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Touch Magic Paperback – December 19, 2005
"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
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From Library Journal
This revision of a classic collection of historical and analytical essays explores the use of fantasy and fairytales in children's literature. The compilation of 16 perceptive essays includes six new entries and updates others from the original 1981 publication. Yolen, winner of the National Book Award and the Caldecott Medal, among other honors, is a renowned storyteller and author of more than 200 books for children and adults. Authoritative, eloquent, and fetching, her observations focus on traditional tales that have passed down through generations and been altered in the process. Folklore and fantasy have, she asserts, endured as basic learning tools to introduce young readers to the world around them, and the stories are a uniquely appropriate guide to day-to-day realities and culture. The definition and impact of these stories is couched in the wonder of fantasy and themes essential to today's young readers. As Yolen poetically observes, "To do without tales and stories and books is to lose humanity's past, is to have no star map for the future." This book will be prized by teachers, authors, students, and all readers who value the use of folklore, mythology, and the familiar stories of youth. A pleasure to read; highly recommended.DRichard K. Burns, MSLS, Hatboro, PA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
A popular, prolific, award-winning author known for her children's and young adult books has added six new essays to her thought-provoking perspectives on reading and appreciating fantasy, which first appeared in 1981. The new selections complement the older pieces nicely, and, of course, they are filled with personal anecdote and informed by Yolen's strong voice, extensive knowledge, and obvious love of her subject. Where the original pieces provided a raison d'etre for passing along traditional stories to children and lent insight into the genre, the new ones are rich with opinion on thorny contemporary issues--among them, the cultural stereotypes and "hidden messages" that are passed on in traditional tales. In the final selection, Yolen reiterates the importance of folklore to both children and adults, reflecting on the way we use its metaphors to connect us to our past and our future. The bibliography has been updated to incorporate references in the new essays. Stephanie Zvirin
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Traditional tales perform four crucial functions, Yolen argues. They provide ...
1. a landscape of allusion. (Example: How can you appreciate Shrek if you've never read Mother Goose rhymes and fairy tales?)
2. insight into ancestral cultures
3. a safe path for processing experience
4. a framework for an individual's beliefs and values
"When we ... deprive [children] of the insights and poetic visions expressed in words that humans have produced throughout human history, we deny them - in the end - their own humanity," she writes. We bequeath to them a dry and shallow culture. Children deserve better.
In a time in which fantasy tales are often under challenge, Yolen makes a strong case for their importance in Touch Magic. She believes that, more than magic and mythical creatures, these stories are about acts of kindness or deceit, action and consequence, and the constant struggle to find a way to fit into the world you inhabit. As a result, "even very young children can absorb the meanings and wisdom of these symbolically expressed ancient tales and use them as tools for interpreting their own day-to-day experiences" (p 17.)
With Part One: The Tale and the Teller, Yolen takes the reader back to the root of fantasy, to the oral tales that have molded nearly every piece of fantasy that has followed, and how each changed as they were written down, taking on the morals and ideologies of the cultures and times during which they were recorded. From Cinderella to Red Riding Hood, she skillfully discusses fairy tale variants, maintaining that the original story, which often refused to shy away from pain and violence, is a more honest reflection of humanity than the versions that children are presented with today. She states: "They are the most potent kind of magic, these tales, for they catch a glimpse of the soul beneath the skin" (p 50.)
While this section is incredibly informative and thoughtful, Yolen dismisses some of the more modern adaptations of fairy tales, mostly those put forth by Walt Disney. The frequency with which she relies on pointing out the problems with his version of these stories comes across as a bit heavy-handed. And while she argues quite well as to why children do not need a watered down version of these tales, surely Disney's adaptations have some importance in the landscape of fantasy, if only to use as a counterpoint for children to work out on their own.
From there, Yolen focuses on the quest aspect of fantasy stories, and how looking more closely at the metaphors inherent in each serves as a human touchstone. "[The] tensions of the stories carry us past the unbelievability of the magic into the credibility of miracles in our everyday lives" (p 61;) it's a potent thought, one that isn't often mentioned when someone hints at the need to censor these stories because they fear they will send children down the wrong path.
"Why do those of us who love stories with layers of meaning have to defend our interest, as if that very interest makes us less capable citizens, wimps, nerds, or in league with the very devil?" (p 120)
Touch Magic is a wonderful and thought-provoking look at a genre that is often derided; as a librarian, I cannot say how many times I've heard a young reader say that a parent does not want them reading another fantasy story, and after reading this book I feel better armed to defend the genre's place in their lives.
Her other essays face head-on the objections that many have to the old tales, and she champions them in their original form. In the wake of the uproar created by the Harry Potter books, her essays are well worth considering. We are, as she says, in danger of denying our children their own humanity when we brush aside the many gems of folk and fairy lore.
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In Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie and Folklore in the Literature of Childhood, Yolen has put together 16 essays that delve deep into the psychology, sociology...Read more