Happy Easter. Happy Passover. Happy Spring. Hope everyone is having a good weekend. In the spirit of the season, today's blog looks back at a popular bunny book. We also reveal some board games inspired by children's books, share some programs from Newbery/Caldecott banquets, and consider a book with a holiday theme: Christmas! If you have a taste for the macabre, there are also mentions of "The Wasp Woman" and that vampire known as Jack Gantos.
A BUNNY BOOK
There is no shortage of bunnies in the world of children's books.
In fact, they sometimes seem to multiply like...well, rabbits.
There's Peter Rabbit, Br'er Rabbit, Thumper, Little Georgie from RABBIT HILL, and an entire warren of 'em in WATERSHIP DOWN. The current publishing season brings us MR. AND MRS. BUNNY, DETECTIVES EXTRAORDINARE by Polly Horvath.
One of the most enduring rabbit books for children never receives much critical attention, yet it will mark its fiftieth anniversary next year. As far as I know it has never been out of print in all that time. And if you check Amazon.com, you'll find well over one hundred reviews from enthusiastic fans who either remember the book from their own childhood or read it to their children today. I AM A BUNNY, a story in which a young rabbit observes the changing of the four seasons, features some of Richard's Scarry's finest illustrations. You'll note that the author's name does not even appear on the cover. The writer was Ole Risom, who also served as art director at Golden Books; the book's narrator, Nicholas, was based on Risom's own son Nicholas. Risom was born in Denmark, entered the publishing field in Sweden, and came to the United States in 1940. Serving in the U.S. Army in WWII, he met and married a German countess, then returned to this country where he worked for Golden Books from 1947 to 1972 and Random House from 1972 to 1990. In GOLDEN LEGACY, children's book historian Leonard Marcus refers to Ole Rissom as a "populist who took unabashed pride in devising book/toy hybrids that children enjoyed, whatever critics might say about them." He published many Golden Books based on movies, such as THE JUNGLE BOOK, as well as the first American scratch-and-sniff book, THE SMELL OF CHRISTMAS by Patricia Scarry (Richard's wife) in 1970. Ole Risom and Richard Scarry were best friends and Ole would eventually co-write a monograph, THE BUSY BUSY WORLD OF RICHARD SCARRY, published in 1997. Springboarding off the success of I AM A BUNNY, he also wrote several other similar Golden Books for children such as I AM A KITTEN, I AM A MOUSE, and I AM A FOX. None of those titles remains in print today, yet Nicholas-the-bunny is still hopping along nearly five decades since being introduced in 1963.
UNCLE WIGGILY -- IN CONNECTICUT AND EVERYWHERE
Another literary rabbit of renown is Uncle Wiggily Longears.
The creation of Howard R. Garis, Uncle Wiggily first appeared as the lead character in a children's story Garis published in the Newark News on January 10, 1910. For the next 37 years, Mr. Garis published six Uncle Wiggily stories in the newspaper every week -- over fifteen thousand in total. The stories were collected in nearly eighty volumes, beginning with UNCLE WIGGILY'S ADVENTURES in 1912 and featuring such volumes as UNCLE WIGGILY AND OLD MOTHER HUBBARD and UNCLE WIGGILY AND THE AUTO SLED:
Surprisingly, a few of the Uncle W books are still in print today, including UNCLE WIGGILY'S STORYBOOK:
In addition to writing the Uncle Wiggily books, Howard Garis and his wife Lillian both wrote for the Stratemeyer Syndicate, producing volumes for Tom Swift, the Bobbsey Twins, and many other lesser-known series.
Their son Roger wrote a 1966 biography of his dad, MY FATHER WAS UNCLE WIGGILY:
Just today, in writing this blog, I learned about a 2007 memoir written by granddaughter Leslie Garis called HOUSE OF HAPPY ENDINGS:
The book was given a starred review by Publishers Weekly, which said:
In this spellbinding memoir of green moments and gray ones, Garis chronicles how, in this book-reading, music-playing and, most importantly, loving family of writers, her grandmother went from being a vibrant woman to a recumbent recluse and how the years damaged her father, who seemed perfect; her beautiful mother; and her adorable brothers. You can't turn away from the truth because it's lurid and jarring, her playwright father advises. In lesser hands, the quarrels, litigation and violence that surface might control the narrative, but even as the family copes with disappointment, financial stress, nervous breakdowns, physical illness and death, Garis's capacity for conveying the family's vibrancy and vigor trumps. Garis's remarkable accomplishment in this memoir is to convey the normal, the enviable and the gothic with unsentimentalized affection, grace and painful honesty in her grandparents' writing against the harsh realities of their family life.
