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Aug 3

Even more Storytelling and Other Poems

Posted on Tuesday, August 3, 2010 in children's books

These are two poems I memorized from Childcraft: Storytelling and Other Poems. And one that I wanted to, but thought it was too long.

It Was poem illustration

Illustration by Eloise Wilkin

It Was

When he came to tuck me in
And pat me on the head
He tried to guess (he always does)
Who was in my bed.

“Is it Sally?” he guessed first,
“Or her sister Joan?
It’s such a wriggling little girl
It couldn’t be my own.

“It can’t be Mary Ann,” he said,
“Or Deborah because
All their eyes are much too blue—
My goodness me, I think it’s you!”
And he was right. It was.

Dorothy Aldis

Miss T poem illustration by Rosemary Buehrig

Illustration by Rosemary Buehrig

Miss T.

It’s a very odd thing—
As odd as can be—
That whatever Miss T. eats
Turns into Miss T.
Porridge and apples,
Mince, muffins and mutton,
Jam, junket, jumbles—
Not a rap, not a button
It matters; the moment
They’re out of her plate,
Though shared by Miss Butcher
And sour Mr. Bate;
Tiny and cheerful,
And neat as can be,
Whatever Miss T. eats
Turns into Miss T.

Walter de la Mare

As a child I wondered how poor cheerful Miss T. got stuck at a table with Miss Butcher and Mr. Bate and why they served her buttons. Was Miss T an orphan or was she eating with the servants? It was only as an adult that I wondered about junket and jumbles. Junket is a dessert made with sweetened milk and rennet and maybe some spices or rose water; jumbles are some sort of dense cookie.

Ragedy Man illustration
I was fascinated by the illustrations for “The Raggedy Man” created by someone with the initials of J.S. I longed for such Wunks creatures to live under one of our pumps, but preferably not the one just outside the back door. I’ve always remember one of the other creatures mentioned in the poem as Squiggleme Squeezes, but they are actually Squidgicum-Squees.

Aug 2

Even more Laura E. Richard

Posted on Monday, August 2, 2010 in children's books

The visitor logs to my site show that there is a lot of interest in the old Childcraft books and their poems. So by popular demand I’m offering you a few more poems and illustrations by a particularly loved author.

This poem isn’t as well know as some of her others.

Alice's Supper illustration

Alice’s Supper

Far down in the meadow the wheat grows green,
And the reapers are whetting their sickles so keen;
And this is the song that I hear them sing,
While cheery and loud their voices ring:
” ‘Tis the finest wheat that ever did grow!
And it is for Alice’s supper, ho! ho!

Downstairs in the kitchen the fire doth glow,
And Maggie kneading the soft white dough,
And this is the song that she’s singing today,
While merry and busy she’s working away:
” ‘Tis the finest dough by near or by far,
And it is for Alic’s supper, ha! ha!”

Laura E. Richards

My sister taught me how to sing the following poem. I have sung it to my husband, too. Apparently it has greater appeal to the young.

Illustration for Antonio poem


Antonio, Antonio,
Was tired of living alonio.
He thought he would woo
Miss Lissamy Lu,
Miss Lissamy Lucy Molonio.

“On, nonio, Antonio!
You’re far too bleak and bonio!
And all that I wish,
You singular fish,
Is that you will quickly begonio.”

Antonio, Antonio,
He uttered a dismal moanio;
Then he ran off and hid
(Or I’m told that he did)
In the Antecatarctical Zonio.

Laura E. Richards

I’ve always wanted to insult someone by calling them a singular fish, but have never had the confidence to do so. I just don’t know if them are fightin’ words or not.

I apologize for not quoting the poems in their entireties, but I’m assuming that the Richard family still holds the copyrights. I also wish I could tell you who did the illustrations, but they weren’t recognized by the publisher.

Aug 2

More Laura E. Richards

Posted on Monday, August 2, 2010 in children's books

Helen, a recent blog visitor, asked me where to find this poem. As a favor to her, I’m providing the first few stanzas here. I never read this poem as a child because the illustrations by Thomas Handforth frightened me. I didn’t like the bad guy slinking around on the back of a panther.

This is from Childcraft: Storytelling and Other Poems.

A Ballad of China

Her name was Dilliki Dolliki Dinah;
Niece she was to the Empress of China;
Fair she was as a morning of May,
When Hy Kokolorum stole her away.

