Counting down to Glastonbury and thoughts on Horrid Henry.

Just over 3 weeks until we set off for this year’s Glastonbury Festival!

Do come and visit us under the big oak tree in the far corner of Green Kids (behind the pirate ship, behind Greenpeace)!

Inevitably, a sort of count-down starts – find all the bits of the tent, the shelves, the cushions, the rugs, etc, etc. Do things need washing, painting, repairing,  replacing? Are there changes that could make the Book Lounge work better or look better? Mostly, though I am thinking about the children’s books. I have amassed a huge pile of  them and as I pack them into boxes, ready to go, I naturally find myself reading quite a few. Someone who did not enjoy kids’ books could crack the job in a fraction of the time – but then they would not be doing a book tent, would they?

Once your own children have outgrown them, you tend to lose touch with new authors and illustrators. Who are the ones inspiring kids to enter the alternate, inner universes of  books now?  Knowing my interest in them, somebody asked me recently which newer kids’ books I liked. Eeek! Everything went blank. I did manage to come up with a few –  but sifting through this year’s selection reminded me to pay more attention to newer titles. Soon afterwards, a Dad requested Horrid Henry books. His bigger boy loves to read them to littler brother, he said.

No wonder boys  (and girls) like him. He is truly, awfully HORRID. He does all sorts of bad, naughty things and he is not sorry. Cheating is one of his special talents, as is lying, or more accurately, seeing it his own, warped way.  In fact he always believes it is other people’s fault that things have gone wrong. Frequently, his often ‘tired’ parents, his yucky brother, Perfect Peter, his poor teacher or the nasty girls at school do win/get their own back. But not always – in ‘Horrid Henry and the Football Fiend,’ the final episode consists of Henry’s attempts to get rid of the hated son of his Dad’s boss, who has moved to his school and  been foisted on His Horridness to be eased in gently. Ha! Not likely! After a series of bickers and mean tricks, Henry succeeds by doctoring homework. He has been asked to take this home for his rival wh0 is off sick. It’s brilliantly awful. A ‘gravity experiment’ entailing dropping numerous eggs is the final straw for the boy’s parents – they remove him from the school.

As an adult reading this, I was going, “Really – would the teacher, knowing Henry, let him do that? And wouldn’t the parents spot the spelling mistakes in the bogus ‘homework?’ Didn’t they question whether a teacher would remotely consider encouraging children to chuck eggs about the house?” I’m guessing that kids reading it know it’s pretty unlikely, too – and that’s the fun of it! Oh, and harking back to my last blog, it is an obvious ‘Overcoming the Monster’ tale.

Well done, Horrid Henry!

See you at Glastonbury!

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Seven Stories

Have you heard the theory that there are only 7 basic plots for stories?

According to ‘the Observer Book of Books’ (my latest loo-reading) they are:

Overcoming the monster

Rags to Riches

The Quest

Voyage and Return

Comedy

Tragedy

Rebirth

Up to a point, I can see it. Undoubtedly, numerous authors enjoy using them. They work! Readers love them.

Voyage and return anyone?  Tolkien subtitled the Hobbit ‘There and back again.’

Comedy (does not have to be funny but must include twists and turns before the happy ending)? Seems to cover all of Jane Austen amongst many, many others. Austen even lets the reader know she knows in Northanger Abbey. The reader knows the happy ending is nigh by  “the tell-tale compression of the pages before them.” Her protagonists are still in the dark but “….hastening together to perfect felicity.”

Tragedy always brings Shakespeare to mind. I shout (inside – not usually out loud, though it has been known) “Romeo! Juliet! Grow up! Just say no to the potion! Run away together if you must!”  “Othello! Have some trust in your wife!”  “Lear! It’s the salt! Think man!” But they never do because they are in tragedies and everything is pre-ordained to go horribly wrong. I suppose horror film plots are tragedies, too.  A group of friends go to an isolated house for a fun weekend – then before you know it somebody goes down to the cellar….(Here, I shout again…”Don’t go down the cellar!”) The rest is as inevitable as the pile of corpses in Hamlet.

It would be easy to go on through the categories. Examples of each are many and varied. But I do wonder. Isn’t seven one of those traditional ‘magic numbers?’ Do they really fit every possible plot? How do you shoehorn, say, a family saga into them – or do you have to invoke several categories as it unfolds through the generations? Have authors tried deliberately to evade them? Did it work?

Too many questions!