Friday, 13 March 2015

Advice to Little Girls by Mark Twain & Vladimir Radunsky

Advice to Little Girls
Mark Twain & Vladimir Radunsky

In 1865 Mark Twain wrote a short story entitled Advice to Little Girls.  In 2013, with the accompanying illustrations of Vladimir Radunsky, Enchanted Lion published this wickedly funny tale.  Brought to life for a new generation to indulge in, this story was most certainly ahead of its time, and what’s more, probably still is.

Advice to Little Girls is a subversive text full of violent suggestion, rude encouragement and vengeful tactics.  With its riotous overtones, it’s an astonishing marvel produced at a time when girls were discouraged from any such behaviour.  Even by today’s standards the text is sure to raise a few eyebrows.  Particularly when Twain discourages young girls from taking revenge by kicking mud at their brothers, and instead advises to scald them with a little hot water.  Whilst such actions may appear extreme and highly dangerous, anyone with a little brother is sure to nod in firm agreement.  In this book Mark Twain sticks two poetic fingers up at the regimented stiffness of his then society, and with this new publication, we can stick two up at ours.  At a time when picture books become blander by the day, Advice to Little Girls offers a refreshing alternative as to how girls in picture books can be presented.

Radunsky’s illustrations hold the same anarchic energy as the text itself; we would hardly expect the artist’s hand to keep his colour within the drawn line here.  This is a book packed full of scribbled lines, patchy brushstrokes and inky blots.  Set against a backdrop of aged yellow pages, and with a cast of characters in period dress, the artwork gives added weight to the historical context in which the story was created.  With the accompanying mis-registered typewriter text, this is a book that sets out to evoke feelings of nostalgia, all the while twisting our perception as to what that may mean.  As a side note, an especially nice detail is the inclusion of a cloth-bound spine and corners on the cover, which not only heighten the sense of agedness, but whose red colour quietly warns of the danger within.  

This devious little book will make you both laugh and gasp at its ‘sage’ advice, which makes it an absolute favourite with us.  Our only disappointment is that it’s a touch on the short side, though perhaps that’s just us greedily wanting more of a good thing.  And it would hardly be fair to blame Mark Twain for such an oversight.  Our advice to little (and not so little) girls (and boys) would be to get your hands on a copy of this.  But heed caution when following the advice, for Twain is no longer around to take the blame if things go awry.  

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