I first saw a sculpture of the Hindu goddess Saraswati in front of a high school in Bali, Indonesia. Saraswati is the four-armed Hindu goddess of learning, music, and art. In one of her hands, she holds a book. I was surprised that the statue showed her atop a spread-winged goose. In my mind’s eye there suddenly appeared a venerated figure from my own culture, Mother Goose. According to an old nursery rhyme (which may once have actually rhymed),
Old Mother Goose,
When she wanted to wander,
Would fly through the air
On a very fine gander.
Was Saraswati a relative of Mother Goose, I wondered. After all, the Indonesian island of Bali is at the far southeast corner of the Indo-European culture area, England is at the northwest edge.
I remembered Saraswati last week, when a teacher shared a quote from Reading Magic by Mem Fox,
"Experts in literacy and child development have discovered that if children know eight nursery rhymes by heart by the time they're four years old, they're usually among the best readers by the time they're eight."
In Bali, Saraswati is venerated for all her gifts. She even has her own Saraswati Day.
Mother Goose, meanwhile, has been banished to the nursery. But apparently she hasn’t lost her goddess power, and woe to any parent who neglects to pass along her rhymes.
This statue of Saraswati and her goose (looking more like a swan?), created by five Balinese sculptors led by I. Nyoman Sudarwa, was unveiled at the Indonesian Embassy in Washington DC in 2013. One of the three studious children sitting by Saraswati is a young Barack Obama, who lived in Indonesia as a boy.
Saglana Salchak, a soon-to-be-five-year-old girl, lived with her grandparents in the taiga forest of Siberia, near the Mongolian border. When she awoke one morning last month, she wasn’t able to rouse her grandmother. Her grandfather, who is blind, told her to go to the nearest neighbor, five miles away, and get help. Saglana took a box of matches in case she needed to light a fire.
“It was very cold and I was so hungry,' said the girl. "But I wasn't scared. I was just walking, walking, walking. And I finally got there."
Semen Rubtsov, head of search and rescue in Tuva, praised the girl:
“Herders’ children are more prepared to such extreme situations than kids who live in the cities. . . .There was a great danger—wild animals. Bears are hibernating now, but Tuva is crowded with wolves . . . . In the dark she could easily have stumbled on a pack. This girl was lucky that she did not meet them. Her only hope would have been to climb a tree.”
This real-life adventure contains elements of "Little Red Riding Hood,” but in a different configuration. Did Saglana’s family tell her a tale about a child, a solo journey, and a wolf, I wonder. Many folktales for young children offer practical advice for dangerous situations. European "Red Riding Hood" tales warn children to stay on the path. Chinese “Red Riding Hood” tales describe escaping a tiger by climbing a tree.
The covered basketball court behind the Multnomah Art Center continues to serve as my research lab for contemporary hopscotch. After a year of observing and interviewing the kids, it appears that although traditional hopscotch is an inspiration for their drawings, none of the artists ever try to play. They are usually drawing solo This past week it's been raining heavily. Basketball players have stayed away, and chalk artists have covered the asphalt. Keiko suspects that squirrels may be responsible for this particular fantasy hopscotch, which originates about twenty feet outside the frame of the photo.
Born February 24, 1786
This is a portrait of Wilhelm Grimm in 1815, at the age of twenty-nine, just after the publication of Kinder- und Hausmärchen, known in English as Grimms' Fairy Tales. Nearly every portrait of the Brothers Grimm shows them as older men, but they collected and published their tales when they were in their twenties. Wilhelm went on to revise new editions of the collection for the next 45 years.
The first volume of the first edition of Grimms' Fairy Tales, published in 1812, was a very small book, 6 inches high by 3 1/2 inches wide—about the size of the display on my Kindle.
The book's publisher, Georg Reimer, advertised it as a family read-aloud, and also as a book that would help children learn to read. The book would fit nicely into small hands. The letters are clear, and the space between words and between lines is generous.
This page is from a copy owned by the Brothers Grimm. It shows the beginning of "Hänsel und Gretel." The handwritten note above the title belongs with the preceding tale, "Nasty Flax Spinning," and indicates that Jacob and Wilhelm heard that tale from Jeannette Hassenpflug in 1812. Other handwriting marks changes the brothers want to make in the next printing.
I've almost finished the manuscript of my book about the Brothers Grimm and their tales.
I love this self-portrait by Ludwig Grimm. It's so lifelike, I imagine I might run into him today in Portland.
Ludwig's more famous older brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, also loved to draw. But Ludwig had special talent. He studied with the painter Philipp Otto Runge, and became a well-known artist and teacher.
Ludwig Grimm drew portraits of his brothers and their friends, and also illustrated the 1825 children's edition of Kinder- und Hausmärchen—Grimms' Fairy Tales.
I can't claim credit for the heart of this story, just for discovering it in an old book of folklore and retelling it for children. This a folktale from Cameroon, Africa, about a bully of an elephant who wins wrestling matching with other large mammals, then falls victim to one of the smallest. It deserves to be reread and reheard for the wisdom it contains.
Read by Bob Kaminski.
It's never too early to start thinking about Krampus, the dark side of Santa (or Saint Nicholas, as in this photo from Austria).
Santa brings goodies in a sack, Krampus puts you in the sack.
For parents, Krampus was a useful bogey: "Be good, or else Krampus will carry you off!" Krampus was especially useful during long, cold winters in remote villages where children were cooped up in the house for weeks at a time and adults struggled to get them to behave. Was it cruel to warn them that Krampus would come and punish them? To reinforce the fiction of Krampus, masked figures would appear in winter parades. They visited homes to ask parents which children had been naughty and which had been nice. That way, parents could defend their children from Krampus and play the good guy.
Do unto ogres . . . . This is a very nasty ogre from Charles Perrault's "Petit Poucet" (Histoires ou contes du temps passé, 1697). Seven brothers arrive at this ogre's door after their parents lose them—on purpose—in the woods. Seven boys? What a coincidence! This ogre has seven daughters. But dinner, not marriage, is in the offing. The ogre feeds the boys and tucks them into a bed next to his daughters' bed. The youngest boy, Petit Poucet ("Little Thumbling") notices that the girls wear golden crowns. When the ogre leaves the room, Petit Poucet puts the boys caps on the girls, the girls' crowns on boys. After dark, when the ogre comes to slit the throats of Petit Poucet and his brothers, he feels their heads, and slits his daughters' throats instead. Eager to destroy the children of strangers, the ogre destroys his own family.