In A Dark Wood
"In the mid-path of my life, I woke to find myself in a dark wood," wrote Dante in The Divine Comedy, marking the start of a quest that will lead to transformation and redemption. Likewise, a journey through the dark of the woods is a common motif in fairy tales: young heroes set off through the perilous forest in order to reach their destiny; or they find themselves abandoned there, cast off and left for dead. The road is long and treacherous, prowled by ghosts, ghouls, wicked witches, wolves, and the more malign sorts of faeries....but helpers also appear on the path: wise crones, good faeries, and animal guides, often cloaked in unlikely disguise. The hero's task is to tell friend from foe, and to keep walking steadily onward..."
Lost In the Woods
Being lost in the woods, where there is no clear path to follow, and the light is fading, is a serious and frightening matter.
Wild beasts, dangerous people, and invading armies cannot be seen in the dark forests. But they are there, in the mind of the author, the teller of tales, the animator...and in the mind of the child, until the story or myth finds light, escape and salvation.
So it was in a tale told, in 1805, by 12 year old Henriette Dorathea Wild, to the Brothers Grimm: Hansel and Gretel.
Hansel and Gretel, The Impossible Tale
I have always found this to be a dark and disturbing tale. It deals with war, famine, abandonment, fear, cannibalism, a witch, dark forces and death in a rather overwhelming confluence. And the central characters are children who must experience and deal with these problems.
Moreover, in Hansel and Gretel, the line between reality and fantasy is often blurred.
Fortunately, as is the custom in the tradition of fairy tales, escape from the darkness, salvation, and a happy ending offer relief from the darkness.
But what about mother? Mother in various versions of this tale tends to be heartless, self-centered and uncaring. The Grimms, in their seventh edition, transformed the cruel mother into a cruel stepmother.
The father, despite having regrets, remorse, sadness, and love for his children, is nevertheless a partner in his wife's dark scheme of abandonment.
'No, wife,' said the man, 'I will not do that; how can I bear to leave my children alone in the forest?—the wild animals would soon come and tear them to pieces.' 'O, you fool!' said she, 'then we must all four die of hunger, you may as well plane the planks for our coffins,' and she left him no peace until he consented. 'But I feel very sorry for the poor children, all the same,' said the man."
Fear and loss of hope...a mirror to the past.
The top illustration is by Theodor Hosemann; The lower illustration is by Arthur Rackham
The Return of Hansel and Gretel
This is the setting -- famine and the aftermath war -- for this fairy tale of abandoned children. Gaimen's decision to spell out the chaos and hunger that overwhelmed the woodcutter and his family, is the impetus for all that follows.
This is a fairy tale, and therefore has a happy ending. The children return home to a great embrace by their father who had been searching for them every day in the forest. Mother has died for reasons "no one alive can say". However, "the treasures they had brought from the old woman's cottage kept them comfortable, and there were to be no more empty plates in their lives."
The Human Condition
"Written with a devastating spareness by Neil Gaiman and fearsomely illustrated in shades of black by Lorenzo Mattotti, the newest version of 'Hansel and Gretel' astonishes from start to finish...Their rendition brings a freshness and even a feeling of majesty to the little tale. Some great, roiling essence of the human condition — our fate of shuttling between the darkness and the light — seems to inhabit its pages...
The insights above were taken from Maria Russo's review of Hansel and Gretel in the New York Times
An insight by Angela Carter reminds us that fairy tales, tales of wonder, connect us to the world of our ancestors...
"For most of human history, 'literature,' both fiction and poetry, has been narrated, not written — heard, not read. So fairy tales, folk tales, stories from the oral tradition, are all of them the most vital connection we have with the imaginations of the ordinary men and women whose labor created our world.” ― Angela Carter
The painting of Finnish country women talking after church is by Albert Edelfelt
"The Grimms are in our blood. The fairy tales of 'Cinderella', 'Hansel and Gretel,' The Fisherman and His Wife', 'Rumpelstiltskin' and dozens of others have become the common currency of our imagination. The cottage and the castle, or the forest or the mountain, have become the houses for our fears...
