Friday, December 30, 2011


THE FIRST WORDS that come to mind when you hear the name Eleanor Roosevelt are First Lady. After that perhaps you think, founding member of the United Nations and architect of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If you lived through her public life, you then might think: writer. After all, she wrote a daily newspaper column for twenty-six years, a monthly magazine column for Woman's Home Companion, autobiographies, and many other articles and books, making writing one of her primary professions. But children's writer?

Starting in 1932, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote or co-wrote many books for children, most of which were civic-minded nonfiction like When You Grow Up to Vote (1932), This Is America (1942), Partners: The United Nations and Youth (1950), United Nations: What You Should Know About It (1955), and Your Teens and Mine (1961). She also served on the editorial board of the Junior Literature Guild's book club, selecting monthly titles and reviewing manuscripts. And in two instances, she wrote chidren's fiction, albeit didactic fiction: A Trip to Washington With Bobby and Betty (1935) and Christmas (1940).

The former is exactly what it sounds like including a lunch with the President. The latter is an earnest and heartfelt story that first appeared in the December 28, 1940 issue of Liberty magazine. (Liberty was a weekly general interest magazine to which almost anyone of any significance contributed at one time or another. Think Albert Einstein, Joe Dimaggio, Mahatma Gandhi, etc.) Christmas 1940, to put it mildly, was not a happy time. Nazi Germany had either conquered or was about to conquer most of Europe. Japan had done the same in eastern Asia. Roosevelt, as First Lady and a humanitarian, was painfully aware of these events, and felt it was important for all Americans to be informed as well. As she put it in the 1940 Knopf first edition of Christmas:
"The times are so serious that even children should be made to understand that there are vital differences in people's beliefs which lead to differences in behavior.
     This little story, I hope, will appeal enough to children so they will read it and as they grow older, they may understand that the love, and peace and gentleness typified by the Christ Child, leads us to a way of life for which we must all strive." 
IN THE OCCUPIED NETHERLANDS seven-year-old Marta and her mother are preparing for a lonesome Christmas. Marta has her mother recount the previous year's Christmas, when her father came home from his post at the border to celebrate with them. Even then, in 1939, Marta's grandparents could not join them as money needed to be conserved for the expected lean year ahead. But her father came on Christmas Eve, St. Nicholas left her "sweets, a doll, and bright red mittens just like the stockings mother made," the whole family went ice skating, and they had a Christmas feast. Marta innocently tells of how, when she and her mother are together:
"'we always say: "I wonder if Father remembers what we are doing now," and we try to do just the things we do when you are home so you can really know just where we are and can almost see us all the time.'"
At the end of the bittersweet visit, Marta's father puts on his uniform, tells Marta "'Take good care of Moeder until I come back," and leaves, never to return.

In the interim, along with her father's death comes the occupation of her country. "There was no school any more...and on the road she met children who talked a strange language and they made fun of her and said now this country was theirs."

In order to persevere, Marta often speaks to the Christ Child. For "God...was far away in His heaven...[but] Marta could believe...that the Christ Child...was a real child." So on St. Nicholas's Eve, 1940, knowing that "St. Nicholas will not come tonight," Marta says to her mother:
"'There is one candle in the cupboard left from last year's feast. May I light it in the house so the light will shine out for the Christ Child to see His way? Perhaps He will come to us since St. Nicholas forgot us.'"
Her  mother consents, Marta sets the candle in the window, and then goes outside to see just how far away the candle can be seen. Outside, she meets a man.
"She was not exactly afraid of this stranger, for she was a brave little girl, but she felt a sense of chill creeping through her, for there was something awe-inspiring and rather repellent about this personage who simply stood in the gloom watching her."
When she tells him why she has come out, he remonstrates, "You must not believe in any such legend...There is no Christ Child."

Marta listens patiently to his diatribe even though "down inside her something was hurt...[The man] was taking away a hope, a hope that someone could do more than even her mother."

When she at last asks permission to return home, the man comes with her, entering the house without knocking. Marta sees at once that her mother is holding the glowing Christ Child in her arms. The man, just sees an ordinary baby. He chastises the mother for teaching her daughter "a foolish legend."
"The woman answered in a very low voice: 'To those of us who suffer, that is a hope we may cherish. Under your power, there is fear, and you have created a strength before which people tremble. But on Christmas Eve strange things happen and new powers are sometimes born.'"
She goes on in this vein and at last the man turns and leaves. But:
"The light in the window must be the dream which holds us all until we ultimately win back to the things for which [her father] Jon died and for which Marta and her mother were living."
IN THE 1986 EDITION, CHRISTMAS, 1940, Roosevelt's son Elliott Roosevelt writes in the introduction, "'Christmas, 1940' is the kind of story that is rarely written today. I suppose our tastes have changed, as has our style." Despite his hope that the message is still valid, he is right that our tastes have changed, and Christmas now reads as heavy handed and didactic. And while that usually does not bother a young child, the subject matter is now too distant to make this a Christmas tradition.

THE ILLUSTRATIONS used throughout this post come from the first edition and are by the graphic designer and illustrator Fritz Kredel. In addition to the 1986 edition, there was a 1963 edition entitled Eleanor Roosevelt's Christmas Book that also included Roosevelt's reminiscences of Christmas at Hyde Park and the White House. For background information, I consulted the Eleanor Roosevelt Encyclopedia. The photo of the book jacket comes from the Bauman Rare Books website.

All images are copyrighted © and owned by their respective holders.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


JUST IN TIME for the final candle, I have a guest post over at the magnificent Vintage Kids' Books My Kid Loves: The Adventures of K'Ton Ton by Sadie Rose Weilerstein. Look out for a new We Too Were Children post before the end of 2011. Until then, hop on over to Vintage Kids' Books to finish up your Hanukkah celebration.

All images are copyrighted © and owned by their respective holders.

Monday, November 21, 2011


IN CASE YOU HAVEN'T GOTTEN enough Muppets the last few weeks, I'm bringing a daily dose today and tomorrow over at Vintage Kids' Books My Kid Loves. Today, my childhood copy of the photo-adaptation of the original The Muppet Movie (1979). Tomorrow, the first issue of The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984) comic book mini-series. And if you've never been there, you get the added bonus of seeing Burgin Streetman's excellent blog. Subscribe.

