Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


"Fantasy's hardly an escape from reality.  It's a way of understanding it."  
-Lloyd Alexander

Lloyd Chudley Alexander (January 30, 1924 – May 17, 2007) was an American author whose best known contribution to the field of children's literature is the fantasy series, The Prydain Chronicles. (He authored over 40 books. To see a complete listing with reviews, click HERE).

Determined to become a writer and looking for adventure after high school, Alexander decided to enlist in the Army during World War II. While training in Wales, he discovered a history and romanticism that would be the inspiration for many of his books...

“It seemed I recognized faces from all the hero tales of my childhood,” he wrote in a memoir, “My Love Affair With Music” (Crowell, 1960). “Not until years afterwards did I realize I had been given, without my knowing, a glimpse of another enchanted kingdom.”  (source: Alexander's obituary in the NY Times)

The Prydain Chronicles is a five-volume (not-to-be-missed!) series of children's fantasy novels which tell of the adventures of a young man named Taran, who is awarded the humble "honor" of Assistant Pig-Keeper (of an oracular pig, named "Hen Wen"), but dreams of being a grand hero.  He finds himself caught in a struggle between good and evil with the help of his unlikely companions: stubborn Princess Eilonwy; a bard named Fflewddur Fflam; a wild, yet gentle creature called Gurgi; and a dwarf named Doli. The book focuses on Taran's progression from youth to maturity, with the series being loosely based on Welsh mythology. (For an excellent overview and review of each book, CLICK HERE). Ages 10 and up.

The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain Book 1)
The Black Cauldron (1965) - Winner of the 1966 Newbery Honor
The Black Cauldron (The Chronicles of Prydain)
The Castle of Llyr - Book 3 in the Chronicle of Prydain
Taran Wanderer (The Chronicles of Prydain)
The High King (1968) - Winner of the 1969 Newbery Medal
The High King (The Chronicles of Prydain)

Some thoughts from Lloyd Alexander on the importance of writing and reading fantasy:
(Source: The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance, May 2007)
"When asked how to develop intelligence in young people, Einstein answered: "Read fairy tales. Then read more fairy tales." I can only add: Yes, and the sooner the better. Fairy tales and fantasies nourish the imagination. And imagination supports our whole intellectual and psychological economy. Not only in literature, music, and painting spring from the seedbed of imagination; but, as well, all the sciences, mathematics, philosophies, cosmologies. Without imagination, how could we have invented the wheel or the computer? Or toothpaste? Or nuclear weapons? Or speculate "What if—?" Or have any compassionate sense what it's like to live in another person's skin?

For me, writing fantasy for young people has surely been the most creative and liberating experience of my life. As a literary form, fantasy has let me express my own deepest feelings and attitudes about the world we're all obliged to live in.

A paradox? Creating worlds that never existed as a way to gain some kind of insight into a world that is very real indeed? The paradox is easily resolved. Whatever its surface ornamentation, fantasy that strives to reach the level of durable art deals with the bedrock of human emotions, conflicts, dilemmas, relationships. That is to say: the realities of life.

As adults, we know that life is a tough piece of business. Sometimes the most heroic thing we can do is get out of bed in the morning. I think it's just as tough for young people. On an emotional level, a child's anguish and a child's joy are as intense as our own. Young people recognize their own inner lives while they journey through a world completely imaginary.

I don't mean to imply that works of realism haven't the same profound effect on young readers. Of course they do. More often than not, however, realism tends to deal with material of immediate, current interest; with, to use a word much overused, what is relevant. All well and good. But there's a difference between what is relevant and what is merely topical. The topical goes away after a while, to be replaced by the next fashionable subject; the newest literary disease of the month, as it were. The best fantasy it seems to me, is permanently relevant. Because it deals metaphorically with basic human situations, it always has something to say to us. Also, I think that fantasy offers a certain vividness and high spiritedness unique to itself. We shouldn't underestimate the value of sheer fun, delight, and excitement. In any art, boredom is not a virtue.

Dealing with the impossible, fantasy can show us what may be really possible. If there is grief, there is the possibility of consolation; if hurt, the possibility of healing; and above all, the curative power of hope. If fantasy speaks to us as we are, it also speaks to us as we might be."

Lloyd Alexander was also one of the creators of children's literary magazine Cricket, which is an illustrated literary magazine for children published in the United States. Cricket magazine publishes original stories, poems, folk tales, articles and illustrations by notable authors and artists. On the last page of each issue is the "Old Cricket Says" column, in which Old Cricket points out a bit of wisdom or a witticism, or introduces themes to be explored in the upcoming issues of the magazine. This recurring column has been ghostwritten by a number of authors and editors who worked for Cricket, but a preponderance of them were written by Lloyd Alexander until his death.

CRICKET now offers 14 magazines for different age groups, including Babybug (up to 3 years old), Ladybug (2-6), Spider (6-9) and Cicada (for teenagers).


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