On reading: in words and pictures
The end of summer, diving into "deep work," and Widdershins collage #1

Children, reading, and Tough Magic

Seymour Joseph Guy

From Touch Magic: Fantasy, Folklore and Faerie in the Literature of Childhood by  Jane Yolen:

"The great archetypal stories provide a framework or model for an individual's belief system. They are, in Isak Dinesen's marvelous expression, 'a serious statement of our existence.' The stories and tales handed down to us from the cultures that proceded us were the most serious, succinct expressions of the accumulated wisdom of those cultures. They were created in a symbolic, metaphoric story language and then hones by centuries of tongue-polishing to a crystalline perfection....

"And if we deny our children their cultural, historic heritage, their birthright to these stories, what then? Instead of creating men and women who have a grasp of literary allusion and symbolic language, and a metaphorical tool for dealing with the problems of life, we will be forming stunted boys and girls who speak only a barren language, a language that accurately reflects their equally barren minds. Language helps develop life as surely as it reflects life. It is the most important part of the human condition."

Walter Firle

Eastman Johnson &Michael Peter Ancher

Emile Vernon

Izsák Perlmutter & Knud Eric Larsen

"In fantasy stories we learn to understand the differences of others, we learn compassion for those things we cannot fathom, we learn the importance of keeping our sense of wonder. The strange worlds that exist in the pages of fantastic literature teach us a tolerance of other people and places and engender an openness toward new experience. Fantasy puts the world into perspective in a way that 'realistic' literature rarely does. It is not so much an escape from the here-and-now as an expansion of each reader's horizons."

Carl Larsson

Florence Fuller

 "A child who can love the oddities of a fantasy book cannot possibly be xenophobic as an adult. What is a different color, a different culture, a different tongue for a child who has already mastered Elvish, respected Puddleglums, or fallen under the spell of dark-skinned Ged?"

Boy Reading by Thomas Benjamin Kennington & Charlotte J. Weeks

Boys reading, vintage photograph

Clark Kelley Price

Gilbert Young

Dorothea Lange

"Just as a child is born with a literal hole in his head, where the bones slowly close underneath the fragile shield of skin, so the child is born with a figurative hole in his heart. What slips in before it anneals shapes the man or woman into which that child will grow. Story is one of the most serious intruders into the heart."

Tatiana Deriy

Tatiana Deriy

Honor C. Appleton & Mary Cicely Barker

John Weiss

Children’s books change lives. Stories pour into the hearts of children and help make them what they become.Denise Holly Ulinskas

"We have spent a good portion of our last decades erasing the past. The episode of the gas ovens is closed, wrapped in the mist of history. It is as if it never happened. At the very least, which always suprises me, it is considered a kind of historical novel, abstract and not particularly terrifying.

"It is important for children to have books that confront the evils and do not back away from them. Such books can provide a sense of good and evil, a moral reference point. If our fantasy books are not strong enough -- and many modern fantasies shy away from asking for sacrifice, preferring to profer rewards first as if testing the faerie waters -- then real stories, like those of Adolf Hitler's evil deeds, will seem so much slanted news, not to be believed.

Rebecca Kinkead

Adelaide Claxton

"Why do so many fantasies shy away from Tough Magic? Why do they offer sweet fairy dances in the moonlight without the fear of the cold dawn that comes after? Because writing about Tough Magic takes courage on the author's part as well. To bring up all the dark, unknown, frightening images that live within each of us and try to make some sense of them on the page is a task that takes courage indeed. It is not an impersonal courage. Only by taking great risks can the tale succeed. Ursula Le Guin has written:

"The artist who goes into himself most deeply -- and it is a painful journey -- is the artist who touches us most closely, speaks to us most clearly.' "

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Words: The quotes above are from Jane Yolen's influential book Touch Magic (Philomel, 1981; August House, expanded edition, 2000), which I highly recommend. This text has also appeared in a previous post: "Breathing in the world," August 15, 2013. All right reserved by the author.

Pictures: Artists are identified in the picture captions.


Simply: yes. And our stories should have all the knots and gnarled bits left. Each one should leave splinters.

"Each one should leave splinters." YES. May use this in a poem.

A wonderful post, filled with the love of reading.
As a child, reading was frowned upon and made fun of by my parents. Not one child's book did my brother and I have. Not due to religion, but lack of love. I have learned to enjoy reading, but it took many years.
Thank you for this beautiful post.

Ah here is my first attempt. Well, third actually:


“And our stories should have all the knots
and gnarled bits left. Each one should leave
splinters.”—Charlotte Hills

Passing the story tree, I reach out,
run my fingers across the gnarled bark.
As I hoped, a sliver finds its way
under the nail of my pointer.
I will suck it out in the night,
release the tale, and dream.

Writing is harder. I must grip the splinter
with my teeth, careful not to break it in two,
or shred the silken length within.
This I must plait, or weave, or sew to a shroud.
Decorate, embroider—it will know its needs.
But first that single splinter, blood at its tip,

transfused from the story tree.

