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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, 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

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

Aug 28

Childcraft: Animal Friends and Adventures

Posted on Friday, August 28, 2009 in children's books

Photo of title page for Animal Friends and Adventures, Childcraft

Animal Friends

For some reason, I never got around to reading out of this book and no one ever read it to me. I was never very good about sitting and listening to a story. Mom couldn’t read to me at night because as soon as she got me in bed I fell asleep. And if it was daytime, then I wanted to be outside or doing something. Once I could read on my own, however, I became addicted.

Photo of illustration for "The Pulling Bee" in Childraft, volume fourReviewing the list of authors, I only recognize one name: Rudyard Kipling. But I also see that there’s a Dr. Dolittle story. My third grade teacher read to us from those books after recess every day. I’m ashamed that I didn’t know that Hugh Lofting wrote those books. And there’s a story from Justin Morgan Had a Horse. I loved other stories from that book. It’s too bad I didn’t know that another one was on my very own bookshelf.

The lead story in this volume is a Hindu tale, “Bunny the Brave,” about a young rabbit that outsmarts a hungry tiger. Every culture must have a story like this, about a small and brave child or creature who outsmarts the larger and cruel oppressor, about the trickster. I bet you can name other small heroes and stories: Ber Rabbit, coyote, Anansi, Aesop’s “The Lion and the Mouse.”

Photo of illustration for Meals for Mickey, ChildcraftThe next story is by a Czeck author, Josef Kozisek, who wrote A Forest Story. “Bidushka Lays an Easter Egg” was influenced by the Bohemian girls Elizabeth Orton Jones, the author, knew growing up. There are several stories set on farms or ranches. There are stories by authors famous in the 1930s and 40s. It’s like I’m on a literary archeological dig. Several of these stories are worth bringing back.

Wheels, Wings, and Real Things

Photo of an illustration for "The Little Old Truck."
I think they did a great job naming this section.  But it might have been the reason why I wasn’t interested in this book as a child. Stories about trucks and planes just didn’t interest me. I think Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel turned me off to such tales. Even a story in which the machine is female, “Susie Stock Car,” wasn’t enough to draw me in.

Now if I’d just noticed the wonderful story of “The Family Who had Never had Roller Skates.” It’s a tragic tale of little girls being forced to be little girls and not allowed to skate. But finally the family doctor comes to their rescue. “Their petticoats grew mussed and torn, but their cheeks grew rosy.” Pa-pa and Ma-ma Pettingill were won over. It’s a tale that says “Yes, join in. Try out the latest thing.”

Photo of a Hildegard Woodward illustration for Childcraft

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

Aug 27

Childcraft: Folk and Fairy Tales

Posted on Thursday, August 27, 2009 in children's books

Photo of illustration for title page for Childcraft Folk and Fairy Tales

I’m not sure where I learned most of my traditional children’s tales. Now, when someone mentions “Sleeping Beauty,” I think of Disney’s version. Don’t you? For “Cinderella,” I think of the TV version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical with Lesley Ann Warren. And then I think of Disney. I don’t think of the stories in this volume.

Photo of Three Little Pigs illustration by Shirley Spackey for ChildcraftNow if you mention “The Three Little Pigs,” that’s a different story. I immediately remember the unusual illustrations by Shirley Spackey. Then I have a more contemporary memory of changing the story slightly when re-telling it for my nephews. I liked to make it the story of the three pittle ligs and tell how the big wad bolf would threaten to “puff and huff or I’ll hoe your blouse in.” (I learned to use spoonerisms by watching Grandpa Jones on “Hee Haw.”)

tomtittotThe other illustration that I vividly recall is of Tom Tit Tot. That “little black thing” scared the pee-wadding out of me (to use a phrase I learned in childhood.)  I now realize that “Tom Tit Tot” is basically the same story as “Rumpelstiltskin.” The story is scary, too. Just because you did something stupid, your parent’s vanity or some big man’s greed could lead to you being locked in a room with only a spinning wheel and some flax.

The stories in this volume are the canon of English literature for children. Our shared knowledge of these stories allows authors to make use of the tales in new ways. I actually think I enjoy Fables, the graphic novel series, much more than I did the stories I heard as a child. Niel Gaiman’s “Snow, Glass, Apples” story is deliciously thrilling and disturbing. Stephen Sondheims’ Into the Woods is like a candy cane treat. But they wouldn’t be so enjoyable if I didn’t get all the references.

I got into a fight once about one of the stories I read in here. I was wrong, but so were my friends. We fought over a drawing I made of the Rapunzel story. I remember the lead character’s mother starting out pregnant and with a desire for rutabagas. It was her husband’s journey into the witch’s garden to get her some that earned her the witch’s ire. My friends insisted there was no pregnant lady in the story. Well it’s implied that she is pregnant. She believes that she’ll soon have a child and everyone knows pregnant women have strange cravings. But it wasn’t for rutabagas, it was for rampions. I’d never heard of such an herb so I must have changed it in my head. For some reason, the risk the young husband took for his wife and his willingness to sacrifice his future child, was the heart of the story for me. Not the hair thing in the tower.

Photo of Tom Hill's illustration for the "Hansel and Gretel" story in ChildcraftSometimes I’m amazed that children don’t have a greater fear of step-mothers. In these stories they never want to feed or clothe their step-children. And fathers, while in nursery rhymes always strong and helpful, have no power in the face of the fairy tale step-mother. My mother, who married a widower with two children, was terrified of her new role because these stories haunted her.

I’m sure there are tales in this book which don’t frighten or alarm little kids. But I think it’s notable that I don’t remember those. Those didn’t capture my imagination. So what if Rose Red and Snow White were the closest of sisters, kind to everyone, and end up with lots of treasure? That does not make their story memorable. It’s the evil dwarf who makes that story worth reading.

I just read the Jack and the Beanstalk story and it’s not the same as I remember. I thought the goose that lay the golden egg was in it; I didn’t know that was from Aesop’s Fables. The giant’s fowl with an oviduct problem was a hen. I don’t recall anything of a fairy who lost her powers and allowed the giant to kill Jack’s father. I don’t recall Jack making three visits to the giant’s house. I think I know the story from old cartoons instead of this book.

The volume ends with Aesop’s Fables. I remember these stories, but not with the same intensity as the fairy tales. I only liked them because they were short, had animals in them, and you could always guess the moral.

A while back my husband read a few of Grimm’s fairy tales out loud to me. He picked ones we didn’t know and they seemed totally outlandish and ridiculous. I wrote my own modern versions of two of them:

Fairly tales just beg to be re-told.

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