Mr Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense by Jenny Uglow

mr learTitle: Mr Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense

Author: Jenny Uglow

Genre: Non-Fiction/Biogprahy

Publisher: Faber/Allen and Unwin

Published: 25th October 2017

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 560

Price: $49.99

Synopsis: A beautifully illustrated, literary appreciation of Edward Lear – best-known for his poem ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ – and his ‘nonsenses’ by one of Britain’s most highly regarded historians.

Edward Lear’s poems follow and break the rules. They abide by the logic of syntax, the linking of rhyme and the dance of rhythm, and these ‘nonsenses’ are full of joy – yet set against darkness. Where do these human-like animals and birds and these odd adventures – some gentle, some violent, some musical, some wild – come from? His many drawings that accompany his verse are almost hyper-real, as if he wants to free the creatures from the page. They exist nowhere else in literature, springing only from Lear’s imagination.

Lear lived all his life on the borders of rules and structures, of disciplines and desires. He vowed to ignore politics yet trembled with passionate sympathies. He depended on patrons and moved in establishment circles, yet he never belonged among them and mocked imperial attitudes. He loved men yet dreamed of marriage – but remained, it seems, celibate, wrapped in himself. Even in his family he was marginal, at once accepted and rejected. Surrounded by friends, he was alone.

If we follow him across land and sea – to Italy, Greece and Albania, to The Levant and Egypt and India – and to the borderlands of spirit and self, art and desire, can we see, in the end, if the nonsense makes sense? This is what Jenny Uglow has set sail to find out.

~*~

Jenny Uglow’s latest biogpraphy examines the life, art and nonsense poetry or Edward Lear. Born in 1812, Lear was the youngest boy of seventeen, nineteen or twenty-one children (depending on which source is consulted, Uglow suggests that Lear claimed it was twenty-one). As the second to last born child, he was passed off to a much older sister to care for and raise. Lear’s life led him into an adult life of travel, nonsense and art, and through his struggles with his identity and epilepsy, he wrote and created watercolours, limericks and one of the best loved poems known today: The Owl and the Pussy-Cat (1871), and his numerous limericks that appear to hint at dark outcomes for the Old Men and other characters that populate his limericks from a variety of places. It is not merely the story of Lear’s life, but how his art, travels and writing shaped his life, and how the people he interacted with throughout his life. such as the Pre-Raphaelites, including William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Morris, and their infamous exhibit that caused a scandal because of the nature of their paintings. Lear spent much of his adult life travelling across Europe, especially to Greece and Corfu, painting and writing for children of friends, whilst never marrying himself, despite coming close. At the same time, Lear grappled with his sexuality and who he was attracted to, as well as his asthma, and epilepsy that hindered him in some ways.

I had previously encountered Edward Lear in a university course about Children’s Literature, where I studied the classics and some of the most well-known works from what is known as The Golden Age, through to modern day literature from Australia and America, as well as fairy tales. So, this was a special treat for me, and something I wished I had had back then. I knew of his large family, his writing and his epilepsy and sexuality – what I did not know was how extensively he travelled and just how much his sister, Ann, meant to him – how much of a mother she was to him over his own mother, and I didn’t know anything about his relationship with the Pre-Raphaelites. On this account in the book, I would have liked to have known more about this time he spent with them and whether he knew the women in the Pre-Raphaelite circle as well as their husbands. This biography is beautiful, traversing Lear’s life in travel, art and nonsense, opening each chapter with a limerick and peppering them throughout in places where each one relates to what has just been written.

Uglow also incorporates the Owl and the Pussy-Cat, and part of the solemn, depressing Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo. Of these two, The Owl and the Pussy-Cat is my favourite, and his limericks are full of whimsy, delight and the nonsense that Lear and his contemporary, Lewis Carroll, perpetuated in their early works that introduced entertainment over didacticism and morally uplifting stories to children, thus ushering in what is known as The Golden Age of Children’s Literature. What this biogpraphy offers is a colourful and well-rounded view of the life of Edward Lear, flaws and all are recognised as he travels and through his encounters of world events and hearing about them.

Through a life lived on the borders of convention, a life that helped bring the delightful nonsense to life, Lear’s life lived in the margins, accepted by some, and yet alone amongst friends, a life that was not lived in a conventional or normal manner, where he gave drawing lessons to Queen Victoria, and at the same time, used his nonsense to mock imperial attitudes, we can perhaps begin to understand how his nonsense verses emerged.

