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[Monday Reading] Strange Little Girls in Picture Books: Matilda, Eloise, and Phoebe

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen and Kellee from Teach Mentor Texts (and brainchild of Sheila at BookJourney). Two of our blogging friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have inspired us to join this vibrant meme.

Last Week’s Review and Miscellany Posts

Here are a few of the reviews we have done last week. We are also inviting everyone to join our Award-Winning-Books Reading Challenge. We hosted the AWB Challenge last year and we are thrilled to be able to host it again. Do sign up if you are looking for exciting reading challenges with monthly book prizes. Click on the titles/images below to be taken to our blog posts.

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Poetry Friday/Book Spine Poems: Changing Seasons

Poster created by guest illustrator for 2013: Emila Yusof, whose illustrations are featured in the programme booklet and on AFCC's website.

Asian Festival of Children’s Content Singapore: One Big Story

Mandaya Lass with mamâ between her lips (Old prints)
Mandaya Lass with mamâ between her lips (Old prints)

Arts Corner: The Vanishing Journey of Mandaya Poetry and Music

Semantics and Soul in Pinoy Music - in Brisbane, Australia
Semantics and Soul in Pinoy Music – in Brisbane, Australia

Photo Journal/A-Z Photo Challenge: Q is for Queensland

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BHE (50): Delicious Book Finds Featuring Margaret Atwood, Mo Willems, and Dave McKean Among Others

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I enjoy it thoroughly whenever I discover possible subthemes as we celebrate our bimonthly themes. This time I managed to gather together strange/peculiar little girls in picture books – meet Eloise, Matilda and Phoebe.

IMG_6812Eloise in Moscow

Author: Kay Thompson
Illustrator: Hilary Knight
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1959. Bought my own copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

I bought my copy of this book during the Library Warehouse Sale last year and I am so glad I did. This is my first Eloise book and was immediately captivated.

In this book, Eloise travels to Moscow and regales us with stories about Russian food (the black caviar from the Caspian sea, otherwise known as fish eggs seemed to be a particular favourite), touristy places that she visited (Khudozhestvenny Teatr Lane, the Circus, the Kremlin Wall) and a charming description of Zhenka, their Russian interpreter who told them everything that is possible and not possible in Moscow.

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Rather than written in straightforward narrative, the book seems like a collection of Eloise’s fragmented thoughts, short quirky phrases that when put together sound more like poetry than prose.

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The illustrations are filled with movement, vitality, and tireless wonder at everything that is exotic, unfamiliar, and strangely beautiful. There are only three primary colors in the printing of the book: yellow, black, and white – but it worked so well in this lovely picture book.

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Eloise strikes me as this indefatigable bundle of energy that brought the sparkling sunshine of summer in what must have been winter time in Moscow with its stern facade and ancient structure and the cold and exhausted faces of the people. Young girls would very easily resonate with Eloise’s irrepressible curiosity and boundless enthusiasm for just about anything that she sees. This one’s definitely a keeper.

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Story by: Hilaire Belloc
Pictures by: Steven Kellogg
Published by: Dial Books – A Division of Penguin Books, 1970. Bought my own copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

Last week, I shared Edward Gorey’s adaptation of this story in his Cautionary Tales for Children. I found this little book during the Singapore Book Fair sometime in 2010.

This is a gorgeously illustrated book published sometime in the 1970s. As is the norm in most children’s books during this time, the stories are meant to socialize children into appropriate and socially sanctioned behaviors. Reminiscent of the Aesop’s fable “The Little Boy who Cried Wolf” the story of Matilda extols the virtues of always telling the truth and the untoward things that could happen to little children who tell lies.

The original story was written in verse. This version has pure black and white illustrations bursting with so much gorgeous lines and details, while the text is printed in red.

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Matilda was not content in coming up with little white harmless lies. She went for the big one – calling the fire brigade and claiming that her Aunt’s house was burning down. To everyone’s dismay, it was nothing but a dreadful prank instigated by our bored little girl who seemed intent on creating a ruckus in whichever way she knows how. The story predictably ends in soot and ashes.

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While parents and teachers of today seem fairly intent on giving sanitized versions of stories, steering clear of anything grisly or violent – it is surprising and such fun to note how classic children’s tales seem ‘revolutionary’ in comparison.

IMG_6805Phoebe’s Revolt

Story and Illustrations By: Natalie Babbitt
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1968.
Bought my own copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

Once again, this picture book is wholly written in verse. While I am a self-professed lover of poetry, I am not a huge fan of rhyming text. Despite this, I did enjoy Natalie Babbitt’s description of Phoebe Euphemia Brandon Brown who “lived in a fancy house in town.”

This girl is unlike any of the other children in 1904, as she refused to wear the fluff and lace, fancy slipper toes, sashes and curls that most girls are expected to wear during this time.

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One day, Phoebe got tired of continually being compared with perfect cousin Grace who was always polite and “charming in her pink and white” that she positively refused to get out of the tub unless she can dress up in her father’s clothes – an unprecedented and unthinkable revolt during this period.

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I loved how her father was portrayed to be indulgent without being patronizing, understanding without being condescending in the least. I also loved how Phoebe practically drove all the female adults up the wall with her tantrums and ‘revolt.’

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This story also reminded me a little bit of Lois Lowry and Bagram Ibatoulline’s Crow Call. Another thing that surprised me was the fact that Natalie Babbitt was also a talented illustrator apart from being a wonderful writer. This book contains a list of discussion questions in the end as well as a glossary of terms. While I would not say that I was fully satisfied with the ending, it could engender a lot of discussion among children.

And so I end this “strange little girls” special with a video clip from one of my favorite singer-songwriter, Tori Amos singing what else but “Strange Little Girl.” Enjoy!

Currently Reading…

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My daughter has fallen in love with Ray Bradbury. We have just finished reading The Illustrated Man from the book Bradbury  Stories and I have asked her to choose which short story we should read next. I am also enjoying Optimus Yarnspinner’s visit to the catacombs as he navigates the labyrinth of dreaming books.

How about you, dear friends, what have you been reading this week?

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92, 93, 94 of 150

9 comments on “[Monday Reading] Strange Little Girls in Picture Books: Matilda, Eloise, and Phoebe

  1. wow you have some fantastic covers here and some great looking reads too!

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  2. I read the Eloise books for my A to Z Picture Book Series Reading Challenge. All I can remember about them was that they were long! Phoebe’s Revolt looks interesting. I always enjoy the rare finds you share with us!

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  3. Have always liked the Eloise books, Myra-so different from the usual! Don’t know the Babbitt one, but love her other writing-will try to find it.

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  4. Elouise in Moscow looks fun! I’d never heard of these kids books before. Ray Bradbury is on my ‘classics to be read’ mental list, glad to hear you’re enjoying his work enough to read more of it!

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  5. I haven’t read any of these picture books. I’m going to start with Eloise in Moscow because it reminded me that I went to Moscow and saw the circus there (not that I forgot that I went to Moscow, I just rarely think of it). Thanks!

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  6. Some great reads there, I’m always on the lookout for picture books about strange little girls as I have one of my own! We’ve got Eloise but not Phoebe or Matilda so adding them to the list. I still need to get Labyrinth Of Dreaming Books so looking forward to hearing what you thought of it. Happy reading this week!

    What I’ve Been Reading!

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  7. These are all really unique books to me! They definitely seem like there are connections between the artwork. Thanks for sharing!

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  8. Love the theme! And what wonderful books! Only problem is – I want them all and looks like some might not be easy to find! Ah . . the hunt is on!

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  9. Pingback: On Baby Ghostlings and Little Boys |

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