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Book 7

  1. Meredith, Martin — The State of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence (736 pages)
  2. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o — Wizard of the Crow (766 pages)
  3. Coetzee, J.M. — Life & Times of Michael K (182 pages)
  4. Saint-Exupery, Antoine de — The Little Prince (101 pages)
  5. Brunner, John — Stand on Zanzibar (661 pages)
  6. Dahl, Roald — Fantastic Mr Fox (79 pages)
  7. Walker, Barbara — TEENY-TINY and the Witch-Woman (29 pages)

Page count: 2554.

On Saturday the Mad Fisher and I were browsing through the children's section of a bookstore in Bedford and reminiscing about books we read during childhood, as one does. She mentioned that she really hoped to be able to find the book she loved best as a kid, one that left an indelible impression on her. It's not an easy book to find, and the last time she looked on Amazon there was one copy for over £100, clearly more than she can afford to spend on a book.

Well, tomorrow is the Mad Fisher's birthday, and I had been struggling to find an appropriate gift for her. So when I got home I did some research. Yes, in new condition the book would have cost over £100, but I was able to find a "very good" used condition for a third that and it arrived promptly this afternoon.

Since it's no doubt been thumbed through by countless kids, I saw no harm in giving it a quick read myself before I wrap it up in gift paper. The story is a variation on the Hansel and Gretel tale. Three kids wander into the forest despite warnings about a witch who eats kids. The older, bigger kids are hard-headed and stubborn and think only about their pleasure, but Teeny-Tiny, the youngest, only goes along reluctantly and is always wary. It's thanks to his wariness and caution that the story ends happily.

This isn't one of the all-time great children's books (says the adult with esoteric tastes), but it is a pleasant story told suspensefully, and the illustrations by Michael Foreman are delightful. If you can get your hands on a copy, it's worth a quick read.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 9th, 2010 08:11 pm (UTC)
You say the story ends happily. Does that mean the witch prevails? Or are you taking the more conventional approach that witches are fair game for punishment and death just because of a supposed preference for tender flesh?

I'm not very happy with the thought of perpetuating the false perception of some wise old ladies as anthropophagic spellcasters. Exposing youngsters to such attitudes does them major harm later, when they go into business for themselves (perhaps as writers) or run for office.

Such stories are nearly universal in all cultures. Like the tale of Noah and his Ark, they are designed to make the kids shut up and go to sleep. No consideration is ever given to the damage done by false perceptions established in the formative years.
Jun. 20th, 2010 03:00 pm (UTC)
Re: Story
I'm not sure this is an appropriate response to this story. One could hardly describe a witch who looks more lizard than human and is outsmarted by a little boy (who convinces her to catch well water in a sieve!) as a wise old lady. If anything, she's one of the stupider characters I've seen in literature.

I'd also disagree that this sort of story causes children harm. If anything, it teaches them that caution is important to avoiding dangerous situations and creativity and quick thinking can beat someone bigger and faster than you who is out to hurt you. Useful lessons for any kid to learn, those are.
Jun. 20th, 2010 06:26 pm (UTC)
Re: Story
It teaches them to demonize others. It teaches them to behave badly based on stereotypes.

Witches at one time were the healers who knew what herb cured ills and how much to use. Our stereotype of a witches brew comes from the wise women's attempts to disguise that information from their patients, who might otherwise consider trying to heal themselves without acquiring the necessary knowledge first. When we demonize somebody, we make them evil and stupid (among other things).

There are also stories about kids seeing past the stereotypes to discover the people under the apparent demons.

If you want to start a war, you first demonize your intended enemy. I watched a program last night, recorded from the History Channel, that demonized Masons and Masonry as evil and secretive. In a one-hour program (which results in about 42 minutes of actual show), about two minutes at the end were used to disclaim the message of the prior forty minutes, to say that Masons probably weren't out to control the world after all.

I think my response to the story was highly appropriate.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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