Authors of Children’s Literature today owe much to people like Lear and Carroll – they opened the door to literature for children as entertainment, using nonsense, magic and humour to entertain and potentially teach rather than didactic texts and primers that had abounded up until the 1860s, when their first works were published. Lear was one of the first authors of children’s literature to push these boundaries, and this biogpraphy shows that he was more than this, that he led a fascinating life in a time when there were different expectations for everyone.

Booktopia

 

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After I’ve Gone by Linda Green

after i'VE GONE.jpgTitle: After I’ve Gone
Author: Linda Green
Genre: Thriller/Crime
Publisher: Quercus/Hachette
Published: 25th July 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 440
Price: $29.99
Synopsis: You have 18 months left to live . . . On a wet Monday in January, Jess Mount checks Facebook and discovers her timeline appears to have skipped forward 18 months, to a day when shocked family and friends are posting heart-breaking tributes to her following her death in an accident. Jess is left scared and confused: is she the target of a cruel online prank or is this a terrifying glimpse of her true fate?
Amongst the posts are photos of a gorgeous son she has not yet conceived. But when new posts suggest her death was deliberate, Jess realises that if she changes the future to save her own life, the baby boy she has fallen in love with may never exist.

~*~

After abrasively brushing off someone who gropes her on public transport, Jess Mount has a chance encounter with someone who seems too good to be true: too good-looking, too polite – he seems too perfect, and at the time, Jess is in no mood to be hit on whilst she heads to work with her best friend Sadie as a cinema hostess. After encountering this man – Lee – she begins seeing strange posts and messages on her Facebook, eighteen months into the future, hinting at her death, and a child she hasn’t even imagined having yet. Only she can see these posts though, and the people around her begin to question her state of mind as the novel goes on, delving into past events that have had an effect on her since she was fifteen. As she enters a relationship with Lee, she ignores warning signs and threats, until the messages begin to make sense, and she makes moves to change her fate, including how she refers to her unborn child.

Using first person narrative, and told through the eyes of Jess and Lee’s mother, Angela, the novel moves through the months that lead up to the birth of the child the future posts hint at, the courtship, a wedding and Lee’s changing attitudes towards her. The world is shown through the eyes of Jess and Angela, both not wanting to see the bad side to Lee, both trying to cover up what is really happening, but with one looking for an ending that will not be what her Facebook feed determines it will be.

It is a thriller that has a twisted romance within it, and it was a rather strange storyline – for example, the if, why and how the future and messages appear are not dealt with, and perhaps this works best. Perhaps what has been hinted at from Jess’s past is what has her seeing them. However, as we are not given an answer, the reader is left to speculate and fill in any gaps in the alternating chapters themselves.

Whilst not my usual genre to read, I gave this a decent try, and read it with an open mind. At first, I felt it was slow but the last half or so I read quickly to find out what happened. I did find it a strange, creepy and perhaps interesting premise given how much people live their lives on social media these days, and it did work for the novel. I may pass this on, as I don’t think it is my cup of tea. I am confident that Linda’s fan base and readers of this genre will enjoy it though, and I hope that they do.

Booktopia

Harry Potter: A History of Magic

A history of magicTitle: Harry Potter: A History of Magic

Author: British Library

Genre: Exhibition Catalogue/Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 6th November 2017

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 256

Price: $49.99

Synopsis: Harry Potter: A History of Magic is the official book of the exhibition, a once-in-a-lifetime collaboration between Bloomsbury, J.K. Rowling and the brilliant curators of the British Library. It promises to take readers on a fascinating journey through the subjects studied at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry – from Alchemy and Potions classes through to Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures.

Each chapter showcases a treasure trove of artefacts from the British Library and other collections around the world, beside exclusive manuscripts, sketches and illustrations from the Harry Potter archive. There’s also a specially commissioned essay for each subject area by an expert, writer or cultural commentator, inspired by the contents of the exhibition – absorbing, insightful and unexpected contributions from Steve Backshall, the Reverend Richard Coles, Owen Davies, Julia Eccleshare, Roger Highfield, Steve Kloves, Lucy Mangan, Anna Pavord and Tim Peake, who offer a personal perspective on their magical theme.