Sounds fascinating. I just ordered a copy of the book this morning.
BOOKS BECOME GAMES
I imagine that one of the reasons the UNCLE WIGGILY STORYBOOK remains in print is because the name "Uncle Wiggily" has become part of popular culture...and one of the reasons that name remains known is because of the Uncle Wiggily board game, which was first released in 1916 by Milton Bradley. Over the years there have been several variations in the game itself, as well as in the packaging:
You can tell that last example is one of the most recent, as it includes the usual modern-day warning of the small game pieces being a "choking hazard" for kids. I wonder if, between the game's first incarnatiion in 1916 and whenever this warning appeared, any kids actually DID choke on one of the game pieces....
Seeing Howard Garis' name displayed so prominently on the box made me wonder if any other children's books inspired board games.
My first thought was that games don't usually appear until after a children's book becomes a movie. For example, when I was a kid some of our neighbors had these games based on the then-current movie version of MARY POPPINS. I particularly liked the first one because it featured a spinning device. You'd insert the characters into slots in a plastic holder and then they'd slowly spin down a grooved plastic mechanism.
And it's true that there are board games (and now computer and Playstation games) based on books-into-movies such as WINNIE-THE-POOH and CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, but upon further research I was surprised to learn there have also been games that seemed to be inspired -- not by a movie, but by the original books.
This 2003 CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY board game has Roald Dahl's name on the cover and features illustrations by Quentin Blake:
And who knew there was a 1933 Parker Brothers board game based on Winnie-the-Pooh?
Now if you were going to base a board game on any Newbery winner, which title would you choose?
Maybe THE WESTING GAME? Or perhaps you'd send Claudia and Jamie through the Metropolitan Museum of the arts in search of an original Michelangelo in a FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES game?
...But would you believe that there was actually a game based on the very first Newbery winner, 1922's THE STORY OF MANKIND by Hendrik Van Loon?
Thanks to internet friend Sarah H. who tipped me off to this vintage board game some months ago. I understand it sells for about $200 these days. I've never seen a copy myself. Have you?
Incidentally, when Hendrik Van Loon accepted that first Newbery in 1922, the American Library Association conference was held here in Detroit. Although Van Loon delivered an acceptance speech for the award, there is no written record of what he said. I don't know if there was an actual "banquet" for the award back then, but in later years there would be.
As a Newbery buff, I am an avid collector of the programs given out at these banquets and have quite a few in my library -- though still less than half the amount one of my fellow collectors has. But I'm working on it!
A couple weeks ago, just as I got my income tax refund, a bookseller contacted me about seven Newbery/Caldecott programs she had for sale.
There went part of my tax refund!
Actually, two of the seven I already owned, but I bought them anyway -- for future trading!
These are the brand new ones I added to my library.
A bland 1962 (Newbery winner THE BRONZE BOW by Elizabeth George Speare, Caldecott winner ONCE A MOUSE by Marcia Brown) program:
1963's is very nice, especially since this was the year that two especially popular titles won the award:
Inside is a tribute to Frederic G. Melcher, who had died earlier that year. One of the last letters he ever wrote was to Madeleine L'Engle, congratulating her on winning the Newbery:
The 1966 program contains a signed block print from Nonny Hogrogian (it's signed in pencil so hard to see on this scan) and a signed message from Elizabeth Borton De Trevino:
The program from 1968 contains a signed print from Ed Emberley:
What makes my copy of the 1978 banquet program especially interesting is that it's autographed by Beverly Cleary: "Love to the Harriet -- the other Quimby." Harriet Quimby worked for the American Library Association and her name appears on some of the other materials.
Here is the cover of the 1980 program, which honored Joan Blos for A GATHERING OF DAYS, Barbara Cooney for THE OX-CART MAN and Dr. Seuss for his entire career:
And looked what I noticed on the back cover. Sitting at the Head Table (lower tier) was Ole Risom, author of I AM A BUNNY!
My friend who also collects these programs asked if I thought the American Library Asscociation kept an archive of these materials. You'd think so, right? I mean they are librarians. But I would not be surprised to learn that the ALA (which I find lax in so many matters) does not actually have an official collection of such materials. I hope I am wrong.
