The Dark

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Written by
Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler)
Author of the Series of Unfortunate Events books, each including some funny yet dark dedications, like this one;

For Beatrice
No one could extinguish my love,
Or your house.

Also, when asked to describe his personal philosophy replied ‘Never refuse a breath mint’.

Illustrated by
Jon Klassen
Illustrator, animator, writer, Candian, man. Most known for his award winning ‘This is not my hat’ (which is better than it sounds). He also digs Cormac McCarthy, which is always a strong sign in my book.

Summary
Laszlo is afraid of the dark. The dark lives in the basement. He thinks that if he visits the dark in the dark’s room then it won’t visit him in his. This doesn’t exactly happen but Lazlo nonetheless reaches resolve and understanding of the dark, so that living with it isn’t so bad.

What makes it shelf-worthy?

Without specific examples, I feel like I’ve seen several bad attempts at ‘fear of the dark’ remedies. Sometimes it’s a banished monster in the closet, sometimes a depiction of darkness as something completely trivial. Either way, it turns out as something unrelatable or proof that there was a monster in your room after all, and who’s to say it’s not coming back? Children aside, these books always have a grate of cliché which I just can’t hack.

The Dark is different from these. While it makes The Dark into a person, it otherwise refers to it in literal terms; as ‘at night…it spread itself against the windows and doors of Laszlo’s house’.
Instead of giving a story where darkness is something to be defeated, it concedes that darkness is a part of life and is ‘always close by’. Snicket doesn’t attempt to get rid of the darkness (because that’s impossible), but changes its character to something friendly, even reassuring. The Dark even goes on to explain that many things that we project fear onto are actually common and functional; without a wardrobe there’s nowhere to keep your clothes, without his creaky roof Laszlo would get rained on, without a shower curtain the floor gets wet.

As you might expect, the Jon Klassen makes the most of contrast between light and dark in his illustration. He uses the bursts of orange light from torch, or window, or lamp to frame the objects and text of the book.

Again, matte finish pages with beautifully composed and coloured images make for an excellent object to own. As well as this, the words serve as a great ‘fear of the dark’ remedy and could resonate with some bigger fears than darkness if you found yourself with the time and a philosophical enough frame of mind.

The voice of the dark was as creaky as the roof of the house, and as smooth and cold as the windows, and even though the dark was right next to Laszlo, the voice seemed very far away’

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The Tiger Who Would Be King

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Written by
James Thurber
Cartoonist and humorist who also wrote ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ and was quoted to have said ‘well, if I called the wrong number, why did you answer the phone?’.

Illustrated by
Joohee Yoon
Printer and illustrator from Massachusetts who provides visuals for The New York Times and Washington Post.
(not to be confused with Joo Ji Hoon the star of the middling South Korean movie ‘the Naked Kitchen’).

Summary
A parable towards the pointlessness of war. Tiger and Lion both look to claim their role as King of the jungle. Animals take sides and fight it out. The war leaves a victor and a blunt moral: ‘you can’t very well be the king of the beasts if there aren’t any’.

What makes it shelf-worthy?

The Tiger Who Would Be King uses selective, declarative statements to guide young readers through its simple narrative yet consistently resonates with big ideas and issues of real importance. This book provides a starting point for thinking about the morality of war, and questioning if the ends justify the violent means.

It’s refreshing to read a children’s book that uses allegory without getting itself tangled. You can read the story at its most basic form; about a Tiger and a Lion,or as a simple message on violence (ie – it’s usually not worth it), or as a Nietzsche-esque discussion on constructive/destructive rebellion.

Joohee Yoon’s illustration also is beautiful. The story itself has been around since 1927, but Yoon’s photolithography graphics have lifted it to another level, and thus it finds itself here in our collection of greats. Yoon’s style combines a classic feel with punchy modern graphic which works well alongside the simple yet powerful message. Saying that, even without the words the vibrant tri-coloured art and thick matte pages are enough to entice you into spending a while gazing and stroking your way through the book. Because of this fact, The Tiger Who Would Be King is good for any age, and if you feel like skipping a bit of gravity and dark depth* until they’re a little older then I’m sure Thurber will forgive you.

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Or will he?…

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* Actually, Thurber originally thought that it wouldn’t be published on the grounds of it being too ‘savage’ for children.

 

The Tiger Who Would Be King was published by Enchanted Lion

Do Children Understand the Meaning Behind ‘The Little Prince’?

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In fact, it would almost be impossible for a children’s book to have been in print continuously since 1943 and translated into over 250 languages — like The Little Prince has — without it being loved by both young and old for generations.

That’s a pretty easy point to agree on.

However, something a little harder to agree on is why both young and old love The Little Prince, as the reasons are seemingly very different.

As adults we’re of course drawn to the nostalgia of a children’s book. To us the world is mundane and predictable so we love the refreshing feeling of what it was like to see the world as a child, like the Little Prince does.

However, perhaps unlike the Little Prince himself and possibly unlike our younger counterparts too, we’re tempted to look a little deeper into it all. We like the story because, to us, it has meaning at every turn.

We enjoy the allegory and rich symbolism simmering constantly beneath the surface of everything and everyone our little hero encounters.

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Despite ‘The Little Prince’ being a children’s book, literary criticism refers to it as a paper on human nature.

We read about the rose and see our own mother. We hear about the sheep without a muzzle and we see a metaphor for trouble and pain in our life. We meet the drunkard, the king, and the geographer and see clearly in their actions the charades of our world. We read about the fox and to us he quite literally is friendship and all that is meaningful in life.

