword. Correctly, because it takes place in the same place, only much earlier than Blue Sword, and, at the same time, incorrectly – because it deals with characters and events mentioned in Blue Sword only in the form of a legend.