ALL TUCKERED OUT ON EASTER
This past December I asked people to name their favorite holiday books -- titles they read over again every Christmas. Several mentioned THE COTTAGE HOLIDAY, a book in "The Tuckers," series. The Tuckers were featured in nine novels and a handful of storybooks published by Whitman in the early 1960s. These were the types of book usually sold in dimestores and giftshops for a dollar or so. The author was "Jo Mendel," actually a pseudonym for Gladys Baker Bond, who was born in 1912 and (has anyone seen obituary?) may still be alive and approaching her hundredth birthday. The other writer was Mildred Gilbertson, who usually wrote under the name Nan Gilbert and she lived from 1908 to 1988.
Here is the complete series of Tucker novels, followed by the the name of its author:
The Wonderful House, 1961
The Special Secret, 1961, Bond
The Adventures of Plum Tucker, 1961, Gilbertson
Trouble on Valley View, 1961, Gilbertson
The Cottage Holiday, 1962
Tell a Tale of Tuckers, 1962, Gilbertson
Here Comes a Friend!, 1963, Bond
The Turn-about Summer, 1963, Gilbertson
That Kitten Again!, 1964, Bond
I cannot find a reference to who wrote the first book, and both Bond and Gilbertson claim credit for THE COTTAGE HOLIDAY in different reference books.
When so many people recommended THE COTTAGE HOLIDAY, I found an copy online and planned to read it on Christmas break, but you know how that works out. You get busy and suddenly it's Easter! But in honor of blog readers Linda, Bybee, and others who suggested it, I finally read it this weekend. Some of the earlier Tucker books I've read have featured multiple viewpoints between the five children in the family: eleven-year-old Tina, male/female twins Terry and Merry, seven-year-old Penny and young Tom. THE COTTAGE HOLIDAY is written entirely the perspective of Penny -- the "sickly" member of the family who often finds herself left behind on family activities. But it's Penny's idea for the family to spend Christmas vacation at Lake Annabelle (also the summer setting for HERE COMES A FRIEND!) and the book explores the Tuckers' adventures -- there's a cougar loose in the woods and a baby abandoned in a trailer on the side of the road -- as well as Penny's growing independence, bravery and self-empowerment, as she experiences new challenges and learns to accept the help of others cheerfully (some may say too cheerfully; the Tuckers are sometimes a bit too good to be true.) On a sentence-by-sentence basis, the writing is pedestrian -- sometimes downright clunky ("To skate was fun!") but it's also well-paced and emotionally satisfying. Though this kind of warm family story can seem dated, the Christmas setting (the Tuckers decorate a tree outside with lights and "baubles"), the "nice" sibling dynamics, and the many descriptions of meals and meal preparations combine to make this what a friend of mine calls a "cozy book" -- the type of story you enjoy reading because you want to be a member of the Tucker family for a little while. I can easily see why so many people re-read this book every December. I might do so next December as well. But it's also fun to read it in the spring, as I did...because the winter setting is so convincing portrayed that, during the few hours I was reading THE COTTAGE HOLIDAY, Eastertime turned into Christmas.
MY EASTER BOOK, SHE IS BEAUTIFUL!
THE COTTAGE HOLIDAY is not the only book I've been reading this week. In fact, I have a whole stack of them. I just started reading an adult novel, THE BEGINNER'S GOODBYE by Anne Tyler, one of my favorite writers. It just came out this week and I thought that reading it would be the perfect way to spend Easter weekend.
I've only read a couple chapters, but so far I'm enjoying it. However, I had to laugh at a typo on the backflap.
When I was a kid, there was a convention in sitcoms and bad movies to have comic characters from foreign countries as supporting character or guest stars. Seems like every time I turned on a TV show in the sixties or seventies, the characters would receive word that "Uncle So-and-so" was coming for a visit. Uncle So-and-so was usually a big, boisterous guy with a mustache who'd throw his arms around and announce "Life, she is beautiful!" or "Your house, she is magnificent!" or "The United States, she is my favorite country in the world!"
Anyway, I was reading the backflap of THE BEGINNER'S GOODBYE yesterday aand noticed this:
I guess Uncle So-and-so liked America so much that he finally stayed -- and found a job writing author blurbs on dustjackets!
