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Children’s Books

I wonder why some children’s books stay with us for generations and others fall out of favor.  The Story About Ping was pusblished in 1933 and yet is still on Meg’s list of favorites.  But The Chinese Twins (and their twin siblings), published about the same time are nowhere to be seen.  Perhaps the twin books went the way of Little Black Sambo, displaced by greater sensitivity to the feelings of people who aren’t middle-class white Americans?

Does anybody still actually read the Oz books any more?  Can you name one of them other than The Wizard of Oz?  How about A Child’s Geography of the World?   or  A Child’s History of the World?  Surely those would be worth an update to account for the changes since V. M. Hillier wrote them in the 1930’s.  And where are Peter Rabbit and Reddy Fox?  Somebody must still reads Thornton Burgess.

All of these books were in a small bookcase at 44 Elm Street.  Even as a child they seemed a bit dated. I remember the books and their illustrations quite clearly; I remember the dusty, old-book smell of them;  I remember being fascinated by the Oz books, which seemed mystical and deeply interesting.  And yet I have no memory of where the bookcase was in the house – perhaps it wasn’t even there?  Perhaps it was in some other house?  But I don’t think so.

Possum read a number of the Twin  books to me.  The stories of twins living in foreign place seemed like just that, stories.  They held no reality for me.  On the other hand, Garney took great delight in reading me Thornton Burgess.  Those seemed much more real.  I could easily imagine Jerry Muskrat swimming in the Smiling Pool.  I could sense the safety of the old briar patch and the danger of being caught outside.

Do these books go away because our grandchildren’s world is so different from ours?  Or is it adult taste that dictates the survivors?  I suppose the answer is a bit of each.  Consider the case of The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes and of The Wind on the Moon.  When it came time for me to read these to my children they were nowhere to be found.  I had to order The Wind on the Moon from England.  Now, both books are back in favor and can be readily found – even without Amazon.  This seems to be a triumph of adult taste over the publishers’ failure to keep the books in print.

On the other hand the Oz books and the Twins books probably deserved to fade away.  It’s hard to be sure without having them at hand, but I suspect that they are rather dated and would have a hard time competing with all of the alternative forms of entertainment now available.

So, which were your favorite books as a child?  if enough people respond perhaps we can detect a pattern.  I guess I’d have to list Thornton Burgess, Pippi Longtocking, Dr. Dolittle and the Green Canary and, perhaps, Tom Sawyer.

3 Responses to “Children’s Books”

  1. Rudi says:

    One of the great joys of having children is that you get to revisit old pleasures and buy what has appeared since you went to hell in junior high.

    I was born and grew up in Stockton, California, whose county library had been rather well funded until the end of World War II. The librarians tended to keep old books (nowadays most librarians “de-accession” with a vengeance). As a result I was able to read an enormous amount of older children’s and young adult literature. Some of it is, quite frankly, recherche. After all, how many of you have read “Count Luckner, the Sea Devil”? Hmmm?

    For some reason, I never read any of the Winnie the Pooh series and am still ignorant of the finer points –this made it practically impossible for me to understand “Winnie ille Pooh” when it appeared ca. 1960.

    However, I did manage to read all the Hugh Lofting Doctor Doolittle books, including the rather hard to find “Gub-Gub’s Book.” I do agree that “Doctor Doolittle and the Green Canary” is pretty widely available, but it was, I believe, the last in the series and not even completely written by Lofting.

    There was a time when some of the Lofting books were available in paperback, but I think that they had been edited to remove “offensive” matter. And then they fell out of favor. What a pity.

    I think that some books remain because of the high quality of their illustrations. For example, anything illustrated by Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth, Robert Lawson, and artists of their quality remains, although sometimes a particular item may be hard to find, especially if it did not sell well originally. Think of the wonderful books by Holling Clancy Holling, “Seabird” etc.

    Some works remain because they fit a particular niche well: “Goodnight Moon,” “The Little House” by Virginia Lee Burton, — these served emotional needs remarkably well. One of the reasons we loved (and hated to leave) our cottage on Blake Street in Belmont was because it so reminded us of the little house.

    But there are books for which I have searched in vain for decades. There was a chapter book about a church mouse that I loved; now there is a more recent, illustrated series about a church mouse, also in England, but it is entirely different.

    One of my favorites was a book of Polish inspiration called “Poppy Seed Cakes,” with very nice eastern European illustrations. It came back into print when our girls were young, but has since disappeared, I believe.

    And then there are the Little Golden Books, marketed in foodstores. I think these were impulse purchases, and because they were targeted to the largest market, it would be interesting to study them. Of course, which books appeared on the rack in any given week was pretty much a random event. Where oh where is my copy of “Scuffy the Tugboat”?

  2. Bill says:

    Well, actually, I have read “Count Luckner, The Sea Devil”, only my copy isn’t a children’s book. It was published in 1927 by Doubleday and runs to 300+ pages. It is part of a genre of sea tales from the German side of World War I published in English. I have in front of me “The Cruise of The Kronprinz Wilhelm,” “The Emden,” and “Count Luckner..,” all published in the US. I suppose that the popularity of these books had something to do with the substantial German population here and the degree of sympathy with the German side in WW I. I can’t think of similar books from WW II.

  3. margaret bean says:

    What a marvelous thing to be able to reply! I have not yet read Count Luckner, the Sea Devil, but shall! I would also like here to put in a good word for the Twin books. ‘The Japanese Twins’ was the first book that magically, while staring at its pages, I could suddenly read, discovering then and there that there were people who lived in paper houses.

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