Zoe Williams and her children Thurston and Harper, with friend Thomas, in front of the ‘weird’ Cholmondeley Ladies.
Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian
by Zoe Williams
I took my children to Tate Britain in open defiance of the artist Jake Chapman, who says taking kids to galleries is a “total waste of time”.
I think it opens up a different kind of conversation: at home, I often feel like I’m interrogating my children (What did you do at school? Who was fun, who annoyed you, what did the teacher say, how come you were sad?) and they’re always finding new and inventive ways to evade me. Gaze “not at each other, but in the same direction”, wrote Seamus Heaney.
We went to Tate Modern over the summer for a general look around; unhappily, I had taken them to McDonald’s on the way, and they each (my two and their two cousins) let go of a helium Happy Meal balloon in the Turbine Hall.
“That’s probably the first time that has ever happened,” said an attendant, as we watched the balloons lodge themselves in the rafters.
Before that, I’d taken them to the Schwitters in Britain show at Tate Britain, on which occasion my youngest, then three, insisted on wearing her cha-cha heels. Yes, I put my toddler in high heels, what of it? People actually went up to her and asked her about them.
The problem on both those occasions was not my children, but other people. A drizzly Monday morning with no one else about was much mellower. I had my two – Harper, five, and Thurston, six, and Thurston’s friend Thomas, seven.
Thomas took a puckish delight in pointing out everything that either was a naked person or looked like one: to the determined eye, it turns out, this includes all art. It took in Henri Gaudier-Brzeska’s Red Stone Dancer, the terrifying sculptures of Jacob Epstein, and everything by Henry Moore.
Thurston was keenly vigilant in case I saw any penises. Whether that was for my own propriety or because it would be embarrassing for the world to know that I might have seen one before, I have no idea.
We all had a long chat by Frederic Leighton’s Athlete Wrestling With a Python – who would win? Could the python’s venom drop on to his arm and kill him, even as he throttled it? Everyone thought The Cholmondeley Ladies looked “weird”.
By two years of age, children are remarkably good at comprehending speakers who talk with regional accents that the toddlers have never heard before.
Even more striking, say researchers, children as young as 15 months who have difficulty comprehending accents they’ve never heard before can quickly learn to understand accented speech after hearing the speaker for a short time.
“Fifteen-month-olds typically say relatively few words, yet they can learn to understand someone with a completely unfamiliar accent,” says Elizabeth K. Johnson, associate professor with the University of Toronto’s psychology department.
“This shows that infants’ language comprehension abilities are surprisingly sophisticated.”
The researchers wanted to study if and how children in the early stages of learning their first language come to understand words spoken in different regional variants of their native language.
North-American English sounds very differently from Australian English, for example.
And even within North America, people often pronounce words differently depending on the region where they grew up.
This is the first study showing that infants this young rapidly adapt to the way people from other areas speak and the findings illustrate the great developmental steps children take with regards to language comprehension.
“These studies show that infants, who are still in the process of figuring out their native language, possess similar abilities from very early on.”
You probably already knew that Disney has a habit of taking dark, twisted children’s fairy tales and turning them into sickeningly sweet happily-ever-afters. Take Sleeping Beauty for example: it’s based on a story where a married king finds a girl asleep, and can’t wake her so rapes her instead.
The 1940 version of Pinocchio is no exception. The movie is based on a story that appeared as a serial in a newspaper called The Adventures of Pinocchio, written in 1881 and 1882 by Carlo Collodi (pictured on front).
Jiminy Cricket appears as the Talking Cricket in the book, and does not play as prominent of a role.
He first appears in chapter 4 in which the truism that children do not like to have their behaviour corrected by people who know much more than they do is illustrated. Apropos, when the Talking Cricket tells Pinocchio to go back home:
At these last words, Pinocchio jumped up in a fury, took a hammer from the bench, and threw it with all his strength at the Talking Cricket.
Perhaps he did not think he would strike it. But, sad to relate, my dear children, he did hit the Cricket, straight on its head.
With a last weak “cri-cri-cri” the poor Cricket fell from the wall, dead!
You might be happy to know that Pinocchio did learn his lesson quite soon after that—or seemed to.
While he didn’t seem to feel bad about killing the cricket (in fact, he later tells Gepetto, “It was his own fault, for I didn’t want to kill him.”), he did seem to regret not taking the cricket’s advice as he runs into more and more trouble. At last, karma catches up to Pinocchio and he gets his feet burned off.
As he no longer had any strength left with which to stand, he sat down on a little stool and put his two feet on the stove to dry them. There he fell asleep, and while he slept, his wooden feet began to burn.
Slowly, very slowly, they blackened and turned to ashes.
Don’t worry—Gepetto forgives him and builds him new feet, which is really more than Pinocchio deserves.
You see, when Pinocchio first became “alive” and learned to walk, the first thing he did was run off.
What’s worse is that Pinocchio leads people to believe that Gepetto has abused him, which lands Gepetto squarely in prison.
Portland-based artist Maggie Rudy creates cute little rodents from wool and pipe cleaners, dresses them in fancy clothing and poses them in elaborate sets.
A collection of her creations, shot by photographer Bruce Wolf, became her first children’s picture book “The House that Mouse Built”, a story about a pair of mice who live in a fabulously turned-out loaf of bread.
Maggie Rudy inherited her artistic trait from her mother and grandmother, and had always enjoyed making and collecting things.
Smitten by an exhibit of E. J. Taylor’s dolls at the Brandywine Museum in Delaware in 1982, she started making dolls. For the next several years, Rudy made a number of commissioned portrait dolls, with polymer clay heads and jointed cloth bodies.
She made her first mice doll in 1992 as a gift for her son’s kindergarten friend who had a recurring dream about mice.
Soon she was helping kindergarten teachers and the kids make their own mice, a project that is now in its 17th year.
The idea for a picture book came during Christmas when she was making mouse photos for Christmas cards.
In a darkly humorous homage to classic cinema, Joseph Reginella, a toy and set-prop sculptor based in New York, has created an awesome crib that makes it look like the baby sleeping in it is about to be devoured by the monstrous shark from Jaws.
The sculpture is a reenactment of the scene where the grizzled seaman Quint is devoured by the movie’s eponymous terror.
Reginella made the bed for his nephew, Mikey Melaccio.
Looks like the kid might develop either an extreme fear of sharks or an affinity for them!