Untitled Book Review

IT can fairly be said that Miss Anne Carroll Moore has done more for children’s books than any librarian living. For a quarter century she has had official charge of the children’s department of the New York Public Library, and during that time she has persistently called for better stories, better print, better illustrations. No stern authority, but a person of imagination, she made herself known directly to thousands of young readers when in 1924 she published her story of Nicholas, the Dutch boy who went adventuring in New York on Christmas Eve. Nicholas made friends for himself everywhere; he had none of Rollo’s fondness for lecturing, but what he saw and did was, as Carl Sandburg said, ‘finely American.’ This season we are treated to a second helping. Nicholas and the Golden Goose (Putnam, $2.00) recounts the further meandering of this gay youngster in France, Belgium, and England. The dividing line between romance and reality is so well disguised that one accepts the story without question, made plausible as it is by the ingenious illustrations of Jay Van Everen.
I feel this introduction is needed before I turn the floor over to Anne Carroll Moore, the critic.
THK centenary of the birth of Louisa May Alcott on November 29 is a vivid reminder of the debt the world continues to owe to an American story-teller whose supremacy remains unshaken by all the changes and chances of sixty-four publishing seasons.
Ever since the publication of Little Women in 1868, publishers have announced at intervals the discovery of ‘another Louisa Alcott,’ or of ‘the best girls’ book since Little Women.’ Prizes have been offered. Promising authors have been commissioned, but no stories have yet been published which take the place given by the girls themselves to Little Women, Little Men, Jack and Jill, Eight Cousins, Under the Lilacs.
Miss Alcott’s publishers are fully aware of this tribute of devotion and have wisely seen to it that her books are reissued from time to time in a form in keeping with a more definite interest in how people looked and dressed in die sixties. The Beacon Hill Bookshelf (Little, Brown, $2.00 a volume) is the most recent edition.
But Miss Alcott did more than write stories of her own which have not been supplanted. She was the first to create fresh young characters in American fiction, youngsters capable of growing up naturally in a very human environment. Now, as in Louisa Alcott’s time, the real test of a story is the vitality of its characters and the quality of the atmosphere.
Marion Hurd McNeely met this difficult test in an earlier book, The Jumping-Off Place, a convincing story of home life on the Dakota prairie, In The Way to Glory and Other Stories (Longmans, Green, $2.00) there is further proof of the vigor, the fresh power of invention, the very real understanding of children and young people possessed by a writer whose untimely death is a loss to other writers as well us to thousands of readers. There are true folk sense, love of beauty, and tonic friendliness in this posthumous book of short stories beginning with the Decoration Day visit of General Grant to Dubuque, Iowa, and ending with ‘The Bee Man,’ left unfinished upon Mrs, McNeely’s typewriter.
The most individual and dramatic new story for girls in the teens is Rachel Field’sHepatica Hawks (Macmillan, $2.00). Even more firmly rooted in the history of American life than the author’s Calico Bush, this story has a deeper human appeal. Hepatica Hawks, six feet four inches and a quarter in height, is first introduced at the age of fifteen us a freak in a traveling show. Hallelujah Hawks, her father, stands eight feet four. Hepatica eventually becomes a famous opera singer. Plot and character present abundant opportunity for sensational treatment and sentimental development.
It is perhaps the most significant tribute one can pay to Miss Field’s art to say that in reading the book one completely forgets the abnormal size of Hepatica Hawks and the giant father whose relationship is so sympathetically set forth. One becomes entirely absorbed in a very human story. A good deal of careful research must have gone into the writing of this book, arid its subject has evidently been long meditated. The wider appeal to the intelligence and the sympathies of girls is clearly felt. I predict long life for Hepatica Hawks.
In Swift Rivers (Little, Brown, $2.00) Cornelia Meigs has written a fine story of rafting logs down the Mississippi River from Northern Minnesota. The hero, a youth of Swedish blood, and the French Chippewa Indian who pilots the raft are admirably drawn as doing something that has n’t been done before. The period is 1835, and the Louisiana Purchase bears a part in a story written out of that sure knowledge of historical background and with the beauty of style for which Miss Meigs is distinguished.
There are several new stories with a Civil War background, but none that I have seen is so appealing as the new edition of Thomas Nelson Page’sTwo Little Confederates (Scribner, $2.50), with its spirited illustrations by John W. Thomason, Jr., of the United States Marine Corps. There is a reality, a charm of proper accompaniment, about these pictures which bids fair to keep the book alive in a third quarter of its century.
For younger children also there is a delightful and absorbing true story called The Little House in the Big Woods (Harpers, $2.00), by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The Big Woods are those of Wisconsin, the house a log cabin miles from a settlement, and the life of which Mrs. Wilder writes with such lively recollection and keen pleasure is her own childhood experience. An atmosphere of festivity and good comradeship between children and their elders pervades the book. Helen Sewall has made drawings in perfect harmony with the text. In design and illustration the book is one of the most distinctive of the year.