Archive for the ‘Children’s Books’ Category

How to Write like E. B. White

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

E.B. White wrote only three children’s books and two are America’s top books (Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little). What was his secret? Imagination and style, yes, but he also took his time and revised a lot. (Impatience has been my biggest weakness as a writer). Charlotte is short but it took two years to write the first draft, then another year to rewrite it. It has the best opening line of any children’s book  – “Where’s Papa going with that axe?”; and perhaps the finest ending (certainly the most heart-rending). And love those rustic Garth Williams illustrations.

The ending is as beautiful, bold and full of integrity as Charlotte herself.– Guardian

In a Paris Review interview, White puts a witty spin on the need to wait a little:

Delay is natural to a writer. He is like a surfer—he bides his time, waits for the perfect wave on which to ride in. He waits for the surge (of emotion? of strength? of courage?) that will carry him along. I am apt to let something simmer for a while in my mind before trying to put it into words. I walk around, straightening pictures on the wall, rugs on the floor—as though not until everything in the world was lined up and perfectly true could anybody reasonably expect me to set a word down on paper.

Opening Sentence Quiz

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

Never open a book with weather.– Elmore Leonard

…such as the famous, “It was a dark and stormy night” by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. The best opening sentences in children’s novels take the reader captive immediately. They introduce character, setting and problem; they fire the imagination; and are clear about what is happening:

Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on … that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.– Kurt Vonnegut

(Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions begins, “This is a tale of a meeting of two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast.”)

My favourite children’s opening is from Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, deftly introducing the 3Ps (person, place and problem) all in a single sentence:

“Where’s Papa going with that axe?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

Test Yourself

Match these classic openings from children’s novels to the titles below.

1. All children, except one, grow up.

2. There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.

3.The Iron Man came to the top of the cliff.

4. Here I am, Ralph William Mountfield, banished to my bedroom on Christmas Day.

5. Keith the boy in the rumpled shorts and shirt, did not know he was being watched as he entered Room 215 of the Mountain View Inn.

6. My father is put in the stocks again! Oh! the injustice of it!

7. When Old Tip lost his bark, Uncle Trev had to teach his horse to bark and chase the cows up to the shed for milking.

8. It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.

9. I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.

Titles: The Iron Man, I Capture The Castle, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Devil-in-the-Fog, Matilda, The More the Merrier, Uncle Trev, Peter Pan

Jacob Appel gives some more in-depth advice for crafting an effective opening.

 charlotte's web

The Curioseum – Review

Friday, March 28th, 2014

This is a wonderful collection for children aged 8-12… Museums are hives of story, both real and imagined. These 22 authors have created new stories surrounding some intriguing objects from Te Papa Museum… Raymond Huber writes one of the most memorable stories in the collection, of a unique breed of humans who mature into insects (a highly original allegory). – Sarah Forster

Photos of the curious objects which inspired the stories

Listen to the stories and explore The Curioseum.The_Curioseum_cover_large

 

Reading is Empathy

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Research shows that far being being a means to escape the social world, reading stories can actually improve your social skills by helping you better understand other human beings. – Keith Oatley (The Psychology of Fiction)

Likewise, Tolkien believed that fantasy “offers not an escape away from reality, but an escape to a heightened reality”. When we read fiction we enter an imagined world, perhaps far from reality, but it’s the characters that we attach to. It’s this emotional connection with characters that provides an understanding of real life interactions. Children begin to develop true empathy for others from four years old and onwards – hearing and reading fiction enables them to walk in another’s shoes. An example for older children is Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor which shows the young reader something of what it was like to be a black child growing up in the 1930s; an incredibly moving story of hope despite hardship.

While reading, we can leave our own consciousness, and pass over into the consciousness of another person, another age, another culture. – Maryanne Wolf

 

Outside Over There

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

That touch of reality in a child’s life is a child’s comfort. The child gets the sense that this person who wrote this book knows about me and knows the world can be a troubling, incomprehensible place. Maurice Sendak

Outside Over There is my favourite Maurice Sendak picture book (and his) – haunting, comforting, uncompromising –  nobody else combined the real and the unreal so brilliantly. In his last interview, Maurice Sendak talked about how his stories reflected his childhood (but what a curmudgeon he’d become).  Outside Over There is a  tale of separation and siblings that features a creepy ice baby (pictured).

