welcome to my world!
This site is dedicated to exploring children's fiction.
I write it, read it, teach it and increasingly feel the need to talk about. Please feel free to join the conversation otherwise it will be a monologue and they can get quite dull.
My current project is concerned with transformations in children's writing.
If you have any suggestions or favourite books which deal with transformation please let me know.
Friday, October 23, 2015
Owl fights the strange owl and injures him and then when she sees a naked boy bleeding black blood onto the snow realises he is like herself, a were owl. She names him 'Houle' and enlists Dawn's help to keep him hidden and warm in Dawn's heated garage, begging various herbal cures for fever form her mother. The reader guesses some time before Owl herself that the strange boy Owl calls Houle, who looks so like herself that Dawn assumed it was her brother, is David, Mr Linstrom's son who has escaped from a mental facility. We guess too that the strange woman Owl calls 'the Wailing woman' is his wife. When Dawn tells Lindstrom that she has found his son, Owl initially believes that Dawn wants Lindstrom for herself. He wants to take the his son to his mother indoors and Owl, still in bird form attacks him and calls Houle to herself in the mating cry which forces his transformation into a bird. Dawn, finally understanding her secret, demands to talk to Owl at which point she changes back and is persuaded to allow Lindstrom to look after his son until such a time as they can be together in the human world as well as the bird one. owl realises that Dawn was never after Mr Lindstrom but another boy in their year to whom she was particularly rude to.
Owl is intelligent but entertainingly slow to grasp the intricacies of the human world, she can quote literature with ease but has little grasp of the modern world and, until invited home by Dawn, never travelled in 'an automobile' and yet she is never other than sympathetic, when watching her Mr Lindstrom from a tree as he sleeps, when struggling not to eat Dawn's hamster and beginning to grasp that her parents are not best equipped to advise her on her increasingly complicated life. It is about friendship, accommodating strangeness and learning to understand the other. Perhaps it also reminds teen readers that there is someone out there for you, even if you are an owl.
This book won the Mythopaoic Children's Fantasy Award in 1995 and also a Golden Kite. I can see why it has a great voice and a clever plot.
Posted by Nicky at 3:19 AM
Thursday, October 22, 2015
This is no morality tale, it is barely a tale at all in that it is episodic and Sandra/Lady doesn't grow or
learn anything. I am certain that is deliberate, a kind of anti fairy story in which the frog gives up wanting to turn back into a prince. Sandra begins the story as a thrill seeking girl and ends it as Lady, a thrill seeking dog, having discovered almost nothing about herself in the hundred or so pages of introspection in between. The openness about sex, even the odd conversation about periods at one point, seem to have guaranteed the book plenty of publicity but the book itself left me feeling slightly cheated. Mitch, the other ex human dog, misses his family and never fully embraces his new state, Fella appears to, but still returns to his ex girlfriend's house to chase her cut and frighten her. Lady chooses the whole hearted acceptance of her animal self rather than the messy compromise of trying to fit in. Is the story about accepting your own nature? Is it about experiencing the sensory pleasure of life because life's a bitch and then you die? Is the reader supposed to be irritated by Sandra/Lady her self involvement and inconsistency? Is she meant to be perceived as a bitch in both senses: if you live only for sensation you cannot be part of civilised society? If you cannot control your impulses you will always be an outsider. That is certainly the case for Terry, who can't control his temper and keeps turning people into dogs which doesn't in the end do him a lot of good. I suppose you could make an argument for any of the above, but I am not convinced. With a writer of Burgess' statue I feel I should have been.
Posted by Nicky at 8:40 AM
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
This is quite an odd, slightly rambling book that is very strong on atmosphere and in which, unusually, the parents of the protagonist, Roger, are allowed to play a role. It was first published in 1988 and feels like the product of a more generous age in which stories were allowed to unfold and retain some mysteries unexplained. It is rich in sensory detail, conveying the exoticism that was rural France to the middle class English and also something of the fear of the unknowable and foreign. The family's French is credibly poor and ambiguity and uncertainty about what has been seen and heard add to the tension of the story.
Roger, his parents, and his twin sisters, Polly and Emma holiday in a crumbling french chateau, inhabited by the owner Monsieur Serpe and his goat milking daughter Melusine. Serpe also claims a second daughter who has gone away. The underlying sense of menace is present from the beginning when Roger sees houses painted with question marks on their way to the chateau and from the beginning there are hints that all is not well.
Roger and Melusine become friends though she seems strange in many ways. The family explore the region, which is atmospherically described, and discover local depictions of Melusine, a mythical creature, woman by day and snake by night, who is associated with the region.
From his arrival,Roger has been disturbed by rustlings in his room at night. There have been indications of Melusine's strangeness, Roger saw her dancing the music of a 'snake charmer' in La Rochelle and when his sister almost drowns ,she saves her without apparently getting wet.
Roger observes her sitting on her father's knee and gradually understands that she is being abused by him. He confides his worries to his parents. Roger's suspicions regarding Melusine's strange nature are confirmed when at night Melusine in snake form shares his bed.
