Chez l'abeille

Culture. Travel. Writing. My world in words and pictures


Leave a comment

No place for the old? Age and fairy tales.

It’s a fairly established point of view that we can use children’s literature to challenge  enduring stereotypes. I’ve spent years working in Early Years education trying to do just that…seeking out the books where girls are empowered and boys love reading. Now in my own writing I try to ensure that my characters are positive and challenge the expected. Yet one thing I have not really considered is the concept of age in children’s stories, especially traditional fairy tales.

The recent IBBY conference entitled “Happily Ever After: The Evolution of Fairy Tales Across Time and Cultures” explored this theme in detail and threw up some surprisingly new ideas.

The key-note speaker, Professor Vanessa Joosen, kicked off the day with an exceptionally detailed study of how age is presented in classic and modern fairy tales. Despite many post-modern rewritings that aim to tackle existing stereotypes, casual ageism still remains unchallenged.

Women in classic fairy tales fare badly but old women do even worse

 Sylvia Henneberg

Through her detailed analysis, Professor Joosen demonstrated that although there has been a shift in female empowerment, this does not affect the way older women are presented to the young. The “literary crone” is still funnelled into the very limited static role of the witch or  someone seeking to regain their lost youth, for example the character Gothel in Walt Disney’s “Tangled”.  This “mirror stage” of life is described by Kathleen Woodward as the time when our real, youthful self is hidden inside our body – something that had many in the audience nodding in agreement! This midlife point is still presented as a time of crisis; the youthful female character moves away from the search for love and marriage and the conflict between age and youth is perceived. An interesting interpretation of “Hansel and Gretel” suggests that the stepmother’s desire to get rid of the children is to stop time – essentially preventing herself from ageing in comparison to the youthfulness of the children.

Yet not all old people play supporting roles in fairy tales. Outside of the western traditional tales, some glimmers of alternative viewpoints can be found. in Japanese traditional tales older characters often take the protagonists role, thus taking away the focus on beauty, marriage and children. Professor Joosen referenced “The Tongue Cut Sparrow” as a good example. Equally she argued, in some re-writing of traditional tales such as Emma Donoghue’s “Kissing the Witch”, older characters are portrayed as providing intergenerational collaboration –  bringing wisdom and standing up for the younger characters. However, even here the older characters are not permitted other strong emotions like anger.

It wasn’t all despair for the older character however and some writers are consciously challenging this most stubborn of stereotypes; try this for starters: “Snow White turns 392 by Ann Sheldon.

©Chez l’abeille  2017

 

 

 

Advertisements


Leave a comment

The Streets of London: Up on the roof.

At street level London is a jumble of traffic, people and bustle. It can be hard to see how it all connects and where space merges from one locality into another. To really appreciate the shape of London the only way is up.

looking up 20 Fenchurch StreetOnce upon a time, the tallest building near London Bridge was the Guys Hospital Tower. Now it stands dwarfed by the ever competing designs which parade across our skyline. Whilst the Shard retains its title for tallest building in the capital by quite a margin, another competitor is 20 Fenchurch Street. This building was designed in 2004 by Rafael Viñoly, a Uruguayan architect. The design flips a building on its head, by creating a larger space at the top than the footprint at ground level. With an oasis of greenery on the 35th floor there’s definitely something worth visiting.

It wasn’t the best day to go, but I’d planned my visit as part of my birthday “day off” and the free tickets are not issued until a week in advance so I couldn’t be picky. The website warns to dress up warmly so I was well prepared for the icy blast as I stepped out onto the viewing deck 35 floors above the Thames. There is a protective glass screen but on a grey November day I was glad of my thermal vest! Despite the weather, the views are still as fantastic as you would imagine. Below London is revealed, the shapes, colours and patterns that make up this amazing city.

 

The garden is arranged on several stepped levels which afford a 360 degree view of the city. An old favourite, “The Gherkin” at 30 St Mary Axe, was also revealed again – its familiar conical shape lost these days amidst a panoply of other, taller buildings and cranes. The free ticket gives you an hour, yet I didn’t see anyone pushing the 10.45am entrants out! With a glass of birthday fizz  in hand I had time to simply stop and stare.

 

Looking up and looking down, the views from the Sky Garden are worth the visit. Get in fast and book your space!

Sky Garden information is available here

©Chez l’abeille  2017


3 Comments

A “Maverick” reading scheme? Yes please!

As a child I read everything and anything I could get my hands on and I can still vividly recall the moment I realised I was actually reading in my head! It was magical; words and pictures danced together, creating a perfect moment of pure story pleasure.

What I also remember is that I was very conscious of the existence of two types of books; the ones I chose for myself and the ones I had to read. The school reading books. The utterly boring and tedious activities of characters I had no interest or desire to know any more about, thank you! My Naughty Little Sister, Paddington Bear or Olga Da Polga would trump anything that Janet and John or Peter and Jane could offer me, any day.

