The Adventures of Pinocchio: Classics Challenge #3

This read was full of surprises, much more than the previous reads. I guess it shows how Disney embeds their versions in the collective memory and it stays there with little chance of changing. Pinocchio is perhaps one of the most famous cautionary tales but the story is much darker than I expected.

So, here are my top shockers (and plot spoilers by the way) of this absolutely wonderful story:

Geppetto is a nasty, nasty man. Yes, he is rude and violent to the point of getting involved in full blow fights. ‘…Geppetto lost his head with rage and threw himself upon the carpenter. Then and there they gave each other a sound thrashing.’ Please tell me I am not alone in remembering him as a sweet old man.

We all love the Taking Cricket didn’t we? Well, brace yourself for my jaw-dropping moment of the story. We know that Pinocchio is full of mischief, so the little Cricket decides to give him a bit of advise:

‘Woe to boys who refuse to obey their parents and run away from home! They will never be happy in this world, and when they are older they will be very sorry for it.’ (…) ‘Careful, ugly Cricket! If you make me angry you’ll be sorry!’ The Cricket tells him that he is already sorry for him because he is a marionette and that is much worse than having a wooden head. After hearing this ‘Pinocchio jumped in a fury, took a hammer from the bench, and threw it with all his strength at the Talking Cricket. (…) ‘cri-cri-cri’ the poor Cricket fell from the wall, dead! No remorse added to the scene.

Most famous fact of the story is that Pinocchio’s nose grows when he lies. I did not know this happens when the Fairy throws that spell on him: ‘…am laughing at your lies . ‘How do you know I’m lying?’ ‘Lies, my boy,
are known in a moment. There are two kinds of lies, lies with short legs and lies with long noses. Yours, just now, happen to have long noses.’
Parenting owe so much to this line!

The last revelation for me is the slightly disturbing Land of Toys. A place that promises children endless fun, no rules, no discipline and absolute freedom to do whatever they want. But this sinister place slowly transform the children into donkeys to be sold as well, slaves, really. Bit harsh.

Reading The Adventures of Pinnocchio was an unforgettable experience. I did not expect it to be so ‘grown up’ if that’s the right word. Pinnocchio has the behavior and attitude that every parent dreads: he is rude, lazy a liar, and he constantly runs away. His adventures take him to far away places and his actions have consequences for those who care for him. The marionette has to let down Geppeto, the Fairy and his friends in order to find the right path in life, and it makes a lot of sense to do it this way when thinking of a young reader.

It’s a great read and a cautionary tale that I cannot wait to read to my daughter, perhaps toning down the animal cruelty towards crickets.

To read more about the Classic’s Reading Challenge click here

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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: Classics Challenge #2

This is one of the perfect examples of the obvious classics that you’ve heard all about it: you recognize Alice and Cheshire Cat, you’ve seen the various films but you haven’t actually read the book. At least, I didn’t until now.

Lots have been said about Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece. It’s been the subject of endless literary studies but I will tell you one thing: it’s weird. Really, really weird.

The plot, as we know is simple. Alice and her sister are enjoying a day out when she spots white rabbit with a pocket watch. Curious, Alice follows him and falls down the rabbit hole and into a magical world where her adventures take place. She goes big, she goes small, she swims (and nearly drowns) in her tears, she finds tiny doors, she meets the craziest characters ever: the Mad Hatter, the Mock Turtle,The Queen of Hearts, the March Hare, the Cheshire Cat, The Duchess and more. For me, the Duchess is the weirdest and most fascinating of them all. And I’ll tell you why.

Children’s literature has plenty of the pretty and beautiful. But what fascinated me about The Duchess is that she’s ugly. Brutally ugly. And on top of that mean to her child and it’s the owner of the world famous Cheshire Cat!

It is unusual to deal with the lack of looks so boldly to the point that Alice feels very uneasy around her because of her appearance. “Alice did not much like keeping so close to her: first, because the Duchess was VERY ugly; and secondly, because she was exactly the right height to rest her chin upon Alice’s shoulder…” 

The iconic images accompanying Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland are those illustrated by Sir John Tenniel. Digging around a little bit, I found that, according to Martin Gardner, in The Annotated Alice, Tenniel’s drawing of The Duchess was inspired in the painting The Ugly Duchess (c. 1513) by the Flemish painter Quentin Massys. The unusual and slightly disturbing artwork is part of The National Gallery’s permanent collection. Look at it, it’s brutal. And the resemblance is spot on!

Through its pages I can see why children and adults keep going back to this story. It is the madness of it all, circumstances and characters, that makes it so incredibly appealing, fun and entertaining. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is an epic celebration of the human imagination and if you haven’t read it, do it now, it will feel like a dream.

To find out more about my Classic’s reading challenge click here.

The War of the Worlds: Classics Challenge #1

Following my post on reading obvious classics (that you honestly haven’t read) I started with H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. If you are on Amazon Prime, head to your Prime Reading and it’s available to download to your Kindle for free.

This little novel is truly mind blowing. Just imagine, H.G. Wells wrote The War of the Worlds in 1897 and has never been out of print. What I found absolutely remarkable is that in the middle of the conservative Victorian era, Mr Wells is able to narrate the landing of these terrible and violent Martians that will cause mayhem in the sleepy outskirts of London. 

The most fascinating thing about reading The War of the Worlds is that it is very easy to forget this was written almost century before the moon landing. Wells has an extraordinary ability to recreate the tension and panic of the English people as they realise the terrible threat they are under. The plot gets darker and darker, and there are very explicit violent scenes as the Martian fighting-machine leaves its path of death and destruction. 

An extraordinary read that includes the unforgettable Martian red weed. Now, that will stick with you. Literally. 

