Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Book That Impacted My Life - Hazel Edwards

Here is the third in this special series of Guest Posts here at The Book Chook. Read the first at A Book That Impacted My Life - Kelly Burstow, the second at A Book That Impacted My Life - Virginia Lowe. If you're interested in submitting an article about a children's book that has had an impact on your life, please use the Contact Me tab above. Today's article is from Hazel Edwards.

Best known for There's a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake, which was recently translated into Chinese, Hazel writes across media, for adults and children. Pocket Bonfire Productions are premiering a short hippo film for the 30th anniversary of the book. Hazel’s latest publication is Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop (print & ebook) in the Aussie Heroes series. Hazel is married with two adult children and two grandsons for whom she writes stories each birthday.

Based on her Writing a Non Boring Family History, Hazel runs workshops for genealogists. Titles such as the easy reading Duckstar series are also fun e-books. Latest picture books include Flight of the Bumblebee with classical music CD, Plato the Platypus Plumber (part-time) and the new Birthday hippo. Co-written with ftm Ryan Kennedy, YA novel f2m the boy within about transitioning from female to male is internationally available. Recipient of the 2009 ASA Medal, in 2011 Hazel was also nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Award.

Hazel's website includes FAQs, notes, bios, bibliography, kids’ stuff and events.

The Land of Far-Beyond

I admit my secret. I was an Enid Blyton fan too.

My grandfather had a private lending library and the children’s section was a wall of Enid Blyton. So I devoured the Famous Five and the Secret Seven, and then moved onto flying with Biggles. Sunday School prize books were the only other option. They were very moral tales of missionaries and far off places like Fiji and China.

But the book which impacted on my early life was Enid Blyton’s The Land of Far-Beyond. This was my first experience with an allegorical story, which was a quest, and where the characters had the names of their attributes e.g. Mr Doubt, and the giant’s page boy called Fright. Even the places they travelled matched their names. As an adult, when we orienteered on a real map with Mt Disappointment labelled, it reminded me of The Land of Far-Beyond.

Because I no longer have my own copy, I Googled the title and had a feeling of familiarity as I looked at the cover on the Enid Blyton Society webpage. 

Today’s children would consider this cover bland, but I loved the sense of a journey conveyed in the artwork. I liked the economy of a story with several meanings and layers. But the story ALSO needed adventure and danger with eccentric characters to interest me.

My family taught me to read before I went to school. I used to read under the bedclothes with a torch. An aqua- readaholic, I still read in the bath or listen to audio books in the car.

Animal Farm by George Orwell had the same multi-appeal because at one level it’s a children’s story of animals taking over the farm, and the pigs walking on their hind legs, but really it is a political satire. It’s about the cycle of power.

I don’t think I knew The Land of Far-Beyond was based on Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress until much later. I still like symbolic shape and sub-text within a story.

Flying home from Kuala Lumpur, during Ramadan last year, I actually watched a translated reading of the Koran on the in-flight screen and decided the poetry was similar to psalms.

Maybe reading The Land of Far-Beyond contributed to family orienteering, a cartographer son called Quest, Antarctic expeditions and co-writing our Duckstar satire of performing animals? But mainly it opened the possibility for me that a book could take you into imaginatively structured ‘other’ worlds, beyond suburbia.

The Land of Far Beyond
First edition: 1942
Publisher: Methuen
Illustrator: Horace J. Knowles
Category: One-off Novels
Genre: Fantasy
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