WHO WAS THE WASP WOMAN AND WHAT CHILDREN'S BOOKS DID SHE ILLUSTRATE?
This story is as over-the-top and bizarre as a B-movie.
That makes sense, since the story has connections to a B-movie.
The film in question is the Roger Corman shlocky shocker THE WASP WOMAN, about a cosmetics company executive who, fearful of losing her youthful looks, begins injecting herself with royal jelly from a queen wasp. What happens next?Just read the movie's tagline: "A beautiful woman by day -- a lusting queen wasp by night!"
Love the illustration used in the ad!
What makes this story especially intriguing is the actress who played "The Wasp Woman."
Susan Cabot was her name and her LIFE was something of a B-movie!
She never made it big in Hollywood (she mostly made B-westerns) but her personal life would probably merit her a reality TV show today.
Married twice, she also dated King Hussein of Jordan...until he discovered she was actually Jewish (born Harriet Shapiro in Boston, 1927.)
In the early sixties Susan gave birth to her only child, Timothy.
He was a dwarf.
Growing up Tim took a human growth hormone to help his condition.
His mother, who was by then no longer acting and becoming increasingly unstable, began taking the growth hormone as well, which only added to her mental problems.
In 1986, Tim called the police saying that a man dressed in a Ninja costume had broken into the house he shared with his mother. Susan Cabot was found bludgeoned to death in her bed, under a mirrored ceiling. Eventually the police figured out that there was no Ninja. Tim had killed his own mother and hidden the murder weapon -- an exercise weight -- in a box of detergent.
During Timothy's trial there was some confusion about his parentage. (Some said King Hussein was his father, but actor Christopher Jones claimed he was the real father. Apparently both were wrong and Susan's second husband actually was the father.) Tim's lawyer also said that the human growth hormone taken by his client was known to cause mental issues. So Tim ended up receiving a three-year suspended sentence and being placed on probation.
So, you're probably wondering: what in the world does this have to do with children's books?
Well, according to nearly every biographical sketch I've found about Susan Cabot, when she was first starting off in show business, "she illustrated children's books by day" while singing in nightclubs at night. Yet I've been able to find no references to any children's books illustrated by Susan Cabot AKA Harriet Shapiro.
Have you seen any?
What children's books were illustrated by The Wasp Woman?
NOTHING LIKE A DAME
Finally, I couldn't let Easter go by without telling you about a holiday party you would NOT want your kids to attend.
This pasat week I came across this book in the children's section of the library where I work:
I don't think the book is really written for child readers, but is rather about children. Apparently "Dame Curtsey" was a persona adopted by Ellye Howell Glover, who wrote books about cooking, entertaining and etiquette early in the twentieth century.
This particular volume contains instructions for all kinds of elaborate parties one can throw for children. Needless to say, the entire enterprise is very dated. Some of the parties even segregate activities by sex, allowing boys to play and girls to be the timekeepers or cheering squad.
There are instructions for several Easter parties in the book, but this one is my favorite:
A Jolly Easter Party
The invitations to this pretty party were issued in a unique way. Wee baskets, each containing an egg tied in the middle, carried the following neatly written message:
33 Chestnut Street,
Monday, April 12, 1944,
2:30 to 6.
Lots of fun.
The names of the children invited were written on Easter cards tied to the handles with white and yellow ribbon. Partners for refreshments were found by matching eggs of the same color. The ice cream was in the form of yellow chicks on nests of green spun sugar candy. The best of all was the rabbit hunt, which took place just before the children went home. Real live rabbits (one for each child) were in a screened corner of the porch in straw and leaves; the children went one at a time and took a bunny by it ears, put it in a little covered basket, and took it home.
Can you imagine such a party today? With kids coming home carrying live bunnies in baskets? The mind boggles!
Many thanks to the readers of Collecting Children's Books. I especially appreciated the kind words about last Sunday April Fool's blog. It was a blast to work on that one and I could hardly wait to post it last weekend. I also participated in another April Fool's hoax last week. I wrote and illustrated (well, photoshopped) a piece about a new series called "Vamped-up Newberys": which appeared on the Horn Book's site last Sunday. If you haven't seen it yet, you can visit by clicking here. It's fun to write blogs for various holidays, like today's Easter entry, but the funnest ones to write are the April Fool's Day blogs! Thanks for visiting. Hope you'll be back soon!