He was a wizard, I’d have you know;
Wicked as weasels and back as a crow;
Lived in a castle a-top of a hill;
Had a panther whose name was Bill;

Used to ride him around and around,
Creeping and peeping close to the ground;
Working mischief wherever he could;
Nothing about him in any way good!

Illustration by Thomas Handforth

Richards wrote other nonsense verses which also appeared in this volume. My favorites were Eletelephony and Antonio. She also published several children’s books.

Take a quiz about the poems in this volume of Childcraft.

Oct 19

Childcraft: Music for the Family

Posted on Monday, October 19, 2009 in children's books

"Music for the Family" illustrationI hope your family was musical. Mine was not. I grew up with only a few LPs in the house: Glen Miller, Mitch Miller, Johnny Cash, and a Reader’s Digest collection of light classical music. The radio wasn’t on very often and mostly it reported farm prices and local news. I did fall in love with Louis Armstrong as a child, though, so I must have heard him on the radio when Mom was too busy to turn it off. Mom didn’t like his voice; I thought he was the greatest singer and musician I’d ever heard. (I admit that’s not saying much.)

I was never given the drum set I wanted as a child (or the race car set, but I did have a pony.) I was given an accordion. Who gives a toy accordion? I think this speaks to the level of musical sophistication in my family. At a later holiday I received much better musical toys: a tambourine and a guitar. This meant that when the neighbor kids came over and we played “The Monkeys” I could be any of them except Micky Dolenz (and no one wanted to be Micky Dolenz.) I made a great Davy Jones, I’m sure.

Oh Dear! What Can the Matter Be? illustrationThis Childcraft volume of children’s music was probably more often used by parents and scout leaders than by children. My mother never learned any of the lullabies from the book, but I do recognize a few songs from Brownies such as “Oh, Dear! What Can the Matter Be?” and “Billy Boy.”

My suspicions that the encyclopedia publisher was aiming for the Canadian market was confirmed by seeing “O Canada!” under the heading of “Patriotic Songs.” The Christian bias remains with an entire chapter of hymns but “The Hanukkah Song” made it into the “Songs of the Seasons and Festivals” chapter. This was diversity for the 1940s.

Illustration of Johann Sebastian Bach as a childIt’s too bad that I didn’t remember this volume when I was learning to play clarinet and was looking for sheet music. All I ever had was a hymnal to play from. But my situation was nothing compared what what I read about Johann Sebastian Bach. He had to steal sheet music from behind iron bars and copy it by moonlight so he’d have his own music to play. And no one made me play my clarinet in the attic where poor George Frederick Handel had to play his clavier.

I did practice my clarinet willingly, unlike my sister who had given it up after playing for only a year or so. I even picked up a recorder to mess around with and tapped the keys of a Hammond Organ on occasion. I jumped at the chance to play the bassoon in band and loved the sounds that I could strangle out of that strange instrument. But I was never any good. When I was in high school my band teacher used to slap my thighs to try to keep me on beat. And I was never ever in tune. I loved to play but knew I lacked talent.

It wasn’t until Dad gave me a mountain dulcimer he had made that I learned what people meant when they talked about something being out of tune. I could never tune it, but I rested my hand on the base while a friend tuned it for me and suddenly I understood the concept. I could feel the vibrations changing as she tightened or loosened the strings. I still can’t hear any difference so mostly it sits in the living room as a decoration. Luckily the game “Rock Band” doesn’t require any tuning so I can once again play the toy guitar. I think that’s as musical as I’m ever going to get.

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
Childcraft: Art for Children

Oct 15

Childcraft: Art for Children

Posted on Thursday, October 15, 2009 in children's books

What colors would you like to use?

Masterpiece, the art auction game, is where I got my art education as a child. Any piece could be a forgery! So if an artwork wasn’t in the Art Institute of Chicago, the source of the images used in the game, I didn’t know about it.

It’s too bad I never noticed that I had this volume of reproductions of other pieces created by my favorite artists in the game: Mary Cassattt, Winslow Homer, El Greco. While the quality of color printing in this book doesn’t display any vibrancy, I think I would have enjoyed them anyway. I wasn’t particularly discerning as a child (or even now.)

paintWhen I was young, my much older brother was attending college studying art. The family made fun of him for this. It was not seen as any kind of legitimate study even though he was very talented and sold some of his work. A book like this one, encouraging kids to try all sorts of creative media, would have been a good alternative viewpoint for me.