But that is us reading the story. That is us reading it with years of experience and insight at our disposal. When we see the fox we see a clear metaphor for friendship, but surely to a child the fox is, well… just a fox.

And that’s completely true.

Children simply just won’t get the depths of The Little Prince. They won’t get that counting the stars is like counting money. They won’t get why a man would drink to forget his shame. They won’t get how baobabs on a tiny planet could be the same as evil in your heart.

The Little Prince is packed with all sorts of symbols and nuances that aren’t even always obvious to us adults (ok, well they weren’t obvious to me). Of course a child doesn’t understand it all! But does that even matter? I think you can probably guess the answer here…

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Judging the value of a children’s story by the accessibility of its symbols is missing the point.

We are completely forgetting that the amusement behind The Little Prince is that the Little Prince himself doesn’t understand those around him. He doesn’t know what a king is or geographer or a conceited man or a lamplighter; he doesn’t understand why the narrator’s plane must be fixed or even why snakes are dangerous.

It is a story of a boy for whom everything is new and unknown. He doesn’t understand and he’s not worried that he doesn’t.

He asks a great deal of questions about these things, but ultimately he cares most about returning to his home planet, to his rose. It is this simple objective that is so important, and it is precisely the importance of this objective that the other characters in the story fail to grasp.

This is the heart of the book: while children may fail to understand many important things, their innocent nature means that the things they do love and understand are actually closer to the heart of what is truly meaningful in life than what adult’s value.

The other characters in the story value money and power, personal survival and the advancement of knowledge. The Little Prince values those close to him and his home.

Despite everything he doesn’t know, the Little Prince does know more than the other characters about what is most important.

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Antoine De Saint-Exupery was a writer, poet, journalist, aristocrat, pioneering aviator, and appeared on the 50 Franc note.

Adults may love The Little Prince for its nuance and insight, but children probably love it for a much more simple reason: it’s a great story. Just because adults may grasp more of the meaning that doesn’t mean they enjoy it any more.

Enjoyment is not exclusive to those with the greatest understanding.

If a child hears the story and all that they understand is that it is about a boy from a tiny planet trying to find his way home — if they find it entertaining and enjoyable, then that alone proves the book’s worth.

Just like the other characters in the story who forget what is important in life, we have forgotten that the real purpose of a children’s story is simple enjoyment, not how profound it is.

That young and old for generations have loved The Little Prince for different reasons is of no consequence. The Little Prince is a brilliant story with equal value for young and old. The adults reading it could do as well to remember the simple pleasure of a good story as children could from trying to grasp the deeper meaning behind it.

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Written by Michael Kineman

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Tiger Bay Books is a group based in Cardiff (Wales) looking to find, read, and ultimately create great children’s literature.

Through the blog we get to think about and share the things that we believe make a worth while children’s book.

Jolabokaflod – The Christmas Book Flood

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ad ganga med bok I maganum’ – everyone gives birth to a book.

Icelandic book culture is impressive.
Public bench barcodes embedded with stories, book-talk as common with plumbers as academics, the most book buying people in the world, and a staggering 1 in 10 Icelanders writing (or birthing) a book at some point in their life.

Not least in the reasons for such a thriving book scene is the Jolabokaflod: The Christmas Book Flood. This describes the yearly boom in book sales between October and November in preparation for the Icelandic tradition of Christmas Eve book giving, followed by an evening of fireside reading for young and old alike.

Economically, the origins of Jolabokaflod are found in the low tax on paper imports of 1944 following World War 2. This presented books as the viable go-to widespread Christmas gift for all Icelanders. The trend was encouraged by the Bokatidindi, the free catalogue of new publications delivered to every home in September.

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The Bokatidindi – delivered free every year to each Icelandic household.

 

Whether it was economically or culturally driven, channeling some of the intensely overflowing excitement of Children on Christmas Eve into sitting down to read a new book is a stroke of genius and will do more good than shoving 1000 bad football stories down young boys throats.

The Icelandic literary DNA goes deeper still.
Storytelling runs strongly through Iceland’s history in the form of the poetic Eddas and medieval sagas. Some also put down their creative thought and inventiveness to inhabiting Iceland for 1,000 years prior to the presence of electricity or the invention of the combustion engine. They suggest that surviving this harsh environment for such a period of time demands imagination: ‘if you stand still, you die’.

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Iceland is number six for highest GDP per capita in the world, has the highest male life expectancy, they have no armed forces (since they were banned 700 years ago), households are supplied directly from underground volcanic water (comprising 85% of energy used), they elected the world’s first female president, pure air, excellent state education which is used by 99% of children, the combination of the Nordic welfare system with the American entrepreneurial spirit (low taxes and big public service investment), is considered by the Human Development Index Rankings as the happiest nation in the world, and … Bjork.

Actually, this isn’t all down to reading more, and a lot of these may be the causes of such a healthy reading culture. That said, the virtues of Iceland are interlinked and reading is an important ingredient in what makes it such a praiseworthy place.

There’s plenty more to say, but it’s almost Christmas and I need to leave you time to order a copy and read the Icelandic tale of Flumbra: the dim witted giantess who falls in love.

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Christmas suggestions

  • Cardiff has about the same population as Iceland. Anyone for starting Jolabokaflod Cymru? Give and read books on Christmas Eve)
  • Include Jolabokaflod in list of potential baby names.
  • Develop micro-Iclandic book culture in your house.

 

 

Written by Joshua Morgan