Monthly Archives: September 2015

Alice Walker’s Hard Times Require Furious Dancing

Alice Walker, Hard Times Require Furious Dancing: New Poems, with foreword and illustrations by Shiloh McCloud(New World Library 2013)

1htrfd
If I write
poems
just
one
or two
words
to a line,
or at least
no more than four,
you will
know
that every word
has been
weighed
carefully
in my soul

and if I say
things
that are wise
you will
read them slowly
so
they sink in

and if I say
things
that are egocentric
or silly
or banal
or even callous
they may sound measured
and wise

especially
if the book
is decorated
with drawings
of New Age
goddess figures

and editors
who pay
by the line
will give me
more money.

Actually this book isn’t as bad as that. It is, after all, by Alice Walker. ‘I will keep broken things‘ is one to remember, and ‘Sixty-five!’ is a great birthday poem. But I did feel that I was reading a devotional booklet for a New Age religion that I’m not a member of.

Penne Hackforth Jones’s Barbara Baynton and Barbara Baynton’s Bush Studies

Barbara Baynton, Bush Studies (1902, Angus & Robertson 1965, online at Project Gutenberg)
Penne Hackforth Jones, Barbara Baynton: Between two worlds (Penguin 1989)

1bs

She waited motionless, with her baby pressed tightly to her, though she knew that in another few minutes this man with the cruel eyes, lascivious mouth and gleaming knife would enter.
(The Chosen Vessel)

The man with the cruel eyes is a swagman, one of those who toted their meagre belongings in a rolled blanket (sometimes known as a Matilda) around the Australian outback in the late 19th century looking for work or handouts. In this story he successfully breaks into the woman’s hut and kills her as she flees into the night; it’s not spelled out, but he probably rapes her as well.

Along with small selectors and itinerant workers, swagmen were celebrated in the literature of the 1890s (and sentimentalised since) as good-humoured or eccentric survivors in harsh physical and economic conditions, where solidarity was a pre-eminent virtue. Think of Henry Lawson’s stories: ‘The Union Buries its Dead’, ‘The Bush Undertaker’, ‘Macquarie’s Mate’, and even ‘The Loaded Dog’. It’s hardly surprising that when A G Stephens published the Barbara Baynton story now known as ‘The Chosen Vessel’ in The Bulletin in the 1890s, he diverted attention from the murdering rapist’s identity as a swagman by naming the story ‘The Tramp’.

The six stories in Bush Studies provide an extraordinarily powerful counterpoint to the legend of the 90s: its men are vicious rather than eccentric, there’s precious little solidarity, and no one survives intact. Baynton’s women suffer appallingly, often at the hands of the men, and the men are generally twisted wretchedly out of shape – the rapist-murderer swaggie of ‘The Chosen Vessel’, the casually violent, drunken lascivious (sorry, I couldn’t think of a better word) station hands in ‘Billy Skywonkie’, the craven, lazy, opportunistic Squeaker in ‘Squeaker’s Mate’. That’s not to mention the bystanders.

I doubt if anyone could read those three stories and have the 90s legend remain intact in their minds. Of the other three stories, two share that same gothic sensibility, but don’t feature men doing women down: in ‘The Dreamer’ a woman struggles through the night in a terrifying storm – there is no malevolent human presence; ‘Scrammy ’And’ has a similar situation to ‘The Chosen Vessel’, but this time it’s an old man in the house under siege and the attacker’s motive is more economic. The remaining story, ‘Bush Church’, is a comedy of sorts, in which a minister of religion visits a small outback community and encounters remarkably energetic ignorance and amorality.

I bought my copy of Bush Studies in 1970 – Angus & Robertson had rescued it from oblivion in a 1965 edition, which included a biographical note by Baynton’s grandson H B Gullett. As a postgrad Austlit student, I wasn’t much interested in the biography – the stories had to stand by themselves, we told each other. Recently, when I read on facebook that Barbara Baynton had become an activist against women’s suffrage, my interest was piqued. How could someone who so graphically described women’s suffering actively oppose giving them the vote? When I came across Penne Hackforth-Jones’s biography, I seized it.

1bbFrom the first page Penne Hackforth-Jones’s biography differs markedly from H B Gullett’s 1965 biographical note. Barbara’s parents came out from England in 1858 (Gullett) or 1840 (Hackforth-Jones), and were either Robert and Penelope Ewart (Gullett) or John Lawrence and his wife Elizabeth Ewart (Hackforth-Jones). Both versions agree that her mother had an adulterous liaison, though they differ on who, when, where and the upshot. In both, young Barbara had a difficult childhood, one of a large family in rural New South Wales near Murrurundi. In both she had a disastrous first marriage, which Hackforth-Jones persuasively surmises provided the core material for her stories. In both, the marriage ended when her husband took off with Barbara’s younger cousin who had come to help with their three children.

