Cheek by Jowl
by Ursula K. Le Guin
Cover Artist: Details from a painting by unknown artist from Guerrero, Mexico.
Review by Gayle Surrette
Aqueduct Press Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781933500270
Date: 30 April 2009 List Price $16.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Cheek by Jowl is a collection of eight talks and essays given by Ursula K. Le Guin in various venues. I found the essays to be thought provoking and interesting reading. Each essay focuses on children and young adult literature; more specifically, fantasy for young adults. In one way or another what the essays are saying is that good writing is good writing no matter what the genre or the intended audience. That stories that stand the test of time are those that tell a ripping good tale that resonates with the reader. Cutting corners or trying to write for the market, or even writing with the idea of imparting a message is a sure way to turn off the reader and have your story sink into oblivion. Of course, these essays make the point much more eloquently and with far more clarity of thought.
The first essay "Some Assumptions about Fantasy" was a talk written for the Children's Literature Breakfast at Book Expo America in Chicago on June 4, 2004. The note says that some of the talk was from "The Young Adult in YA" which is another essay in this book. Here she talks about the three big assumptions of fantasy and what wrong with them.
"The Wilderness Within" is an altered version of an essay that appeared in the second edition of Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Women Writers Explore their Favorite Fairy Tales, edited by Kate Bernheimer. Le Guin talks about the problems and anxiety of being asked to discuss the influences on your writing and about her thoughts on "Sleeping Beauty".
The longest essay in the book was "Cheek by Jowl: Animals in Children's Literature". In this piece, Le Guin talks about animals in children's stories, the way they are used, and gives examples of each of the categories of animal stories. I hadn't really thought about animal stories in this way and this essay made me re-examine some of the stories that I read as a child and as an adult, either to a child or for review. I think this is an essay that all writers and readers of children's books might want to be familiar with.
All in all this is an excellent book to have on your reference shelf if you're a reader, writer, a reviewer, a critic, or a teacher of children's literature. It's thoughtful and thought provoking and in many ways it will change the way you think about children and young adult fantasy.