Sendak’s books can also be exuberant (In the Night Kitchen), spiritual (Dear Mili), and funny (Pierre, a cautionary tale). I like his vision of atoms dancing to form molecules from the first book he illustrated (when 19 years old), Atomics for the Millions:

sendak-atoms

Classic Comics 3. The Beast Is Dead!

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Comics were banned in WW2 occupied France but Edmond-François Calvo secretly produced a powerful satirical comic that became a French icon after the Germans retretaed in 1944. La Bete Est Morte! is the story of the bloody European war told with Disney-style animal characters: with the French as rabbits; British bulldogs; and German wolves (Goebbels is a weasel, Himmler a skunk). La Bete Est Morte! is a forerunner of the brilliant graphic novel, Maus, with its Nazi cats and Jewish mice. Here’s an extract:
My dear little children, never forget this: these Wolves who perpetrated these horrors were ordinary Wolves … They were not in the heat of battle excited by the smell of powder. They were not tormented by hunger. They did not have to defend themselves, nor to take vengeance for a victim of their own. They had simply received the order to kill.

Classic Comics 2: Max and Moritz

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

Max and Moritz (1865) by William Busch is one of the world’s first comic books (actually, the Egyptians began the style in the pyramids). Two naughty boys create mayhem with booby-traps that torment animals and authority figures until the boys are finally punished (by ducks!) in keeping with the morals of the times. The exaggerated wickedness follows the style of Shock-headed Peter (1845).

Through the chimney now, with pleasure

They behold the tempting treasure.

Busch was the first comic artist to use motion lines to show rapid movements, such as his eye-popping piano virtuoso playing furioso:

Classic Comics 1: Quadratino

Monday, February 17th, 2014

Quadratino (1911), ‘Square Head’, is an Italian comic strip by Antonio Rubino. In each story, Quadratino’s mischief is punished by an ‘accident’ in which his head is squeezed into a new geometric shape – he rolls downstairs and it becomes a circle; a biscuit tin squashes it into a rectangle – and Mother Geometry must ‘redraw’ his square.  Maths has never been such fun! According to 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die Quadratino is “the best conceptual homage to comics” because he’s a living comic strip frame. I love his cat (click image to enlarge).

War is old

Monday, February 10th, 2014

Alice Walker’s picture book Why War Is Never a Good Idea begins with the bright, comforting colours of a book for young children, but as War devastates the land the images become grim. It’s a scary message and parents will have to judge if it suits their children. The illustrations by Stefano Vitale are evocative and Walker’s words are true:

Though War is old

It has not become wise.

Though War has a mind of its own

War never knows who it is going to hit.

Walker comments: ‘War attacks not just people, “the other,” or “enemy,” it attacks Life itself … It doesn’t matter what the politics are, because though politics might divide us, the air and the water do not … Our only hope of maintaining a livable planet lies in teaching our children to honor nonviolence, especially when it comes to caring for Nature, which keeps us going with such grace and faithfulness.’

The Bull and the Dictators

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

The classic Ferdinand by Munro Leaf (1936) remains one of the most influential children’s books (it’s never gone out of print) because of its simple but powerful theme. The tale of a bull who likes to smell flowers instead of fighting was seen as a pacifist text at the time of the Spanish Civil War. Ferdinand is a reflective, laid-back character who bravely chooses to be himself instead of following the aggressive crowd.

No wonder the book was

In contrast, Munro Leaf also wrote books which reflected the strict child-raising style of the time. His 3 and 30 Watchbirds (1941) condemns behaviours such as shoe-scuffing, primping, mumbling, moaning, fidgeting, sassing and wasting food. Some of it is in the spirit of war-time frugality, some is just a tad excessive:

Grammar Can Be Fun is slightly more tongue-in-cheek and warns children against slack language such as “gimme, wanna, gonna, and ain’t”.