From that point on there’s less confusion.  Moving to Sydney, she got a job as housekeeper to the wealthy Dr Baynton, who married her and took her children on. The new social status agreed with her. She wrote her old life out of her system. On Baynton’s death she became independently wealthy, travelled with her daughter to England to try to have her stories published, and on being successful became something of a literary phenomenon. (Hackforth Jones quotes many accolades as well as some snooty putdowns, and Thomas Hardy tells us on the 1965 dust jacket that he was ‘much struck with the strength of Bush Studies‘.) She wrote a novel, Human Toll, which no one seems to think is worth chasing up, but apart from some journalism in aid of worthy causes, she did no more writing.

Wealthy and with an entree into English and Australian society, she became a bit of a grande dame. She knew Nelly Melba and Billy Hughes, her daughter Penelope was painted by Tom Roberts. In her 60s she was briefly married to an English Lord who had converted to Islam and was offered the throne of Albania. To Barbara’s disappointment he declined, and she had to be content with being Lady Headley rather than Queen Barbara. Both Gullett and Hackforth-Jones tell family anecdotes of her eccentricities with some relish.

An answer to my question suggests itself, that is, an answer beyond her own proclaimed belief that women are too irrational to have a say in politics: Bush Studies’ powerful evocation of the mistreatment of women in outback Australia wasn’t a call to arms so much as a cry of anguish. Once she was out of there, and had confronted the horror of it in writing, she wanted to stay as far from it as possible. Who can blame her?

Penne Hackforth-Jones, who died too soon in 2013, is remembered as a television actor, but she was also a journalist and, just as relevant to this book, she was Barbara Baynton’s great great grandmotherdaughter. The book reads easily, and if at times one feels that the author is doing an actorly exercise in creating a back story from fragments of information, then at least it’s honestly done. It’s a lively version of Barbara Baynton’s life rather than a definitive biography.

aww-badge-2015These are the fifteenth and sixteenth books I’ve read for the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

The Farewell: Part Two

Concluding my versification of Tony Abbott’s farewell address. Click here for the first instalment, and here for  video of the speech on the Guardian’s site.

The Farewell (Part Two)
Video 3:11–3:36
‘I’m proud of what we’ve done against the odds.
stayed focussed right until the white-ants’ coup,
though we’ve been men, and women too, not gods
walking the earth, not perfect. Very few
can meet all expectations. [We poor sods
of course have trampled on a life or two,
protected child abusers, bent the knee
to Murdoch – yes, we’re only human, see?
]

Video 3:37–4:28
‘Politics has changed since I’ve been in it.
Commentary’s hijacked by the trolls.
Soon we’ll have a new PM each minute,
and each one sacked by colleagues spooked by polls.
It must affect our country. I’m agin it.
Don’t help self-serving traitors reach their goals,
O Media, stop conniving with dishonour:
don’t be the knife that’s plunged into a goner.’

‘[For me the press has been more like a bludgeon
– there’s Bolt, Jones, Hadley, Sheridan, Devine
and Photoshopped front pages, all high dudgeon
my office leaks, no treachery of mine
but acts of war. A pintle to my gudgeon,
the press that serves my higher ends is fine.
But steady now, I mustn’t lose my head.
Stick to the script and leaves such things unsaid.]

Video 4:30–5:32
‘I must thank many. First my family
[spot who’s missing from this paragraph],
my Margie for her grace and dignity,
my party, the armed forces, and my staff,
devoted to our country – Oh malignity
with which their chief was savaged. That’s no laugh.
I thank my country [’Tis of thee I sing]:
for being asked to lead is no small thing.

Video 5:32–6:12
‘My maiden speech, I quoted Holy Writ,
the text for the first sermon in this land:
“What shall I render to the Lord … ?” I quit
the top job, knowing I can proudly stand
and say I’ve rendered all. [If modesty permit,
I’d say my all was really rather grand,
and could have been much more with loyal ranks.
]
I love this country still. God bless it. Thanks.’

Video 6:12–6:15
No weepie script, and read like hard De Niro:
a man for others, no tears on display.
With furrowed brow, a classic Western hero
he turns and does a John Wayne walk away.

