Sunday 26 August 2012

Once Upon A Time we Thought, What is our Favourite Fairy Tale?

Once Upon A Time we Thought, What is our Favourite Fairy Tale?

Recently over on the SCWBI (Society of Children’s book Writersand Illustrators) British Isles Facebook page, there was a discussion on what Fairy Tales are. The discussion was interesting and varied displaying one astonishing thing, that what a fairy tale is subjective, and that different people have very different perceptions on what a fairy tale is. This has prompted three SCBWI members to think at little more about how we see fairy tale and what they mean to us.  

We have made a series of blog posts discussing fairy tales, the first of which  Once upon a time, we wondered, what is a fairy tale?  can be found over on Emma Graham's Blog; press here

My Favourite Fairy Tale by Emma Graham

Lewis Carroll describes Alice in Wonderland as a fairytale, but this is hardly a short story.

This has to be one of my own favourites. A talking Caterpillar, the White Rabbit, magic potions and food and mystical lands. Carroll takes everyday creatures and objects and animates them in a lively and crazy manner to weave this fantastic tale.
I guess my love for this tale was nurtured by my mother, who just after I was born painted a large picture of Alice’s world for my bedroom wall. I was always intrigued by what was down the dark rabbit hole and I still am.

Alice and Caterpillar By Emma Graham

My Favourite Fairy Tale by Donna Vann writing as D.V. Hawkes

As a child, I devoured folk tales and fairy tales, particularly those by Hans Andersen. While escaping from the real world I also learned so much that formed my character and that I still draw on today. For example, it was clear that a scruffy, unimportant person might be a powerful mentor or a prince in disguise. I learned that courage and kindness were much more valuable than wealth or celebrity.

My favourite books growing up were by George Macdonald – he was a contemporary of Dickens but is pretty much unknown today. In ‘The Princess and Curdie’ a miner’s son is given the ability to understand a person’s character by taking their hand, which inspired something the novel I’m working on at the moment. Macdonald’s books are dotted with preachy asides, but that didn’t trouble me at all back then.

My favourite modern-day fairy tale is Roald Dahl’s ‘The Witches’. An ordinary hotel, where a boy and his grandma are staying, becomes extraordinary when it transpires that the hotel is hosting a major convention of European witches, recognised by their blue spit, lack of toes and disgust at the smell of children.

My Favourite Fairy Tale by Sally Poyton 

The Three Snake Leaves by Grimm

I don’t know exactly why I love this tale, but I think it’s got the balance just right, it’s about love and survival, plus it has the perfect balance of dark and magic. It not one of the tales you’ll find in a children’s anthology so if you want to read it then my favourite version can be found in Grimm’s Grimmest (1997 - Maria Tatar - Chronicle Books)

It’s a story about a poor man who agrees to marry a princess despite having to agree that in the event that he should outlive her he will accompany her to the grave. They live happily together, and when the princess dies her husband keeps his word and is incarcerated in the crypt with her. Here, in the crypt, three snakes appear. The man so overcome by hunger kills one of the snakes. To his astonishment, he watches the remaining snakes use three golden leaves to bring the dead snake back to life. Seeing this magic, the man uses the leaves to bring the princess back from the dead. The couple make such a racket on the door that the king comes and is overjoyed to find them alive. However the Princess has changed, and no longer loves her husband, so has him killed. Fortunately the husband has entrusted the leaves to a loyal servant who uses them to bring him man back to life. Alive once more the husband uses his wit to his construct his wife’s demise.

Ayame and gold leaves 

Thanks for reading, and please leave a comment to tell us what your favourite fairy tale is...

Friday 24 August 2012

‘…he farted so hard he blew the roof right off the house!’ –Words that make you stumble in picture books

Recently over on Notes from the Slushpile there has been a series of blogs about ‘Words that move’ in childrens book. It’s great reading about emotionally moving children books, which mean so much to people. I loved the posts so much I thought about the other side of the coin, the books that make you stumble because they have unexpected twist.

Here are some of the books that have ambushed me and my husband making us stumble over the words as we read them whist squirming with embarrassment and shock.  Without exception all of the following books have become firm family favourites and are read over and over, which is a testament to great courage and writing from their creators.   


Dr Dog – Babbet Cole

This book arrived quite unexpectantly in the post, from a friend who found it whilst clearing out her teenagers rooms. She said it was her children’s favourite book so sent it to us for our two small people.  It’s about the Gumboyle’s who don’t look after their children but thankfully their family dog is a doctor. So Dr Dog goes about looking after the children after they get ill and teaching them useful lessons like, ‘Don’t scratch your bum and suck your thumb’ as you’ll get worms.  Unfortunately despite Dr Dog telling the Gumboyle parents that they need to look after their family, Grandad dangerous gas build up and he… farted so hard he blew the roof right off the house!’ This is it the moment when my husband chocked, squirmed and looked at me in panic – I very helpfully creased up in laughter.  Needless to say this book found a special place in the heart of my fart obsessed three year old boy!

The Horrible Book – Wayne Anderson

This is one of my daughters most treasured books, so much so she took it in to school for show and tell – after which I was asked by the teachers ‘please don’t bring in books again’!  I guess you could say that the clue was in the title – and you’d be right. So we’re reading the book for the first time and increasingly thinking – is this really for children. Its starts in the graveyard where something has risen from the graves and goes on a spree, steeling bits if machines and animals It had no body, but it has made off with our fins and skins, our scales and tales!’ say the fish.  On the last page you eventually catch up with the thing with no body to find it has used all the animal parts to become SOME BODY.

Tadpole's Promise- Jeanne Willis & Tony Ross

This one is my sister’s nomination; she was a nanny when she had as she puts it an ‘EWWWW’ moment with this book. It’s a charming tale about the friendship and love between the tadpole  who falls in love with his beautiful rainbow’  caterpillar. The Caterpillar loves the tadpole too calling him her ‘shinny black pearl’ but gets annoyed about the tadpoles ever changing appearance and making him promise he’ll stop changing. Anyway the Caterpillar becomes a butterfly and comes back to her beloved – frog, but he doesn’t recognise her and ’faster than she could say ‘pearl’, the frog leapt up and swallowed her… the poor frog waits wondering what ever happened to his beautiful rainbow. 

The Story of the Little Mole who knew it was None of his Business – Werner Holzwarth & Wolf Erlbruch

This book was given to my son on his third birthday by his godmother. We sat down and read it to him, he loved it instantly and still does. I must say that as parents when we first read it we didn’t know what to say or think. But now we LOVE this book; its humour, its illustrations; is conclusion. I have also been reliably informed that it is used for educational purposes to…

The mole one day wakes up and sticks his head out of his hole, when someone does their business on him The mole is understandable quite put out but he was so short-sighted that he couldn’t see anyone around.So he goes off to find out who did poo on his head, he asks all manner of beast all of who demonstrate it can’t have been them by doing their business in front of him, splattering the poor mole in more unpleasant stuff. Eventually with the help of some flies the mole exacts his revenge. Quick as a flash he climbed on to the kennel..(and pling- A tiny black sausage landed on top of the dog’s head.’

…the educational purpose is to teach people about poo as the book is quite detailed about the properties of each animal’s excrement. 

Finally back to Babette Cole – Mummy Laid an Egg

This is our most lent out book, it is borrowed by parents who are expecting, and parents who are teaching their small people about the birds and the bees.  All I can say is that I didn’t read this before reading it with the kids, and ended up the colour of a beetroot.  Well pictures say a thousand words so here…

Hope you enjoyed this post, and please do comment on any of the books, or if you have any books that have made you squirm I'd love to know!