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A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Olive and the Bad Mood, by Tor Freeman

oliveWhat do we think of grumpy heroines? Annoying? Refreshing?

In this house we love them. You don’t very often see grumpy heroines in children’s books, where heroines tend to be good and polite, probably in the name of setting children a good example. But children can’t be good and polite all the time, can they? They do, after all, have feelings, and moods that go up and down, so it’s interesting to children (and parents) to read stories about heroes and heroines who are experiencing more negative emotions. Olive is one such heroine and she is a cantankerous delight.

Olive is having a bad day. It all starts when she trips over her laces, loses a red button from her dungarees, and falls flat on her face. And let’s just take a moment to look at that face. If you haven’t pulled that exact expression at some point this week, then you’re doing better than I am.

Olive is in a bad mood and she is owning it. There’s no internalising of her grumpy feelings while she puts on a brave face for the benefit of the rest of the world. She is grumpy and she wants you to know it.

During Olive’s day, she encounters her various friends and is consistently rude to them all. But then a turning point occurs: something cheers Olive up! That something is the sweet shop and more specifically: a bag of Giant Jelly Worms. One sugar rush later and Olive is as right as rain but, lo and behold, her friends are now all in bad moods, and Olive can’t think why. . .

Olive shares out her Jelly Worms, and her friends begin to cheer up too. In the final image, however, there is another twist: we see Olive holding an empty sweet bag and the return of her thunderous face.

I imagine some parents won’t like this story, feeling that it encourages stroppy behaviour in children and, horror of horrors, for suggesting that sugary snacks are a mood lifter. But Olive’s story is an important one, because it explores different emotions and how those emotions affect the people around us. Grumpiness is just as much a part of human life as happiness, yet the light/dark and good/bad dichotomy of many a classic fairy tale ignores the fact that decent people can behave very badly, and vice versa, and of course this evasion lessens believability, because even very young children know that people aren’t constantly nice (which is possibly why modern twists on old fairy tales, with grumpy heroes like Shrek, prove so popular with audiences).

Olive and the Bad Mood encourages children to think about their own emotions and how best to express them. More than this, in a world awash with princessy, pink books aimed at little girls, it is wonderfully refreshing to find a story where the heroine is imperfect, impolite and full of attitude. After reading Lisa Bloom’s article in The Huffington Post, “How to Talk to Little Girls,” I’m even more aware of the tremendous pressure on little girls to be cute and lovely, and I’m grateful that Olive does not fit the Princess Perfect stereotype.

In conclusion, Olive and the Bad Mood has a strong narrative arc, excellent characterisation, wonderful illustrations, and the book would be a great addition to any young child’s bookshelf.

Templar, ISBN 978 1 84877 350 9, 32 pages, paperback, £6.99.

8 comments on “Olive and the Bad Mood, by Tor Freeman

  1. Melrose
    July 31, 2013

    Gosh, that book made me feel grumpy just reading about it. Most of the fairytales I read as a youngster were pretty complex when it came to emotions – Beauty and the Beast, Hansel and Gretel, etc. Greek myths were full of poor, apparently good, characters that came to grief, turned into cows or what have you. So, an exploration into how unfair life can be sometimes. Or how certain actions you take can end up with you being in a very bad situation, no matter how good you appear to be. A real delve into emotions, frailties and interactions with others, in these types of stories, normally because they are based on archetypal journeys and adventures. Sounds like lack of sugar got to Olive again, whereas all her friends were on a high till the rush wore off! Moral of that story is, if you want to be happy, eats lots of sugar! I did enjoy the review though, and can imagine that this book could really appeal to some children, as it is based in a “real life” scenario that young readers/listeners can imagine.

  2. Jackie
    July 31, 2013

    I think Greek myths would be more for older kids. And the fairy tales caused complex emotions in their readers, but not so much in the characters. I mean Hansel & Gretel were either curious or frightened, which isn’t a wide range. And Beauty & the Beast is on another level entirely. I don’t think little kids of 4 or 5 would be able to really relate to them.
    The candy seems to be more than candy in this story. It was a small, ordinary occurrence that put Olive in a bad mood(tripping and losing her button) and a small ordinary thing which made her cheerful(a treat), so I think that is to teach kids that annoying things happen everyday and it’s part of everyday life. Likewise there are many pleasant moments in a day, so treasure them & share them with your friends. The candy is just a metaphor. That’s a great lesson for kids & would also be a good reminder to many grumpy adults too.

  3. Melrose
    July 31, 2013

    Hansel and Gretel is far more about curiousity or fright, Jackie. The whole story is quite complex. Here’s a link to some of the explanations that have been put forward with regard to the archetypal imagery in that tale, the type of description which can make fairy stories so rich. And some of the tale is based on the uncertain and sometimes cruel circumstances that children in the time the fairy story was written, lived in.

    Young children don’t understand all of this, but the depth of the story itself and the imagery is absorbed, which is what makes fairy stories so magical, and ensures they linger in the mind right into adult hood, when reading works by people such as Maria-Louise Von Franz’s Jungian interpretations on various aspects of the fairy tale such as the animus and anima in fairytales; the feminine in fairytales; individuation in fairytales. These types of studies open up even more insight into what seems to many people to be simple stories, but which turn out to be wonderful caverns of imagination and insight to be mined again and again for treasure. Fairy stories are for adults too.