Go little poem, I hope worth more than zero,
to mark the very end of one man’s sway.
I’ve added frills to feed my rhyming habit,
but most of what you see is true to Abbott.

Tony goes

the searchers

The Farewell: a versification

On Tuesday 15 September, Tony Abbott gave his final statement to the press as Prime Minister of Australia. Video here. Having rendered Alan Jones and Scott Ludlam into verse, I feel obliged to give Mr Abbott a go. Here’s Part One of what I expect to be two parts:

The farewell
Kings and queens must die before the toast
‘Long live the King or Queen!’ is raised by folk,
but prime (and lesser) ministers can coast
from office still alive – and far from broke.
A vote is not a dagger. At the most
a mobile phone lurks in the plotter’s cloak,
and though the headlines say blood’s on the floor,
in Canberra that’s mostly metaphor.

Video 0:00–0:05
So Monday night last week, when overthrown
by secret ballot in the party room,
our ex-PM, his face as grim as stone,
went to a drunken party, not a tomb,
took fourteen hours to face a microphone.
12.30, puffy eyed beneath the boom,
he started with a frail attempt at cheer:
‘Quite-a-crowd today. Thank you for being here.’

No more ad libs. The rest came from the script
that someone had prepared while we were sleeping
and doing all the morning things he’d skipped,
or so it seemed: there may have been some weeping.
It wasn’t life-or-death, but if he slipped
he’d set a ruthless Twitter chorus cheeping.
This was a chance to dignify his exit,
to bare his statesman muscle and to flex it.

Video 0:05–0:45
‘For many here this is no easy day.
Such things are never easy for our country.
I pledge to make it easy as I may:
not wreck, snipe, undermine [my style’s effrontery
and swagger]. Leaking’s never been my way.
It’s only for our country’s good I’m hungry,
and our government’s success [not my successor’s
whom I won’t name, still less my predecessors’].

Video 0:45–1:16
‘I’ve said the top job’s no end in itself.
It’s all about the people whom you serve.
From Uluru to Continental Shelf,
this country’s wonder, more than I deserve,
I’ve seen. I want to thank [a humble elf]
the voters for this honour. [Oh the nerve
of those who took it from me!] This day’s tough,
but: join the game, play by its rules, they’re rough.

Video 1:16–1:54
‘I’ve held true to what I have believed.’
His head bobs there, a curtsey of the mind.
‘I’m proud of what in two years we’ve achieved:
more folk in jobs, and three free trade deals signed,
huge roadworks under way, and we’ve relieved
mine owners of bad Labor taxes, shined
a spotlight on bad Labor’s Union mates.’
A chopper drowns out half of all he states.

Video 1:54–2:20
‘… terror threats … deployed … the other side …
to bring our loved ones home … the boats have stopped …
compassion … refugees … [I may have lied
or bent the facts a little
] … budget mopped …
billions … without principle the tide
of opposition … [Heaven knows I’ve copped
unprincipled  hysteria for Pell,
and ‘Nope, nope, nope’, and kids in Nauru’s hell.
]

Video 2:20–3:00
‘Of course, there’s much I had still wished to do:
To move things on for Noel’s and other mobs –
bring recognition, school, work, safety too.
My photo-op weeks broke new ground, no probs.
Ice and domestic violence wait in queue.
The wider world presents us with big jobs:
Wars far away are well within our range.
[But notice I don’t mention climate change.]

To be continued …

If you want to read some real poetry on the subject of our recent change of Prime Minister, I recommend the editorial of yesterday’s Saturday Paper. It begins, ‘It is no exaggeration to say Tony Abbott is the worst prime minister Australia has had,’ and builds from there.

Hidden glory

I’m just back from the opening of the HIDDEN Sculpture Walk in Rookwood, Australia’s oldest, biggest and most culturally diverse cemetery, also the one with a sculpture exhibition showing from  sunrise to sunset from tomorrow, Friday 18 September to Sunday 18 October. Entry is free.

As I mentioned last week, the Emerging Artist is in the exhibition, and today when the prizes were announced,  she was one of the three commended works. (There are also three highly commended works, plus two that shared the $10,000 prize. Both the Emerging Artist and I were too thrilled to make  dependable notes on what the other 7 works were, but I expect they’ll be listed on the Hidden website soon.

Heavy rain was forecast today, but the weather for the opening was cool, dry and very bright. Here’s yet another picture of the work and the artist:

IMG_1390

Coming Soon

If you live in Sydney, you ought to know about two fabulous things coming soon.

