Read Into It: Wise Child and Juniper

Wise Child and Juniper

by Monica Furlong


Wise Child by Monica Furlong takes place in a small Scottish village, with some magic thrown in for good measure.  Personally, I really enjoy it when fantasy is grounded in a historical(ish) fiction. Wise Child (yes – that’s her name) never knew her mother, and after her father mysteriously vanishes, she goes to live with Juniper, a semi-ostracized woman living on the outskirts of town, who the townsfolk fear is a sorceress. There, although initially resistant and scared, she learns about nature, herbology, healing, and developing her innate talents for more supernatural powers.  Wise Child herself is reluctant to do this and is generally spoiled and whiny at the beginning of the book. But she grows into a competent young woman who has to make some tough choices about loyalty and helps to conquer the challenges, both physical, and emotional, of living with a witch (essentially) as her guardian.  A major puzzle in this book was about Juniper’s own backstory, particularly in regards to how she knew Wise Child’s father, Finbar, and from where Maeve the enchantress’s animosity towards Juniper came.  Fortunately, many enlightening details were added in the prequel, Juniper.

 

Juniper is the prequel to Wise Child, also by Monica Furlong. The character of Juniper is introduced in Wise Child as the village herbalist/outcast/witch.  But through the eyes of Wise Child, the reader sees the truth about Juniper – that she is a kind, patient, wise women who teaches Wise Child how to be doran, a powerful woman adept in natural and beneficial white magic. While Wise Child covers the story of Juniper’s pupil, Wise Child (yes- that’s still her name), the prequel, Juniper, covers Juniper’s origin story and her own experiences training to be a doran, in a unique and heroic coming-of-age story.  Juniper was a substantially different girl than Wise Child. Wise Child seemed portrayed as a more selfish, and ungrateful character who actually had it pretty easy as Juniper’s student.  Juniper, on the other hand,  although a typical child in many ways, was a much more grounded, kind and dedicated child while her own teacher, Euny, was almost shockingly strict and harsh towards her than she later was towards Wise Child.  It was especially interesting to read Juniper after Wise Child.  Juniper was published a couple years after Wise Child and really allowed for some fun introspection and insight into Juniper’s character and backstory. I would definitely recommend these books, as they are so interesting and realistic.  Personally, I would read Wise Child first, then Juniper, then Wise Child AGAIN for the best experience with the most depth of meaning!

Both books explore similar meanings, concepts and themes: The mother-daughter relationship, the teacher-student relationship, respect for nature, the dangers of judging based on appearance, and overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles.  Ultimately, the stories are both inspiring and encouraging portrayals of young women growing into powerful women in similar, yet original ways.  Their stories follow a similar structure and pattern, but they follow that pattern in unique ways specific to their own individual personalities and characteristics.  I love these books because they effectively communicate that a girl can grow into a strong woman in a variety of different ways, and while the paths to get there may be in the same direction, there are many paths, and not everyone’s path is the same.

awwwwwwww <3

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monica_Furlong

Illiteracy Weekly Newsletter

…. I wish I’d started this homework assignment earlier instead of 3 hours before it was due… it was A LOT of fun, and I’d love to have put more time and energy into it! I wish the content was better… but I guess it’s funnier if it’s NOT! 😉

If you can’t read the tiny text, no big deal… it’s mostly about articles we had to read for class.

This is what the ‘inspirational’ photo says, in case you can’t read it.  😉
(It’s in the rotation of backgrounds on my laptop)

WORDS, WORDS, powerful WORDS!

“Don’t ever diminish the power of words. Words move hearts and hearts move limbs.”
-Hamza Yusuf

Words are powerful.  And they are especially powerful in influencing and impacting young children, who have often not fully developed discerning critical thinking skills and are easily convinced that Santa is real, or eating carrots will make them see in the dark. Prevalent themes and topics in children’s literature are constantly changing – How these themes develop and change over time and how authors adapt to this transformation can be observed both in the progression of their individual works, as well as the progression of all literary works. The words about these themes and topics have the power to significantly influence people, not only about things trivial, or specific opinions, but also about beliefs, ideas, ways of thinking and how to be a human.

“Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs.”
-Pearl Strachan Hurd

Some consistently common topics and themes are those of obedience and questioning the traditional, looking beyond appearances, and envisioning and exploring the possibility of a better future.  While these overarching ideas have remained fairly stable in their appearance, associated opinions and perspectives regarding these portrayals are always in flux. With the power of words, the authors of children’s literature can spread awareness of current issues, encourage and develop new and modern viewpoints, and impact readers in a variety of ways.

“All I need is a sheet of paper and something to write with, and then I can turn the world upside down.”
-Friedrich Nietzsche

Historically, viewpoints on obedience and tradition have been more positive and encouraging of these values.  Today, strict obedience is more and more frequently depicted as undesirable, and the questioning and challenging of the traditional is depicted as more acceptable -thank goodness! We need a little healthy rebellion in our lives every now and then in order to fight for the creation and development of positive advances and an altogether better world. Literary characters question their reality by choosing alternative paths and practice critical thinking about the world around them, especially in regards to appearances. Frequently, characters that look beautiful, are, in fact, villains, and those with physical or emotional differences or defects prove to be heroes or redeemably praiseworthy. Even words can be misjudged based on their appearance. Interpretation is already subjective, and even when an author’s intent seems clear, language exists in such a way that they may actually be saying something entirely different!

“The pen is mightier than the sword”
– Edward Bulwer-Lytton

The protagonist of Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials series, Lyra, is often disobedient and rebellious, and grows to be suspicious of beautiful and/or powerful people, but these behavior patterns are not depicted as inherently negative, and are actually regularly rewarded.  Many of Ursula Le Guin’s characters rebel in similar way against traditional societal behaviors, those of their constructed literary world, as well as those of the world outside the books.  The dragons even reject gender at all! Fantastic! Let us all be more open-minded, like dragons! Through these consistent rebellions and questions, (now) standard fantasy characters develop unique identities and supply valuable contributions to develop and enrich their worlds. In this way, authors can influence readers to aspire to similar identity development and enriching contributions. Powerful. And hopeful.

“Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.”
– Rumi

It was initially a bit disheartening to read Ursula Le Guin’s intro of ‘Earthsea Revisited,’ just because it is sadly still so relevant that “women are seen in relation to heroes: as mother, wife, seducer, beloved, victim, or rescuable maiden” (1). She wrote this in 1999, and even today it is depressingly very applicable to the majority of ‘heroes’ in literature, film, and REAL LIFE!  It was really interesting to see how Le Guin herself was aware of society’s impact on her own writing choices in terms of female roles and limitations: “I simply lacked the courage to make my heroine doubly Other” (2).  Even when she included powerful female characters, they were not necessarily defined as typical heroes.  While Earthsea has a male-dominated society and emphasis, her series seems to develop over time in complexity and grow more organically inclusive.

“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.”
– Albus Dumbledore

Through the convincing and compelling enrichments of fantasy worlds, the outside world can be enriched simultaneously through new developments and insights.  The words used in the exploration of possible peaceful and harmonious futures can encourage peaceful and harmonious futures for modern society.  Even exploring dismal futures can inspire change, also encouraging a future of peace and harmony. Le Guin’s dominating theme of her first trilogy was “the quest for inner harmony and personal wholeness” (Marek Oziewicz, Rediscovering harmony: Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea sequence”), a thematic quest idea that is congruent with the search for a better future.  “Le Guin’s vision is neither Utopian nor dystopian, but rather what may be called ‘melioristic,’ meaning tending to betterment through human effort – or maybe through the opening of human hearts.” (Lenz, 2001, pp.77) Through the encouragement of the development of personal peace and harmony, in literary works as well as reflections upon those works, perhaps a future of real peace and harmony can be achieved.

That’d be hella sweet.

“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”
– John Keating

I dunno… he’s telling me with words…. should I believe him?

… wait… I’m using words… Am I influencing YOU? Do I mean what I am saying? What message am I even communicating!!?

WORDCEPTION.

Home Is Where Your Butt Is

“Home is where the heart is.”
“Home is wherever I’m with you.”
“There’s no place like home.”
“I need you in my house, ‘cause you’re my home.”
“Home sweet home.”
“I wish I was homeward bound.”


Home is a term that is often used without really having a consistently agreed on or recognized definition – While there is no universal definition, the concept of home is still a universal theme – the idea of ‘home’ may be different for every person, but it is always important. A home SHOULD be a safe and nurturing environment, both physically and emotionally, but it is unfortunately not always so.  Even people lucky enough to have four walls and a roof may not feel safe, secure, or nurtured there – sure safe from rain probably, but that isn’t the only thing that makes a home.  And I don’t think a home needs to be a house, necessarily, although physical safety and protection are still a contributing component.

