Saturday, March 8, 2008

Just A Little Oven Early in the Morning

It’s a cold, windy, snowy morning just outside Detroit -- perfect weather for a comfort book.

Some call them comfort books, others call them cozy books. Or rainy-day books. Or feel-good books.

Whenever I’m in the mood for one of these books, I reach for Eleanor Estes’ Moffat series. The classic stories of Sylvie, Joey, Jane, and Rufus M. are warm and familiar, yet have a bracingly realistic edge that prevents them from ever becoming oversweet or maudlin. When I was a kid, I read THE MOFFATS, THE MIDDLE MOFFAT and RUFUS M. over and over, along with Estes’ Newbery-winner GINGER PYE. The front of these books always listed the author’s other works -- three of which our library did not own. In fact, no library seemed to have THE SLEEPING GIANT AND OTHER STORIES (1943), THE SUN, THE WIND, AND MR. TODD (1948), or A LITTLE OVEN (1955) and I was long grown before I encountered any of these long-missing titles.

Several years ago, they all came up for sale at the same time -- all from the same bookseller -- so I immediately ordered them. When they arrived I was experiencing a problem with crowded shelves, so slid them under my bed -- and they’ve continued to reside there ever since, along with certain reference books I like to keep close at hand, some Halloween decorations, a warren of breeding dust bunnies, a thermal packet you heat in the microwave then slip inside a faux-hot water bottle bag to keep your feet warm in bed, and a Christmas ornament that plays thirty different carols. (How many times have I stuck my foot under the bed and accidentally turned that thing on...then had to endure THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS...all twelve the middle of August?) Anyway, today I scrounged around under the bed till I FINALLY found those Estes titles (once a missing book, always a missing book!) I’ll save THE SLEEPING GIANT and MR. TODD for another blog entry, in order to focus on A LITTLE OVEN today. Although it’s not my favorite Estes’ volume, it’s a comfort book that’s dearly loved by many -- and I want to share it with anyone who’s never seen the book before.

THE LITTLE OVEN is a picture book about Helena (which happens to be the name of Estes’ daughter) and her best friend Genevieve, who’s originally from France. The two little girls ride tricycles, turn somersaults, and have silly conversations together (“What’s funny?” they asked each other. “Nothing,” they answered each other. This was so funny they laughed harder and harder.") Every day when when Helena gets tired, her mother picks her up and says, “I guess what you need is a little loving and a little hugging,” to which Helena echoes “A little ‘ovin’ and a little ‘uggin’.” But when Genevieve asks her mother for “A little ‘ovin,” her mother misinterprets and tries to buy her a toy oven from the store. The plot is slim and the prose, unlike most of the author’s books, sometimes tends toward the saccharine. But Estes’ primitive watercolor illustrations have a lot of energy and charm, and clearly this book's message of friendship and maternal love does have great meaning to many readers, as it’s almost impossible to find anywhere.

If you are lucky enough to find this rarity, the book is bound in glossy blue cloth with black print. The dustjacket looks like this:
My copy is price-clipped, so I don’t know the original cost. The copyright information is on the bottom of the title page: “Copyright, 1955, by Eleanor Estes. All rights reserved. First edition. Printed in the United States of America.”

As for my copy, I’m going to put it back under my bed, right beside the faux-hot water bottle and the Christmas ornament that, the next time I accidentally kick it, will no doubt start playing “Oh tidings of comfort and joy” -- the perfect accompaniment for a book that, over the last half century, has clearly brought comfort and joy to so many.


Esperanza said...

Eleanor Estes sent to my daughter many years ago an inscribed first edition of The Lollipop Princess with a full page drawing of the fair princess. The blonde hair down to her toes was big hit.

IsDihara said...

Ooh, you're so right! On chilly days I wish I had delightful titles like the one(s) you describe to "cozy" up to.

I don't have an Eleanor Estes story to tell (Esperanza, I'm practically green with envy.) But I would dearly love to acquire a copy of The Sun, The Wind, and Mr. Todd (1948). I eagerly await your blog entry on that title.

And of course, if you can share any tips privately as to how I might look to acquire a copy, I'd be so grateful.


Contessa said...

Thank you so much for this blog! My grandmother used to read me "A Little Oven" when I was very young and it was my favorite book that she would read me, complete with fun little voices for each of the girls. I have been searching on and off for a copy of it for the last 10 years, never knowing the title of the book, the author's name, or the year first printed. Today on a whim I googled some words hoping to hit something. Your blog entry came up. Thank you! Now I can continue my search for a copy armed with the information I need!!

Gillianna said...

My sister and I used to have a copy of the Lollipop Princess when we were young.Could someone please tell me what the name of the princess was? My sister and I have a debate going on and I would appreciate any help.

Anonymous said...

Hello. I am Eleanor Estes' grandaughter, Polly. I was actually looking for a copy of "A little Oven" myself. I have a very old copy that is not in very good condition. I'm a teacher and would like to have it on hand to read to my kids. I just had to write something to you guys because it is so nice to hear these stories. My mom Helena will be so tickled to hear what you guys have written. My gradma was a wonderful woman and I'm so happy to know that she touched other's lives the way she did mine.

buy jeans said...

The permanence of the internet makes this kind of joke even more amusing. I just saw this today, and it wasn't until the photo was MENTIONED in the post that I looked at it closely and scrolled back up to the date to see if it was an AF.

Anonymous said...

I have been looking for that 'Little Lovin' ' book for so long... What a thrill to finally track it down.


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