    As I said in my earlier post, many children will feel comfortable with Olive’s story – it is something they can relate to, and will help them feel secure as they learn about the world of emotions, and things not working out quite as they thought. But a lot of children thrive, and develop their imagination, on the richness and tapestry of fairytales, and, through them, just like the children who enjoy the story of Olive and her bad mood, and, through the safety of the tale, recognise that the world is not all sweetness and light, and indeed can be quite harsh. I quite like this interpretation of the children’s actions (taken from the link above): “Some critics have considered Hansel and Gretel to be a subversive tale, encouraging children to eavesdrop on their parents, trespass, commit murder, and steal property. The children are not ideal role models in the conservative sense, but one can credit them for being survivors in a harsh world. If they had not done these things, they would most likely be dead.” Sounds far more complex than goodies versus baddies.

  4. rosyb
    August 3, 2013

    Jackie’s point, though, is different to what you are talking about, Melrose, as is what Lisa is saying (I think). It’s not that fairytales aren’t complex or even complex emotionally if you want to look at the deeper meanings, the symbols, the imagery etc. But, as Jackie said, and as Lisa alluded to – the characters, particularly the heroines, are not emotionally complex in and of themselves. And they do tend to be simplistic archetypal characters – beautiful princess, evil step-mother, innocent child etc. Not complex characters or characterful characters that have bad moods and are grumpy and expressing it. The complex emotions of fairytales are not contained by the characters. I know we get fairytales processed to us, mind you, and the originals are supposed to be a lot more dark and also sexual – or so I was hearing on Radio Four not so long ago! They were talking about the Princess and the Frog in the original german version and how the frog was demanding conjugal rights! Apparently.

    No, not stuff for wee kids, really. 🙂

    Mind you, I can’t say I love fairytales, myself. And I think the dullness of the women as characters is part of that, for me anyway. I didn’t like them much as a kid. But then again I’m sure we were read very dull versions.

    As a child, and as a girl, it can be alienating to have this constant princess culture.

    I like the notion that Olive is just grumpy and food cheers her up and there doesn’t have to be a lesson. Sometimes, as a child, you can feel the whole world is preaching. It is just a simple truth that kids like sweets, after all. Isn’t it?

    There was a book I loved as child called The Stone Doll of Sister Brute. There was a character called an ugly kicking dog who had hobnailed boots and said “love me. Love me or I’ll kick you.” Now he was a great character, and somehow very relatable to as a child.

  5. Melrose
    August 4, 2013

    I like Hansel and Gretel (not a princess in sight) because it shows the children as equals, there seems to be little gender bias. Gretel plays as big a part in surviving the trials they are under, as much as Hansel. They each have their own strengths, Gretel is no damsel in distress, she turns out to be a very entrepreneurial and brave child, and very much plays a major part in their survival. For the role of women in original fairy stories, it is worth reading Cassandra Easson’s take on it, for example. Women took a lot of initiative in their original roles before fairy stories got dumbed down by Disney, etc. Maybe, like you say, the fairy stories you read were the dumbed down, dull versions, or by specific authors. Or Disneyfied versions.

    It is surprising you don’t see a lesson in Olive’s story. It appears to me to send a very definite one. If you’re grumpy, expect a reaction from your friends. Share out your goodies, and they will all be happy again, i.e., you can buy your way out of the situation you’ve created by bribery. But, you won’t have anything left, so you’ll be grumpy again, creating the exact situation you had before. You’re going to have to buy more sweets. Some children may enjoy that type of story, and I can see why, if it makes them feel secure because it is an everyday scenario, and they recognise their own behaviour and others in it. Others prefer magic tales to everyday reality, they love the excitement and fantasy. Each to their own, or a mix of both, if they prefer. Olive’s story just sounds a bit bone dry for me, personally, though I haven’t read the book, so would be prepared to be surprised, only Lisa’s excellent review. But we all have different tastes, as do children.

  6. Melrose
    August 4, 2013

    I also have to say, with the inclination for Olive’s limbic system to take over and totally colour her whole attitude, she would be very unlikely to have the focus or ability to think ahead, and lay a trail of pebbles or breadcrumbs (shame about the birds eating them), as she was dragged off to the forest to get abandoned; or the initiative to offer the bad-sighted witch a bone to feel to show how thin she was and not worth eating (as Hansel did). Nor would she have had the clear thinking needed to work out a plan to shove the witch in her own oven, and cook her. Clear, unemotional thinking needed in that circumstance, which Olive doesn’t appear to have, if she’s easily knocked off kilter by tripping over her lace and a button popping off. I can feel a story about handling adversity, whilst keeping your cool, coming on!

  7. rosyb
    August 5, 2013

    Well the numbers of toddlers I’ve known going into complete meltdown over a crumb on their clothes or a mark on the wrong place, I think Olive might be onto something. 🙂

  8. Melrose
    August 5, 2013

    Oh, dear, what are toddlers coming to these days? 😦 What happened to the muck-covered, scraped shin ones? You’re entirely right, there probably is a niche market for Olive in toddler self-help.

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This entry was posted on July 31, 2013 by in Entries by Lisa, Fiction: children's, Uncategorized.



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