I love it that the editors have included artwork by children in each section of the book. They are given the same amount of space and the same type of commentary as the artwork of the great masters. I can only imagine what it must have been like for the kid from Delaware with his or her collage of hay, coconut, and cotton featured on page 74. To open a real encyclopedia and see a piece of art you may have done for a school assignment there in print for the world to see must have been a rather heady experience. I think I’d be upset that my name wasn’t included since I’ve always been rather fond of my name. But I know I’d be thinking about how my artistic vision compared to Arthur Dove’s “Goin’ Fishin'” collage. I’d be busy that year making more collages and feeling pretty proud of myself.

Honestly, I should go through this entire book page by page and pay close attention. I haven’t heard of many of the artists included. I’m still limited in knowledge to what’s in my local museums. And I could use the reminder to look out my window and see shapes, colors, reflections, and light. The skill of observation is dulled, I think, as we age unless we actively engage it.

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

Oct 2

Childcraft: Science and Industry

Posted on Friday, October 2, 2009 in children's books

Science and IndustryThe first thing we learn from this volume is that all living things come from parents that are like them. Yep, you are like your parents whether you like it or not. You look in the mirror and sometimes you’ll see your mother or father’s face. This is especially true as you age. It’s just science and you can’t fight it. I thought having a raccoon mask would have been kind of fun. I already had the freckles across my nose. It was hard for me as a child to accept that I would never have a monkey tail, so I understand if this concept disturbs you.

I enjoyed learning that six months after an egg hatches, “if it is a hen, it is ready to lay eggs.” But “if it is a male chick, it grows up to be a rooster.” And does nothing other than that. Children who grow up on farms soon learn that males aren’t really all that necessary. They are bigger, badder, and frequently stinkier than females, but if you really need one you can probably just borrow your neighbor’s. My nieces learned that there are three choices to make when you a farm animal has a male baby: keep it for breeding (unlikely), keep it and castrate it (more likely), or eat it (probably inevitable.) Sorry guys.

Where does your telephone reach?Boys and girls learn much more than animal babies can. But not the really cool stuff like how to fly, live under water, bring down an elk with your teeth and nails, or how to be taken care of for life just by making rumbling sounds in your throat.


There are lots of experiments included in this volume, including some of my favorites. I loved growing bread mold. I’d fill several jars and try for different colors by spraying the bread with Lysol or hair spray or Windex. I remember being amazed that Lysol really worked and I didn’t get any color of mold at all for many many days.

After trying the celery and colored water experiment, Mom suggested using peonies instead. I was so proud of those white peonies with pink or blue outlines on their petals. I felt like I was a scientist and an artist.

I wish I had tried the rotten apple experiment that shows how germs can spread. You take a rotten apple and two good ones. One of the good ones gets scratched twice and one of those scratches is treated with iodine or Mercurochrome. We didn’t have either so I would have used Campho-Phenique. I really wonder how this experiment worked for kids back when you could get Mercurochrome. The FDA forbade its sale across state lines in 1998 after determining that it was not generally recognized as safe and effective. Maybe it was the safety using mercury rather than the effectiveness that was the real problem. I hope most kids found that the treated scratch on their apple didn’t rot. And I hope no parents, after seeing their child’s success, then decided to wash all their apples in mercury.

The book suggests the making of an aquarium or terrarium. Terrariums were very popular around 1974. I wanted to create my own and at that time either Frito’s or Chee-tos (correct spelling for that time) had seed samples tucked inside its packaging. I got cactus seeds. Growing cactus from seed is an exercise in patience. Not for a season, but for an annum. At least they were for me. But the suckers eventually came up and grew for a few years until a cat decided to take up extreme litter boxing.

I have to say that the concept of making your own rain is much better than the actual experiment. Watching drops fall from a pitcher filled with ice and held over a pan of steaming water just doesn’t measure up to the idea of ruining your sister’s softball game with a downpour.

Nowhere does the book warn you about doing Dr. Jekyll Mr. Hyde experiments. I tried to create such a potion with all sorts of liquids, including perfume. Perfume is not meant to be taken orally. Important childhood lesson.

Moms, Dads, and science

Parents are the most important item in science. You’ll need Mom to sew your butterfly catcher and to boil water. You’ll need Dad to tell you how to tell directions with his compass, to light matches, and to sing and talk while you feel his voice box. Sometimes you need both of them for a single experiment. To make a water wheel you need Mom to cut the lid from a large tin can and Dad to cut slits in the lid and twist the edges.