Readers will be able to pore over ancient spell books, amazing illuminated scrolls that reveal the secret of the Elixir of Life, vials of dragon’s blood, mandrake roots, painted centaurs and a genuine witch’s broomstick, in a book that shows J.K. Rowling’s magical inventions alongside their cultural and historical forebears.

This is the ultimate gift for Harry Potter fans, curious minds, big imaginations, bibliophiles and readers around the world who missed out on the chance to see the exhibition in person.

hplogo

~*~

For twenty years, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Hogwarts have charmed the world, adults and children alike. From the very first lines about the perfectly normal Dursleys in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to the final words of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows as a new generation begins Hogwarts, millions of people have been captivated by Harry and his friends. To celebrate the twentieth anniversary, new House editions, and various related books have been published. To coincide with this anniversary, The British Library has curated an exhibit of Harry Potter memorabilia, and related historical and literary items that have been associated with magic across the world throughout history, and influenced the subjects and the world of Harry Potter. Harry Potter: A History of Magic is a journey not just through Harry’s world but an entire historical and literary world of magic and beliefs in magic.

hp20_230From Potions to Magical Creatures, Herbology and Charms, this book has it all. The world of magic is varied, diverse and complex, and the history behind it is fascinating. Covering the power of words – Charms and the origins and ideas behind some of the magical creatures in Fantastic Beast’s and Where To Find Them, such as dragons and their eggs, the phoenix and unicorns, and their real life counterparts and imaginings as shown in ancient and medieval texts, which are part of the curated exhibit, from various museum collections, and give insight into a pre-science understanding of the world that is fascinating and intriguing.

The exhibition catalogue is separated into several chapters: The Journey, Potions and Alchemy, Herbology, Charms, Astronomy, Divination, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Care of Magical Creatures, and Past, Present and Future. Transfiguration is spoken about in Charms, and each chapter begins with an essay relating to the topic, where the Harry Potter subject is outlined, and a brief history given before historical, literary and Harry Potter specific images of artefacts are presented with notes, such as images of drafts of chapters in some books, and information about Fantastic Beasts and The Cursed Child.

Being able to read this book meant I was able to experience the exhibit from the page. Whilst I would love to go over to London and see this in person at the British Museum, the magic is not lost experiencing it on the page. You still get to see the images of the artefacts, and read the essays and notes, and see Jim Kay’s illustrations. It allowed me to immerse myself in the world beyond the books, and imagine being at the British Library, looking at the hand-written pages by JK Rowling that hold the first hints of the magic to come that charmed the world and that continues to do so.

Booktopia

The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie: Including Little Ragged Blossom and Little Obelia by May Gibbs

snugglepotTitle: The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie: Including Little Ragged Blossom and Little Obelia

Author: May Gibbs

Genre: Children’s Literature

Publisher: HarperCollins

Published: 2017 (Originally published in 1918)

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 272

Price: $39.99

Synopsis: The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie combines in one edition May Gibbs’ much-loved classics, the Tales of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie (first published in 1918) and its two sequels, Little Ragged Blossom (1920) and Little Obelia (1921).

Quintessentially Australian, these delightful tales have never been out of print; indeed the fantasy world of May Gibbs has been a source of continual fascination for generations of children. May’s is a world filled with fears and excitement and adventures both extraordinary and everyday. A world peopled with small creatures, where the real mixes tantalisingly with the imaginary and provides a window to the magic we all believe exists in the bush.

In this new edition, all of May’s original artwork has been sourced and re-scanned and the illustrations look as exquisite as the day May put down her paintbrush all those years ago. A fresh new design in full colour that is true to the original editions of these three stories makes this new edition a delight to rediscover – or read for the very first time.

~*~

aww2017-badgeIn 1918, a post-war generation of Australian children were introduced to the magical bush world of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. Whether this was done on purpose, or coincidentally, the timing of the conclusion of World War One (The Great War) and the publication of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie presented an ideal world to escape to, as many children’s books do. Snugglepot and Cuddlepie are two Gumnut brothers, whose curiosity and sense of adventure got them into many a scrape that their friends Mr Lizard, Mr Kookaburra, and Mrs Possum help them out of, in an idealised bush community, bordered by the Big Bad City, where all manner of evil can befall the young Nuts. Together, they venture into the city, obtain clothes, and find a new friend, Little Ragged Blossom. They attend a picture theatre and are always running from The Big Bad Banksia Men and Mrs Snake, devious characters whose desire to harm Snugglepot and Cuddlepie drives the tension, but these characters will always come to a sticky end, with the Nuts managing to escape and save their friends.

