by Walter de la Mare
Age: 8+ (read to); 11+ (independent reading)
Interests: folk tales, fairy tales, animals, magic, romance, fairies, spooky stories, adventure, travel, cats, monkeys
Faber and Faber Ltd.: 1947
400 pp. ; 17 stories
Also by this author: The Three Royal Monkeys, Peacock Pie, The Listeners and Other Poems, Come Hither (as editor)
As Walter de la Mare provided me with the very name of this blog (look in right top corner for his quote), it seems ridiculous that it has taken me this long to review one of his books!
De la Mare wrote short stories, novels and poetry for adults and for children. Collected Stories for Children brought together his best children’s stories from the previous decade or so, and was the first story collection to win the Carnegie Medal.
I have to admit that it took me a long time to read this 400-page brick of a book. The stories are written in a dreamy, romantic style, and are extremely wordy and dense. What saves them, however, from being cobwebby old relics is that they are so exceedingly odd and spooky.
These fascinating tales are steeped in atmosphere: mysterious, supernatural, and compelling. They can be quite dark, playing true to their obvious inspirations of old-time folk and fairy tales, telling about the tricky relations between deceiving fairies and gullible humans. Often the spookiness is all effect, as in Alice’s Godmother, which I found really creepy, although nothing bad or remotely scary actually happens. It’s all in the setting and descriptions. Broomsticks simply relates the growing suspicions of an old woman about her cat, but ends without resolution.
Often the stories start out on a predictable, charming enough path, then turn melancholy and off-kilter, as in The Old Lion, about the adventures of a talking monkey brought to bustling London. Fame and fortune mean nothing to Jasper, but when he finally returns to his African home he doesn’t receive the warm welcome he dreams of.
I was a little leery of the one with Sambo in the title, but it’s actually a thoughtful story about how sad it is when a boy wishes he were another colour.
Collected Stories is long, wordy, and dense, but I’d still recommend this book because the stories are so unusual, and so beautifully written. They don’t always hand a tidily sewn-up conclusion to the reader, in fact many of them end on a ponderous, unsettling note. (The Riddle in particular is a bizarre little horror story!) I recommend this book because I think it’s a good idea to occasionally veer away from the formulaic and give kids a taste of something truly different!
This book may work best as a read-aloud – an older reader might read it on her/his own, but only if they are advanced and ambitious readers, not afraid to tackle antiquated speech and slow-moving plots.
Stories in this collection:
Dick and the Beanstalk
The Dutch Cheese
A Penny a Day
The Three Sleeping Boys of Warwickshire
The Lovely Myfanwy
The Magic Jacket
The Lord Fish
The Old Lion
Sambo and the Snow Mountains