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Me and Sylvia at the Memorial (April 2009)

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Slugs leave trails, sheep leave droppings, bees make honey, and humans leave two things: art and garbage. Where these meet is called entertainment.

Robyn Hitchcock


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Monday, July 26th, 2004

Children's stories

I have been reading some children's stories. A few nights ago Sylvia was interested in hearing Babar the King for a bedtime story, which she had never heard before. So I tried it out and was surprised that it held her attention all the way through; it is wordier than most of of her books, and has more unfamiliar words. The next day, she was still talking about the characters in the story. Great, I thought -- let's go to the bookstore and get more Babar books! We went to the Montclair Book Center and picked up Babar's Little Girl, and ever since, whenever I read her a story during the day or at bedtime, she requests one or both of the Babar books.

Some notes about them, in no real order:

  • I did not know this when I went to the bookstore but it turns out you should check the author before you buy a Babar book: The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant, Babar's Travels, Babar the King, and Babar and Father Christmas, and maybe some others are by Jean de Brunhoff. But many more are by Laurent de Brunhoff, whom I take to be Jean's son, and not his equal as a writer. That said, Sylvia does like Laurent's Babar's Little Girl a whole lot.
  • In Babar the King, the tense switches around in confusing ways. In one paragraph "Babar proclaims", in the next, "the elephants cheered." I can't figure out why this is, it must be some vagary of translation.* This is not the case in Babar's Little Girl, which I am thinking might have been written in English, as it does not have any translation credit.
  • Sylvia knows how to read the words, "Babar the king".
  • I love the names of the minor characters! I get a kick out of saying "Hatchibombatar." (He is the street cleaner in Celestville.)

On the same bookstore trip, I picked up Finn Family Moomintroll and Tales from Moominvalley, by Tove Jansson (another series with excellent character names). I have fond memories of these books from childhood and am looking forward to introducing Sylvia to them, not quite yet but soon. Today on the train to and from work, I read Finn Family Moomintroll.


*Update: Or maybe it is something more meaningful. Here is the abstract of "Time, Narrative Intimacy and the Child : Implications of the Transition from the Present to the Past Tense in the Translation into English of Children's Texts", by Gillian Lathey:
The British version of Jean de Brunhoff's Histoire de Babar is a striking example of the transition from the present to the past tense in the translation of children's texts into English. With reference to theories of narrative time, this paper invites speculation on the impact of such a tense shift on the present-tense qualities of the original, on the performance of a shared reading by child and adult and, finally, on the relevance of the young child's developing understanding of the role of tense in narrative.
The article is from Documents in Information Science, vol. 48, 2003, and is available at érudit.org.

posted evening of July 26th, 2004: Respond
➳ More posts about Tove Jansson

Tuesday, July 27th, 2004

This morning on the train I was reading Tales from Moominvalley, by Tove Jansson. This book is marvelous! I do not think I will give it to Sylvia though, until she is at least 6 or 7 -- the stories are a little dark and require, I think, some sophistication to really understand them -- as I say this I realize it may be true also of the other Moomintroll books; but as I was reading Finn Family Moomintroll, I was thinking "Sylvia would really like this once she's able to take in so many words"; not so much with this book.

Here is a Moomintroll home page, though I see it has not been updated in several years. And most of its links appear to be out of date. Alas! I will keep looking.

posted morning of July 27th, 2004: Respond
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Sunday, August first, 2004

Thingumy and Bob

As Sylvia was looking through Finn Family Moomintroll last week, asking me who the characters in each of the pictures were, she became enchanted with Thingumy and Bob, two diminutive characters who hold hands. I don't know whether it's mainly because of their names, which she finds highly amusing and loves to repeat, or the pictures -- the two taken together make these her new favorite characters. We've taken to reading Chapter VI together, which starts off with a picture of the Hemulen offering them a saucerful of milk -- at first she tried reading it to herself, coming up with: "There is a first time for everything. It was Thingumy and Bob's first time going to the doctor." and so on, I didn't catch the details of their doctor visit -- she modeled this story on on of her favorite Berenstein Bears books.

But later she asked me to read the story; I was thrilled and a little surprised to see that it held her attention all the way through the end of the chapter (which must run 10 or 12 pages), though with 2 short pieces snipped out à la The Princess Bride. I had the book along with me yesterday when we rode on the train to Coney Island and this morning coming back, nearly 4 hours in all, and we must have read it through 5 or 6 times, enough for her to know what is coming next in the plot and what the characters are going to say.