“Literacy begins with immersion in an environment in which the skill is used in a purposeful, active, and meaningful way.”

Don Holdaway, “The Foundations of Literacy” (1979)

How could any reading scheme be purposeful, active and meaningful, when there were so many exciting books to explore and read? As a result, even as an experienced primary teacher, I have always been a tad suspicious of any reading scheme, no matter how “real book” they try to be.

I was curious, therefore, to have a closer look at the new “Early Readers” from Maverick Children’s Books. The idea behind this series is simple: to create reading books that support the transition from being a listener to being a reader. The resulting books have also been “banded” according to the Institute of Education’s book bands for guided reading, which provides clear guidance on the level of difficulty and reading skills needed. This is a big plus for me, as I frequently use the book bands in my advisory work with schools.

Working with their roster of established authors (including several SCBWI friends across the whole series), the purple band books are based on existing stories or characters, with which children may already be familiar. The established pairings of author and illustrator are also replicated, which again provides a sense of familiarity and high quality. In look and feel they have the same structure as a typical picture book with each one running to thirteen double page spreads. Illustrations and text work well together, although there is a greater separation of text and image on the page than is typically found in a picture book. This enhances the sense that they are a step up from a picture book  – they are instead books with great pictures! Yet there is still much to explore in the illustrations and I particularly liked Queen Fluff’s encounter with a rat in his underpants in “A Right Royal Mess”. 

As reading books these would be suitable for reading alone or in a guided group. Maverick have created useful activity packs for some of the books which can support the teaching of reading in a group activity or at home. For example a focus on specific consonant clusters is suggested if reading “The Jelly That Wouldn’t Wobble”, and key language features that can be used in writing, such as onomatopoeia are also featured. Yet they are not too schooly and I think they would be equally welcome as a shared bedtime story.

Each story comes with a quiz at the end, which can be used to support recall of key information. If I were to suggest one thing to strengthen this section of the book, it would be a greater focus on inference. Some questions do provide a “think about” element such as “Why does nobody want to help the Grizzly? in “The Great Grizzly Race., but there is only one answer. More open-ended questions could provide greater challenge and opportunities to develop skills of being able to “answer questions and make some inferences on the basis of what is being said and done” (End of KS1 expected standard).

For me, each book works well as a complete story, bringing the sense of satisfaction that comes from active engagement in a well written picture book. For a transitional reader the overall reading experience would be supportive, yet one of moving on to something more challenging. In Don Holdaway’s words, they are definitely purposeful and meaningful.

So am I converted? I have to say I am.

©Chez l’abeille  2017

Disclaimer: I was invited to review the Maverick Early Reader books by the publisher who provided copies of three purple band books.
I have received no compensation for doing this piece and all opinions are my own.

 


2 Comments

Montalbano, Sono…

Montalbano sonoIf you watch “Inspector Montalbano” the sun is always shining. Sicily bathes in golden sunlight that illuminates the buttery stone buildings of fictitious Vigata. Our heroic Chief of Police wanders the streets in his reflective Ray Bans, solving crime then lunching on Linguine with sea-urchin and a nice glass of something alcoholic to wash it down with at his local trattoria.

My week in Sicily was wet torrential. So there was only one thing for a bunch of avid Montalbano fans to do: hunt out some of the programmes most loved locations.

Our first stop was the tiny seaside town of Punta Secca. It became evident that, after the beach, the B+B that doubles as Montalbano’s home is probably the key draw. Just as we arrived, the rain actually stopped for a short while, which meant we could get out of the car and have a wander around.

The house is exactly as we see it in the shows but there must be a fair amount of post production to remove the motley collection of beach houses and businesses that we definitely don’t see spoiling the Inspector’s peace and quiet. A regular event in each episode is his solitary swim, brought to life by a hardy local who was to be seen defying the weather and causing the visiting fans much excitement!

Enzo's Restaurant Punta Secca (4)

Turning left around the lighthouse and following the beach front took us to the lunch location of choice, Enzo a Mare. Generally Montalbano is the only person out on the terrace savouring the linguine with sea-urchin, but in reality, even on a blustery, rain-sodden day, the terrace was packed with diners tucking into some of the commissario’s favourites.

Fortified with local wine and ultra-sweet cannoli, our next location was the nearby maze of a town: Scicli.  Regular watchers will be familiar with the town hall which doubles as the exterior of the Chief’s police station. It is an impressive building in a very pretty, paved street and it wasn’t hard to imagine our hero casually parking his Fiat and leaping up the steps.