All images are copyrighted © and owned by their respective holders.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


THEODOR SEUSS GEISEL, better known as Dr. Seuss, worked in every possible field that requires writing and drawing. There were the children books, of course, but he also did cartoons and parodies for humor magazines, advertising (most famously for Flit insecticide), book illustration, a syndicated newspaper comic, pamphlets (for propaganda and for causes), political cartoons for PM, the Private SNAFU propaganda cartoons (conceived by Frank Capra, many directed by Chuck Jones and Fritz Frelang, and co-written by P. D. Eastman and Munro Leaf), an Academy Award-winning documentary, Academy Award-winning cartoons, a live-action feature-length musical, magazine stories, animated television specials, and fine art. But throughout his varied career, Geisel reserved his Dr. Seuss persona for his children's work exclusively. Except once (okay, twice, but we'll get to that). The third book by Dr. Seuss was about naked women.

ONE REASON DR. SEUSS worked in so many fields was that he never felt that any of them were respectable enough. This went for children's books too. In the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine review of The King's Stilts, he told his college friend Alexander Laing that it was his "annual brat-book." With two such "brat-books" under his belt, Geisel wanted to expand his purview. So when Random House co-founder Bennett Cerf lured him away from Vanguard in 1939, it was under the condition that Geisel be allowed to do an "adult" book first. That book was The Seven Lady Godivas.

The Lady Godiva legend, of dubious origin, states that in 1037, the Earl of Coventry's wife rode naked on horseback through the streets of Coventry in protest against her husband's unfair taxes. In a later sanitized version of the story, the citizens of Coventry were ordered to remain in their shuttered houses during the ride, but one man looked out, Peeping Tom. He was then struck blind.

Geisel had turned to Godiva as subject twice before in cartoons in the late 1920s (see left). And there had been other instances of nudity in his art, such as his take on the rape of the Sabine women, which hung in the Dartmouth Club for many years. That legend also had bearing on The Seven Lady Godivas as a parody by Stephen Vincent Benét entitled The Sobbin Women appeared in Argosy in 1938 with many of the same story elements that Geisel would use in his own book, namely seven women barricaded in a building refusing to marry their seven suitors. The similarity between the two stories along with the use of a sexually charged legend certainly suggests that Geisel was aware of the story of the previous year. (The Benét later served as the inspiration for the 1954 musical film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. In another link between the stories, Geisel flew to New York in 1954 to discuss a musical based on The Seven Lady Godivas, which never came to fruition.) So how did one Lady Godiva become seven?

"HISTORY HAS TREATED NO NAME so shabbily as it has the name Godiva...There was not one; there were Seven Lady Godivas, and their nakedness actually was not a thing of shame. So far as Peeping Tom is concerned, he never really peeped. 'Peeping' was merely the old family name, and Tom and his six brothers bore it with pride."
These Lady Godivas are naturists who didn't waste time on "frivol and froth." On May 15, 1066 their father set out for the Battle of Hastings on horseback. ("True, Lord Godiva had been experimenting with these animals for years. But the horse remained a mystery...") Before he is out of the castle gate, Lord Godiva's horse throws him, and "the old warrior was dead" on impact. His seven daughters take a pledge that day:

"'I swear,' swore each, ' that I shall not wed until I have brought to the light of the world some new and worthy Horse Truth, of benefit to man.'"

All seven sisters (Clemintina, Dorcas J., Arabella, Mitzi, Lulu, Gussie, and Hedwig) were engaged to the seven Peeping brothers (Tom, Dick, Harry, Jack, Drexel, Sylvester, and Frelinghuysen), so this was no idle oath. The sisters lock themselves in the castle, Hedwig, the eldest, makes a book with seven pages in which each sister is to inscribe her Horse Truth, and the scientific study begins.

The first Horse Truth ("Don't ever look a gift horse in the mouth!" Discovered after Teenie Godiva gets her nose bit off by the "mare Uncle Ethelbert gave us last Christmas.) is found that very first day. The final Horse Truth ("Don't lock the barn door after the horse has been stolen." Discovered after just that has happened.) isn't found until forty years later, New Year's Day 1106. In between, the girls work through their stable, subjecting horses to carriages above, below, before, and aft ("Don't put the cart before the horse."), driving them to drink ("fermented mash") through nervous exhaustion (the cure for which would be water, but "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink."), powering treadmill equipped boats (sea horses, of course, although "Never change horses in the middle of the stream."), kicking (that leads to the discovery of a lost diamond stickpin; "Horseshoes are lucky."), and getting painted ("That is a horse of another color!").

As each Horse Truth is discovered, the contributor leaves the castle to wed her Peeping, all of whom also stayed true during all of those years.

OF THE FIRST PRINTING'S TEN THOUSAND COPIES, only about twenty-five hundred were sold. The Seven Lady Godivas became the first (and there was only one other) of Dr. Seuss's books to go out of print. Geisel later said, "I attempted to draw the sexiest babes I could, but they came out looking absurd." The lack of eroticism does not account for the books failure, however. The truth is that it's just not very good, a collection of bad puns that goes on too long. Geisel convinced Random House to reissue the book in 1987 "by multitudinous demand," which was "an outright lie, which I wrote myself," but the book was once again remaindered and fell back out of print.

GEISEL DID EMPLOY the Dr. Seuss name on one last book for adults (or "obsolete children" as the cover says). You're Only Old Once! is a book that grew out of Geisel's declining health and many doctor visits towards the end of his life. Waiting in waiting rooms, Geisel began to sketch "what I thought was going to happen to me for the next hour and a half." The resultant book is a light verse take on the frustration with the modern medical system. It was released on Geisel's 82nd birthday, the last book written and drawn entirely by Dr. Seuss. It is still in print. CORRECTION 11/19/2011: Oh, the Place You Go! (1990) is the final book written and drawn by Dr. Seuss. You're Only Old Once! is the penultimate book. Thanks to Philip Nel for the correction.

ALL OF THE QUOTES and information in this post came from The Seuss, The Whole Seuss, and Nothing But the Seuss by Charles D. Cohen, Dr Seuss: American Icon by Philip Nel, and Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel: A Biography by Judith and Neil Morgan.