These bush fairy tales are unique to Australia, and May Gibbs, as a contemporary of Beatrix Potter, and au author within the same vein of using nature to inspire, and her own words and drawings to tell a story – I think is the Australian Beatrix Potter, as both worked in conservation to preserve the native wildlife and nature they adored and lived amongst. They were amongst the first Australian stories I was exposed to, and some of the first children’s stories that most Australian children have been exposed to for the past one hundred years. In these stories, May Gibbs takes the Gum Nut and bush flower babies introduced in 1916’s Gumnut Babies, and create stories using them as characters that introduce children to the Australian bush, in a world where technology competes for their attention. These beautifully written and illustrated stories establish a love for the Australian bush, and are one of many books by Australian authors published in the history of Australian publishing that establishes what it is to be Australian. Snugglepot and Cuddlepie are a part of the Australian psyche and culture, accessible to anyone, and full of fun and whimsy.

Books are a part of a culture, and the Snugglepot and Cuddlepie books are amongst the most popular in Australia, and perhaps some of the most significant books that have shaped the nation – there are many others that have done so over the years, and in doing so, have contributed to a valuable literary culture that thrives to this day, which is where the Tales from…. series published by Scholastic and that I have also reviewed on my blog come in – introducing Snugglepot and Cuddlepie to a new generation.

The Snugglepot and Cuddlepie books and characters are delightful to read and are aimed at older children, aged eight and older who can read on their own. However, they are also appropriate to be read to children of any age, if they are interested. The world of May Gibbs is a treasured one in Australia, and one that I hope generations continue to adore, and that will continue to stay in print for the next hundred years – as it has never been out of print since the initial 1918 publication.

Buy Snugglepot and Cuddlepie here:

https://www.maygibbs.org

Tales from the Bush by May Gibbs and Jane Massam

TALES-BUSHTitle: Tales from the Bush
Author: May Gibbs and Jane Massam
Genre: Children’s Fiction/Picture Book
Publisher: Scholastic Australia
Published: 6th February 2017
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 24
Price: $19.99
Synopsis: Available now from Scholastic Australia, Tales from the Bush is the next book available in the ‘Tales from’ series of stories inspired by May Gibbs lovable Australian bush characters, celebrating 100 years of Gumnut Babies.
Join Snugglepot and Cuddlepie for some wonderful adventures in the Australian bush. Fall in love with May Gibbs’ classic characters as they go camping in search of treasure, garden with Little Ragged Blossom and deal with mischievous Mrs Snake!
This beautifully illustrated storybook is perfect for shared reading before bedtime and introduces children to the beauty and diversity of the Australian bush.
All royalties from the sale of May Gibbs products support the work of The Northcott Society and Cerebral Palsy Alliance in providing services to Australian children living with disability and their families.

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aww2017-badgeIn the third book of the series, Tales from the Bush, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie search for treasure, left behind by a Banksia man (who are big in this book, but the ones they encounter are not bad), on the riverbank, following footprints to find the gold of years past, and instead, find a much more valuable treasure that they will always have. Then, they plant a garden with Little Ragged Blossom, their new friend, from a necklace of what they thought had been berries, and create a world of beauty for her.
When the Bush Dance is about to be held, they encounter Mrs Snake, whose mischievous ways have caused everyone to abandon her, and Mr Lizard to revoke her invitation to the Bush Dance. These charming stories are full of friendship, and the undying kindness and curiosity of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie that generations of Australian children have come to adore. They are a delightful bedtime read, and great tool to help children learn to read and gain confidence whilst learning about the Australian bush, and its flora and fauna. The fantastical elements that these stories and the originals have brought to the wildlife and wild flowers of Australia, in a world that many have written about over the years, and a world that is as much a part of the Australian identity as other parts of our history and literature.
I enjoyed reading this book – for me it was a quick read and I think it is an ideal book for children learning to read. This series captures the original magic of May Gibbs for a new audience and readership with text by Jane Massam in a new century where technological toys compete with books for our attention.