The idea of home and one’s role there is extremely prevalent in children’s literature. I recently read Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting, a children’s picture book that is about a boy and his father who are homeless and live in an airport.  While it seems that they have a pretty nurturing and safe environment both physically (with the exception of the danger of being caught and thrown out) and emotionally (they have a good relationship, friends, a support system), they are still saving up for a ‘real’ home.  At first glance it seems like it is communicating a positive message about overcoming obstacles and making a better life, but it places value on only one definition of ‘home,’ and portrays an exclusionary perspective about the homeless.

For me, I believe that a significant factor in the concept of home is the ability to be at home with oneself, within oneself, at peace and comfortable and safe.  That is a big part of my definition or interpretation of the word home.  But everyone has their own interpretation and definition, and those are constantly changing and evolving as the associated ideas and terms grow and develop.

The term ‘relationship’ isn’t often connected to a physical place.  However, relationships with places can have a significant impact on people. People usually feel the strongest relationship with the place they call home.  The home can play an essential role in an individual’s growth and development, and it is through a safe and nurturing relationship with your home you can build safe and nurturing relationships with yourself and others.

“Just know you’re not alone 
‘Cause I’m going to make this place your home”


Totes what my home/hood is like:

 

What is the use of stories that aren’t even true?

What IS the use of stories that aren’t even true?


The oft-asked question in Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories is, “What is the use of stories that aren’t even true?”

While Rushdie’s book is described as an example of a more comical and light subdivision of the fantasy genre, each form of fantasy contains within it a variety of aspects that resonate within additional fantastical categories. Rushdie’s question can be applied to and answered through any genre of fantasy.

There is truth in every fictional story, and the uses of fictional stories, while dependent to some extent upon author intent and reader response, are, in fact, infinite.

If fictional stories had no use, why would anyone write fiction or fantasy? 

Storytellers may not be aware of their subtexts, attitudes, or perspectives about the purpose or benefit of their words and stories, but that does not mean they are not present.  While ideas about use may vary and differ, each author must believe that their storytelling will be put to some use or another.  These uses are often subjective, multifaceted, and numerous.  Just as an author may communicate many different ideas, meanings, and uses, readers may also interpret or superimpose many different ideas, meanings, and uses.  C.S. Lewis communicated tenants of Christian theology through many of his works, but he also reiterated the use of fantasy as a way for readers to address real-life issues, through a fantasy world to explore “emotional dilemmas (they) feel faced by in their everyday lives” (Rustin, 1987, p. 40).  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is clearly representative of the important use of fantasy as a tool to address cultural, societal, emotional, and psychological needs, understanding, and development – a prevalent perspective about fantasy’s value and use.

The primary, overarching importance of the use of children’s fantasy literature is the idea that the genre addresses and fulfills vital “psychological, cultural and aesthetic needs which are disregarded by most other forms of contemporary literature” (Oziewicz, 2008, p. 66). 

Fantasy allows the fears and worries of society to be addressed and explored, as well as providing a great deal of “potential as an emotional survival strategy” (Bharat, 2015, p. 305).  In addition, “stories can be a cohesive force in constructing a community” (Mukherjee, 1998, p. 175), a force that allows communities to overcome obstacles and experience positive growth and development.  Lloyd Alexander’s “The Grammar of Story” emphasizes this importance by detailing the ways in which words and storytelling can work magic.  Rushdie’s narrative in Haroun and the Sea of Stories provides valuable political and cultural implications about the intrinsic value and power of words and stories. This is just one narrative that articulates the importance of stories and storytelling and the ways in which they can be applied to resisting terror and oppression by conquering fears through living life instead of through grand, cosmic acts of courage.

Through the creation of a fantasy narrative such as this, an author can invent their own logic and use and incorporated it into each aspect of the story, so it has a sturdy base: “We don’t dig the foundation after the house is built” (Alexander, 1981, p. 10), and the fantasy world must have “identifiable and workable laws underpinning it” (Yolen, 1996, p. 173).  While each work of fantasy is unique, they are all bonded by their structure and interconnected in their capacity to encourage imaginative exploration and address very real concepts, dilemmas, and threats, such as the “tyranny of fear” (Bharat, 2015, p. 304).  New fears are constantly arising, and all types of fantasy literature can help to confront and explore these fears through large societal battles of terrorism and oppression as well as smaller, but no less important, battles of personal conflict, growth, and development.