Good Night, Wendy is an occasional series on adult works by children author's. For previous entries, see here.
All images are copyrighted © and owned by their respective holders.

Monday, October 31, 2011


I KNOW the lag time between my posts grows ever longer. (The Cummings did take me two weeks to research and write, so it's not just my laziness.) In the meantime, let me direct your attention to a few new images added to my even less frequently updated Flickr set Dad's The One With The Pipe. For those of you who have never visited, the set's description:

"In the halcyon days of mid-20th century children's books, there were visual clues in the pictures to guide the nascent reader. If ever it was in doubt, a little boy or girl could look and know DAD'S THE ONE WITH THE PIPE."

This time around there are five almost identical images by Crockett Johnson of Harold and the Purple Crayon fame (see left) and one from the Little Golden Books master Tibor Gergely.

An interesting commentary on one of my favorite pipe-toting dad books, the Little Golden Book We Help Daddy, is the publisher's own censoring over the years. In the first edition, released in 1962, Dad brazenly smokes a pipe on the cover (and every other time we see him). In 1979 (the edition I have and scanned), Golden removed the pipe from the cover, but left it inside. In 1989, the pipe was gone completely. I'm uncomfortable with these kind of silent changes, but it does say a lot about our attitudes towards smoking. (I, for the record, am of course against smoking near children, or anywhere else for that matter.)

Dad's The One With The Pipe is a Flickr group, so I encourage everyone to join and to add images. I know there are lots more pops with pipes, and I count on you all to share them. I will try to get a real We Too Were Children, Mr. Barrie post up sometime in November. Thanks to everyone for sticking with me.

All images are copyrighted © and owned by their respective holders.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


THIS IS DIFFICULT, but see if you can follow. On June 12, 1916, Scofield Thayer married Elaine Orr (who became Elaine Thayer, her first marriage). One of Thayer's best friends, Harvard classmate Estlin Cummings (later the poet, painter, and novelist e. e. cummings) wrote an epithalamion, a poem to celebrate nuptials, at Thayer's behest. The Thayers went to Chicago; Cummings went to World War I France to serve in the Ambulance Corps, but instead spent almost four months in a French detention camp for anti-war sentiments.
March of 1918, Cummings arrived in New York City. The Thayers had settled into two separate residences on Washington Square. Scofield Thayer, now part-owner and soon to be publisher of the literary journal The Dial, became Cummings's patron, purchasing his paintings and championing his poetry. Thayer's stated reason for living apart from his wife was so he could concentrate on his work. Cummings knew from Elaine, however, that Thayer had lost interest in her, and at first set out to comfort her, but soon he and Elaine were lovers. When Thayer found out his best friend and his wife were having an affair, he was unperturbed. Cummings was then drafted into the infantry that November, just four months before the war ended.

By February 1919 Cummings was back in New York, and resumed his affair with Elaine. Then in May--and here's the important part for our purposes here--Elaine announced she was pregnant with Cummings's child. Cummings, frankly, acted terribly. He dropped Elaine and was relieved when his friend Thayer accepted paternity even though everyone knew the truth. Elaine, who was no saint as you will see, was twice abandoned--first by her husband, then by the father of her child.

Cummings showed little reaction to the December 20, 1919 birth of his daughter Nancy Thayer. His work was always more important. It wasn't until October 1920 that Cummings had any involvement with his daughter. Thayer and Elaine were planning to divorce, and so Cummings and Elaine renewed their relationship. They saw each other on a daily basis, which meant time with daughter Nancy, who he called Mopsy. By summer of 1921, the little family was living in Paris, although at separate establishments. Elaine led a wealthy life, and the poor Cummings refused to live off of her or Thayer's money. Still, he began to play with Nancy (see his sketch of her to the left), taking her on walks and to the park. His relationship with Elaine grew ever closer, even though they continued to live and travel separately. And he told Nancy stories.

"THESE TALES WERE WRITTEN for Cummings' daughter, Nancy, when she was a very little girl." So opens the 1965 posthumous publication of four stories entitled simply Fairy Tales. Whether these stories qualify as fairy tales is debatable. They are more like fables or parables.

The first is "The Old Man Who Said 'Why'." Anyone with a pre-schooler knows where the inspiration for this story comes from. There was once a fairy who lived on a distant star and was so good-natured that all of the people on the stars would go to him to solve their problems. "Well,after this faerie had lived happily and quietly for millions and millions of years,he woke up one morning on the farthest star and heard a murmuring all around him in the air,and this murmuring seemed to come from all the other stars." All of the people of the stars were on their way to see the fairy with the same problem, "'It's the man who says 'why'!'" He is an old man, he lives on the moon, and all he says is why. The fairy goes to have a talk with the old man, who he finds sitting on a steeple. "'What are you doing up here anyway?' ...'Why?' 'Because I've come all the way from the farthest star to see you,' the faerie said. 'Why?'" The conversation goes on like that. With each question, the very very very very very old man, loses a very, growing younger and younger. Eventually the fairy lays down the ultimatum, if the man says 'why" one more time he'll fall to earth. The old man says 'why' and falls "until,just as he gently touched the earth,he was about to be born."

The second story is "The Elephant & The Butterfly." "Once upon a time there was an elephant who did nothing all day." He lives in a small house at the top of a hill, down which there is a long winding road that leads to another small house "in which a butterfly lived." One day the elephant is sitting at home when he sees a figure making its way up the hill towards his house. It is the butterfly, who stands at the door and asks if anyone is home. He asks three times before the elephant answers and lets him in. It rains while the elephant and butterfly are safe inside, and when the rain stops "the elephant put his arm very gently around the little butterfly and said: 'Do you love me a little?'...And the butterfly smiled and said: 'No, I love you very much.'" They decide to go on a walk, and walk down the long winding path to the butterfly's house. When they get there, "the butterfly said: 'Why didn't you ever before come down into the valley where I live?' And the elephant answered, 'Because I did nothing all day. But now that I know where you live,I'm coming down the curling road to see you every day, if I may--and may I come?' Then the butterfly kissed the elephant and said: 'I love you,so please do.'" The elephant keeps his promise, "And they loved each other always."