Tintin in Occupied Tibet

Friday, January 24th, 2014

Tintin in Tibet, the forgotten occupation, by comics artist, Cosey:

Other creative Tintin covers from Le Figaro.

King of the Golden River

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

The King of the Golden River (1841) by John Ruskin is a children’s morality tale that still speaks loudly. It’s unique among fairy tales in having a punchy environmental and social message as well as being highly atmospheric. It’s about two brothers who exploit their farmland and have no compassion for their workers:

They shot the blackbirds, because they pecked the fruit; and killed the hedgehogs, lest they should suck the cows; they poisoned the crickets for eating the crumbs in the kitchen; and smothered the cicadas, which used to sing all summer in the lime-trees.

Their fertile valley in Austria becomes a wasteland and is cursed by the Southwest Wind (illustration below by Richard Doyle). To break the curse the brothers must take holy water up a mountain to the Golden River, but they fail to help the people they meet on the journey. But a third, younger, brother gives the holy water away to needy people and as a result is saved from the fate of his brothers.

Tintin in Scots

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Dae they no ken that Tintin’s in danger?

The Derk IsleThe Derk Isle is the first Tintin book to be translated into the Scots language (which is over 1000 years old and is still spoken) and it works a treat. Familiarity with the original book, The Black Island (1938), adds to the fun but most readers will easily interpret the Scots (it’s best read aloud). There are many delightful phrases such as ‘dinna fash’ (don’t worry), ‘whit a scunner’ (what a nuisance) and ‘blackbelickit’ (drat). Snowy becomes Tarrie (terrier) and the Thompsons are Nesbit and Nesbit. The first Asterix comic is also now in Scots.

He’s a fair wunner, is wee Tarrie. There’s no a dug like him for snowkin efter crooks!

Oot ye get! An nae joukery-pawkery, mind!

 

 

 

Peake Pirate

Monday, December 30th, 2013

capatainslaughterboardNot another pirate picture book! Yes, but a beauty. Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor (1939) is a masterpiece of illustration by the cult novelist Mervyn Peake (author of the Gormenghast trilogy). His pirate Captain has a mid-life crisis on a weird pink island where he discovers ‘a creature as bright as butter’ who inspires him to ‘drop out’ ( NY Times says the creature looks ‘like Bob Dylan with cocker-spaniel ears’.) Peake’s son, Fabian, says his father always wanted to live on an island ‘living a bohemian life free from the pressures of modern society’. See Peake’s incredible illustrations here.

Beautiful Christmas Book

Saturday, December 21st, 2013

nativityThe Nativity, illustrated by Julie Vivas, is my favourite Christmas book. The pictures bring warmth and humanity to the story by showing the love between Mary and Joseph, the pregnancy and the rustic setting. Oddly, it sits well with the poetic language of the 17th century King James bible version. Vivas also illustrated the wonderful book for babies,  I Went Walking.

Pinocchio

Friday, November 29th, 2013

Would it be possible to find a more ungrateful boy, or one with less heart than I have! – Pinocchio

pinocchiocoverPinocchio by Carlo Collodi (1882) is a rare thing: an archetypal story for children. The puppet-boy is every disobedient, lazy child who must face hardships, find parental love and grow up. It can also be read as a snapshot of Tuscan society, a Christian allegory or a myth. The language of this classic has barely dated. The best recent version is illustrated by Roberto Innocenti, capturing the all the pathos and drama of the tale – his iconic artwork combines painterly detail with cinematic angles. This darkly humourous adventure is far from the sanitized Disney version (one of the most beautiful animated films).

Alice in Wonderland Versions

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

John_Tenniel_Alice_and_the_Knitting_SheepAlice in Wonderland (1865)  and Through the Looking Glass (1871) by Lewis Carroll were the first children’s novels to create a complete fantasy world. Before Alice, children’s books were mostly moralistic or religious, with titles such as ‘An Exact Account of the Conversion, Holy Lives and Joyful Deaths of Several Young Children’. The Alice books are infused with word play, parody of Victorian society, anarchy, and creepy characters (courtesy of Tenniel’s illustrations; the knitting sheep is my favourite). The books revolutionized children’s literature.