Roger and his father discover a secret underground passage which take them into the tower, a part of the crumbling chateau Melusine refused to show him. There they find a coffin in a kind of shrine. Monsieur Serpe finds them there and attempts to shoot them with his shot gun but something prevents him from hitting them. Roger sees Melusine, in snake form, over power her father, described as an 'ogre' throughout and push him from the window. He dies shouting about his daughters. Roger's father thought he was asking them to bring him 'donnez' his daughters when in fact he was asking for pardon form them ( pardonnez)
When the police arrive Melusine has disappeared, the coffin is discovered to contain the body of M's older sister who committed suicide. It is later suggested that this occurs as she too has suffered abuse at the hands of her father. After her father's death Roger finds Melusine'ss hed snake's skin and buries it. When he finds Melusine, hiding with the goat feed, ' Melusine emerged from her snake self, she was all human now, and that shedding had taken the snake look she had had, leaving her almost supernaturally new and beautiful' 198 also the distinctive characteristics of her skin had changed. When he finds the snake under his bed he knows it is Melusine when he moves her hand along her arm 'that special , warm-cool, hard-soft skin he had touched before that could only be hers' After er father's death and the burial of the skin 'It was a girls' hand that he held.'
As Melusine is orphaned and her only relative lives in Canada, Roger's family agree to let her live with them for a short time. En route to England, there is a car accident in which Roger and his mother are slightly hurt when they crash into one of the painted question marks on a wall. There is no sign of Melusine and they return home without her. Roger cannot settle and even confides his belief that she could change into a snake to a psychologist. His mother seems to understand his passion for her, and the bond between them. They find her reclaiming the chateau and trying to make it beautiful, and Roger helps her open the door of the chateau to the fresh air and golden evening sun for the first time in perhaps a hundred years.
The book is particularly interesting for its handling of Roger's growing sexual awareness; his voice breaks at a key moment in the story, when he volunteers to sleep in his own room, even after he knows about the snake; there is much emphasis on the touch of their hands, when she helps him with the milking, when he touches the snake's skin for the first time, when he finds her crying in her bed and once he accepts Melusine in snake form 'Besides, he wanted to touch her. Even like this.
The small flat head lay under his hand.
Warm cool. Rough -smooth. Pulsing softly with life.
He stroked her very gently. She lay still' p151
His growing awareness of his own feelings takes a long time to make sense and perhaps is only fully clear when his mother speaks of her own 'love' for a much older boy when he was young, but it is very clear to the reader that Melusine has a sexual hold on him. Is he tempted by snake as seductress? There are many references to the garden of Eden most obviously in the pattern of the table in their apartment in which the figure of the snake is hidden. Exiled to the guest apartments Melusine takes possession of it once she returns home as chatelaine. The folk figure of Melusine referred to in the guidebook is good woman by day and evil snake at night and yet she does no evil, though evil is done to her and her snake form appears to be a way to escape from her father.
The sexual abuse is dealt with almost entirely from Roger's perspective, he is at first only half aware of what he's seen. 'He lay awake a long time, wondering not so much what exactly he'd seen, but why it had made him feel so upset and angry...' Later, after he has slept entwined with the snake, when playing a game of 'Scruples' his family his sister makes a connection between 'abuse' and sex'. 'Roger... stared at his cards unseeingly. Sex. It was out. The word had been said and he'd heard it and couldn't pretend he hadn't. He felt suddenly so agitated that he couldn't sit still. He jumped up from the table, knocking it with his need and scattering some of the heaps of cards.' pp161 Roger begins the story as a kind of innocent in this. He is still a child, happy to talk baby talk or Woddy as they call it with his sisters at moments of stress and to be glad to take refuge in his parent's bed, but he is also on the cusp of adolescence. Once he comes to understand her strangeness he thinks that what he feels for her is pity for her difference and situation but then: 'Their hands met and held in the darkness.
Roger closed his eyes and realised for the first time that what he felt for Melusine he had never felt before. he'd thought he just wanted to help her but now he acknowledged that that was only part of it. pp167
Posted by Nicky at 10:12 AM
Thursday, July 16, 2015
This is not part of my reading on transformations but a bit of pleasure reading. The author is a friend and a talented writer with a great eye for the telling detail and I enjoyed every minute of this.
The story is based on true events in which a poor young woman, Mary Willcox, pretends to be from elsewhere, a game that becomes serious when the wealthy family of Knole Park House take her as their protege and take steps to prove that she is a foreign Princess. The story begins dramatically with an incident on the Malsbury Rd in which Mary is attacked and raped and recalls the loss of her baby. It is a hard hitting beginning which does not shy away from the grim reality of life for women without position in the nineteenth century. It is written from Mary's viewpoint so the reader sees both the desperation and the inventive escapism and wit that drives Mary to pose as an exotic stranger. Of course this means that the considerable tension in this book arises not from the 'Is she real or is she a fraud?' question which is so important to the other characters in the book, but from the fear of what will happen to her when her deception is uncovered. This is very well handled and the other view point characters, the privileged daughter and son, Cassendra and Fred of the house, provide an excellent foil for Caraboo. Through them the gap between Caraboo's fortunes and those of her money'd hosts is well illustrated. The reader is given an enticing and wholly convincing glimpse of nineteenth century life, which is conjured with the lightest of touches. Like all the best historical novels, this one opens a window on the past which is revealed as both familiar and startlingly strange. The issue of Caraboo's race and origins is well handled. The book gives something of the flavour of the age which makes occasionally uncomfortable reading for the contemporary reader yet as an apparent outsider Mary's identity is fluid: in fitting in nowhere she can fit in everywhere. In spite of her vulnerabilities 'Caraboo' and later Mary is a character of real strength, integrity and agency.
The romance between Mary and Fred, though unhistorical, provides a fittingly optimistic conclusion to what is a throughly compelling read.