1.
HIDDEN: Rookwood Cemetery, from sunrise to sunset
Friday 18 September to Sunday 18 October
ENTRY IS FREE!

The Hidden website says it well:

Hidden is an outdoor sculpture exhibition that takes place amongst the gardens and graves in one of the oldest sections of [Rookwood] Cemetery. The exhibition invites artists to ponder the notion of history, culture, remembrance and love and allows audiences to witness creative expression hidden throughout Australia’s largest and most historic cemetery.

This is Hidden’s seventh year. I’ve been in previous years, and there’s something  marvellous about the sculptures placed among the tombstones. (It’s in an older part of the cemetery – no one will see the grave of someone who died recently being visited by an antic Don Quixote or a bright perspex rainbow.)

This year the Emerging Artist formerly known as the Art Student is part of the exhibition. Her piece, Bush Memorial, comprises two giant ceramic banksia seeds. Yesterday we installed it.

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2.
THE WAY: Bankstown Arts Centre, 1-10 October. (It’s not free but it’s unbelievably cheap)

The WayThis is the third play in a trilogy that has grown out of a collaboration between BYDS (Bankstown Youth Development Service) and the Sydney Theatre Company.  I saw the second play, The Other Way, in 2013. The collaboration of professional actors with local community members, led by actor/ writer/ director/ musician Stefo Nantsou, produced a brilliant evening of theatre. Here’s a bit from my blogging about it:

This isn’t professional/industrial theatre, where success is judged by the length of the run and size of box office takings. It’s community, where the division between audience and performers is porous, where there’s an intimate sense that people are telling their own stories and those of their neighbours.
There’s a wonderful scene where a group of boys are teasing/harassing a group of girls, who are giving back as good as they get. In the middle of the chiacking and posturing one of the girls looks one of the boys full in the face and says, ‘Hello!’ and the group falls silent. The whole thing falls apart, moves onto a different plane. Sure, it was scripted and stylised, but it felt like it was really happening right then and there.

I gather that The Way has a similar structure to its predecessors: over a single day in Bankstown, storylines intersect as people from diverse backgrounds experience their multitudinous joys and crises. I’m looking forward to it.

The Other Way was evidently seen by a relatively small total audience over its short run. The Way has eight scheduled performances. If you live in Sydney I recommend that you put it in your diary and book seats soon. You can read more about it here. Bookings: 02 9793 8324 or http://www.trybooking.com/isqy

Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge

Thomas Pynchon, Bleeding Edge (Penguin 2013)

0143125753I came to Bleeding Edge prepared to be baffled and intimidated, as I had been by Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow and The Crying of Lot 49 more than three decades ago. W S Gilbert pretty much nailed my response to those books: ‘If this young man expresses himself in terms too deep for me, / Why, what a very singularly deep young man / this deep young man must be!’

Well, neither Thomas Pynchon nor I are young any more, and if there’s any bafflement in Bleeding Edge, it’s less of the intimidating too-deep-for-me variety than the mildly irritating I’ve-never-heard-of-yet-another-US–brand-name/alcoholic-beverage / pop-culture-figure kind, with quite a bit of Who-was-that-character-again? thrown in.

It’s a New York novel whose action begins in spring 2001 and ends soon after Christmas that year. That is to say, it’s set in the aftermath of the dot-com bubble burst and includes the destruction of the World Trade Center in September 2001. The main character, Maxine Tarnow, a wisecracking fraud investigator, Jewish mother of two, is drawn into a network of elaborate intrigues involving denizens of the Deep Web, Silicon Alley mavens, characters who may or may not be part of the Russian Mafia, a super-secret CIA-type agents who may have foreknowledge of the events of 11 September, ruthless neo-liberal working for (or against?) the government funnelling money to the Middle East, to help either terrorists or anti-terrorists, and more. There are murders, gritty-comedic sex scenes, and a lot of New York.

The writing is tough-guy witty. The marshalling of period detail – often in list form – is awesome. The invented period details (such as a running list of improbable movies, including a version of Don Giovanni featuring the Marx Brothers) offer bursts of delight. It doesn’t matter that it’s all a little familiar, that I felt I could stop reading at any point without more than a twinge of regret. Think of a Stephanie Plum adventure in a Neal Stephenson universe, with product placement by post–Pattern Recognition William Gibson, an occasional touch of magic realism to save inventing plausible plot devices, and one or two science-fictional gestures that don’t lead to anything much. Come to think of it, I’m not sure that any of the plot amounts to anything much. One person dies, or does he? A plot is revealed, but exactly what was it? There’s clear filmed evidence of another plot, but again (spoiler alert) we never find out what the evidence means. Revenge is taken on the main villain, but does he even notice?