Best Alice versions:

  • Lovely hardback version with Zadie Smith’s intro and Mervyn Peake’s pictures.
  • The Annotated Alice by Martin Gardner is the definitive geek’s guide.
  • Salvador Dali’s illustrated Alice is a collaboration of two of the ‘ultimate explorers of dreams and imagination’. View the paintings here.
  • The weird 1966 movie version captures the dreamy torpor of the fantasy.

 

Rare Bee Novel

Monday, November 18th, 2013

Children’s fiction about honey bees is rare and this gem from 1957 is hard to find. A Swarm in June by Rosemary Garland is a charming junior novel that beautifully combines bee lore with childhood wonder. Seven year old Jonathan  finds a wild swarm in June (‘worth a silver spoon’) but a visiting cousin is scared of bees. It takes an attack by a stoat to unite the cousins in the end. It’s an innocent tale and the bee wisdom is timeless: beating a gong to attract a swarm; tracking bees with thistledown; and ‘telling the bees’ about important events in our lives. Best of all is the way the boy is so comfortable around the bees.  IMG_2465

The Day Boy and the Night Girl

Saturday, October 12th, 2013

The Day Boy and the Night Girl (1879) is a classic short fairy tale by George MacDonald (left) about a witch who raises two children in a bizarre experiment – the girl, Nycteris, has never seen the sunlight, and the boy, Photogen, has no knowledge of the night. The two escape and meet at twilight to help each other overcome their fears of dark and light. It’s a lovely romantic allegory which also subverts male/female fairy tale roles. MacDonald was an unorthodox preacher turned writer whose fantasy tales inspired both Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. His other fairy tales are equally fascinating, my favourite being The Light Princess (1864) a witty story about a feisty  princess who has lost her gravity – she floats like a helium balloon and  can’t can’t take anything seriously, even a prince who gives up his life for her.

MacDonald occupied a major position in the intellectual life of his Victorian contemporaries. MacDonald’s stories are profoundly experimental and subversive. – (The Complete Fairy Tales of George MacDonald)

Chris van Allsburg Books

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

Rare is the American child who finishes school without at least once being asked to write a story based on one of the eerie, enigmatically captioned illustrations from The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.– Meghan Gurdon

I suspect the same is true around the world; certainly of schools in New Zealand. Picture books by Chris van Allsburg are not only beautifully illustrated, the stories are open to interpretation, which makes them ideal for children to explore. It’s impossible to look at the pictures in Harris Burdick without imagining a story. It has generated a spinoff, Chronicles of Harris Burdick, wonderful short stories by writers including Stephen King, Lois Lowry and Lemony Snickett. Jumanji is van Allsburg’s other classic but my favourites are a couple of more surreal ones. Bad Day at Riverbend is a about a black and white cowboy town attacked by crayon graffiti; and in the postmodern ending the characters realise they are subjects in a colouring book! The Wretched Stone is set on a 19th century sailing ship, where a strange glowing stone makes the crew regress intellectually – is this a symbol of modern screen technologies?

bad

Classic Books For Babies

Sunday, August 11th, 2013

There’s a real tenderness and occasional profundity stitched into them. – Helen Brown (Telegraph)

It shouldn’t work but it does. Classic novels including War and Peace, Pride and Prejudice and Oliver Twist as board books for babies. Each book is cleverly condensed into twelve words suitable for very young children. The secret is in the charming photographs which tell the story with hand-made felt dolls posed in famous scenes from the novels (not the gruesome bits). The books are simple, funny and will appeal to adults as much as children. The series is Cozy Classics.

Cozy-Classics-Pride-and-Prejudice-Muddy1Picture 1: Elizabeth Bennett gets muddy on the way to Netherfield.

Picture 2: Andrei and Natasha dance; Pierre is jealous.

Cozy-Classics-War-and-Peace-Dance

Flight of the Honey Bee Launch

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

This handsome, respectful volume deserves a place on the shelf … it succeeds in accurately dramatizing honeybee behavior. – Kirkus Reviews

Flight of the Honey Bee review by artist, Claire Beynon:
“Given the state of our environment, the sooner we introduce our children to bees – to their intelligence, their intricate behaviour and increasing vulnerability – the better. Flight of the Honey Bee is the perfect book to do this, combining as it does Raymond  Huber’s careful language and well-researched text with Brian Lovelock’s meticulously observed paintings. Cleverly formatted, fiction and non-fiction – story and fact – are woven together as two discreet yet interconnected strands: young readers can choose their flight path.