Did they really write that?

Animals do not have minds or souls. They were referring only to the animals you’ve eaten or will eat. I’m sure they weren’t referring to your pet. Your pet will go to heaven and wait for you there. Honestly. Do your trust me or some old author from the 1950s?


Men in spaceThis was boring for me as a child and it’s boring as an adult. Combines are used for reaping wheat, using a claw hammer to remove a nail is easier than using your bare hands, an egg beater shows you how wheels with teeth work, electricity comes from generators, wool grows on sheep, many houses are made of wood, furnaces ares usually put in the basement. These facts just don’t leave a lot of room for imagination. I wanted to see speculation about the future. I thought maybe I’d see a personal jet pack or a space car. But the only prognostications Childcraft editors were willing to make were pretty weak: new medicines to prevent illnesses, faster and safer ways of traveling, cities where everyone can live in comfort. They must have missed seeing AIDS, airport congestion, or homelessness in their crystal ball. Luckily I watched Star Trek as a child so had a clearer version of things like DVDs, cell phones, automatic doors, and the Roomba vacuum.

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

Sep 25

Childcraft: Creative Play and Hobbies

Posted on Friday, September 25, 2009 in children's books

Choosing a hobbyI took this book on vacation with me, thinking I might have some time for creative play. But all I did was read it. Reading must be my hobby of choice! I apologize to my relatives that I didn’t choose collecting instead so as to ease their gift-giving decisions.

Collecting is a game which the whole family can play. The hobby also is one that often solves the problem for parents, uncles, and aunts, as to what to give you for Christmas or on your birthday.”

Maybe it’s a Midwestern thing, but you know that argument over “duck, duck, gray duck” or “duck, duck, goose” even among people who no longer recall the game to which the name refers? Well I’ve found a couple of other terms to fight over. Childcraft called tic-tac-toe “Tic-Tat-Toe.” I thought it was a typo, but they used the term several times. I’ve heard of “noughts and crosses” before, but never tic-tat-toe. Wikipedia states that another alternative name is “hugs and kisses.” That one I like. Tic-tat-toe sounds like a tattooing accident caused by a nervous artist missing your ankle.

Steal sticks game diagramYou know the old campfire standby of graham crackers, chocolate, and marshmallows? Well this book calls that a “somare.” What!? That makes no sense at all. Even Canadians call it a s’more. But since I’ve never liked them (‘smores, not Canadians), I was happy to see an alternative recipe that called for apple slices, a peppermint drop and toasted marshmallow. If I can find peppermint drops I might try it.

I was very glad to see the rules for Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button. I have vivid memories of inserting what I thought of as my prayer palms into the closed palms of others during vacation Bible school, but I had been confused about who was It and who passed the button. Now I won’t be embarrassed in a group of Wii-deprived children sitting in a circle playing party games. I’ll know the proper rules for Passing the Ring, Pussycat’s Whiskers (like Pin the Tail), Forfeits (totally new to me) and Button, Button.

Why is musical chairs also known as “Going to Jerusalem”? Neither Childcraft nor Wikipedia will spill the beans on that. Is it some slanderous secret?

Using kegs to create a bridgeThe world has really changed since these articles were written. No parent today is going to suggest that kids make eggnog for each other. Hey kids, it’s a salmonella party! And most parents won’t have these handy scraps lying about for their kids to use to make useful pieces of furniture: orange cases, nail kegs, piano boxes, barrels. And most parents (aside from my wonderful neighbors who let us dig Matchbox car roads in their side yard) won’t let their kids take over landscaping the backyard, although the authors do acknowledge that this should be a family decision.

If the hobby you’ve chosen is playmaking and play acting, then this book has lots of ideas for you. It’s not just about playing house. There’s advice on how to select plays, actors, and music; how to create scenery and costumes; how to print and sell tickets; and how to prepare for playing your character. There are even suggestions for historical pageants and May festivals. Geez, my friends and I obviously had no ambition. We mostly just rode our bikes, sometimes took a pony out for a drive or ride, and argued over who got to get shot and die dramatically when we played cowboys and other cowboys.

