I loved this. So much. Little Women is one of those iconic texts and retellings of iconic texts can be challenging things. Do you stick with the iconic or do you go for something new? Do you retell texture or detail, sensation or sentence? It’s a balancing act and one that will never wholly reproduce the original. But it shouldn’t. Books – stories – life – they evolve. Words grow, words shift, words change, and that which broke our heart at age six can turn us into warriors at age thirty-six. Everything changes. Why should our stories be any different?
And so this is no perfect adaptation, because I think no adaptation can be perfect. It simply can’t. It’s never that original, it’s never that point in time, it’s never the moment when we pick up a book for the first time. It’s an echo, a memory, but in the hands of Rey Terciero and Bre Indigo, it’s perfect. I accept the flaws of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy (and Peggy!) because it’s so utterly, utterly gorgeous. Yes, the chapters tend to devolve into vignettes, and plots are shifted and detail nuanced, but when it’s as beautiful and rich and lovely as this, I don’t care.
And it made me love Amy. So much. Amy! The actual worst becoming the actual best! Wonders will never cease. This is joyful, and I love it. We should not separate our stories from the world; we should take them and reshape them and make them parts of our lives. And we should give them such an ending as Terciero and Indigo give this book, one of heart, hope and utter, utter power.
I’d like you to imagine a very suppressed scream. That’s the noise I made when spotting this in my library’s book-sale. Now, a library must always have a book-sale because they are not ginormous buildings with elastic sides, and books must always be weeded and moved onto their next places, but I’d rather love it if I could cosmically order all those that float my boat to magically end up at my door. It was circumstance, you see, that bought us together; itchy feet and a slight dose of cabin fever, and I came home with a copy of The Vicarage Children In Skye and happiness. (I also bought some fudge but that’s slightly incidental at this point).
So, to Hill! She is a delightful writer for even when her plot struggles (and her plot struggles quite a bit in this book it is fair to say), she is still able to hit you with pages and pages upon richness. It’s not the most exciting title; there is a muppety baby, a muppety sister, a hot local, and Cameos By Dancers. It would not be a Lorna Hill book without the unexpected cameos of somebody, and this is no exception. Where it is an exception, however, is with Mandy King who is a very appealing every-girl sort of character. She does not do ballet (sacrilege!), is saddled with looking after her muppety siblings, but is actually rather fun. She’s lively, genuine and proof of Hill’s ineffable skill with people.
It’s also important to mention that Hill is excellent when it comes to ‘place’. She can write a landscape like no other, and it so often seems to stem from personal knowledge and experience. Her descriptions of Skye almost sing off the page. This edition (9781847450890) has a copious foreword about location and setting, though I’d recommend reading it after the novel (why do people put this sort of thing beforehand? It means nothing unless you know what it’s on about..). These are, however, minor quibbles. This is a solid edition of a lesser-known story from an excellent author. Lorna Hill, ladies and gentlemen, she’s ace.
God, I love what Nosy Crow do with their early years stuff. It’s not just the fact that they include an on/off switch for the sound effects (actual, unutterable genius), but it’s the fact that they take it so seriously. Every book for this age-group is vital, even when the reader themselves might be more concerned with sticking it up their nose than reading it, and Meekoo and the Big Red Potty is a delight. It’s also, frankly, nuts, and I loved it. I think with this age group, you go for broke or you go home, and this is brilliant.
Meekoo is a big bear now, wearing big bear pants, and one day he accidentally wets himself. Later, he feels the “wee-wee feeling again” and runs for his potty instead. He reaches it (hurrah!) and his family come into congratulate him. There’s also two squirrels, a rabbit and a bird, and I am fascinated at the elastic sides of Meekoo’s house but that’s because I’m ancient and also slightly obsessed by the practicalities behind these spreads. However, I digress! This is delightful, because it’s simple – he needs a wee, wets himself, learns from this, doesn’t – and the artwork is lovely. It’s really thick and rounded and so very-inviting. I think rich colour and roundness really works well for this age-group.
There’s also sound. My god, is there ever sound in this book. There’s ‘wee-wee’ sound and ‘leg it up the stairs Meekoo oh my god the tension’ sound, and it’s brilliant? It’s some of the highest quality sound recordings I’ve ever come across in a children’s book, and it’s absolutely off its tree, but my god, if you have a little sproglet that needs help figuring out this whole transition, this book is ideal. It really, really is.
