le plus loin le plus serré

le plus loin le plus serré
mourning art

in memoriam

"yet I tell you, from the sad knowledge of my older experience, that to every one of you a day will most likely come when sunshine, hope, presents and pleasure will be worth nothing to you in comparison with the unattainable gift of your mother's kiss." (Christina Rossetti, "Speaking Likenesses," 1873)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

bouncing ideas helps

I've been struggling for - well, most of the summer - to put together a KILLER syllabus for my fall childhood's books class. The summer edition went so well, and I want another fabulous, exciting class. I couldn't just duplicate the summer syllabus, for a number of reasons, not least my desire for a course that has greater historical breadth.

I had a few titles I was determined to use: The Golden Compass, Alice, Peter Pan, Story of the Amulet, a Roald Dahl title, some Janeway and Newbery, Christina Rossetti's Speaking Likenesses.

But what was my theme? what was the organizing principle of the course, other than a generic survey?

So i talked with my friend B last night. B is a fellow grad student, and probably the best grad student teacher amongst us (of all the grad students currently teaching, probably, and CERTAINLY the best in our year). She's a medievalist, and doesn't know children's lit in any special way.

I ran my ideas by her, and she said: "wow, these all sound really disturbing and weird."
and then "why not just do that? focus on the disturbing, the darker parts of children and childhood?"


and I will.

Death, grimness, poverty, the supernatural/spooky, disturbing, bizarre, the child imperiled - THAT will be my theme.
Rossetti fits perfectly, now. I can do Stretton, and Andersen's fairy stories (and a few of Grimms' or Jacobs' fairytales, probably). I'm contemplating excerpting from The Jungle Books - "Letting in the Jungle," which I found a very sinister and terrifying story (as well as being a representative of Kipling, as well as featuring the wild child, Mowgli).

I'm thinking of including Macdonald's At the Back of the North Wind, though it's been some years since I last read it; but Diamond dies, and that's creepy enough!

One of my decisions - to be made ASAP for book-ordering purposes - is WHICH Dahl to use? Initially, I planned to use Matilda, but after talking with B, I think The Witches makes a MUCH better choice.

What other texts would be good in this syllabus? I'm going to include The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (supernatural + Aslan's death + Edmund's Badness), and I'd like to put in HP & the Prisoner of Azkaban (the dementors - need I say more? though Order of the Phoenix would be much more appropriate, I don't think any of the books after book 3 can work as stand-alones).

Suggestions welcome, please!!!! especially any from, say, 1890-1970. I have the contemporary overbooked as it is (it occurred to me that Snicket is IDEAL for this class!), and the Victorians are well represented, but anything before 1840, and after 1890, would be fantastic!!!


Monica Edinger said...

I second Coraline. Also, another incredibly creepy YA book, Jack Gantos's The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs.

Libby said...

Yes, absolutely Coraline (though, I know, it's too contemporary). I teach Frankenstein as being ABOUT children, though it's not actually a children's book, and you could do the same with The Turn of the Screw. There are some Wordsworth poems with dead kids that I'm blanking on right now, and even Blake's Songs of Experience might work. Then, hmm, there are some really creepy Grimm stories (the Wilful Child! but also, really, Hansel & Gretel, Snow White, etc.). And Ewing's Amelia and the Dwarves is creepy in places...

Again, maybe too contemporary, but MT Anderson's Feed always freaks out my students as well.

Charles said...

A few ideas, to add to the ones here and on child_lit...

Grim but non-fantastic:

Mrs Sherwood, The Fairchild Family (1818 - grim episodically rather than in total, but gibbets and burning children leave a strange taste in the mouth, as it were)
Leon Garfield, Black Jack
Jill Paton Walsh, A Chance Child
Cormier, The Chocolate War

Gothic/fantastic (but in very different ways):

Edward Gorey, The Gashlycrumb Tinies et al.
Joan Aiken, The Stolen Lake
Charles Butler, Death of a Ghost (horn tooting and contemporary, true, but grim as grim can be, so I mention it anyway)

Heather said...

LIBBY! I was just going to suggest Amelia and the Dwarfs! But I'm glad you're spreading the dwarf love. (I did my thesis w/ her on dwarfed men in Victorian fairy tales).

Oscar Wilde has some creepy fairy tales, including -- to stick w/ dwarfs -- "The Birthday of the Infanta." It's very dark and sad. Basically, the dwarf doesn't know he's a hideous dwarf, falls in love with a princess and then sees a "monster" in the mirror and eventually realizes he is the monster and dies of a broken heart.

You can read it here: http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/WilInfa.html

And I agree, btw, about The Witches. Creepy. But isn't there a punishment closet full of nails in Matilda?

Here's Amelia, too: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/ewing/brownies/brownies.html#VI

bookgrrrl said...

I just wrote a semi-lengthy comment, but the power in the neighborhood went out and I lost it. grrr.

The semi-condensed version is this:
The House With a Clock in it's Walls by John Bellairs
The Blossom Culp books by Richard Peck (The Ghost Belonged to Me was my favorite)
Un Lun Dun by China Mieville has some seriously disturbing/bizarre characters.
Coraline is deliciously creepy.
Lois Duncan's Down a Dark Hall and The Third Eye (although they are probably more YA)
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh was kind of dark.
The Ghost Next Door by Wylly Folk St. John and A Candle in Her Room by Ruth Arthur are definitely creepy, but I think they are both out of print(In fact, a lot of the ghost/time travel books I loved as a child are out of print).
As for George Macdonald, he has some fairy tales that are very creepy. I've never read At the Back of the North Wind, so I don't know if they are creepier than that, but it might be worth looking into. Penguin has a collection of his fairy tales, I can't remember if it has The Carasoyn in it, but you can find the story online here http://arthursclassicnovels.com/arthurs/mac/carasn10.html

Sorry that mine are all Victorian or post 1970. I've tried to think of some that were between then, but all I can come up with is The Little White Horse or Linnets and Valerians by Elizabeth Goudge. I don't know that they are very creepy, but I suppose they would qualify as weird. The Little White Horse was my absolute favorite book when I was in 6th grade and Linnets and Valerians is still one of my favorites. The do have supernatural elements. And Linnets and Valerians has a nasty old witch who made some lives miserable.

lufz said...

Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr 1968 - I thought this was pretty creepy.

Kristine said...

As soon as I read your post, I immediately thought of At the Back of the North Wind - the figure of the North Wind is strange and a bit disturbing. I only came to Peter Pan as an adult, but I think it's also somewhat creepy and might fit into your theme quite nicely.

Naomi Wood said...

Don't forget the creepiest of all late-Victorian children's writers: Lucy Lane (Mrs. W.K.) Clifford, whose "New Mother" is one of the scariest children's stories of all time. Her "Wooden Tony" is a close second. (Both published in "Anyhow Stories" edited for Garland by Alison Lurie, in the most recent version and published as "The Drum" by Alvin Schwartz in one of his "Scary Stories" series.) And of course the work of Hans Christian Andersen is marvellously creepy--e.g. "The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf" or "The Red Shoes"