Conflict is the dynamic element of any story, and the fate of the world can be affected by cosmic, mythopoeic quest and conflict as well as by the conflict-response behavior of a single person, as revealed through interactions with themselves, others, and the world around them.

While each fantasy story may be categorized according to a general consensus of its overall purpose, use, or tone, each fantasy story is an amalgam of diverse components that draw on a variety of ideas about the truth of untrue stories.  “What is the use of stories that aren’t even true?”  The use of Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories is to answer this very question, and in many ways, this is the use of every work of fantasy literature.  Storytellers create illusions, and the truth in that illusion is “how thoroughly it convinces us of its reality; how strongly it resonates in our emotions; how deeply it moves us to new feelings and new insights.” (Alexander, 1981, p. 4).

Truth is not always convincing, and a fantasy story can help a reader to recognize and understand the truth in the world around them.

‘Untrue’ fantasy stories are incredibly valuable in an infinite number of ways.  Each fantasy genre, and each fantasy story, has unique and distinctive qualities.  In mythopoeic fantasy, adventure has momentous scale and consequences. However, while lighter fantasy genres may seem to lack cosmic battles of good versus evil, the adventures and battles still have consequences that are momentous to the characters experiencing them.

While mythopoeic fantasy suggests big answers to big questions, small answers to small questions are just as substantially cosmic to those affected by them.

A child can have an adult adventure that articulates hope for all humanity by the simple act of articulating the hope of one human. 

One human is a part of humanity, and the truth is that one child can change the world.


References

Alexander, Lloyd. (1981). The grammar of story. In Betsy Hearne and Marilyn Kaye (Eds), Celebrating children’s books: Essays on children’s literature in honor of Zena Sutherland. (pp. 3-13). New York: Lothrop, Lee, and Shepard Books.

Bharat, Meenakshi. (2015). Creative fear in Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and Luka: The ‘safe house’ of children’s literature. In Marvels & tales. (pp. 304-323).

Lewis, C.S. (1950). The lion, the witch, and the wardrobe. New York: Harper Collins.

Mukherjee, Meenakshi. (1998). Politics and children’s literature: a Reading of Haroun and the Sea of Stories. In Ariel: a Review of international English literature. (pp. 163-177).

Oziewicz, Marek. (2008). One earth, one people: The Mythopoeic fantasy series of Ursula K. Le Guin, Lloyd Alexander, Madeline L’Engle, and Orson Scott Card. New York: Simon Pulse.

Rowling, J.K. (1999). Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic.

Rushdie, Salman. (1990). Haroun and the sea of stories. New York: Penguin.

Rustin, Margaret and Michael. (1987). Narnia: an Imaginary land as container for moral and emotional adventure. In Narratives of love and loss: Studies in modern children’s fiction. (pp. 40-58). New York: Verso.

Strimel, Courtney B. (2004). The politics of terror: Rereading Harry Potter,” In Children’s literature in education. (pp. 35-52).

Yolen, Jane. (1996). Turtles all the way down. In Sheila Egoff et al. (Eds) Only connect: Readings on children’s literature. (pp. 164-174). New York: Oxford University Press.

More About Dragons

Edith Nesbit is one of the authors whose works testify to the eternal flexibility of light fantasy. It was just recently that I became familiar with her work and her influence on children’s literature. I came across the story “The Dragon Tamers” through a sleep and meditation app on my phone, called “Calm.”  The app provides a variety of stories, fiction and non-fiction, read in soothing voices to help people fall asleep.  I listened to the reading of “The Dragon Tamers,” and stayed awake for the whole story, and I’m glad I did, as it quickly became a favorite.  This story is a perfect example of creative light fantasy.

This is a story about a dragon that the poor blacksmith John discovers in his dungeon, and over time, the dragon is actually the character who grows, changes and exhibits the most character development. John and his family’s various interactions with the dragon are what really drives the story and moves it forward. There are many unexpected twists and turns as well as fun Dr. Seuss-like word play, rhymes, and alliteration.