The third story is "The House That Ate Mosquito Pie." Reminiscent of Virginia Lee Burton's masterpiece The Little House, Cummings house is forgotten, abandoned, and lonely. No one will live in him or play in him. "There was the afternoon,of course;but the afternoon rarely came near the house because the afternoon was too busy putting the moon to bed. And there was the night,too;but the night was fondest of wandering and wandering among all the bright and gentle kinds of flowers which you and I call 'stars' because we don't know what they really may be." One day the house hears beautiful singing. He loves the singing and has a sense it is meant for him. A small flying person appears. It is a bird. "Nobody can suppose how happy the house was when all at once the tiny flying person alighted right beside him and said: 'May I come to live in you?'" The house knows at last why he has been lonely and gives an emphatic yes. He sets about cleaning himself up, winding his clocks and washing his windows. And the bird sings. They decide to celebrate over a mosquito pie, but when the bird leaves, she finds there are people who are coming to try to live in the house. Once the people come in to look around, all of the clocks go off "with such a banging and a crashing as you never heard." The people are frightened away. The bird and house make their celebratory mosquito pie. "Not only that--but no people ever bothered them any more,and so they were as happy together as happy could be."

The real treasure of the collection is the final story, 'The Little Girl Named I.' It's playful both in form and in content, the most Cummings of the tales, and it offers the best glimpse of the kind of father Cummings could be if he wished. There are two voices, the storyteller and the listener, denoted by indents (the storyteller indented, the listener not). The main character's name is I, so when the storyteller speaks, even though I is a little girl, it is as if Cummings were the main character. For example, "By and by I was walking and walking when whoever do you suppose I should find,sleeping in the sun and fast asleep." (The only other time I've seen this technique is in the excellent Stephen Dixon novels I. and End of I.) Cummings's tale begins:
"     Once upon a time there was a little girl named I.
She was a very good little girl,wasn't she?
     Yes indeed;very good. So one day this little girl named I was walking all by herself in a green green field. And who do you suppose she meets?
A cow,I suppose."
Much like the animals in "Henny Penny," the little girl named I goes along and she goes along and she meets different animals. After the yellow cow, there's a white horse, a pink pig, and an elephant. She asks each of them to join her for tea, and for one reason or another none of them do.The elephant gets the largest part in the story. He is eating bananas out of a tree, and he offers I one. She says no, and asks if he would like to go to tea. He says, "'Yes,I'd like to come to tea very much.'"
"Then he came to tea?
     No. He didn't.
How was that? I thought he said he'd like to come.
     He did. But then he said 'I think I'd better eat these banans that are growing up here,because if I should stop,they'd grow faster than I can eat them.'
That was a very good answer.
     Yes. It was. So this little girl named I said to this elephant 'Are you joking with me,shame on you?' and he said 'Yes,I am joking with you,shame on me.' So then she made kewpie eyes for him and he made kewpie eyes for her and then away goes I through the green green field,all by herself."
The next person I meets is another little girl named You. "'You. That's who I am' she said 'And You is my name because I'm You.'" They sit down to tea and jam and bread together. "And that's the end of this story."

CUMMINGS AND ELAINE THAYER traveled together and separately in Europe until the end of 1923. Elaine and Nancy returned to New York in September, and Cummings followed just after New Year's. Then he made a surprising decision: to marry Elaine. The couple were married on March 19, 1924. It was Cumming's first marriage, Elaine's (now Elaine Cummings) second.

The main reason for the marriage was Cummings's desire to adopt Nancy so she would be his legal child. He was still passionate about Elaine, but he did not allow marriage to alter his way of life, technically living with Elaine and Nancy, but spending more time at his studio and expecting complete freedom with little responsibility. Two weeks after the wedding, Elaine's younger sister died and Elaine made preparations to return to Europe with Nancy to see after her sister's affairs. On April 25, 1924, Nancy became Cummings's legal daughter  (with legal expenses payed by Scofield Thayer), and then she and Elaine returned to Paris by early May. Nancy was not made aware of the new parental arrangement.

Mid-June. A little over six years since the start of their off-again, on-again relationship, but only three months into their marriage, Elaine wrote home that she had met another man on the boat to Europe, Frank MacDermot, that she had fallen in love, and that she wanted a divorce. Cummings was devastated. He considered suicide, he considered murdering MacDermot, he fought and fought. He didn't realize that he had made no effort to actually take part in Elaine's life or have responsibility in it, and that that was the main cause of the end of their relationship, more than a rival. In the end, he realized he must grant her the divorce and that he must not kill himself, for Nancy's sake.

However, Cummings did not bring his paternity into the court proceedings of his divorce. It was only after the fact that he wrangled an agreement out of Elaine (now Elaine MacDermot, her third marriage) to unlimited visitation and custody for three months of the year. However MacDermot immediately blocked Cummings from actually seeing his daughter.

The custody battle was long. Cummings saw his daughter only four more times, the last on March 4, 1927. It was not until she was an adult that they would meet again. She grew up believing that Scofield Thayer was her father.
May 1929, Cummings married Anne Barton, second marriage for both.
By 1934, Cummings was introducing Marion Morehouse as his wife, although they never legally married, his third "marriage," her first.
1943, Nancy married Theodore Roosevelt's grandson Willard, first marriage for both.
1954, Nancy married Greek classicist Kevin Andrews, her second marriage, his first.
Summer 1968, Nancy and Andrews separate.)
CUMMINGS'S FAIRY TALES with illustrations by John Eaton was published in 1965, three years after Cummings's death. The copyright reads "1950, 1965 Marion Morehouse Cummings," his final wife. It is unclear where these texts came from and why there is a 1950 copyright at all. There is one reference in a letter to Nancy quoted by Cummings biographer Richard S. Kennedy that suggests he sent her at least two fairy tales that he had written for her as a child in order to be read to her children (his grandchildren). It is possible that the 1950 copyright comes from that time, although the exchange would have happened in the 1940s, not 1950. Regardless, it seems most likely that the texts published as Fairy Tales were ones furnished to Nancy in adulthood. It is hard to know whether that means they were written at that later date or that he had them on file since she was a child.