... "We come to realize just how many of the Grimms' 'Tales' were about the family. These are stories of parents challenged by rural poverty, of husbands and wives fighting over who's in charge, of craftsmen who, for all their skill, cannot reshape their worlds. The 'once upon a time' here is a time of fishermen who get no fish, of shoemakers too poor to purchase leather, of unsuccessful millers and subsistence woodsmen. Many of these stories are tales of failed fathers who must make devilish deals to keep their children or, at worst, send them away.
And in those children, we may find true heroes. 'Hansel and Gretel' is really a fable of ingenuity: finding the pebbles or the breadcrumbs to mark the path home, or taking advantage of a witch's vanity to push her into an oven."
How to Change the World in Thirty Seconds is dedicated to all of the individuals and groups who devote their heads, hands, and hearts to improving the world for companion animals.
You are all, every one of you, my heroes -- C.A. Wulff
"The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless."
"Some of the best books being published today are children’s and young adult titles, well-written and engaging books that capture the imagination. Many of us can enjoy them as adults, but more importantly, can pass along our appreciation for books to the next generation by helping parents, teachers, librarians and others to find wonderful books, promote lifelong reading, and present literacy ideas." Here is a link to Kidlitosphere.
The illustration from Planet Of The Dogs is by Stella Mustanoja-McCarty
An Enchanting Tale
Here are excerpts from the review of Planet Of The Dogs by Wayne Walker...
"Did you ever wonder how dogs came to be man’s best friend? I’m sure that there is some historical explanation, although it may be shrouded in the mists of prehistoric times. But in your mind’s eye think back to those times and just imagine for a minute that there is a planet far out in space on the other side of the sun that is inhabited by intelligent dogs that live in peace and happiness. As the book opens, the dogs learn that there is trouble on Earth. Bik, the greedy leader of the warlike Stone tribe of Stone City, is planning to invade and conquer the peaceful people of Lake Village and surrounding Green Valley...
Author Robert J. McCarty has created a charming fantasy-allegory that can be read and understood on at least two different levels. Children will enjoy the story about dogs that come from another planet to help people on earth. But under the surface are the important messages of friendship, love, loyalty, and overcoming evil with good.
Stella Mustanoja McCarty’s black-and-white shaded drawings are delightful companions to the text. Two sequels are now available, Castle in the Mist and Snow Valley Heroes: A Christmas Tale. Barking Planet Productions supports therapy dog reading programs across the country with book donations. Both old and young, especially dog lovers, will find Planet of the Dogs an enchanting tale."
Wayne Walker reviews for Stories for Children Magazine, Home School Book Reviews, and Home School Buzz.
Arriving At Truth
"So I believe that we should trust our children. Normal children do not confuse reality and fantasy -- they confuse them much less often than we adults do (as a certain great fantasist pointed out in a story called 'The Emperor's New Clothes'). Children know perfectly well that unicorns aren't real, but they also know that books about unicorns, if they are good books, are true books. All too often, that's more than Mummy and Daddy know; for, in denying their childhood, the adults have denied half their knowledge, and are left with the sad, sterile little fact: 'Unicorns aren't real.' And that fact is one that never got anyone anywhere (except in the story 'The Unicorn in the Garden,' by another great fantasist, in which it is shown that a devotion to the unreality of unicorns may get you straight into the loony bin.) It is by such statements as, 'Once upon a time there was a dragon,' or 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit' -- it is by such beautiful non-facts that we fantastic human beings may arrive, in our peculiar fashion, at truth."
Light in the Darkness
The damaged lives and suffering of children and their parents in today's war-torn world affect us all. The International Rescue Committee provides help to children in over 20 countries. Here are excerpts from their website
"Currently 20 million children and adolescents are uprooted from their homes either as refugees or internally displaced persons. In order to respond to this, the IRC promotes the protection and development of children and youth, from the earliest stages of an emergency, through post-conflict and recovery....
In over 20 countries, the IRC’s community-based, participatory and holistic children and youth programs include:
IRC provides counseling and services to young people who have experienced disease, abuse, exploitation or loss and separation from their families.
IRC “child-friendly spaces” provide the youngest victims of war and natural disaster with a safe place to play, participate in structured activities and to heal from trauma and loss while rebuilding a sense of normalcy.
