A Farewell to April

Classic Children's Literature Event April 2016 - original

April has come and gone, and with it the Fourth Children’s Classic Literature Event. As usual, it was a fun–if fast!–month of revisiting old favorites and meeting new ones. Although I didn’t quite make it through all the Beatrix Potter tales (I will! I’ll just take some time in May for them…), I was introduced to a number of books that were completely new to me thanks to the posts by other participants. So many new possibilities to explore!

As far as I am aware, the following lists all of the posts from the second half of the month – please let me know if I missed you! (It’s very possible, as I switch between tablet and laptop, e-mail notification and feed reader.)

Anastacia from Rambling Reviews:
Jack and Jill by Louisa May Alcott
The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens
The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain
By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Bellezza from Dolce Bellezza:
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Carol from Jouney and Destination:
A Little Bush Maid by Mary Grant Bruce
Golden Fiddles by Mary Grant Bruce

Cleo from Classical Carousel
Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner

Denise from News from Hobbiton:
Some of her favorite children’s stories

Lynn from Smoke and Mirrors:
Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner
On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Famous Five by Enid Blyton

Plethora from Plethora of Books:
Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright

Amanda from Simpler Pastimes:
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner
Beatrix Potter Stories (group 2)

Not bad! Without actually going back to check, this year’s event may have had the most books read of any to date. (And I know I’m not the only one who didn’t get everything read they had hoped.)

Thanks to everyone who participated and Happy Reading!

Beatrix Potter Tales, Part 2

Ah, April is flying from me! I’m only just now getting my post for the second group of Beatrix Potter tales written up. Unlike the first group, which contained two I remembered well, these were mostly unrecollected, even those I’ve had the longest.

The Tale of Mr Jeremy Fisher - Beatrix PotterThe Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher (1906)

This tale of a frog and his fishing misadventures was completely adorable! I’m really growing to love Potter’s writing – while her illustrations are wonderful, in their detail and accuracy, the way she tells the tales is equally delightful. Here, I loved the turn in the story – the suspense and surprise when the trout catches Jeremy. Her use of onomatopoeia, again, is lovely.

A GREAT big enormous trout cam up–ker-pflop-p-p-p! with a splash–and it seized Mr. Jeremy with a snap, “Ow! Ow! Ow!”–and then it turned and dived down to the bottom of the pond!

The Tale of Tom Kitten - Beatrix PotterThe Tale of Tom Kitten (1907)

An amusing little story that I didn’t recall at all. Mrs. Tabitha Twitchet is having friends to dinner, so she cleans and dresses her kittens then, foolishly, sends them out into the garden while she finishes preparations. Of course, being kittens unused to clothes, they soon manage to burst their buttons and lose their clothes to the Puddleducks (first mention!). Banishment to the bedroom ensues. I am not sure why the title only names Tom–although he is the one that is too fat and bursts his buttons, they all lose their clothes.


The Tale of Jemima Puddle-duck - Beatrix PotterThe Tale of Jemima Puddle-duck (1908)

Potter, in this charming little tale, illustrates the phrase “bird-brained” very well! Jemima, understandably, wants to sit on her eggs rather than letting the farmer give them to the hen for setting. So she seeks out a good location for a nest, and finds one in the “summer house” of a very well-dressed, whiskered gentleman. Poor Jemima is so naïve – or dense! – that she doesn’t recognize him for a fox or that the many feathers in his house must surely have come from some other unfortunate birds… Rather than mischievous or disobedient, this protagonist is simply foolish.


The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies - Beatrix PotterThe Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies (1909)

Another return to the world of Peter and Benjamin. Apparently Peter Rabbit manages to grow up responsibly – his lesson learned – but Benjamin Bunny does not. Both hinted at, of course, in Benjamin’s tale. Interestingly, it would seem that Flopsy doesn’t do much better than Benjamin, despite the fact that she was one of the obedient little rabbits in the first tale. Obedient, but not wise, perhaps, as it seems she is as poor a household manager as Benjamin.

It would seem the feud between the McGregors and the rabbits is long-standing. Of course. In this tale, though, they are NOT in his garden, just his rubbish bin. But it is an interesting image, that of a large family reduced to depending on help from in-laws and rubbish piles. An image of poverty in these otherwise gentle books. And an apt illustration of “improvident.” I think these rabbits could fit into Dickens… And how lovely, that it is Mrs. Tittlemouse that is the resourceful, problem solving one!

I noticed the effectiveness of Potter’s introduction of some new vocabulary in this one–not only does she do a great job of introducing “soporific,” but it is reinforced later in the story.


The Tale of Mrs Tittlemouse - Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse (1910)

Ah, a story of frustration if ever there was one! I do feel for Mrs. Tittlemouse–all those uninvited guests!–, although I do wonder if perhaps she isn’t maybe just a bit too fastidious. Cleaning while the guests are there can be rude…even if they invited themselves in! (Come to think of it, a lot of impoliteness in this one.)