Why would that matter?

If the four stories are read as a letter to his adult daughter, then they deliver a very clear narrative. The first story is that of a birth. A very old fairy approaches a much younger (but old) man, and enacts his birth. This can be read as Cummings fathering Nancy. Since Cummings had almost no interaction with Nancy until she was one, it makes sense that his first real experience of her would be of a child who was already asking the question "why?" The other key element of the story is that of a vast physical distance getting traversed for the two beings to come into contact with one another, a theme throughout the rest of the book and Nancy's life.

To fully understand the next story in the narrative, it is important to know that Cummings considered the elephant his totem. As a child he was a fan of animal stories, particularly those of Rudyard Kipling, and he came to associate the elephant with his father who carried him about and had big ears. At some point the role reversed and Cummings saw himself as the elephant. He drew elephants repeatedly in his youth (the drawing above is from one of his six-year-old sketchbooks), and throughout his life would sign personal letters with an elephant sketch (the Valentine to the right is to his third wife Marion).

So in "The Elephant & The Butterfly," it is not just that the elephant, a large creature who is separated from a smaller creature, the butterfly, meets that butterfly, but it is Cummings himself who meets Nancy. Initially, the elephant is reluctant to announce his presence, but once he does they immediately profess undying love to one another. When the butterfly asks why the elephant has not come to her house before, he promises her that, now that he knows where it is, he will come to her house every day. So Cummings admits his initial reluctance to being a father, but then swears allegiance to his daughter.

The next story, "The House That Ate Mosquito Pie," is a reprise of the last with one key difference. Again a large being, the house (i.e. Cummings), meets a small flying being, the bird (i.e. Nancy). The bird wants to live in the house and they too declare their love for one another. But their new relationship is threatened by other people who would come between them (to live in the house), just as Elaine and MacDermot separated the father and daughter. In the wish fulfilling story, however, the people are scared away "and no people ever bothered them any more."

Then "The Little Girl Named I." I is Nancy, searching for a companion. She finds the elephant, Cummings, and invites him to tea. But in this story he says, "no." He no longer will be there for her, and in the end the only playmate she finds is herself. It is a sad story, but it reflects how Cummings handled the loss of his daughter, how he was forced to shut her out of his heart so the pain of her loss could not affect him. But it is also a parent saying to his child that at some point you must go out on your own.

"THE OLD MAN WHO SAID 'WHY'" did appear in print in Cummings's lifetime. In 1945, Nancy's mother-in-law Belle Roosevelt rented a farm house in New Hampshire not far from Cumming's own farm and summer residence. The Cummings and Roosevelts met, although Cummings missed meeting Nancy, as she returned to New York to have a baby. Upon learning that he was a grandfather, Cummings wrote a short play Santa Claus: A Morality Play in which a young girl is reunited with her father who reconciles with her mother, i.e. the dream that Cummings, Elaine, and Nancy could be a family again. The play was published in the Harvard Wake coupled with a poem, and "The Old Man Who Said 'Why.'" Joining the play with the story highlights how deeply Cummings was affected by his daughter's proximity.

Nancy and Cummings did meet at last, and he had her sit for several portraits. On the day of the last sitting, Cummings's wife Marion left the room, and in that moment Cummings revealed that he was Nancy's father. When Marion returned to the room, she could tell something important had been said. Cummings said to her, "We know who we are."

Marion was fiercely jealous of anyone else in Cummings life, especially his daughter, and she did everything she could to keep Cummings and Nancy apart. In childhood it had been Elaine separating the father and child, now it was the stepmother doing the same. Cummings and Nancy did maintain a relationship, and Cummings, who had shut out his love in order to protect himself, felt a renewed passion for his daughter. But he was never good at showing it, and the relationship was warm but distant.

A NEW EDITION OF CUMMINGS'S, fairy tales re-illustrated by Meilo So, was printed in 2004 and is still in print. The vast majority of Cummings's biography (and several of the images) was cribbed from E. E. Cummings: a biography by Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno. I also consulted E. E. Cummings: a poet's life by Catherine Reef. (That's where I got Cummings's sketch of Nancy from.) The information on the elephant as Cummings's totem was taken from Dreams in the Mirror: A Biography of E. E. Cummings by Richard S. Kennedy. The entire Cummings/Nancy story is told much better in the essay "A Memorial: Nancy T. Andrews, daughter of E. E. Cummings" by Michael Webster, the full text of which is online.

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Monday, August 1, 2011


WITH FEW EXCEPTIONS I have limited myself to English language books on We Too Were Children, Mr. Barrie. However, for the sake of completion, I am compelled to mention (via reader and illustrator Maral Sassouni) a French language edition of Aldous Huxley's The Crows of Pearblossom illustrated by Beatrice Alemagna. Alemagna, an Italian-born artist whose works have been published in Italy, France, and the United States, has four two-page spreads available on her website, albeit in a frustratingly small size. It is amazing how one text can create three such striking and different illustrations.

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Saturday, July 30, 2011


IT IS ALWAYS EXCITING when a well-deserving book comes back into print, and while I will always remain fond of the original illustrations, it's hard not to take special notice when the illustrator is Mary "I-illustrated-this-little-series-called-Harry-Potter" GrandPré. The book is Chinua Achebe's How the Leopard Got His Claws, which I wrote about quite extensively in May 2010 during my Chinua Achebe series. The new edition comes out in September and has a surprisingly extensive preview available on Amazon. Thanks to Susan Kusel over at Wizards Wireless for the tip.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011


In his lifetime, Aldous Huxley was considered one of the great thinkers, a man who preached pacifism, the mystical possibility of sensual experience beyond that of the five senses, and the value of hallucinogenics to enter ecstatic states. Best known for his novel Brave New World (1932), Huxley wrote eleven novels, plus short stories, poetry, essays (one collection, The Doors of Perception, famously lent its name to the rock band The Doors), dramas, screenplays, and one piece for children The Crows of Pearblossom (written in 1944, published posthumously in 1967).