This is GIRL. It was launched in 1951 as a sister title to EAGLE, and I have a lot of love for it. Comics of this period are endlessly fascinating in how they look outward; the world was there for the taking, and this was a generation that both would – and could – take full advantage of it.
As great at these are (and they are, trust me), it was Three Sisters of Haworth that caught my eye. The story is by Pamela Green and Kenneth Gravtt, and drawn by Eric Dadswell. I’m guessing you already know who the three sisters of Haworth are, but the subtitle will give it away if you don’t: The True Story of the Brontës Who Wrote Some of Our Finest Literature. Note that our there. It’s often in the small detail that good work shows itself: these stories are collective. I’m part of it. You’re part of it.
Three Sisters of Haworth is a fairly standard recollection of the Brontës lives. It steps up, however, in the following panels:
How absolutely amazing is that? It’s so brilliant. It captures the spirit of Wuthering Heights (a book which I reviewed here) and also tells your young readers to fight for their dreams. I would frame it if I could. I probably will. It’s outstanding work.
If you’re interested, you can see a few more panels from the comic here, and if this sort of thing floats your boat, the annuals themselves are regularly available on the second hand market (and not for that much either!).
Forgive the dual posting, particularly if you subscribe to both these blogs, but I wanted to draw this to as wide an audience as possible. I promise this sort of reblog shall be a rare and intermittent thing x
If I believe in anything, I believe in making my research publicly accessible when and where I can. Obviously I believe in a lot of things, but I think that’s the one that underpins everything. Share your work. It’s terrifying, but I think, vital.
So, on that note, here’s a brief note to say that my MPhil thesis is officially on public view from today. It’s called A Space To Be Herself : Locating Girlhood In Children’s Literature and is available to download here. In it, I write about Angela Brazil, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Michelle Magorian, Enid Blyton, Robin Stevens, and David Almond. Here’s the abstract.
This thesis argues that the representation of both the ‘girl’ and ‘girlhood’ within children’s literature can be best understood through a reading of space and place. The opening chapter considers the Golden Age of children’s literature, and investigates The Secret Garden by Frances…
This isn’t a subtle biography by any means. It’s written from a very particular standpoint; one that I do accept, occasionally understand, but can’t ever describe as high literature. Godfrey is a fan, this is a fannish text, and Oxenham can do no wrong. And I am the first to point out where Girl’s Literature Of This Period was awesome and ground-breaking but I’m also, I hope, able to recognise when it’s the very definition of ridiculous….
In a series of chapters themed around topics (so not in the sense of a traditionally sequential biography), Godfrey explores issues such as Cleeve Abbey, Real People, and Publishing History; essentially, it’s a series of short essays grouped together in one volume. Which is fine! But! Oxenham! Is! Not! The! Second! Coming!
There are further problems, particularly in the chapter where Godfrey defends the books against common criticisms, and steadfastly ignores or denies all of them. She highlights how the books are often said to ‘hint at lesbianism’ (I’d say ‘reference it with the subtlety of a brick’ but perhaps that’s just my approach), writing that: “Does anyone really think that in the early part of the last century, an unmarried woman living in a very Christian home, surrounded by unmarried sisters, would have known what lesbianism was or meant?”. It’s a hell of a sentence and one that slides substantially away from any sort of objectivity. It also seems to stand at odds with my experience of EJO; that is to say somebody who embraces the power, strength and love to be found in women by women. Though it may never be labelled explicitly as ‘lesbianism’, I think it’s a reach to say that it’s totally absent from the texts. And a reach, I think, is me being super polite.
(Also, so what? Love is love and honestly, who cares? Read what you want into a book, it doesn’t impact my relationship with a text nor should it. I am here for you to read, and I want you to read, and the conclusions you come up – the readings that you have – are perfectly valid for you. Live and let live! Enough with being precious over texts! Enough with ringfencing meaning! Enough!)
However, I digress…
This is a knowledgeable text that, despite its flaws, clearly knows its topic. I learnt a lot about EJO here, and a lot that I honestly could do without. But it is a book written by a fan, and for fans, and it’s a rather fascinating thing. I don’t think it’s great but I do think it’s interesting. I also think it’s beyond time for a comparative biography of Brent-Dyer, Blyton, Oxenham, Brazil and Fairlie-Bruce.