Another one with lots of great sounds in this one – the buzzing from the bees, the “tiddly, widdly” of Mr. Jackson.


The Tale of Timmy Tiptoes - Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Timmy Tiptoes (1911)

A tale of a good little squirrel – and prudent. But sometimes bad things happen to good people, as when less prudent and more foolish squirrels become jealous and turn on the wiser one. But there is also a bit of an unexpected turn, in that this story turns to domestic matters. Mrs. Chippy Hackee has been abandoned by her husband–as Mrs. Goody Tiptoes believes has happened to her (though Timmy is just stuck down the hole in the tree). And Mrs. Hackee daren’t go down the tree after the pair for her husband bites. Sure enough, it will rain, the tree will fall, and Chippy will learn his lesson, but it suggests yet another portrait of a human character, the neglectful, selfish spouse, in animal form.

It is interesting how Potter is able to through these stories give a sense of human stories that might seem too grown up for young children were they not in the form of animal characters.

Despite the rapidly dwindling month (and available free-time), I do hope to finish reading these charming tales before the end of April. They have all been such a delight to read–and look at.

Completed: Emil and the Detectives

Emil and the DetectivesEmil and the Detectives [Emil und die Detektive]
Erich Kästner
(1929, Germany)
Eileen Hall, translator
Walter Trier, illustrations

’Oh he’ll like Berlin, I’m sure of that,’ declared Mrs. Wirth from the depths of the wash-basin. ‘It’s just made of children. We went there the year before last for the skittle club outing. My word, but it’s a noisy place! Do you know—some of the streets were as light at night as during the day. And the traffic! My, what a lot of cars!’ (Chapter 1)

Emil and the Detectives starts out deceptively, Emil carrying the water jug and his mother washing her client’s hair—a scene of domestic tranquility, nothing of adventures in sight. Yet this opening chapter, slow by current standards, is our introduction to Emil and his character: he is obedient and polite, determined to do right by his mother. Which is why it is so important to Emil, when the one thing she warns him against happens, losing the money she gives him for his grandmother, that he make it right. Especially since he feels particularly wronged; he didn’t lose the money, it was stolen from him after he fell asleep on the train, despite all his precautions, both to protect the money and stay awake. It is from this point that the story takes off; Emil soon meets up with a group of boys who upon learning his story are only too happy to help him chase down and trap the thief. His cousin, Pony, the only girl in the story, makes occasional appearances with her new bike—which she is only too eager to show off—functioning as messenger or go-between with Emil’s adult relatives. We also see other aspects of Emil’s character–his determination to right a wrong, a bit of temper (he nearly fights the first boy he meets), and a hint of mischief: he believes he can’t go to the police, because he chalked a statue at home and believes the Berlin police will surely learn of it and accuse him of stealing the money!

I’m really not quite sure what I expected from this classic from 1920s Germany. Perhaps more of a mystery, but the detective work in this story is tailing a known suspect, not discovering “whodunit.” Of course, this makes for an exciting adventure, and the reader never really cares that we know the thief already or that we feel fairly assured of a positive outcome. After all, there are still plenty of twists and turns and we can’t be sure, exactly, how the boys will manager to confront the thief and reclaim Emil’s money.

A German writer, Kästner would some years after writing this children’s tale watch the Nazis burn many of his books, including the sequel Emil and the Three Twins. But they didn’t include Emil and the Detectives, in part because of of its popularity. It’s been adapted for several film versions, including multiple German versions and the 1964 Disney adaptation, as well as a UK stage production.

Emil and the Detectives Readalong April 2016 - 300px wide

As well as reading this for the readalong, it also counts as one of my titles for the Books in Translation Challenge 2016.

Emil and the Detectives RAL

Emil and the Detectives Readalong April 2016 - Original

It’s here, time for discussion of our thoughts on Erich Kästner’s Emil and the Detectives! Leave links to your posts in the comments, or feel free to discuss below.

If you’ve never read Emil and the Detectives before, was there anything that surprised you? How does it compare to other children’s mystery-adventure stories you’ve read?

Completed: The Jungle Book

The Jungle BookThe Jungle Book
Rudyard Kipling
1894 (England)

Mowgli had never seen an Indian city before, and though this was almost a heap of ruins it seemed very wonderful and splendid. Some king had built it long ago on a little hill. You could still trace the stone cause-ways that led up to the ruined gates where the last splinters of wood hung to the worn, rusted hinges. Trees had grown into and out of the walls; the battlements were tumbled down and decayed, and wild creepers hung out of the windows of the towers on the walls in bushy hanging clumps. (“Kaa’s Hunting”)

That I should decide to read The Jungle Book in the same month that Disney should release their big-budget “live-action” remake of the animated film is complete coincidence. Rather, it had been sitting on my shelf for some time, tempting me, and with this month’s Children’s Classics Event incentive, I decided to finally give in.

