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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

2011: The Year of the Raven

Raven1 2011: The Year of the RavenQuoth the raven: What the heck?

At this point I’m getting a little suspicious.  You see, every year I like to keep track of “trends” in the world of children’s literature.  For example, back in 2006 there were at least two novels (Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett and Here Be Monsters by Alan Snow) that contained sentient cheese.  I found this funny and mentioned it in my yearly Golden Fuse round-up.  Since that time I have taken care to note any trends I see in the world of children’s literature.  [Note: Google "sentient cheese" sometime to get a wide and weird array of hits]

This year I saw the usual smattering of trends.  In one case, Tillie the Terrible Swede, Around the World, and Wheels of Change all discuss the rise of the bicycle in America.  Fun!  Trends like this usually don’t involve more than three or four books.  Then I noticed something.  There is one trend that has gotten, quite frankly, out of hand.

Ravens.

Ravens show up periodically in children’s books anyway.  Last year Adam Gidwitz made lovely use of them in A Tale Dark and Grimm.  However, this year it began to get ridiculous.  I’ve been faithfully reading all forms of fiction and I have encountered time and time and time again a veritable unkindness of ravens.  Consider the following:

  • Raven3 300x98 2011: The Year of the RavenPeter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier – A whole SLEW of ravens in this one.  Warrior ravens at that.
  • Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby – Features one raven named Muninn, named after one of Odin’s ravens (Huginn and Muninn).
  • Juniper Berry by M.P. Kozlowsky – Contains a raven named Neptune who, according to Mr. Kozlowsky, also can be traced back to Odin’s ravens.
  • The Wizard of Dark Street by Shawn Thomas Odyssey – The heroine has an enchanted talking raven by the name of Deacon.Raven2 212x300 2011: The Year of the Raven
  • Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu – Once Hazel has stepped into the woods she encounters a small cluster of ravens.  They don’t do much to help her, but at least they don’t hinder her either.
  • Eddie: The Lost Youth of Edgar Allan Poe by Scott Gustafson – You can’t have Poe without a raven.  Here we have another talking one named… uh…. Raven.
  • Wildwood by Colin Meloy – Another large group of ravens.  Definitely baddies.
  • The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carman Agra Deedy and Randall Wright – The only book to mention that ravens play an important role in conjunction with The Tower of London.  This book contains a wounded raven by the name of Maldwyn.

And those are just the ones I’ve found so far!  I suspect that there are more ravens hidden throughout the 2011 catalog.  If you know of any, please tell me now.

UPDATE: Full credit to Kate Coombs for discovering that in 2012 we’ll see yet another such book: Shadows Cast by Stars by Catherine Knutsson.

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Elizabeth Bird About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently New York Public Library's Youth Materials Collections Specialist. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of NYPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. Kate Coombs says:

    How about Andrew Peters’ Ravenwood? It’s being marketed as YA, though the plot sounds MG to me. Great raven-centric cover art, too. [http://www.amazon.com/Ravenwood-Andrew-Fusek-Peters/dp/0545305500/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1311773625&sr=1-1]

    Also, Pat Walsh’s Crowfield Curse and this year’s The Crowfield Demon have at least one corvid, the familiar of the village witch/pagan priestess (besides the birds implied by the book titles).

    Good catch on the trend front!

  2. Yukari says:

    I love the imagery of ravens and welcome this trend wholeheartedly! (I certainly enjoyed reading aloud the raven parts in A Tale Dark and Grimm.)

    When you mentioned a “slew” of ravens for Peter Nimble it inspired me to look up the collective noun for ravens: a storytelling of ravens. How perfect is that?

    I’m waiting for the use of the three-legged raven from Japanese myth, the yata-garasu. He’s the messenger bird for the sun goddess Amaterasu. (It’s also used for the emblem of the Japanese Soccer Association.)

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Wow! Didn’t know the Crowfield Curse sequel was due out. That’s awesome. And a “storytelling” of ravens is indeed far too perfect. I’m just sad I didn’t use it in this post. If yata-garasu hasn’t made a children’s literary appearance then it’s high time he did. Three legged ravens = fantastic.

  3. George R.R. Martin’s endless and absorbing epic, Song of Ice and Fire which I have made a study of reading (on paper, on Kindle, on iPad) uses ravens as messengers, like carrier pigeons or like owls in Harry Potter. Clearly, somewhere in the metaverse, the raven has come into its own as symbol, image, and actor.

  4. Misty says:

    The raven in Juniper Berry isn’t Juniper. Juniper Berry is the name of the female main character. The raven is named Neptune, I believe.
    :)

  5. Karen Gray Ruelle says:

    I’m so glad you focused on ravens for this post. Wish I could think of more examples of them in kids’ lit, but alas, all that comes to mind is Konrad Lorenz and Bernd Heinrich. They’re such amazing birds–very smart and funny and sociable, just like their smaller cousins, crows. Of course, they’re also tricksters and evil and all that, according to legend. There’s an enormous raven living in the Sharon Audubon Wildlife Refuge. We visited Manitou last month and he “talked” to us for ages, and kept calling us back every time we tried to leave. There’s even a guy whose job it is to come and play with Manitou every week, just to make sure the poor bird doesn’t die of loneliness. Anyway, so much for ravens.

    Incidentally, I just finished reading The Cheshire Cheese Cat–wonderful book!

  6. Wow, I’m delighted to be part of a weirdo trend! My MG novel, The Blackhope Enigma, is published in the USA by Candlewick next week and the cover has a great raven on it. I chose ravens because they are ‘psychopomps’ – guides of souls to the underworld in mythology. My book is about children questing through various underworlds below a 16th century painting and the enigmatic painter who made it: ‘Il Corvo’.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Hi, Teresa! Someone tweeted me about your book so on the list it goes. Looks fascinating too. You had me at “various underworlds”.

  7. Colby Sharp says:

    I was wondering about Raven thing when I started reading Peter Nimble right after Breadcrumbs.

  8. Tanya says:

    MORTLOCK, the first in a trilogy by a British writer named Jon Mayhew , that uses ravens in a super creepy way and employs some Dickensian uses of their names for the characters. There is even a servant girl named Arabella and she is in fact named after Joan Aiken’s character from ARABEL’S RAVEN.