 

Buy the books here:

https://www.maygibbs.org/

or here:

Booktopia

Tales from the Gum Tree by May Gibbs and Jane Massam

TALES-GUM-PB.jpgTitle: Tales from the Gum Tree

Author: May Gibbs and Jane Massam

Genre: Children’s Fiction/Picture Book

Publisher: Scholastic Australia

Published: January 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 24

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Oh my!‘ cried Snugglepot. ‘I’m flying, I’m really flying!‘ He couldn’t believe he was up in the big blue sky, and it was simply glorious.

Join Snugglepot and Cuddlepie on their enchanting adventures through the Australian bush. With amazing butterfly rides, boating escapades and a surprise moonlight pageant, prepare to fall in love with May Gibbs’ classic characters. A new story based on May Gibbs’ enchanting Gumnut Babies characters.

Perfect for ages 3 to 6.

~*~

The Tales From series uses May Gibbs characters and illustrations with text by Jane Massam.

aww2017-badgeThe first in the Tales from…series, (the second Tales from The Billabong, was reviewed prior to this one), Tales from the Gum-Tree reunites readers with Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, in a story aimed at early readers, and introduces new readers to a world that has never been out of print since it was first revealed to Australians at the height of the First World War.

The new series of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie stories use the same charm and style of the originals, for new and old readers alike. Where the originals can be read by confident readers of any age or to younger readers, this series can be read to children and to help teach them to read through the simple language used to tell the mesmerising tales of the bush that May Gibbs loved.

In these tales, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie embark on a variety of escapades, where they watch dragonfly races, where brave bush racers ride dragonflies in an epic race, much to the delight of Snugglepot, who wishes to join in, and the horror of Cuddlepie, whose desire to stay in the safety of the boughs of the gum tree loses against his curiosity. A boat ride across the creek sees them in need of warming themselves by a comforting fire, and lost during the night, after a feast with the possums, they stumble across a moonlight pageant in their search for the perfect birthday present for Mrs Kookaburra. These three short tales are perfect to read to young children, or as a tool to help them learn to read when they are ready, and they will learn to identify native Australian animals as they read.

Buy the book here:

https://www.maygibbs.org

or at Booktopia:

or through Angus and Robertson Bookworld:

First Australian Reads: May Gibbs and The Gumnut Babies.

The first in what I hope will be a series and ongoing theme about Australian books and literature sincesnugglepot.png colonial times, as well as recent literature, and the bush poets that have shaped what it means to be Australian, this post on May Gibbs and the Gumnut Babies is my introduction to this project. I will still be reviewing books sent to me and by non-Australian authors, but I would like to promote Australian literature and the book industry here as well.

The literature of a nation can shape a country – whether it is oral or written, or oral and later recorded. Australian literature was shaped first through bush stories and bush poets, and some of the most popular authors and their writings have remained in print for decades. As a child, having access to a variety of literature from Australia and around the world – shaped my love of reading and has shaped a passion for Australian stories – wherever they come from and whoever may write them. To begin my series about this area of literature, here are some of my thoughts on May Gibbs.

Australian children have grown up for generations with iconic picture books and stories that have shaped their early years and cemented an Australian identity through the books that are read to them as young toddlers and that they then learn to read themselves. From there, they will explore Australian novels and poetry that have shaped and continue to shape our nation as more unique Australian voices are heard. However, one of the first books that young Australians will be introduced to and that, for nearly a century, has enchanted children and people of all ages, are the stories of the gumnut babies – Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, and their escape from The Big Bad Banksia Men.

aww2017-badgeMay Gibbs began her paintings of the gumnut baby characters in 1916, beginning with the first story, Gumnut Babies as well as illustrating cards to send to soldiers during the First World War. In 1918, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie was published, and will celebrate its 100th Birthday next year. It has never been out of print since, and can be found at the Nutcote gift shop, where May Gibbs lived and wrote, as well as other booksellers across Australia.

Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and the gumnut babies are Australia’s answer to the fairy tales of Europe that children are read. They allow Australian children to explore the Australian environment through a unique fairy tale that does not involve castles and ogres, but babies born from gumnuts and evil banksia men that threaten them when they get lost. A review and giveaway with the May Gibbs Foundation will be forthcoming in the next few months, so watch this space.