Suggestions for creating puppetsI should review the chapter “Cooking Up Fun.” I’m tall enough to use the stove so there are so many recipes I could try. I certainly never learned not to cook vegetables until they are limp. My mother loves them that way. Over two pages are devoted to making a roast beef birthday dinner for your father. I’m not sure if I can find the tartrate or phosphate baking powder for the oatmeal cookie dessert. Luckily my dad isn’t celebrating any more birthdays so I’m off the hook. He always seemed happy with just a pecan pie from Mom anyway.

This entire volume just makes me feel like I never showed any creativity at all as a child. Or I’ve forgotten all the tricks I used to know, like how to make hollyhock flower dolls. I might have made a sock puppet, but I never made my own sweetheart apron or xylophone. Were kids in the 40s and 50s just creative overachievers who are now getting their comeuppance with their lack of computer skills? Previous volumes of Childcraft made me miss the silliness and freedom of childhood. This volume made me feel like a lazy dullard.
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

Sep 10

Childcraft: Exploring the World Around Us

Posted on Thursday, September 10, 2009 in children's books

Now that I’m up to reviewing the seventh volume, the text is getting much denser and the graphics fewer. I have no memory of this book. Maybe it’s because it begins with “Animals of Zoo and Circus” neither of which I had ever seen.

Photo of page about elephants from Childcraft, volume seven

Stories about the zoo and circus animals are told from the animals’ viewpoints. “Little Ram’s ears were torn. His tender trunk was bleeding.” The stories about trapping elephants and bears are scary. But later we are assured “Ranta and Ram had good memories. Soon they learned to know what was expected of them. Ram was very popular with children, who often fed him melons.”

The volume ends with articles on plants. The chapters by Margaret McKenny are very engaging. Her paragraphs on the dandelion makes me feel a bit guilty about how I treat them. “Perhaps you, too, have sent these tiny troopers dancing on their way by blowing the parachutes from the dandelion’s head.” I’d forgotten how fun that can be.

What I learned

Tiger hunting is a popular sport of rich princes in India.

Photo of horses from Childcraft, volume sevenA baby kangaroo,” even with the nipple in its mouth, cannot suck. So the mother has to pump the milk into the baby. She does this as you would blow up a balloon or bubble gum, or pump air into a bicycle tire.” Huh? I found this to be a wee bit disturbing. There are no references in this book about the lack of kangaroo flatulence. Perhaps that is a newer discovery.

When an opossum is playing dead “it may be picked up by the tail and swung about in a circle, yet its feet continue to stick out stiffly.” I didn’t try that when the cats and I were confronted by a possum last spring. I don’t think I could make myself even touch its tail. But now I think I might substitute opossum for cat when referring to how much room there is to swing one.

I’m happy that I had just a normal pet mouse. “A most interesting kind of tame mouse is the waltzing, or dancing, mouse…. This pretty mouse spends a large part of its waking hours spinning gaily around in dizzy circles.” I’ve now learned that it’s also particularly susceptible to disease and sensitive to changes in temperature. If your mouse waltzes, you should take it to the vet immediately.

“Pigs raised near cities usually are fed on garbage.” All the hogs I ever knew got grain. But I’ve never known any suburban pigs.

Some Amazing Ant Customs, Childcraft, volume sevenAnts have customs, just like foreign people do.

The praying mantis is the only insect that can look over its own shoulder.

Spider silk is used to make “the cross lines for surveying instruments, telescopes, and gun and submarine-sighting equipment.”

If you pick a trillium flower will likely cause the plant to die. I never considered picking one.

Children used to go for a ramble. I’ve meandered and walked idly a few times, but I’m not sure if I rambled as a child. Well I probably did ramble on and on while talking to my parents. But I never looked for flowers while rambling. Not even a ramblin’ rose.

Dick Whittington’s cat was once famous even though that particular folktale didn’t make it into the early Childcraft volumes. I had to go look up the story.

So today’s trivia question is …

   What made Dick Whittington’s cat famous? Answer.

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

Sep 4

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

Sep 1

Childcraft: Life in Many Lands

Posted on Tuesday, September 1, 2009 in children's books

Title page for Life in Many Lands, Childcraft, volume fiveI had to sit down and read volume five in the Childcraft encyclopedias I’m reviewing. I haven’t recognized a single story yet. Perhaps I didn’t read them or wasn’t enamored of them as I was the earlier volumes.

Many of the stories in this volume were originally published in Child Life magazine which was published from 1921 to 1997 and was aimed at children ages nine to 11. Child Life has been incorporated into Children’s Digest. That magazine might also be out of print now.