Maybe I should add Seinfeld to the list of people who make this book feel familiar: for all its vast piling up of incident, its huge cast of characters, and its frequent insights into the times we live in, it wouldn’t be completely inaccurate to describe it as a novel where nothing happens. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Overland 219

Jacinda Woodhead (editor) & Giovanni Tiso (guest editor), Overland 219 (Winter 2015)

O219

This is a special Aotearoa / New Zealand issue of Overland. It isn’t so much about that country as by writers from there, in the belief, as Giovanni Tiso, regular columnist and guest editor of Nº 219, writes, ‘that this difference, this shift in perspective, can be a value in itself’.

This probably isn’t the kind of shift Tiso had in mind, but John Clarke is here, in an unfamiliar persona. With none of the satirical deadpan of his Clarke and Dawe TV spots, he gives us The things she did, a biography of his remarkable mother Neva Yvonne Morrison Clarke McKenna, who died this year. Everyone should be able to write about their mother with such deep respect and pleasure.

A number of this issue’s articles address familiar themes with a fresh twist:

  • Settled peacefully by Morgan Godfery discusses issues our two settler nations have in common. I had thought Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s recent remark that before 1788 Australia was ‘unsettled or, um, scarcely-settled’ was an unfortunate misspeak. But Godfery quotes his own Prime Minister John Key, ‘New Zealand was one of the very few countries in the world that were settled peacefully,’ and Stephen Harper’s announcement that Canada has ‘no history of colonialism’.  One is a journalisic gotcha; two is a coincidence; three is a sign of what James Baldwin, quoted by Godfery, called the ‘habits of thought [that] reinforce and sustain the habits of power’.
  • Faisal Al-Asaad’s In a rage almost all the time discusses recent events in Ferguson and elsewhere in the USA in the context of globalisation and the politics of occupation, drawing out the correspondences between Palestinian resistance and US anti-racist activism.
  • Catriona MacLennan’s The ethics of defence tackles a subject that has been much discussed: the ordeal that defence lawyers often inflict on women who allege rape, while the accused has the right not to take the stand. Her list of commonly held false beliefs about rape (she calls them myths) is not novel, but it clearly bears repeating, since she quotes a number of cases where they emerge – still – from the mouths of judges and lawyers:

    1. false rape complaints are common, frequently being made by lying and vindictive women as a means of punishing or getting back at men
    2. women’s behaviour or clothing are a justification for rape as men are ‘led on’ by skimpy female clothing and are unable to control their sexual urges
    3. women who consent to sex at night wake up the next morning regretting it and make false rape complaints to cover their regrets
    4. real rape is perpetuated by strangers in dark alleys; sexual assaults on wives or girlfriends are not really rape – if a woman has consented once to sex with a man, she has consented in perpetuity
    5. women make up false complaints of rape against famous men to try and extort money
    6. women who are out alone or without men at night are foolish and it is understandable if they are raped
    7. women who are drunk or have used drugs are to blame if they are sexually violated
    8. where sexual conduct occurs at teenage parties after drinking, it is simply experimentation and a prank and not really rape
    9. if the survivor has no obvious traumatic physical injuries she has not been raped.

    She argues that the ethics of defence lawyers need to be re-examined, and goes a step further:

    We should … consider moving to an inquisitorial rather than an adversarial legal system. The inquisitorial system aims to get to the truth of a matter through extensive investigation and examination of all evidence. By contrast, the adversarial system is a competition between the prosecution and the defence to make the most compelling argument.

    I have a lawyer friend who tells anyone who will listen that a prosecutor’s duty is to discover the truth of a criminal matter, that his adversarial relationship with the defence is secondary to that duty. The notion that the adversarial approach is paramount is, he argues, true of the US system, and we think it holds here because we watch so much US television. I sent him the url for this article. His emailed response, which I take to refer to the argument for inquisitorial system, was brief: ‘Just rubbish. What more can I say?’ Perhaps the New Zealand system is closer to the US one than ours. Catriona MacLennan is as much a barrister as my friend. Maybe they should have a cup of tea some time.

