Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Silly stories. The importance of children’s stories.

It must be the season for silly stories. Even Phil is sending me silly stories by email today:-

In 1939 “Harvard University freshman Lothrop Withington, Jr., reportedly bragged that he had once eaten a live fish. As a result, he was bet $10 he couldn’t do it again. On March 3, standing in front of a crowd of classmates and a Boston reporter Withington dropped an 3-inch goldfish into his mouth, gave a couple chews and swallowed. “The scales,” he later remarked, “caught a bit on my throat as it went down.” As word of his stunt spread, even LIFE magazine reported the story, a goldfish-swallowing competitive craze swept the nation’s colleges.

     According to one source, the final champions may have been Clark University’s Joseph Deliberato, who in April gulped down 89 goldfish in one sitting. Eventually, as the popularity of the craze began to ebb and Massachusetts State Senator George Krapf filed a bill to preserve the fish from cruel and wanton consumption. Further pressure from The Animal Rescue League also helped dampen the craze.”

I was reminded of a stunt they did on Candid Camera, long ago, before everyone was seeing all sorts of nonsensical stunts on Youtube, where they filmed the horrified reactions of passersby as a man ate live goldfish in the street. In this case the live goldfish were thin slices of carrot which the man caused to “wriggle” between his finger before popping them into his mouth. At that time none of us had heard of sushi so even the idea of eating raw fish, let alone live fish, was really alien!

Then a friend posted something about Mary and her little lamb. We all of us know the nursery rhyme about Mary’s little lamb that followed her to school. Well, it seems the Mary in question was a certain Mary Sawyer from Sterling Massachusetts, in the 1800s, who reared a lamb which was rejected by its mother. And it did indeed follow her to school one day. She could have taken it back home but was egged on by her brother to let it follow her all the way and then to sneak it into the classroom, where the teacher was not best pleased. These older brothers! They can be a nuisance!

The writer Lauren Child, creator of the Charlie and Lola stories (anyone who has been around small children will have come across Lola, trailing after her big brother and joining in his fun - but not usually getting into serious trouble - no little lambs!) has been defending children’s books. Martin Amis has apparently been dismissing children’s picture books, children’s books in general, as a lesser form of literature, if indeed they can be called literature. He asserted that he would only write a children’s book if he “had a serious brain injury”, because “I would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than what I can write.”

Ms Child responds, ““There is a common, and lazy, assumption that creating work with children in mind is easier or less demanding, and that a writer or artist would approach it with a lesser degree of seriousness or sincerity than when creating for an adult audience. I do not believe that to be true,” writes Child in the manifesto.

“One might as well suggest that shorter books hold less meaning than longer ones, or large paintings are better than small. Nevertheless, the view prevails, something which leads one to wonder: what unhappy reality does its existence reveal about the way many view our children, and our child selves?”

I don’t think her cause is helped by the willingness of publishers to accept and print children’s books just because they are written by famous people, but that’s a different matter. I totally agree with Lauren Child and would go further and say that some of the books written for slightly older children, when they have moved on from purely picture books to what my 7 year old granddaughter calls “chapter books”, are very good indeed. The best books for children are always also interesting for adults to read! I can think of numerous examples: Tom’s Midnight Garden, Moondial, etc. 

Anyway Lauren Child, former children’s laureate, Is launching a manifesto this evening in which she lays out her belief that in considering work created for children – from books to illustration, art and music and more – to be lesser, we are undervaluing what it means to be a child. There has been a six-year project by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education which found that using picture books in primary schools, and making drawing part of the learning process, improves children’s writing and reading skills. 

I like the idea of including drawing as part of the learning process. I have long maintained that letting children “scribble” and eventually draw pictures from an early age, almost as soon as they can easily hold a chunky crayon, helps them develop the manual dexterity they need to learn to write. As for picture books, well, you can’t start to inculcate a love of books too soon. Our daughter heard stories right from birth as whenever she was being fed, her 20 month old brother was cuddled up next to me with a story book. It may have explained her being an early talker as well. 

As for more serious silly stories, it seems that they have been arresting fast-food smugglers in New Zealand. Auckland has a strict policy of keeping restaurants closed and not allowing takeaway food deliveries. This is part of their policy to,protect the country from Covid. Two people were arrested trying to get into Auckland with a boot-load of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Clearly somebody needed their fix of KFC! It’s a serious offence in New Zealand and can lead to large fines for the smugglers!

You couldn’t make it up!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

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