The English-born Huxley moved to the American southwest in 1937 at the age of forty-three, alternating his time between Los Angeles, California and, starting in 1941, Llano in Antelope Valley, Mojave Desert, where he had moved for his wife Maria's health. His sister-in-law's family lived in the nearby town of Pearblossom, and the Huxleys were often visited by their young niece and nephew, Olivia and Siggy. For Christmas in 1944, Huxley presented Olivia with the short story The Crows of Pearblossom, which mentioned her brother and herself, as well as their neighbors.

"ONCE UPON A TIME there were two crows who had a nest in a cottonwood tree at Pearblossom." At the bottom of the tree lives a snake, and every afternoon at three o'clock--while Mrs. Crow is at the store--he slithers up the tree and swallows whole whatever eggs are in the nest.

This goes on for a year, two hundred and ninety seven eggs we are told, until one day Mrs. Crow comes home from the store earlier than usual. She catches the snake in the act. "'Monster!" she cried. 'What are you doing?' Speaking with his mouth full, the snake answered: 'I am having breakfast.'" He then slithers  down the tree and gets back in bed.

When Mr. Crow comes home, Mrs. Crow demands that he kill the snake. Mr. Crow refuses. Accused of being a coward, he replies "'I never said I was scared. All I said was that I didn't think your idea was a very good one. Your ideas are seldom good, I may add.'" So he goes off to see his friend Owl, a "thinker," and wise, of course. Owl has a plan.

Owl leads Mr. Crow through all of the actions of making clay decoy eggs. They shape the clay from "Mr. Yost's alfalfa patch," they fire the clay in the chimney on "the roof of Olivia's house," and they paint it--"'lucky that Siggy has been doing some painting around the place"--pale green with black spots, "exactly like real eggs."

The next day, the crows leave the artificial eggs in their nest, and then go about their usual daily activities. Sure enough, the snake slithers up at three o'clock and swallows the two clay eggs whole. He's so proud of himself that he even sings a song about the fact that he can eat the eggs even though he has no wings or legs. After the song is finished, however, he notices something's wrong. The eggs have not broken before reaching his stomach, and he now has a terrible stomach ache. He twists himself up in  his agony, tying himself to the tree.

When Mrs. Crow returns from the store, she gives the snake a long lecture about eating other people's eggs. "Since that time, Mrs. Crow has successfully hatched out four families of seventeen children each. And she uses the snake as a clothesline on which to hang the little crows' diapers."

AFTER RECEIVING The Crows of Pearblossom as a gift, the five-year-old Olivia returned the manuscript to her uncle requesting that he illustrate it. The manuscript remained in Huxley's house until it burned down several years later. Fortunately, Olivia's neighbors the Yosts, mentioned in the story, had a copy that they preserved. In 1967, four years after Huxley's death, Random House published the story as a picture book with art by the legendary Barbara Cooney, who had already won the first of her two Caldecott Awards.

Nicholas Murray, in his 2002 biography Aldous Huxley, claims the tale as a pacifist fable since the snake is "defeated by intelligent strategy rather than by being killed." But in the end the snake is still dead, so that seems a bit of a stretch. He also mentions "There is possibly a touch of self-mockery in the character of Mr Crow: 'This is serious,' he said. 'This is the sort of thing that somebody will have to do something about,'" apparently something Huxley would have said. In truth, considering the cause of its composition, the story is nothing more than an excellent children's story, one that is well polished and worth reading.

And fortunately, it has just come back into print in an edition illustrated by the great Sophie Blackall, illustrator of the Ivy and Bean series and The Big Red Lollipop. Olivia, for whom the tale was written, provides an afterword signed Olivia de Haulleville. (In the 1967 edition, the note says that she is now Mrs. Yorgo Cassapidis.) "I still live in the desert, near Joshua Tree National Park, and have my own two children...My brother Siggy's daughter now lives in the Yosts' old house, and this story is read to her three children."

The background information for this post comes from the historical note at the back of the 1967 edition, and the almost identical note written by the recipient of the story, Olivia de Haulleville, for the 2011 edition. I also consulted the Nicholas Murray biography Aldous Huxley.

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Saturday, June 4, 2011


MY LAST POST on Warren Chappell's music series, a series which includes three titles by John Updike, was a link to a full scan of Chappell's Peter and the Wolf. A little over a month later, Stephanie of Our Little Library posted in the comments that she had a 1973 paperback edition with extensive differences from the first edition I had scanned. Stephanie has just posted images of the 1973 edition and pointed out all of those differences. Again, it is amazing to see how an artist (or perhaps a publisher in this case?) edits, reimagines, or repurposes art from edition to edition. Thanks, Stephanie.

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Saturday, May 28, 2011


AFTER THE SUCCESS OF THE WORLD IS ROUND, Gertrude Stein immediately wrote a second children's book, To Do: A Book of Alphabets and Birthdays. Far more difficult than The World Is Round, her publisher William R. Scott rejected the manuscript when he received it in 1940. Stein then shopped the book around to many publishers, and through the support of her good friend Carl Van Vechten and the literary agent Margot Johnson of Ann Watkins, Inc., Stein eventually placed the book in 1942 with Harrison Smith, the English-language publisher of Babar. Problems with the illustrations, and the general difficulty of publishing during World War II, caused the book to never be released. The text without illustrations was eventually published by Yale University Press in 1957 as part of the Yale Edition of the Unpublished Writings of Gertrude Stein.

TO DO is a rambling set of anecdotes and stories and poetry structured around the alphabet. Each letter brings with it a set of children's names, "Francis, Fatty, Fred and Fanny." "M was Marcel, Marcelle, Minnie and Martin and N was Nero, Netty, Nellie and Ned." "Q is for Quiet, Queenie, Quintet and Question." The children are then either born on their birthday or not born on their birthday or any day could be their birthday or today is their birthday. Some of them die horrifically, drowned after only being introduced at the top of the page, and sometimes the story is about a horse. There is more rhyming and wordplay and nonsense than in The World Is Round with no overarching narrative, so the book can be opened at random and read without problem. Such as the end:
     "It would be sad to be all alone every birthday so that is what they all say the ten and the hundred and the thousand and the ten thousand and the hundred thousand and the million and the billion they say oh Zero dear Zero how hear oh we say that thanks to the Zero the hero Zero we all have a birthday.
     And so that is all there is to say these days about Alphabets and Birthdays and their ways."
IT IS HARD TO IMAGINE what a child would make of To Do, which is perhaps why it never appeared in a children's format. Yale University Press has just released a beautiful illustrated edition with illustrations by the excellent Giselle Potter, illustrator of Toni Morrison's The Big Box. The book sports an introduction by Timothy Young, which is the source of most of this post.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011


MOST PEOPLE KNOW GETRUDE STEIN for the single line, "A rose is a rose is a rose." Some smaller group of people know her as an art collector and the hostess of the most influential Parisian art salon of the first half of the twentieth century, which introduced such artists as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse to a wider audience. Some even smaller group of people know her as the writer of such 'experimental' fiction as the novels Three Lives (1909) and The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933). But an even smaller group of people know her as the author of the children's novel The World Is Round (1939) illustrated by Clement Hurd of Good Night Moon fame.