The trip to Coney Island was our first-ever overnight trip without Mom, and it was a lot of fun. We stayed over at Ed's apartment in Park Slope; I got to meet Ed's girlfriend Sonia, and lent him Tales from Moominvalley. Sylvia got her fill of rides -- various metal animals that would go up and down in circles, and we rode the Tilt-a-Whirl together -- and had a good time at the aquarium.

posted evening of August first, 2004: Respond
➳ More posts about Sylvia

Friday, August 13th, 2004

More Moomins

Tove Jansson is taking over my reading life... Yesterday I read the totally captivating book Moominsummer Madness in which the family's house is flooded out and they are forced to take refuge on a floating stage... They end up producing a tragedy written by Moominpappa, with help from a crabby stage rat, leading to her reunion with her Fillyjonk niece and other hijinks. This morning on the train coming in, Sylvia and I reread Chapter VI of Finn Family Moomintroll, the story of Thingumy and Bob. This afternoon I will start Moominvalley in November -- I am sorry there are only a few more Moomin books for me to read after this, but happy that they make such good re-reading matter.

posted afternoon of August 13th, 2004: Respond

Wednesday, September 29th, 2004

For some reason I have not been motivated lately to post about my reading. Here is some of what I've been reading: Moominvalley in November (which I think is maybe the best of the Moomin books I've read so far, or anyway the most complex); Agapē Agape (which my mind is reeling from -- though only a small fraction of the book made it past the very front of my brain); In the Shadow of No Towers; and J.R..

posted afternoon of September 29th, 2004: Respond

Thursday, October 7th, 2004

With Sylvia the other day, I dropped by Bank Street Bookstore, my favorite place for children's books. (Right down the street is Labyrinth Books, my favorite place for philosophy books -- Pomander Books, my favorite (in NYC) used bookstore, used to be nearby but no more.)

We picked up some more Moominfamily books, and an Olivia jigsaw puzzle -- The next level of difficulty up from the jigsaws she has been doing, this one is 63 pieces and a wider variation of shapes.

posted afternoon of October 7th, 2004: Respond

Sunday, October 10th, 2004

I read Moominpappa at Sea today, really enjoyed getting to know Moominpappa. In the other books (excluding Moominpappa's Memoirs, which I have not yet read), he doesn't really emerge as a fully developed character, just serves as a foil for Moominmamma and other characters. I could really empathize with his frustration and his ill-defined desire to be making something meaningful.

I think the events in this book occur simultaneously with Moominvalley in November, although neither book says so explicitly.

posted evening of October 10th, 2004: Respond

Friday, October 15th, 2004

Moominland

Today I am reading Moominland Midwinter, so I have now read the whole Moominfamily series though not in order and excluding the first book, The Little Trolls and the Great Flood, which has not been translated into English.* This evening if all goes according to plan I will write up and post my thoughts about the series. Just as a quick note, if you just wanted to read one, Finn Family Moomintroll is an utterly fantastic, magnificent book. Moominvalley in November, Moominpappa at Sea, and Tales from Moominvalley are similarly fantastic but not, I think, well suited for young children. Moominsummer Madness and (tentatively) Moominland Midwinter are good books with moments of greatness but some uneven bits. Comet in Moominland and Moominpappa's Memoirs are fun fluff.


* And I just now saw Jansson has a moomin-related book called "Who Will Comfort Toffle?" which I had not heard of before. Update: Also there is a book called "The Book About Moomin, Mymble and Little My"; one called "The Summer Book" which is not about Moomins but about a girl and her grandmother; one called "The Coal Man and other stories"; and she has illustrated Swedish editions of "Alice in Wonderland", "The Hobbit", and "The Hunting of the Snark".

posted afternoon of October 15th, 2004: Respond

Thoughts about Moomins

So as of today I have read all the Moominfamily books except maybe three of them which are out of print for a long time and hard to locate. I love them. Picking up Finn Family Moomintroll back in July was one of the best things I've done in a long time. These are the books in (as near as I can determine) order by original publication date:

  • Comet in Moominland (1946)
  • Finn Family Moomintroll (1948)
  • Moominsummer Madness (1954)
  • Moominland Midwinter (1957)
  • Tales from Moominvalley (1963)
  • Moominpappa at Sea (1963)
  • Moominpappa's Memoirs (1968)
  • Moominvalley in November (1971?)

The two starting points I would recommend to people are Finn Family Moomintroll, and Moominvalley in November -- I think either one will suck you right in and that it will be impossible not to want to read the entire series. Finn Family Moomintroll is really good for reading aloud to a very young child, the others not so much. The only two that do not stand up so well are Comet in Moominland and Moominpappa's Memoirs -- you will want to read them just to fill in some details of the Moomin world, but they will not demand to be reread.

The first five books and Moominpappa's Memoirs are quite suitable for any child old enough to read them; the other three demand a little more sophistication and I would not give them to a child younger than about 9, at least not unless I were reading the book with the child and helping her understand some of the nuance. I have described the style of the later books as "a cross between A. A. Milne and Beckett."

posted evening of October 15th, 2004: Respond

Monday, October 18th, 2004

More Jansson

For those of you not yet tired of the Moomin obsession: Here is some more.

There are two more moomin books available in English translation; one is The Book About Moomin, Mymble, and Little My, which as near as I can tell is in verse; the other is Who Will Comfort Toffle?, a short book which LiteraryMoose describes as "One of the best love stories I have ever read". Both are in print in the UK. And one more moomin story, previously untranslated, is coming soon! It is the first one Jansson wrote: The Little Trolls and the Great Flood. You can read the translation online here.

Additionally, Jansson wrote a number of non-moomin books. I am reading The Summer Book now; I think it is the only one that has been translated. A nice book -- I'll write more about it later.

posted afternoon of October 18th, 2004: Respond
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