Obvious classics you’ve never read

Who doesn’t love a reading challenge? You may have chosen the traditional Goodreads one or the incredibly clever Pop Sugar Challenge. I think I have both on my radar but browsing on my Amazon Prime Reading I saw an interesting selection of classics. At first instance I thought why bother if I know these stories. But do I? This gave me the idea to spend the first few months of the year reading the obvious classics I’ve never read. Here is my list so far:

Alice in Wonderland Amazon Classics

The War of the Worlds – H.G Wells

Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

The Adventures of Pinocchio – Carlo Collodi

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain

The Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum

Journey to the Centre of the Earth – Julius Verne

The Jungle Book – Rudyard Kipling

The Arabian Nights – Andrew Lang

I will write short reviews of each one of these titles, but if you think I’m missing a really obvious jewel, please get in touch and I’d be happy to add it to the reading list.

Till later!

Why I will not bother with this children’s book

Since starting my journey into parenting I have been absolutely fascinated by the impact that children’s authors and illustrators can have in little people. I think Julia Donaldson deserves a Damehood, a statue and a museum. I will start campaigning to make Axel Scheffler a national treasure (regardless of him being German, who cares!). Jon Klassen‘s books, simple and clever, never fail to make my daughter chuckle. Michael Brownlow’s Ten Little Pirates taught my girl to count and she now knows it by heart. I could go on forever telling you about how much I value children’s books in our life. Until, Mr Large is in Charge came home in a party pack.

MrLargeAs I read the book to my daughter something started bothering me. And I mean, really bothering me. The story line is the following: Mrs Large wakes up one morning feeling unwell and Mr Large tells her to go back to bed and rest as he will look after the children. In a nutshell, Mr Large is an utterly incompetent father to the point that Mrs Large never gets to rest. But that doesn’t matter because at the end they all snuggle in bed with mum.

I understand that the author Jill Murphy, wrote the first Large family book back in the late 1980s with the idea of portraying the chaos of family life. But please correct me if I am wrong, Mr Large is in Charge was first published in 2005 and this is why I have a problem with it. We are constantly bombed (and pressured) to raise children surrounded with positive role models, so why continue portraying fathers are as useless when it comes to domestic life? I found it incredibly unfair that in this day and age we can come across children’s books that reinforce the idea that ‘Dad can’t cook’ and ‘Dad can’t do the housework’.

There are many fathers out there who are perfectly capable to look after their kids without having mum around. My husband is one of them and he does the ‘job’ as well as me. He fixes our daughter’s toys, he does her hair in plaits, cooks great meals, takes her swimming and to hockey. We live in the age of shared parental leave, as well as household responsibilities, flexible working for both men and women, so how about portraying a Mr Large who in the end has a fantastic day out with his children and when he’s back home Mrs Large feels better?

If classics like Snow White are changing (no more kissing while asleep), I believe the Large family should do so as well. We owe it to the 21st century dads.

I’m Back or On Why I did not Blog for Over a Year

It’s been more than a year since my last blog post on Memory of Water. My excuse for this silence is well, I had a baby girl on 12 May 2014!

fine balanceOn my last day at work, my wonderful colleagues at Belgravia Books gave me a pile of books that promised to make the wait for baby more bearable and less boring. Well, baby took it’s time and in between cooking and freezing, packing and re packing, going swimming (going floating really) I started a big fat novel called A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.

At 600 plus pages and a particularly small font, the novel symbolised my resignation that baby was officially overdue. There would be long days ahead of me.

Without giving much away, the novel is set in India in the late seventies during the period known as The Emergency. As usual, I knew nothing of this chaotic episode in India’s history but the great triumph of the novel are the characters. On one hand Mistry gives a heart breaking insight to life in Bombay’s slums, and on the other depicts the never ending struggles of the middle class to remain there. The clashes between rural and urban life are also a key element on the development of the characters in the story.

Half way into the book, Paloma was born. In the few moments of peace and quiet in hospital I found myself wondering about what was in store for my characters. In particular, the tailors and aunty Dina. They felt like family and in a surreal way I was worried about them.

Back at home and in between naps, I managed to finish the novel. It took me 3 months but every page was worth it. I had the best of both worlds, a sleeping baby and a good book.

Memory of Water

 

m of w

This novel came to my hands as a proof copy sent to work by Harper Collins (thank you for the freebie!). It was one of those days when you feel like reading something completely random and the thought of a young Finnish author caught my attention. I know very little about Finland and the cover looked weird enough to give it a go (yes, I do judge books by their covers, ready my post about book covers here). The point is, I had no idea I was in for a literary treat.

For some strange reason I always end up reading historical fiction or miserable novels. I am incapable of recommending people a happy book. Perhaps because it’s so difficult to read a good funny book and sad stories tend to bring the best of authors. It’s a mystery.

So there I was with my copy of Memory of Water which looked to be a serious read with secrets and intrigue at the core of the plot. Yes please!  This is a superb first novel by Finnish author Emmi Itäranta which will leave you thinking about the things we take for granted:  water and freedom.  The story is set in the near future, at a time when China rules the world and the impact of climate change has left the planet with no seasons and most importantly with a critical shortage of water.

Noria and her family are the tea masters of the village in what is called then the Scandinavian Union. They have a special relationship with water; one that brings secrets that are simply and too dangerous to share. Police rations water to all villagers but as it becomes scarce, and after her father’s death, Noria is decided to share the location of a secret spring. The consequences are well, you can imagine… disastrous.

If you like Margaret Atwood’s novels, you’ll love Memory of Water and please don’t pay too much attention to the cover and give this novel a chance. It’s worth it!

P.S. You can follow Emmi on Twitter @emmi_elina