SHORTLY AFTER THE FOUNDING of publisher Young Scott Books in 1938, the Young Scott author Margaret Wise Brown (and author of Good Night Moon) suggested that it might be possible to convince leading adult authors to try their hands at a children's book. Letters were sent to Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and Gertrude Stein. Hemingway and Steinbeck declined, but Gertrude Stein replied that she already had a nearly completed manuscript entitled The World Is Round and would be happy to have it published by Young Scott.

As with all of Stein's work, there were varying opinions as to whether or not the story was accessible enough to be published. Publisher William R. Scott was against it, but his wife, brother-in-law, and Margaret Wise Brown were strong advocates, and so the book was accepted for publication. Once the contract was signed, Stein immediately started making demands: the pages needed to be pink, the ink needed to be blue, and the illustrator needed to be the aptly named Francis Rose. While the first two demands presented technical difficulties and were questionable with regards to ease of reading, they could be met. But Scott did not want Francis Rose to illustrate the book. Instead, he offered samples by several Young Scott illustrators, from which Stein was to choose. She selected Clement Hurd, whose first illustrated book had appeared just that year.

The book's original release included a special edition of 350 slipcase copies autographed by Stein and Hurd (see below), as well as the trade edition (see above). The book is dedicated "To Rose Lucy Renée Anne d'Aiguy, A French Rose," who was the daughter of Gertrude Stein's neighbors in Bilignin, France. This real Rose is the main character of the book, complete with the also real dogs Love and Pépé. From this small kernel of reality, the book expands into a symbolic narrative that questions the relationship between words and being, and explores a child's sense of self. What more could you expect from Gertrude Stein?

THE WORLD IS ROUND is a mix of largely unpunctuated prose and poetry. The chapters are short with, for the most part, a single illustration for each one. The book opens with several introductory anecdotes about Rose and her cousin Willy.
"Once upon a time the world was round and you could go on it around and around.
     Everywhere there was somewhere and everywhere there were men women children dogs cows wild pigs little rabbits cats lizards and animals. That is the way it was. And everybody dogs cats sheep rabbits and lizards and children all wanted to tell everybody all about it and they wanted to tell all about themselves.
     And then there was Rose.
     Rose was her name and would she have been rose if her name had not been Rose. She used to think and then she used to think again."
Rose is very concerned about who, what, when, and why she is, and she often expresses that concern through song, and when she sings she cries. Willie, on the other hand, has no question who he is, he is Willie and he is quite certain about everything. Willie also sings, but it is only to affirm his surety.

One day Willie's father takes him to a place where there are wild animals. "Nobody knows how the wild animals came there. If the world is round can they come out of the ground but anyway everybody had one and sometimes somebody sold one, quite often everybody sold them." Willie's father buys him a lion, much like Rose's dog, but large and terrifying. The lion so excites Willie that he begins to question nature, and when he questions nature, he cries like Rose, and so he summons his self assurance with a definitive statement, "there were only two baskets of yellow peaches and I have them both," and he decides to give his lion to Rose.

Rose is very concerned about the lion, as she is concerned about all things. She knows he is a lion, and she knows he isn't blue, which is her favorite color.  But a lion can not come to school, "if a lamb can not come into a school how certainly not can a lion." Soon a man outside the school calls "either or either or, either there is a lion here or there is no lion here, either or, either or." This upsets Rose interminably, of course, and she decides the lion must go back to Willie. When Willie receives the lion back, he is no longer concerned about whether the lion exists or not, he is just concerned with "whether a lizard could or could not be a twin." When the lion comes back, Willie is suddenly certain the lion is a twin, and with that decision, there no longer is a lion, "and he was never there any more anywhere neither here nor there neither there nor here."

"When mountains are really there they are blue." Rose, who is always thinking, looks out one day and sees the mountains in the distance. Those mountains elicit the first definite thought Rose may ever have had, "There the mountains were and they were blue, oh dear blue blue just blue, dear blue sweet blue yes blue." She even sings about it without crying, and so she resolves to go to the top of a mountain, because there she would be certain where she was and she would be able to see everything, "she would sit on that chair, yes there."

So after much deliberation, Rose settles on what kind of chair she is going to bring (a blue one, of course), and she sets out. It is a long, frightening, exhausting journey on which Rose constantly questions herself and nature. She feels very alone, and when she feels alone she thinks of her cousin Willie. "Was she awake or did she dream that her cousin Willie heard her scream." She goes on and on and on. At times she wants to stop, but she knows if she stops she may never continue to the top of the mountain. She travels through the night, which is frightening, and she alternately wishes Willie were there and that he wasn't. She questions and questions and questions, but she also perseveres, and climbs and climbs and climbs. But
"when you are all alone alone in the woods even if the woods are lovely and warm and there is a blue chair which can never be any harm, even so if you hear your own voice singing or even just talking well hearing anything even if it is all your own like your own voice is and you are all alone and you hear your own voice then it is frightening."

When her fears reach this pitch, there is nothing for her to do but reaffirm herself, and the best way she finds to do that is to stand on her chair and carve around the trunk of a tree Gertrude Stein's immortal words, "Rose is a Rose is a Rose" so they form an endless loop. This is an act she never could have done before her climb, as it is a definite statement of self. As she does it she starts to suppose, but then she cuts herself off. She is certain. And she has not yet reached the top of the mountain.