Exquisite to look at and a pleasure to explore.

HONEYBEE COVERScout the bee – named after the feisty protagonist in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird – and her tightly-knit community of hardworking bees demonstrate these small creatures’ importance in the pollinaton of plants and the well-being of our planet. Flight of the Honey Bee is about bee behavior but it will also teach children about subtler things; wonder, beauty, the value of group functioning and collaborative effort, reproduction, risk, courage, the joys of flight – those rhythms and principles essential for any thriving community. The hum of the parts.

This book has all the essentials of a satisfying story: it asks questions and it informs. It invites observation and participation. There’s drama. Suspense. Conflict. Danger. Hope. And a happy ending. At the close of her adventure, Scout is a wily-er bee than she was when she set out from her hive on her first nectar-seeking adventure. As all characters must, she grows through her experiences. We come to care about her and her safe passage home.

Visually, Flight of the Honey Bee is exquisite to look at and a pleasure to explore – each double page spread is as stunning as the one preceding it. It will be immediately appealing to young readers. I was struck by how beautifully integrated the text and images are; they belong together like honey and honeycomb. The language is tender and witty (the line about ‘sun-powder’ is a wonderful change from ‘gun-powder’); and the paintings  – a combination of watercolour, acrylic ink and coloured pencils – are spectacular; compositionally bold, delicate, exuberant and information-rich. Looking at them through my adult eyes, I can’t help thinking about fractals, the mathematics inherent in nature, the ever-present background dialogue between shape and sound, pattern and colour.  Children will  pore over them. And they will love Scout for her feisty resourcefulness.

More Flight of the Honey Bee reviews.

 

Farmer Palmer’s Wagon Ride

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

farmer palmer coverWilliam Steig, (creator of Shrek) has been called ‘one of the finest cartoonists and creators of children’s books’ (Jonathan Cott). He began writing for children at 60 and his stories are often uncompromising but always celebrate the richness of relationships and nature. Steig used sophisticated language to entertain rather than befuddle. The only problem is choosing a favourite. The picture book Farmer Palmer’s Wagon Ride (1974) is one of his most playful. A farmer-pig suffers a series of slapstick mishaps, Buster Keaton-style, as he tries to take gifts home to his beloved family. I love his description of a rainstorm:

‘Harum-scarum gusts of wind … a drubbing deluge … thunder rambled and rumbled … it dramberamberoomed!’

Read the full article about William Steig and his books.

Thirteen Clocks

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

13clocksThe Thirteen Clocks, by James Thurber, is over 60 years old and retains its brilliance. I can still recall whole sentences from the time it was read to me when I was 9. It’s a fairy tale parody about a prince who must perform impossible tasks to save a princess from an evil duke. The language employs every device in the English language, plus many invented words ( ‘squtch’ and ‘zickering’). Look for the Ronald Searle illustrated version which has a  bonus story, The Wonderful O, about a pirate who tries to ban the letter ‘o’ because he pushed his mother out a porthole. Some choice Thurber sentences:

Thorns grew thick and thicker in a ticking thicket of bickering crickets.

Time is for dragonflies and angels. The former live too little and the latter live too long.

A peasant in a purple smock stalked the smoking furrows, sowing seeds.