Our final location was the impressive Castello di Donnafugata, known to Montalbano watchers as the HQ of the Sinagras, the local Mafia family. The lure was the terrace, from which the Mafia henchmen watch every visitor’s approach. Unfortunately the opening times for the castle were so confusingly reported in the various guide books and websites we checked that by the time we arrived it was well and truly closed. Despite that, even from the outside, the magnificence of the castle was apparent.

The fictional world of Montalbano, created by author Andrea Camilleri, is deeply rooted in the culture and traditions of Sicily. Visiting the sites used in the programme drew back the tourist curtain a little and despite the weather was a great way to explore and appreciate this fascinating part of Italy.

©Chez l’abeille  2017

 


Leave a comment

The House of Dreams.

Step through this gateway and you will find yourself in The House of Dreams.

Front garden (9)I could try to describe the house and tell you all about Stephen Wright, the artist who has created and shaped this amazing work, but I’m not going to. Instead, as a tiny snapshot of this world apart, I’m going to show you some of the photographs Stephen very generously let me take before the most recent open day got underway.

Then I’m going to invite you to make a cup of tea, take some time out and let Stephen explain his work to you personally. Trust me. You’ll be glad you did. So go on – open the gate and step into the courtyard…

Now go through the front door and into the hallway. Memories surround you: Personal thoughts and immense feelings laid bare.

Peep through the archway – colours and textures draw you inwards. Assembled words and objects create something new from the lost and dispossessed detritus of the world.

The studio floor and walls bridge the space towards the back garden.

In the world of Forensic Science it is often said that “every contact leaves a trace”. The cherished fragments of lives lived and lives living infuse each space and become the very DNA of the house. Challenging, comforting, personal, intimate, human.

This is the House of Dreams.

Many thanks to Stephen and Michael for letting me get in the way while their final preparations for the open day were underway.

You can visit the House of Dreams in East Dulwich on the last Saturday in September or October – Tickets can be purchased via Stephen’s website here.

©Chez l’abeille  2017


Leave a comment

The Streets of London: Frieze Sculpture 2017

Anyone who has read my last post and got as far as The Royal Docks may recall me telling you that there was now only the one sculpture there, where there were previously several. It was a surprise to find one of the missing pieces this week, amongst the 25 works that make up the 2017 Frieze sculpture trail in London’s Regent’s Park. Somehow this event had failed to register on my “what’s currently happening” radar, but thanks to some more in-the-know friends and with a sunny staycation day in hand, I was able to cross from south to north to have a look.

‘From the playful to the political, these 25 works explore contemporary sculpture’s material and technical dexterity, together with its social role and reflection on the human condition and our environment’. (Clare Lilley – Yorkshire Sculpture Park Director of Programme and Frieze Sculpture curator)

See what YOU think!

I was most excited by Alicja Kwade’s piece, Big Be-Hide (2017) – unfortunately it would appear that something (or someONE) has managed to crack the mirror and it had been health and safety – ed to the max. I managed to take some reasonable pictures, but to see it in its full glory you need to head to https://frieze.com/article/frieze-sculpture-2017-0

 

Frieze Sculpture is free and is open from 5 July to 8 October in the English Gardens, The Regent’s Park, London.

 

©Chez l’abeille  2017


1 Comment

The Streets of London: The Line.

Starting the walk southwardsI’m not going to write too much about this walk as it really belongs to Kate, who has cleverly set her friends the year-long challenge of challenging her. Celebrations for significant birthdays occur in different ways and Kate has come up with a genius plan: creating memories through shared experiences. Not being one for the adrenalin fuelled event, my challenge came with art loving and tracking skills required; completing “The Line” ; a sculpture walk between Stratford and the Greenwich Peninsular.

We had chosen August in anticipation of fine summer weather. Heading out with thunderstorms of biblical proportions forecast wasn’t actually part of the plan but somehow we managed to miss the downpours and successfully navigated our way along the back waters of Bow. Here are the highlights.

The River Lea and Cody Dock

It took a little while to get going as signage along the way wasn’t always the easiest thing to decipher – but we followed our noses southwards and headed into unknown territory.

The rains came down just as we had arrived at Cody Dock – a rather fascinating and curiously empty creative quarter which has been developed post London 2012. As if by magic the man operating the cafe appeared so tea and cake kept us occupied until the rains stopped and we navigated our way southwards via the DLR to the Royal Docks.

The Royal Docks

On a previous visit I had seen several artworks around the dock but there is currently only the one so after a quick photo stop we were up, up and away across the Thames via the cable-car!

 

The Greenwich Peninsular

This is a great section of the walk, which curls around the back of the tent-like O2. The artworks here fit into the environment so well that it could be easy to overlook some of them, especially my favourite,”Here”.

Still dry and now thirsty #ChallengeKate was completed! We headed to the nearest bar and congratulated ourselves with a cocktail in the sunshine.

Happy 50th Kate!!!

©Chez l’abeille  2017