©2016 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

I love this, it is going in my classroom reading corner. I have a bookcase, where the back faces the room, this is going on there. Thank you Jane.

That makes me grin, Charlotte! What grade do you teach? And where?


Nottingham City (just on the edge, near the house they used for Batman Returns) I am moving back into UK year 5 (9-10 yrs) this year. I have a new classroom and am planning the reading corner, will send you a picture of the words in their new home if you like.

I would love a photo, Charlotte. Especially if I can put it up on FaceBook.



Your posts, and the illustrations which go with them, are so lovely... So, so lovely...

Thank you for this blog!

Gentle hugs,
Luna Crone

Hi Jane

I love, love this poem -- every inch of it! I think the idea of the splinter being the prick of inspiration, the natural spindle that draws feeling and depth from the humanity it stings is brilliant. Thank you so much for sharing this; and these last lines stay with me. Such a powerful and intensely beautiful ending

This I must plait, or weave, or sew to a shroud.
Decorate, embroider—it will know its needs.
But first that single splinter, blood at its tip,

transfused from the story tree.

Thank you!

Hi Terry

What magnificent paintings and what brilliant perspective on the importance of stories and reading. I have always believed that stories, especially fantasy or myth, can help a child better understand life, heal from a traumatic experience, and foster their imaginative abilities. Here's a poem that kind of captures that idea written a few weeks ago when you had the article on the legacy of Beatrix Potter. It recounts something I remember from childhood.

In The Middle Of A Narrative

What heaven can be more real than
to retain the spirit-world of childhood..
Beatrix Potter

The wire fence has its own thorns
along with the bramble it entangles. Caught
between both, a rabbit strains to escape.
My daughter finds him with fur bloodied
and eyes embedded in fear -- dark
as watermelon seeds.

I tell her we must leave
and get a pair of clippers
to cut him loose. We go and return.
The rabbit has vanished, leaving a vacancy
for more leaves and other things
brought by the wind. I look worried;
and my child tells me it's okay. She says
he's gone home to the sand bank
to be with his family. His mom
will bathe him and brew tea. The mice
will stitch clothing with a spider's thread
and pine needle to keep him warm.

Content, she stares at the fir tree
watching a robin weave in and out,
wondering if it's more fun
nesting upstairs in the branches
or downstairs under the roots
where the rabbits would live. And I wonder, too,
if he has gone there, a large spruce
beyond McGregor's garden. An animal dying
into a character, into a story that continues on.

Whosh, Wendy--I am overcome by your enthusiasm.


An animal dying into a character. . .what a wonderful concept.


This is just wonderful! Thank you so much for it.

Big grin, Glenda!

But first that single splinter, blood at its tip,
transfused from the story tree......

Once more, an entire novel wrapped up and plunging outward.....

Lovely, just lovely.....I always look for something unusual and.....lovely when I read your poems.

The Readers On The Steps

Migrant Camp School, Oregon 1939
Dorothea Lange photograph

They look so much like we, in 1946,
At a one room school, in Central Oregon-
We were all poor, and lively, with
Dreams as yet still in packages, to be
Opened in the wild, strange unknown.

From depression. sorrow, and a war,
We did not know, we were in history,
Now available in big heavy books,
Not to mention, on Googles, on tech
All over the world so much smaller, now.

We were sent out into a world that has
Been redone, over and over again.
But among us, we gave books to our
Children, and wrote feverishly, of what
The dreams whirled, to keep alive.

I love the way you can read Phyllis' line "We did not know, we were in history" several ways, each one making you understand even more of the poem and of the child's innocent narcissism.


Love these pictures of children reading!

My my, I do not think much when I write, until it ends. We were innocently narcissist. And to think some pieces of it can linger in rereading a favorite fairy tale, or looking into a mirror and feel lucky not to look like Snow White's crabby stepmother.

I've been away from Myth & Moor all summer, due to the death of my mother and long work of sorting out her estate. I'm back home with the boys and my husband at last, reading through a summer's worth of posts here and it is balm to the soul.

The poetry today is particularly beautiful.

Terri, I'm sorry I missed Widdershins. We did try to get down for it, but the summer got complicated and we just didn't make it.

Yes, yes, yes! I'll be using this book in my PhD studies. e

Hi Phyllis

Beautiful scenic and emotional capture of those difficult times how book sustained and opened the imagination of the child despite circumstances. That last stanza sums up this poem so beautifully and poignantly. What a marvelous poem!

thanks so much for sharing!

My Best

Thank you Phyllis

I deeply appreciate you kind words and glad you enjoyed this!

Take care

Hi Jane

Thanks so much for commenting and reading my poem! I am glad that last line works! I appreciate your thoughtfulness!

Take care

Thank you. And what a wonderful prompt. Dorothea is one of my heroes; her photographs can make me cry, and think of those times when I was a child and how she saw all this; we need more like her, now. How being poor is not being stupid or in the way. You have to be clever to survive as they did and many do too, now.

Thank you for the interesting information and beautiful nostalgic illustrations you so generously took the time to spoil us with this past week. I agree. A good story stokes the soul. Hope you are feeling better.

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