The whole world was watching Friday night (depending on where you live) as the kick-off to the 2012 London Summer Olympics was ceremoniously commenced in true theatrical British style. Among the ideas and accomplishments that were celebrated was the Industrial Revolution, Universal Healthcare, the Internet, music of the ages and British Children’s Literature. Tell me you didn’t miss the part where Captain Hook and Lord Voldemort teamed up in the children’s dreams and was eventually defeated by the army of Mary Poppins?
At first it may seems strange forLondonand Opening Ceremony producer Danny Boyle to have dedicated such a large amount of space to children’s literature. That is until you really take a look at how British children’s literature has played such a large role in helping kids to read all over the world. Below is just a sample of British children’s literature that you’ve probably read as a kid and have read to your kids too.
Mary Poppins (1934) by P.L. Tavers is the story of a London-based family who can’t seem to find a nanny that can control two mischievous little kids. At first Mary Poppins seems to be like any other nanny – taking care of the kids and trying her hardest to keep them out of trouble. That is except that Mary is a no-nonsense person who won’t take excuses from the kids, nor their absentee father. As Mary takes the kids on one adventure after another, she also finds a way to soften their father’s heart so that the family can enjoy spending time together. When all is right, Mary leaves to find a new family that needs her special expertise.
About the Author: P.L. Travers was born Helen Goff in 1899 inQueensland,Australia. In 1924 she immigrated toEngland where she began to write the first Mary Poppins novel under the pen name P.L. Travers. She had a great respect for the author J.M. Barrie who wrote Peter Pan, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to see some of the ideas and elements in Peter Pan making an appearance in the Mary Poppins book series.
Peter Pan (1928) by J.M. Barrie is story of a mischievous boy who refuses to grow up. He spends his childhood seeking adventure with his friends, the Lost Boys, on theisland ofNeverland where they encounter fairies, mermaids and other mythical creatures. Peter Pan befriends 3 children living inLondon and invites them to Neverland where he hopes they will choose to live with him forever as children.
About the Author: J.M. Barrie was born in 1860 inAngus,Scotland and immigrated toLondon,England in 1885 to become a journalist. He had always been fascinated by the stories of swashbuckling pirates written by H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw and Thomas Hardy and read to him as a child.Barrie based his story of Peter Pan on 5 boys of the Llewelyn Davies family he often entertained in the park while walking his St. Bernard and the fantastic stories he would often tell them.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) by Lewis Carroll is a coming of age story about a girl who finds herself in an underground world called Wonderland. As she fights to find her way back home she encounters strange characters such as Mad Hatter and March Hare, the White Rabbit and the Queen of Hearts. As she contends with their silliness and illogical thought process,Alice discovers that she is growing up and losing some of her childish ways represented by Wonderland’s characters.
About the Author: Lewis Carroll was born in 1832 in northernEngland as was a photographer, Anglican deacon and mathematician among other titles he held. He was a tall, slender man plagued by a ruthless stutter that slowed his social development during his adolescent years. The writings of Lewis Carroll have been categorized under the genre of “literary nonsense” and he is known for his ability to word-play, and incorporate logic and fantasy together.
The Jungle Book (1894) by Rudyard Kipling is a collection of fables that set up moral stories and stories of survival in the Indian jungles. Kipling used animals to get his point across to children. Some of the most famous stories include those of Mowgli the “man cub,” the historic mongoose Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and the young elephant handler Toomai. These stories have such strong moral lessons that they were incorporated into the culture and teachings of the Cub Scouts.
About the Author: Rudyard Kipling was born in 1865 in the British Presidency of Bombay, India and moved toEngland at the age of 5. He wrote in many genres and always kept a political or moral undertone to his writings earning him the prestige of being one of the first and still the youngest English-writing novelist to wing the Nobel Prize in Literacy in 1907. As Kipling’s political views changed, he grew in and out of favor with British society.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (1997) by J.K. Rowling is 1st in a series of stories about a young, English boy named Harry Potter who is accepted into the boarding school Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as the age of 12. When Harry arrives at Hogwarts he makes fast friends with two students named Ron and Hermoine and together they help to save the mystical Sorcerer’s Stone from falling into the hands of the Dark Lord.
About the Author: J.K. Rowlings was born inChepstow,England in 1965 and began outlining the plots of the Harry Potter novels while riding the subway to work every day. While living inPortugal and teaching English, she married and gave birth to a daughter. After her divorce, J.K. Rowling moved back theU.K. where she struggled financially – balancing raising a baby and working full time. While teaching school in 1997, her first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books and she took to writing full-time.
While each of these authors were eccentric in their own way and brought on plenty of controversy, their contribution to British literature and children’s literature in general is unprecedented.
What is your favorite children’s book from when you were a child?