  • Evidently the question of free speech is as significant across the Tasman as it is here. It’s nice to have it discussed in At a price by Max Rashbrooke with reference to Milton, Mills and eminent legal philosophers rather than to Andrew Bolt, Alan Jones and the Institute of Public Affairs. Nice too to read Loose lips, in which NZ investigative journalist Nicky Hager reveals trade secrets on how to find and protect whistle-blowing sources.
  • ‘Pass the ta’e please’ by Scott Hamilton is a fascinating account of kava and politics in Tonga, from traditional ritual use among high-ranking men to current use by rebel artists (ta’e, the Tongan word for excrement, is their word for kava). By no means the main point of the article, but one that provided an odd shift in perspective for me, is that Futa Helu, ‘Tonga’s most important modern intellectual’, was part of the Sydney Push as a young man: who would have thought that that circle of dedicated drinkers and talkers I knew in my youth had contributed such a force to Tongan culture and politics?

There are poems, too, and short stories (one of which does that irritating thing of revealing only at the end that it is an excerpt from a novel in progress), and a small but creditable Australian presence, including regular columnists Stephen Wright and Alison Croggon: the former’s On backyard cricket is a splendidly deranged rant about successive Federal governments’ treatment of child refugees (‘Australia appears to have become a nation governed by people who proudly engage in legalised child abuse, torture and neglect’); the latter’s On the intellectual life of a nation offers some acerbic home thoughts from an enviable writers residency abroad (‘The problem is not with the quality of work that is made here. Au contraire! Australia has the oldest living culture on the planet, and the contemporary work Australians produce is as worthy of notice as anything that emerges from other centres. It’s more in its mediation, in what art is assumed to be in the wider culture.’).

Books read to small visitors

Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood, The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and The present (Allen & Unwin 2014)
Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood. Go to Sleep, Jessie! (Little Hare 2014)
Doctor Seuss, The Cat in the Hat (©1957; Random House)
Janet & Allan Ahlberg, Each Peach Pear Plum (©1978, Puffin)
Doctor Seuss, Green Eggs and Ham (©1960; Random House)

We have just had two small people visiting for a week (along with their mother, my niece). Although the little girls were mostly busy making things and being generally fascinating company, they did like being read to, which meant that we had a chance to discover some new books for very young reader–listeners, and to revisit some old ones.

1gsjLibby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood won two of the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards this year (Freya won a third, but for older readers), and we were guided by the CBCA in our purchase of new books. Their books are warm, affectionate celebrations of the intelligence of their girl protagonists. In Go to Sleep, Jessie! the heroine shares a bedroom with a baby who refuses to go to sleep and instead keeps her awake by crying loudly. The parents’ well-meaning attempts to solve the problem are unsuccessful, and she solves it beautifully herself.

1tcsCleo is a bit older, and her problems are of a different order. ‘Everyone’ at a friend’s party has a necklace, but her parents say she can’t have one until her birthday, which is a very long time away.  In a second story she has to decide on a birthday present for her mother. The problems are real, and the solutions clever.

Both books harbour understated challenges to the parents who will read them aloud many times: what do you think about consumerism, envy, tattoos or ‘controlled crying’, among other things?

039480001XAfter dinner one night the two little girls put on a ‘show’ that consisted mainly of vigorous physical movement and silly faces, but included audience participation in which we adults had to take our socks off and wave them about, and later take turns reading from The Cat in the Hat. The book was apparently chosen at random, but it was wonderful to see the concentration grow on the young listeners’ faces as the story progressed. (Two thirty-somethings ostentatiously took to their smart phones during the reading. Humankind cannot bear very much reality.)

1eppp

An ‘I spy’ book whose images turn out to tell a story. Hearing my niece read it to her daughters in a way that beautifully captured its music, I remembered again that the joy of reading excellent children’s books aloud is as much for the adults as for the young ones. And that’s true of books like this, that depend on the art for their full meaning.

Dr_Seuss_Green_Eggs_and_HamAnother Dr Seuss book. This one was referred to a couple of times as our almost-two-year-old was being resolutely negative (‘Would you like it in a box? Would you like it with your socks?’). Theodor ‘Dr Seuss’ Geisel makes it look easy, but to create books that beginning readers can manage that are also fun for the fiftieth – or should that be five hundredth? – time is the work of a genius.

There were other books – including a Snugglepot and Cuddlepie adaptation that leaves mercifully nameless both the revising writer and the simplifying artist. I tried to insinuate Where the Wild Things Are into the mix, but the little one, clearly recognising the book, rejected it as too scary.

aww-badge-2015Go to Sleep, Jessie! and The Cleo Stories,  are the thirteenth and fourteenth books I’ve read for the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge. I know they’re very slender, but it should count for something that I’ve read both of them at least four times in the last week.