The IRC trains educators, constructs classroom, and supports schools that are attended by hundreds of thousands of children.
We provide skills training to young people who have had their education or careers interrupted by war or natural disaster. More than half of those who receive such training are girls...".
Here is a video about the vital work of the International Rescue Comittee
Here is very moving video... A Syrian Refugee Mother's Plea
- "Come away, O human child!
- To the waters and the wild
- With a faery, hand in hand.
- For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand."
From The Stolen Child by William Butler Yeats
Trying to Reach Home
The illustration that greets you at the top of this blog is from Tomm Moore's movie folktale, the Song of the Sea, an amalgam of Irish folklore and Moore's imagination. Here are excerpts from the Guardian's 5 Star review:
"A gorgeous, almost painterly tale of two siblings trying to reach home, but waylaid by witches, owls and faeries...This superb Irish animation from the director of 2009’s The Secret of Kells is a treat; an enchanting and very moving 'family film'. Once again, the story is rooted in Irish folklore, with selkies, giants and faeries slipping in and out of a tale of a vanished mother, a grieving father, and two lost but resourceful children trying to make their way home."
"A finely calibrated shiver of a movie, “The Witch” opens on a scene of religious wrath. On a New England plantation,
around 1630, a true believer, William (Ralph Ineson), and his family are facing a grim assemblage. The setting is a kind of meeting house crowded with men, women and children, a congregation whose silence and unsmiling faces imply disapproval or perhaps fear. Whether they’re standing in judgment doesn’t matter to William, whose arrogant faith in his own notion of Christianity is as deep and darkly unsettling as his sepulchral voice...
Written and directed by Robert Eggers, “The Witch ” takes place in an America that in its extremes feels more familiar than its period drag might suggest. It’s set a decade after the Mayflower landed in Plymouth and tracks William’s family as it leaves the plantation to settle down alone at the edge of a forest. There, the family members build a farm, grow corn and commit themselves to God, a contract tested by a series of calamities that turn this story of belief into a freak-out of doubt...
A Tribute to Hayao Miyazaki
The Essence of Humanity is a 17 minute montage of compelling moments from the wonderful films of Hayao Miyazaki.
Miyazaki said:"Creating animation means creating a fictional world. That world soothes the spirit of those who are disheartened and exhausted from dealing with the sharp edges of reality." Written and narrated by Lewis Bond. Here is a link:The Essence of Humanity
Inside Out Wins Both the Academy Award and the Golden Globe...
Apparently, this is a true breakthrough film from Pixar with great reviews and huge audiences of kids and parents...with a worldwide box office of over $850,000 before the awards.
Here is an excerpt from A.O. Scott's rave review in the NY Times: "
"The story takes place mostly in the head of an 11-year-old girl named Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), who has just moved with her parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) from Minnesota to San Francisco. What happens to Riley on the outside is pretty standard: a dinner-table argument with Mom and Dad; a rough day at school; a disappointing hockey tryout. But anyone who has been or known a child Riley’s age will understand that such mundane happenings can be the stuff of major interior drama.
......... The achievement of “Inside Out” is at once subtler and more impressive. This is a movie almost entirely populated by abstract concepts moving through theoretical space. This world is both radically new — you’ve never seen anything like it — and instantly recognizable, as familiar aspects of consciousness are given shape and voice. Remember your imaginary childhood friend? Your earliest phobias? Your strangest dreams? You will, and you will also have a newly inspired understanding of how and why you remember those things..."
Here is the link to the trailer of Inside Out
The Little Prince
After a very positive and successful reception in Europe, The Little Prince opens on March 18 in the USA. Apparently,
the movie version is a story within a story; the integrity of the original appears to be respected and intact. Here is an excerpt from the very positive review in Variety by Scott Foundas :
GUARDIAN, wrote an article in praise of libraries..."Libraries today are as fast as and more generous than any online bookshop"...here is an excerpt:
..."It turns out that, during my five-year hiatus, the convenience argument has expired. The New York Public Library system has made it fantastically easy to order any book directly from your computer. There is a phone app, and an app for downloading ebooks. The half-empty shelves are irrelevant given that you can put a hold on any book in the entire New York system and it will be delivered to your branch within days. This week, I went on a half-hysterical borrowing frenzy and ordered ...Then I took my kids to the children’s section upstairs, where there are play mats and huge windows and a librarian who is very cross, all of the time, particularly if you try to feed your child a snack without her seeing. After almost 10 years in New York, I’ve never felt so at home."
