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Childcraft: Great Men and Famous Deeds

Posted on Friday, September 4, 2009 in children's books

Photo of an Edward Augustiny illustration in Childcraft, volume six“Great Men,” huh? Since the previous volumes didn’t have any content newer than the late 1940s, I took the editors at their word. I hoped only to see Madame Curie’s story inside. But I think this volume had more women included than my 1980 edition of Norton’s Anthology of English Literature. And most of the stories inside were written by women.

Adventures of Famous Persons

I remember reading about Dolly Madison as a child and wondering what it must be like to be remembered only for saving a painting. But they’ve also included Louisa Alcott, Clara Barton, Rosa Bonheur, Jane Addams, Madame Curie, and Jenny Lind. I was excited to see that last name because there’s an elementary school in town that I didn’t know was named after an unattractive singing sensation in Sweden. I’m not sure why it was so important for the author to point out more than once that little Jenny was not a pretty child, but I guess it was proof that talent is more important than looks. Apparently she was an illegitimate child, too, but no mention was made of this.

Charles Gabriel illustration for Will Rogers: Immortal CowboyMany of the men about whom I studied in school are included in this volume: Washington, Lincoln, Franklin, Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, George Washington Carver, Daniel Boone, Babe Ruth. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Will Rogers included in such a list before, however. And being from the side of Northern Aggression, I’d never read anything about Rober E. Lee before, but I’m sure parents in the South expected to see him included. And I’m assuming that Childcraft was trying to enter the Canadian market because I never studied the lives of these famous Canadians: Alexander MacKenzie, the “Black Robes” (priests), Pierre Radisson, and Wilfred Grenfell. And I’m pretty sure they didn’t care at all about the Native American market or they would have edited out lines like this: “But he little knew the blackness of the Iroquois heart.”

I learned about two artists I’d never been introduced to before: Thomas Hart BentonIllustration for "Pandora's Box," Childcraft, volume six and Rosa Bonheur. We don’t learn much about Mr. Benton, other than the fact that his son’t dog was very attached to his son. So I need to look up his story and artwork. I’d like to read a biography of Ms. Bonheur, but I think I’ll skip the parts I now know about her learning dressmaking as a child. I want to know about more about her dressing as a boy, speculation about her being a lesbian, and I want to see examples of her art.

Myths and Legends

I found it a little odd to read biographies and then come to fictional tales. Included here are stories about Pandora’s box, Icarus, King Midas, Persephone, Balder, King Arthur, William Tell, Robin Hood, and Paul Bunyon. I adored tales of King Arthur and Robin Hood as a child so I guess I have to approve of their inclusion. But the entire section feels like an editor really wanted to use these stories and the previous volumes were already filled. So in they went. And unfortunately, there must not have been room for a Pecos Bill story.

I did learn some good trivia. What is the name of Paul Bunyon’s other ox?  It’s Benny. Babe and Benny.

MORE on the Childcraft collection:
Poems of Early Childhood
Storytelling and Other Poems
Folk and Fairy Tales
Animal Friends and Adventures
Life in Many Lands
Great Men and Famous Deeds
Exploring the World Around Us
Creative Play and Hobbies
Art for Children

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  4. I’ve been searching for a set of 5 or 6 volumes of fables, myths, biographies,
    and histories published by Childcraft
    Series which were included with a set of encyclopedias my mother
    purchased probably in the 1940s. The books
    were orange, about 8 by, and had
    colored illusraions inset on the cover, and
    inside with the stories. Any information would be very much appreciated.

  5. Good luck. I searched for that orange set myself and had to make due with a tan set published in the 50s. Most of the content seems to be the same as I remember.

  6. I still have Volume 2, circa 1948, I was born in ’51, my mother read them to me, I to mine and now to my grands and greats. I had the whole set at one time. But alas, it is all gone but #2. If you need me to tell you some of the stories/poems, I will.

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