Soon after she comes to a round meadow with high grass, and she continues through the grass, up and up and up, although still at times she is exhausted and she doesn't know if it is day and night and she wants to stop, but she keeps going and going and going. And finally she gets there. "She was all alone on the top of everything and she was sitting there and she could sing."

She sings without crying. She is certain of herself and where she is. But she is lonely. She knows who she is and what color her eyes are and what her favorite color is (blue), but she is lonely. And soon she starts to question where is there. The knows here, but where and what is there, and she starts to cry again. "Oh dear wailed Rose oh dear oh dear I never did know I would be here, and here I am all alone all night and I am in a most awful fright."

Night falls. But soon, Rose sees something. It is a light on top of another mountain. It is a searchlight, and suddenly she knows Willie is on that other mountain, and that is all it takes to make her complete. She knows she is here and Will is there and so she is certain of everything.

"Willie and Rose turned out not to be cousins, just how nobody knows, and so they married and had children and sang with them and sometimes singing made Rose cry and sometimes it made Willie get more and more excited and they lived happily ever after and the world just went on being round."

RECEPTION OF THE WORLD IS ROUND was mixed. Many critics took the opportunity to mock Stein's writing out of hand, the repetitions, the enjambments, the perceived impenetrability. But some of the more discerning children's critics in The New York Times, The New York Herald Tribune, and The New York Times Book Review recognized that Stein's rhythm was in fact similar to the rhythm of stories that young children tell themselves, and that the book, when read aloud, was not difficult to follow. Still, the book is a difficult one, as a child needs to recognize that the true story is that of Rose's inner conflict and not the barely there action.

Clement Hurd's illustrations, on the other hand, gained enough recognition that the department store W & J Sloane launched a line of children's rugs based on them, the Nursery Steins. From the advertisement in the October 21, 1939 issue of The New Yorker:
"Those bewitching Clement Hurd illustrations of Gertrude Stein's first children's book, "The World Is Round," started it all. Whimsical, impish...they flashed on us as perfect naturals for the designs of children's rugs. Now we have ready...just when your youngster is clamoring for the lyric nonesense of "The World Is Round"...a group of six scatter rugs. They're hand hooked, genuine wool. They'll clean like lambs. While there are no pigeons in the grass, can chose "Rose Is a Rose," "Eyes a Surprise," "Willie and His Lion," "Is a Lion Not a Lion," "There" or "The World Is Round." $14.50. Rug Department, Fifth Floor"
IN 1966, Young Scott Books reissued The World Is Round. This time the pages were white, the text was black, and the pink was reserved for the illustrations and title names. Clement Hurd took the opportunity to create new illustrations based on his originals. As he writes in the "About the Author and Artist":
"Artists, in mature years, seldom have opportunity to reillustrate books they did at the start of their careers. In doing this edition of The World Is Round, Clement Hurd has chosen to use his original concepts. The result is a series of pictures that retain youthful exuberance enriched by growth in technical skill and perceptual insight."
The new illustrations are just as striking as the originals and in some cases a distinct improvement. But perhaps of more interest than the artistic improvements, is the reinterpretation of the material in the last few pages. In the illustration above for chapter thirty-two "There," Rose reclines in her chair, arms crossed and settled in her lap, fulfilled now that she has reached her goal. But in the 1966 edition, Rose leans forward in her chair, her legs together, both feet planted firmly on the ground, and her hands turned up in fists, almost as though she is about to stand up again.

In the original illustration for chapter thirty-three "The Light" (above left), Rose fends off Willie's searchlight with upraised arms, while the light does not quite reach her. In the 1966 version (above right), the light shines through Rose and she sits back, relaxed by and accepting of it.

And in the illustrations for the final chapter, the original (below left) shows the world alone, while the 1966 version (below right) shows Rose and Willie holding hands, on top of the world, Willie's arm raised in triumph, his lion and Rose's dog along for the ride.

Somewhere between the two editions, Hurd came to understand that Rose's satisfaction does not come from reaching the summit of her mountain. That the initial wave of accomplishment is quickly washed away by new uneasiness. And that true internal calm, comes from the union between Rose and Willie, that between the two of them, they can understand, or at least embrace, the entire world.

AT THE END OF HIS LIFE, Clement Hurd got to see one more iteration of The World Is Round. In 1986, the prestigious Arion Press in San Francisco selected the novel as its eighteenth publication. For Arion's edition, the book was actually round and came in a slipcase with a square companion volume, The World Is Not Flat, about the history of the book written by Clement Hurd's wife Edith Thacher Hurd, a children's author in her own right. There was also a specially printed balloon. Hurd dug up his original linoleum and wood blocks from the second edition, and with a few modifications, the illustrations were made into photo-engravings.

Two years later, another San Francisco publisher, North Point Press, printed a trade edition of the Arion book set. The trade edition was a single book that contained both the novel and the essay, here billed as an afterward. The book was square with the novel in round circles bordered by pink, and the afterward in a smaller square also bordered in pink. Interestingly, for the last image, Hurd reverted to the first edition illustration of the earth and moon alone. In fact, he even removed the clouds.

THERE IS ONE LAST edition of The World Is Round. Released in 1993 by Barefoot Books, it is a small book of the kind found on spinner racks at the checkout line, meant as a gift that can fit in a pocket. The illustrations are by Roberta Arenson, and the pink has finally been banished, the illustrations in blue against white paper. The introduction claims that the book has had many admirers and that Barefoot Books hopes to bring it to even more. The book is currently out of print.

TO SEE ALL OF THE ILLUSTRATIONS from the first edition of The World Is Round, see my Flickr set here. For more examples of the illustrations to the second edition, see the second edition Flickr set here. And for more of Roberta Arenson's interpretation of the text, see the Barefoot Books Flickr set here.

All of the historical information for this post was pilfered from Edith Thacher Hurd's essay The World Is Not Flat from the Arion Press edition of 1986, also included in the 1988 North Point Press edition. The Johns Hopkins University Milton S. Eisenhower special collections was kind enough to allow me to photograph their slipcased and autographed copy of the first edition of The World Is Round. The photo of the Arion Press edition was lifted from Chartwell Booksellers.

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