The Wisdom of Children’s Literature





In 1993, Maurice Sendak published WE ARE ALL IN THE DUMPS WITH JACK AND GUY, a book that took up the crisis of homelessness.  The book never sold well, perhaps because it was marketed to children and had the look of a book for children.  As Sendak told Stephen Colbert once, “I don’t write for children.  I write.  And someone comes along and says ‘That’s for children.'”


We are all in the dumps
For diamonds are trumps
The kittens are gone to St. Paul’s!
The baby is bit
The moon’s in a fit
And the houses are built
Without walls

Jack and Guy
Went out in the Rye
And they found a little boy
With one black eye
Come says Jack let’s knock
Him on the head
No says Guy
Let’s buy him some bread
You buy one loaf
And I’ll buy two
And we’ll bring him up
As other folk do

Stalking the Brothers Grimm

David G. Allan writes about taking a Fairy Tale road trip in Germany, a 350 mile route that takes tourists from Hanau to Hameln, that is, from the birthplace of the Brothers Grimm to the town that claims to have hired the Pied Piper to exterminate their rats. At various stops, he reads the Grimms’ fairy tales with his two-and-a half year old daughter Alice and discovers that she connects immediately with them, even the “uncensored” tales. Allan proposes the trip as an alternative to the “tidy faux castles” and “grinning, crinolined mascots” of Disney World, and I think he won his bet.

The trip along the Fairy Tale route provided a chance for Allan, his wife, and daughter to fall under the spell of the stories, to discover their horrors (Allan mentions “How Some Children Played at Slaughtering” but he does not read it to Alice) and their beauty (he is enraptured by the Dornröschenschloss Sababurg and reads his daughter the story of Briar Rose–uncensored, as he puts it). I’m assuming that he’s not referring to the Italian versions of Sleeping Beauty in which the king rapes the comatose princess. I’m also curious about his use of the name Isabella in the Grimms’ version of Cinderella (see below).

Alice’s introduction to the world of the Grimm tales began on our flight, as I read to her from the brothers’ version of Cinderella. “Once upon a time there was a girl named Isabella whose mother had died.”

Any ideas about Isabella?

The Guardian Goes Wild over Fairy Tales


The Guardian is featuring fairy tales for an entire week, with “booklets of our best-loved fairy tales”), all of which can be read on the web. The writers who selected the stories for publication provide a guide to each set of tales. On October 10, for instance, Hilary Mantel wrote about “Wicked Parents in Fairytales.” On October 12, A.S. Byatt offered an exquisite meditation on “Love in Fairytales.” Philip Pullman, Alison Lurie, Marina Warner, Salman Rushdie, oh my!  It doesn’t get better than that.

Here’s the promotional material:

Starting this weekend in the Guardian and the Observer, Great fairytales brings you the finest stories of morality, justice, triumph and enchantment from around the world, collected in seven themes: Wicked parents, Rags to riches, Love, Quests and riddles, Wisdom and folly, Justice and punishment and Beastly tales.

The stories are all nominated by a panel of critics, writers and experts on children’s literature: Anthony Browne, AS Byatt, Abdulrazak Gurnah, Robert Irwin, Alison Lurie, Adam Phillips, Philip Pullman, Salman Rushdie and Marina Warner.

Each collection is beautifully illustrated and includes an afterword from a range of leading writers exploring each theme.

Begin on Saturday with Wicked Parents which features Hansel and Gretel, Snow White and The Tale of the Juniper Tree.

Maureen Dowd on Obama and “The Brave Little Tailor”

Seen in the NYT on 6/20: Maureen Dowd knows her Brothers Grimm, although she might have used a more recent translation of the line about the tailor’s heart wagging like a lamb’s tail. Fearless is a good term for capturing Obama.

In the Grimms’ fairy tale, “The Brave Little Tailor,” a tailor brandishing a rag kills seven flies swarming around his jam-smeared bread. The little man admires his own bravery so much — “For joy his heart wagged like a lamb’s tail” — that he wants the whole world to know of it. So he stitches up a belt for himself embroidered with the legend “Seven at one blow!” and saunters out.

Protected by his legend, using brains rather than brawn, he dispatches two giants and captures a unicorn and a wild boar before winning a princess and living happily ever after as a king.

The president didn’t order up a “One at one blow!” belt. You don’t need such accessories in the era of YouTube viral videos. But he did admire his own ninja moves so much that he gave himself a shout-out: “That was pretty impressive, wasn’t it? I got the sucker.”