A Wrinkle In Time

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle was ahead of its time with its wormholes and angels. New writers take note that it was rejected 26 times because its ideas were so ground-breaking back in 1960. But what sci-fi fan could resist an ending where a giant disembodied alien brain is defeated by love? (Shades of Dr Who). L’Engle tackled some grand themes in this semi-spiritual quintet of novels. I love what she said about children’s books:

You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children – Madeleine L’Engle

Wrinkle-in-Time

 

 

Imagination

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

A book needs us desperately. We have to pull it off the shelf. We have to open it up. We have to turn the pages, one by one. We even have to use our imagination to make it work. So, suddenly, that book is not just a book; it’s our book. Mo Willems (Why Books? essay)

The pictures are not very defined because one wants to be able to have the imagination playing over them. Quentin Blake (video)

Because they have so little, children must rely on imagination rather than experience. Eleanor Roosevelt

“I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space…”—Shakespeare

Photo: magnolia dragon

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Monster Picture Books

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

Here are three of my favourite New Zealand picture books that give children a manageable dose of horror. Gavin Bishop’s Horror of Hickory Bay has grown on me over the years. The story of a bland family on a Canterbury beach and an amorphous beast seemed a bit coarse to me 25 years ago, but now I love the earthy monster (which has a new force in quakey times). Diane Hebley said it best:

I find this book fascinating for its masterly use of colour and design, its grim humour, its coherence of idea, text and image, and for its acceptance of the dreamworld reality.

hickorybay

The Were-Nana by Melinda Szymanik is a creepy delight about a visiting relative who might just be a monster. The suspense is nicely built up and the double surprise ending (true to horror traditions) is brilliant. Odd cover choice but fine shadowy illustrations by Sarah Nelisiwe Anderson.

Te Kapo the Taniwha by Queen Rikihana-Hyland is out of print but was always popular in class. It’s the story of a half-man, half-monster who was given the job of shaping the South Island. Zac Waipara’s pictures are stunning as usual.

The Phantom Tollbooth – Words of Wisdom

Saturday, April 13th, 2013

More than any other book I read as a child, The Phantom Tollbooth (1961) by Norton Juster  gave me a love of words– it puns them, pushes them, and explodes their meaning. It’s overflowing with inventiveness: the man who is short, tall, thin and fat, at the same time; the orchestra that plays colours; the city that disappears because nobody cares. And I love the illustrations by Jules Feiffer, especially this faceless timewaster (pictured), The Trivium, who has a message for all writers:

What could be more important than doing unimportant things? … There’s always something to do to keep you from what you really should be doing.

The Phantom Tollbooth is about a child’s quest to overcome boredom. It’s told with imagination, wit and wisdom — what more could you want in a children’s book?

 I had been an odd child: quiet, introverted and moody. Little was expected from me. Everyone left me alone to wander around inside my own head. When I grew up I still felt like that puzzled kid — my thoughts focused on him, and I began writing about his childhood.

Children are still the same as they’ve always been. They still get bored and confused, and still struggle to figure out the important questions of life. – Norton Juster

Best Titles For Children

Monday, March 4th, 2013

The-Stupids-Die

Choosing a title is the fun stage of writing a book. The hard work over, I spend hours happily test-driving pithy, bizarre or lyrical titles. The great children’s titles describe some aspect of the book (plot, setting, character, etc) in utterly striking language. My favourites titles are: A Swiftly Tilting Planet; The Stupid’s Die; and of my own, a book of cautionary rhymes titled, Global Norman. Here are some classic titles of children’s literature:

* Character: Oliver Twist, Shrek, The Halfmen of O, Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy, Flat Stanley

* Plot: Millions of Cats,  Journey To The Centre of the Earth, The Shrinking of Treehorn

*SettingOutside Over There, The Horror of Hickory Bay, The Black Island

*Theme: To Kill A Mockingbird, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry

* Joke: War and Peas, Squids Will Be Squids, Green Eggs and Ham

a swiftly tilting planet cover

The Little Prince is 70

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

The Little Prince (1943) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is a superb fable about a pilot who crashes in the desert and meets a wise child. It’s one of the world’s most translated books (in 250 languages) and the top selling French book. It also has perhaps the most intriguing sentence in all children’s literature:

What is essential is invisible to the eyes. (L’essential est invisble pour les yeux.)

Le+petit+prince+-+First+edition+cover++-+1943What is ‘essential’? Is it Truth, Love, God, or Uncertainty? These are the sort of questions the story evokes over and over. The opening chapter about following your dreams is brilliant. Saint-Exupéry was a pilot who also wrote great adventure books (eg. Wind, Sand and Stars ). His delicate watercolour illustrations are near perfect too.