I hope the children’s magazine industry isn’t suffering too badly during this recession and era of electronic games. I was thrilled to get The Horn Book Magazine delivered just for me. Dad would get all his horse magazines, Mom all hers with pictures of food and the Lennon sisters, and I’d get my own magazine, too. Our library carried Highlights for Children, but my magazine was just for me.

A little aside on children’s magazines

Photo of illustration for "Zebedee, Fisherman" in Childcraft, volume fiveI’ve learned that John Newbery published one of the first children’s magazines, The Lilliputian. A photo of an issue up for auction shows that it was also known as “the young gentleman and lady’s golden library. Being an attempt to mend the world, to render the society of man more amiable, and to establish the plainness, simplicity, virtue and wisdom of the golden age, so much celebrated by the poets and historians.” An attempt to mend the world? As a child I just wanted to be entertained and maybe learn something if it was interesting.

The first American children’s periodical, Children’s Magazine, was published in 1789. I wonder how large its circulation was. The entire count for the country was still under three million. The publication ceased within a year.

Another source of stories in this volume of Childcraft was The Junior Red Cross News. It was the first of several Red Cross publications for young people and appeared in 1919. It lasted at least until the 1950s.

The first periodical written for black children was published even earlier, but enjoyed a much shorter run. At least three literary magazines have been published for African American children: Joy (1887 – 1922), The Brownies’ Book (1920 – 1921), and Ebony Jr.! (1973 – 1985) [Ebony Jr.!: The Rise and Demise of an African American Children’s Magazine]

Back to the stories

Photo of an illustration by SinnochsonThere is one story about a black child in this volume. It’s a tale of a North African (Algerian) boy who proves his honesty and is rewarded by American GIs. Hussein, the young shepherd in “Eggs for Sale,” has learned enough English to say “Tank you veddy mooch.” The story is in the final section, “Stories of Many Lands,” and doesn’t say as much about Algeria as it does about how Americans think others should see us.

I suspect that the editors felt that they were being very inclusive, and maybe they were for the the 1940s. Other stories from many lands are about children from Dalmatia (part of Croatia), Hungary, Greece, France, Lithuania, China and Bora Bora. The section on “Children of the Americas” covers more than just kids from Appalachia and Indiana. There’s a story about an Argentinian child, and two from Canadian provinces. There’s even a story about a Yaqui Indian and another about a Texan. This is where a Laura Ingalls Wilder story appears, too.

The first section, “Holidays and Festivals,” was a bit of a surprise. I assumed there would a story about Hanukkah or Purim, and maybe Boxing Day or Japan’s Children’s Day. I knew enough not to expect anything about Ramadan or Kwanzaa or even Labor Day. But I didn’t expect to see two Christmas stories, one set on Beacon Hill in Boston and one in the Arkansas Hills. And I didn’t expect to see “Indians for Thanksgiving.” Rest assured that the Indians were not a turkey or ham substitute. Two little Pilgrim girls simply take in and feed a young Native American, thereby achieving their goal of seeing an Indian and also preventing an attack by his tribe. There’s also an incredibly dull story titled “Star-Spangled Banner Girl.”

Photo of Marion Dunsire's illustration in Childcraft, volume fiveMy favorite story is about two girls who get so engrossed in their library books that they don’t notice when the library closes and they are locked inside. That’s such a great fantasy. I would have immediately ventured into the section of the library directly behind the librarian’s desk and snooped around. And then I would have gone through the librarian’s desk, which is something Garnet and Citronella, the girls in the story, did. The story, “Locked In” is part of a larger book by Elizabeth Enright: Thimble Summer, a Newbery Medal winner set in a small Wisconsin town during the Great Depression. I guess I just prefer stories set close to home.

These stories provide a good window into what the general culture thought children should learn. The stories generally feature polite, honest, generous, thrifty, and industrious children. And the boys are also courageous. “Locked In” was the only story I noticed that encouraged children acting in their own self-interests. Current children’s literature themes include celebrating differences, dealing with teasing, staying safe (no illustrations of children riding in a truck bed), dealing with trauma, going after your dreams, the environment, powerful girls and such. However you’ll still find themes like friendship, responsibility, honesty, etc. I think there’s good reason most of the stories in this volume are no longer seen on bookstore shelves. I think I might have to find a copy of Thimble Summer, however.

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