At their best, the storytelling of fairy tales constitute the most profound articulation of the human struggle to form and maintain a civilizing process. They depict metaphorically the opportunities for human adaptation to our environment and reflect the conflicts that arise when we fail to establish civilizing codes commensurate with the self-interests of large groups within the human population...." Jack Zipes on The Art Of Storytelling Show
More Children in Crisis
The National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos & the Spanish Speaking
" REFORMA, established in 1971 as an affiliate of the American Library Association (ALA), has actively sought to promote the development of library collections to include Spanish-language and Latino oriented materials; the recruitment of more bilingual and bicultural library professionals and support staff; the development of library services and programs...
The recent arrival of over 70,000 children crossing the southern border into the United States has created an unprecedented humanitarian refugee crisis that compels REFORMA as an organization to act.The children, mostly Spanish speaking, are coming from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. While recent news coverage of this event has focused on legal, medical and emergency response to services, there are few if any news stories that demonstrate the social-emotional and information needs of these children and families. A view of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities shows children waiting in large storage like facilities with no activities to occupy the children’s minds through learning and play while they are being processed.
With no knowledge of where they are going or if they will reach their families in the United States, REFORMA has implemented a project,Children in Crisis, to solicit donations, purchase and deliver books for these children. We are soliciting children's books in Spanish to be delivered to the children in the detention centers in and to the shelters and group homes around the country where these children are sent after being processed. In the second phase of the project we will be coordinating backpacks that will contain books as well as paper, pencils, erasers, crayons and a writing journal for children to use in their journey toward their destination..."
Here is a link to learn more: Reforma Website. The Reforma photo is of a library visit by Hispanic shelter children.
Assistance Dogs of the West, Santa Fe , N.M., has won a $5,000 grant from the Planet Dog Foundation (PDF) for their wonderful work with therapy dogs.
Here are excerpts from their site:
"Simply put, we teach students to train dogs to help people. Since 1995, more than 2500 student trainers in New Mexico have taken part in the ADW Assistance Dog Student Training program, the largest of its kind in the world. This work strengthens relationships, builds skills and nurtures empathy among young people, the dogs they train and our clients..."
Warrior Canine Connection
Warrior Canine Connection™ (WCC™) teaches warriors with combat injuries how to train service dogs for other veterans with disabilities. The dogs are trained to provide mobility support and to offer constant, non-judgmental, healing companionship to minds and bodies ravaged by war.
Here is an excerpt from the Planet Dog Foundation Site with a succinct overview:
'Assistance Dogs of the West teaches students of all ages to help train service dogs and provide dogs to people with physical, psychological, and developmental disabilities including assistance dogs, medical alert dogs, autism assistance dogs, classroom and therapy dogs, PTSD relief dogs, and more. The $5,000 PDF grant will specifically support their work with Court House Dogs, who accompany and support victims of crime, primarily children and victims of domestic violence, to foster a safer and more comfortable environment as they provide depositions and give testimony in court."
We have free reader copies of the Planet Of The Dogs series for therapy dog organizations, individual therapy dog owners, librarians and teachers...simply send us an email at email@example.com and we will send you the books: Planet Of The Dogs. Castle In The Mist, Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale.
Our books are available through independent bookstores, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Powell's and many more.
The Planet Of The Dogs series is now available in digital format at
Librarians, teachers, bookstores...You can also order Planet Of The Dogs series, through Ingram with a full professional discount.
To read sample chapters of the series, visit PlanetOfTheDogs
About Sunbear: Sunbear was a young male chocolate Labrador Retriever in a West Virginia town. One summer day in 2002, his owner locked him into a dark townhouse laundry room, and walked away forever. Incredibly, he was alone in the dark without food and water for 6 endless weeks before he was discovered.