Saturday, March 23, 2013

Collected Children’s Stories, by Sylvia Plath

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

Sylvia Plath dabbled in writing fiction for children, and these three cheerful stories are the result. Inventive and funny, they show a more playful side to Plath’s writing.

Here’s a delightful collection that many readers may not be aware of. Sylvia Plath is best known for her novel The Bell Jar and her poetry. She also wrote some wonderfully funny and playful children’s fiction. There are three stories in this collection, which I presume covers all of Plath’s work in this genre. The first story, “The Bed Book”, is actually a poem. The other two , “The It-Doesn’t-Matter Suit” and “Mrs Cherry’s Kitchen”, are prose stories written in a nice bouncy style, showing Plath’s exuberance and inventiveness. David Roberts provides the rather Gothic Tim Burton-Edward Gorey style illustrations.

The Bed Book

I actually bought “The Bed Book” as a single, stand-alone volume years ago. The poem lists all the wonderfully different beds that there are.

Beds come in all sizes –
Single or double,
Cot size or cradle,
King size or trundle.

Most Beds are Beds
For sleeping or resting,
But the best Beds are much
More interesting.

The poem goes on to describe submarine beds, snack beds, tank beds, bird-watcher beds, pocket sized beds, elephant beds and so on.

The It-Doesn’t-Matter Suit

This story was perhaps my favourite of the three. For some reason, it reminded me of that story by Gogol called “The Overcoat”.

Max Nix is seven years old and the youngest of seven brothers. He desperately wants a suit so he can be like everyone else in his home town of Winkelburg. One day a suit in a box arrives, but there is no name on the box.

Max’s father tries the suit on first, but it doesn’t fit. Then the eldest brother tries it, but the suit’s mustard-yellow colour doesn’t seem right. So Max’s mother, Mama Nix, makes some alterations, and the next eldest brother tries the suit on. Again, it’s deemed not quite appropriate. Each brother tries the suit, with Mama Nix making alterations, until Max is the last to try the suit. It’s perfect for Max’s needs, and has some rather special qualities that are discovered once he starts wearing it.

Mrs Cherry’s Kitchen

Mrs Cherry loves baking and cooking. Little does she know that her kitchen is secretly run by two pixies called Salt and Pepper. They work principally as managers of the kitchen appliances. But these kitchen appliances are getting restless. They are bored, and start envying each other their jobs. The iron fancies taking a break from his duties ironing clothes and wants to take on his cousin the waffle iron’s job. Salt and Pepper allow the appliances to swap jobs. Chaos ensues, but thankfully order is re-established before Mrs Cherry returns from a visit to see her neighbour’s new kittens.

Sylvia Plath died in her early thirties. These three stories seem like fragments of what would have surely blossomed into a fuller, more substantial part of Plath’s writings. What a wasted talent! But how lucky we are to have these three brilliant stories.

Collected Children’s Stories
, by Sylvia Plath. Published by Faber Children. ISBN: 9780571207565 RRP: $12.95