After becoming so interested in and taken with this story, I wanted to know more about Edith Nesbit, so I bought her biography, which says she is considered to be the first modern writer for children and to have basically invented the children’s adventure story, which is amazing.  It was so surprising to learn that this particular story had been published over 100 years ago. I would never have guessed that! This story really demonstrates the timelessness of fantasy and fantasy themes. If you want to know how to get your baby stop crying, apparently a dragon is extremely helpful, and you should be careful about what you feed your cat if you want your cat to stay a cat, and not turn into the beginning of dragons.

Read into It: The Dragon Tamers

The Dragon Tamers:

by Edith Nesbit

If you like reading fantasy, and want to know how to tame a dragon, this is the story for you! Also – cats.

I came across this children’s story in the ‘Sleep Stories’ section of my “Calm” meditation app.  If you have the “Calm” app on your phone or tablet, you can listen to a 39 minute soothing rendition read by Aurora De Blas with music by Ophylia Wispling. She does the voices and there is accompanying music – it’s very well done.

Because Edith Nesbit’s works were published over 100 years ago, they are now in public domain and you can also listen to or read the entire story online for free:

 

Here’s how it begins:

“There was once an old, old castle–it was so old that its walls and towers and turrets and gateways and arches had crumbled to ruins, and of all its old splendor there were only two little rooms left; and it was here that John the blacksmith had set up his forge.
He was too poor to live in a proper house, and no one asked any rent for the rooms in the ruin, because all the lords of the castle were dead and gone this many a year. So there John blew his bellows and hammered his iron and did all the work which came his way. This was not much, because most of the trade went to the mayor of the town, who was also a blacksmith in quite a large way of business, and had his huge forge facing the square of the town, and had twelve apprentices, all hammering like a nest of woodpeckers, and twelve journeymen to order the apprentices about, and a patent forge and a self-acting hammer and electric bellows, and all things handsome about him. So of course the townspeople, whenever they wanted a horse shod or a shaft mended, went to the mayor.
John the blacksmith struggled on as best he could, with a few odd jobs from travelers and strangers who did not know what a superior forge the mayor’s was. The two rooms were warm and weather-tight, but not very large; so the blacksmith got into the way of keeping his old iron, his odds and ends, his fagots, and his twopence worth of coal in the great dungeon down under the castle.
It was a very fine dungeon indeed, with a handsome vaulted roof and big iron rings whose staples were built into the wall, very strong and convenient for tying captives to, and at one end was a broken flight of wide steps leading down no one knew where. Even the lords of the castle in the good old times had never known where those steps led to, but every now and then they would kick a prisoner down the steps in their lighthearted, hopeful way, and sure enough, the prisoners never came back.
The blacksmith had never dared to go beyond the seventh step, and no more have I–so I know no more than he did what was at the bottom of those stairs.”

You can read the rest here:   http://www.online-literature.com/edith-nesbit/book-of-dragons/6/


Edith Nesbit is actually really interesting, and I bought her more recent out of print biography a while back … apparently she is considered to have invented the children’s adventure story and to be the first modern writer for children, as she was writing specifically for children when that wasn’t even a thing. -YAY!

Edith Nesbit’s biography is subtitled: A Woman of Passion.  Not only did she know a bunch of other literary coolios, such as George Bernard Shaw (as a luvah), and H.G. Wells, she married her first husband when she was 7 months pregnant, and I guess her husband cheated on her with her friend and then Edith adopted the baby…? whaaaaaaaaaa!?

The Railway Children, her most famous work has NEVER been out of print.  100+years. whaaaaa!!?!

More about Edith:
http://www.edithnesbit.co.uk/biography.php

 

I’m Excited To Do Homework? School Can Be Fun!

Well, I DID IT!!!  

I completed the first class of my graduate certificate program in Children’s Literature!!!

It was called “The Art of the Picturebook,” and I never knew that school could be so interesting and fun!!  I’ve enjoyed some classes throughout my college career, but none so much as this! I was actually excited to do homework! WHUUUUT!?? weird…  I never really felt like I fit in in any of the other classes or programs I took in the past.  I guess I just needed to find the right program.  And books have always been important to me.  And now I can explore that further! Yaaaaayyyy!!!

http://www.worldcampus.psu.edu/degrees-and-certificates/childrens-literature-certificate/overview

This is how I feel about this program!