Europa 2010 – Children books
Issue date: 2010/05/07
Design: Atelier Acácio Santos / Túlio Coelho
llustrations: António Modesto (Donzela que foi à Guerra), João Vaz de Carvalho (Macaco do Rabo Cortado), Teresa Lima (Lenda das Sete Cidades)
Acknowledgments: Eduardo Filipe, Maria Teresa Meireles, Rosa Barreto
"The child as such is a 19th century “invention". Until then, children were essentially miniature adults. Dressed as adults and treated as something one really wasn’t sure of what it was, children would share both work and leisure spaces with the adults; thus a six year old child could work in the field, in a factory or do household chores, the difference being that the child would either not get paid at all or would get a much smaller pay.
The tales that one heard in the evening, at the work place or by the fireside, were either accounts of “things that had happened” or wonderful “tall tales”. In the latter, everything was possible, above all the impossible, and everything was permitted according to an internal logic and a very specific “moral”. Usually told by women, they were gathered by men during the Romantic period, who believed that the tales were the mirror of the people’s soul. Among these, in Portugal, Adolfo Coelho, Teófilo Braga, Consiglieri Pedroso and Leite de Vasconcelos were the most important.
Tales and legends, which are often confounded, differ from each other mostly by the fictional nature of one (the tale) and by the supposedly truth of the other (the legend), assumed with indicators of time and space. Naturally suitable for being told and retold, tales and legends smoothed the process of bringing adults and children together as well as their interaction, occasionally serving pedagogic aims – especially in the case of the “tales of warning”. Strongly visual, the traditional tales, rimances (short epic chants) and legends were the first children’s books to be published with that intent and distinction, as far as target public was concerned.
Traditional tales have a sort of peculiar grammar, themes and motives that for the most are repeated in an identical sequence. Several theories have tried to explain this coincidence, some of them through the migration and meetings between peoples, others to something called the universal, “archetypical” imagination.
Tales may be rhymed (which helps commit them to memory, as well as the rhythm of the tale, as it is the case in the Romanceiro (compilation of epic/lyric poems), they emphasize and repeat actions, they use and abuse the symbols for figures, spaces and objects and recuperate the idea that a hero or heroine (because there are also female heroes, as the text chosen for Madeira proves) conquers the right to heroism through his/her own effort or because he/she has an assistant (animal, human or superhuman) capable of guiding him/her.
There are however tales in which it is the animal that is the hero, tales in which the “Monkey who lost his tail” sees himself mixed up in a succession of trades and ends up playing the guitar and singing a refrain that has been repeated for generations – and because this is one of the few typically Portuguese tales, we found it would be fitting to select this tale to represent the Portuguese Mainland.
From the Romanceiro do Arquipélago da Madeira (compilation of epic/lyric poems from the Archipelago of Madeira, 1880), a version of the “Maiden that went to War”, in which the female attributes are charmingly highlighted (since they may “betray” the maiden in a men’s world), and the easiness with which bravery, imagination and ingenuity disguise them. As far as the Azores is concerned, there is always a tendency to associate these islands with legends, not only because they are very propitious to all sorts of enchantments and evasions, but also because the legend is highly suggestive and visual: the “Legend of the Seven Cities", reminding that breaking a prohibition may result in a punishment capable of updating scenarios of chaos and creation.
Children’s books are the books that have the greatest impact on us. Seeing them, running through them and re-reading them may be equivalent to travelling in time, to a flashback that carries us back, not only to the time but also to the spaces of our childhood: spaces with smells, flavours and sounds – echoes of a childhood that we still cuddle inside us." in ctt