Thursday, 3 October 2013

August 2013: Rudyard Kipling's The Just So Stories for Little Children

This month we read Rudyard Kipling's collection of Just So Stories (published in 1902).  This includes the tale of "The Elephant's Child" which - perhaps above all others - recalls my own childhood and the pleasure of being read to at bedtime, and underlines the story-telling power of repetition and alliteration.  More than fifty years on I can still recall my favourite phrase - and my mother's too - and I am always looking for an opportunity to use it.  It's not easy trying to insert the comment "on the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever trees" into any conversation, but I can manage it occasionally.

The sounds and the rhythms of Kipling's writing are so essential to Just So Stories, as are the many new words that he creates especially to delight and to amuse and even to perplex, and so we also listened to an extract from "How the Leopard got his Spots" in an audiobook read by the unforgettable Johnny Morris.

There is so much humour and sheer playful inventiveness in this collection of stories, but there is sadness too. The "O My Best Beloved" referred to throughout the book and to whom the stories are addressed was Kipling's adored daughter, Josephine, who died of pneumonia aged 6 in 1899.  In 2010, a first edition of Kipling's The Jungle Book was discovered , complete with inscription from father to daughter "for whom it was written".

Kipling was and is world-famous: there is nothing to write here about him which hasn't already been written elsewhere.  His stories are an essential and familiar element of all our childhoods.  Sadly, however, his name is becoming disassociated from his most famous story.  A recent survey of schoolchildren found that they largely believed someone called Disney had written The Jungle Book.

With its powerful echoes of my own childhood, Just So Stories was a fitting book on which to end my association with Children's Classics for Adults.  It's been nearly three years since I first approached Bath Library with the idea of a book group to read classic children's books, and it's time for me to hand it over to someone else.  It's been a fantastic experience: I've been able to re-read favourite old books encompassing wonderful memories, and to experience a few books I've never read before, but best of all has been making friends with a wonderful group of  clever, knowledgeable and like-minded people and enjoying sharing the pleasure of reading.  Thanks to all.

The next meeting will be on Wednesday 2 October at 1015 am when we will be reading a selection of Hugh Lofting's Doctor Dolittle books (1920-1952).

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