The Jungle Book is not a novel, but a collection of seven short stories with accompanying poems (one per story, relating to to the story previously told). Of these stories, three–“Mowgli’s Brothers,” “Kaa’s Hunting,” and “Tiger! Tiger!”–are related to Mowgli, Shere Khan, Baloo, and all the other characters familiar to us from Disney. The remaining four stories all feature different characters and are not all closely linked to the Jungle. While “Toomai of the Elephants” is very much jungle-based, and “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” and “Her Majesty’s Servants” both remain set in British India they are in the human world and “The White Seal” is largely set on an island in the Bering Sea–what a contrast! But constant throughout is the importance of animals, usually anthropomorphized. Only in “Toomai of the Elephants” do we not have the direct thoughts of the animal characters presented as dialogue. More often, the animals speak directly–even in “Her Majesty’s Servants,” which is narrated entirely by an unnamed man of British origin, who had learned from the “natives” to understand camp-beast speech. Which poses an interesting question–was this conceit, that the locals understood camp-beast speech, simply meant as a narrative device, or is it part of Kipling’s romanticization of India, and the Jungle? Although Kipling had spent a good portion of his life in India–he was born there, and after schooling in England returned to work for some time–he wrote his Jungle Book stories while living in Vermont, and the brief introduction in my copy of The Jungle Book (Collins Classics edition) suggests that his distance from the country led to creating an India that “perhaps never quite existed.”

‘All the jungle is thine,’ said Bagheera, ‘and thou canst kill everything that thou art strong enough to kill; but for the sake of the bull that bought thee thou must never kill or eat any cattle young or old. That is the law of the Jungle.’ (“Mowgli’s Brothers”)

On the other hand, Kipling’s India reflects back on the human world he lived in. Setting the stories among animals allows him to comment on human society, both through the customs and structures of his animal characters–“The Law of the Jungle” so frequently referenced in the Mowgli stories (and strictly adhered to by most)–and Mowgli’s uneasy interactions with other humans once he finally leaves the jungle. His arrival in a human village brings to him the knowledge that there is a price on man-eating Shere Khan’s head, but the reward is never motivating to young Mowgli. Rather his motivation is more complicated–a mix of survival, vengeance, power. And in turn, the villagers cannot understand him, for his ability to communicate with animals seems a most dangerous magic. What is not understood is feared–and understanding takes away fear, as in Mowgli’s ability to yield the “red flower” so feared among the jungle beasts.

Moving away from Mowgli, the story most directly connected to his seems to be “Toomai of the Elephants,” also set in the jungle, and another instance of a young child seeing a side of it–in this case, the elephant’s dance–that the adults–native and colonist alike–will never see. Although perhaps one might say there is the fantastic in these stories, specifically in the ability of human and beast to communicate, the real magic seems to be the experiencing of the natural world free of human intervention.

The air was full of all the night noises that, taken together, make one big silence–the click of one bamboo-stem against the other, the rustle of something alive in the undergrowth, the scratch and squawk of a half-waked bird (birds are awake in the night much more often than we imagine), and the fall of water ever so far away. (“Toomai of the Elephants”)

“Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” and “Her Majesty’s Servants” are on the other hand set in the human world. The perpetual conflict between wild, natural space and human, created space is illustrated in the former, when the cobras resent the arrival of humans who they feel must be responsible for the dangerous mongoose that now threatens not only their eggs but their very lives. Rikki in turn becomes the intermediary between the two spaces, for his natural instinct to kill the snakes fits well with the human desire to have space safe from such dangerous reptiles. And finally, man vs. nature makes way for man vs. man in “Her Majesty’s Servants,” as now all animals involved are either domesticated or trainable wild beasts (elephants) whose concerns are how to reconcile their fears with their service to their human masters. It is an illustration and contrast of types, for each beast–horse, camel, mule, elephant, bull–has a different function, and different fears, based on their natural abilities and inclinations. It is also fascinating to reflect on all the different ways humans have found to solve their difficulties–in this instance fighting on all sorts of different terrain.

The most distinct of the stories is “The White Seal,” whose titular hero Kotick is shocked to discover the passivity with which his fellow creatures allow themselves to be hunted by man. He is unique–not only for his white coat, but for his determination to find a nesting ground which is truly safe for all. A reminder, perhaps, that even humans too often simply allow dark things to happen and only the most daring or most determined speak out or act.

I rather enjoyed these enchanting stories. The poems, or “songs,” less so, but then I am not so much a poetry person and could not really begin to judge if they are even any good or not. Although I think they do work better if thought of as “songs” as Kipling calls them. (Actually, I read the “Road-Song of the Bandar-Log” as a sort of pirate’s shanty. It seemed appropriate.) There is a second volume of Jungle Book stories which I shall be on the lookout for–especially as I am promised that more Mowgli stories feature among them.


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