Children's Books of 1934

‘CHILDREN are not merely people,’ said Kenneth Grahame, ‘they are the only really living people that have been left to us.’ The Wind in the Willows we now know was created for ‘Mouse,’ as his little son Alastair Grahame was called, at the age of four, expanded in a series of letters when the boy at seven was away at the seaside, and finally published as a book when he was eight. The relation of Alastair Grahame to The Wind in the Willows is destined to give him a unique place in literature, since genuine writing for children requires genuine living with children, not as a teacher with a class, not even as a parent with a family, but as a living person with living persons of different ages over a period of years.
No American author of children’s books has more consistently qualified as a writer for children than Cornelia Meigs, whose Invincible Louisa in 1933 received the John Newbery medal for ‘the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.’ Since 1915, when The Kingdom of the Winding Road appeared under her name, Miss Meigs’s work has been followed with keen interest and growing admiration for its integrity. She has written now for the older boys and girls, Clearing Weather, and now for children under ten. The Wonderful Locomotive, as the spirit and her association with children moved her.
wind in the Chimney (Macmillan, $2.00) is for the younger audience, and I think Miss Meigs has never been happier in her choice of subject and her ease of treatment. Against a background of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, just after the Revolutionary War, she has told the romantic story of an English family just emigrated — a story which is calculated to live in the memories of all children who read it for its charm of characterization, its dramatic incident, and its authenticity of American background.
In Away Goes Sally , by Elizabeth Coatsworth (Macmillan, $2.00), one meets a writer who is also a poet, with a sure sense of background. The interpretation by an artist of distinction, Helen Sewell, lends validity and romance to Miss Coatsworth’s characters, who, so the tale goes, are transported from Boston to Maine in a fascinating little house drawn by twelve strong oxen. While neither Miss Coatsworth nor Miss Sewell achieves the warm reality of Cornelia Meigs in respect to character and atmosphere, their skill does much to recover the reality and romance of the American scene.
To turn from a background of Maine woods to one of Texas bluebonnets, oleanders, and palm trees would have proved a dubious venture for many an artist, but Miss Sewell has been true to the spirit of place in her pictures for Bluebonnets for Lucinda, by Frances Clarke Sayers (Viking, $1.00). She has also given to the personalities of the kindly Herr and Frau Geranium, Lucinda, Barnacle, her eat, and the five fat geese who were tamed by a music-box tune, the simplicity, the gayety, and the rhythmical quality of Mrs. Sayers’s unusual story for little children.
To savor the humor, the wisdom and kindliness, the delightful understanding of children and animals in Margery Bianco’s clever story of The Good Friends (Viking, $1.75) one must read the book aloud in holiday mood to children who know the ways of cows, horses, cats and dogs, and goats at first hand.
Grace Paull’s pencil drawings indicate her own powers of shrewd and genuine observation of life in the country. It is no passive existence she records, but a lively concern with the making of apple pies, the planting of peas, and the moving of a united family of barnyard animals.
A Jungle Picnic, by Clifford Webb (Frederick Warne, $2.00), designed as a picture-storybook for young children, will hold the interest of anyone who likes wild animals and excellent drawing. The vivid pictures in clear colors, against backgrounds of the decorative quality which distinguishes the work of this English artist, are in striking contrast to the cheap color work for which a number of children’s books of the season are paying the penalty.
In a notable series of black and white illustrations which fairly sing the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, Reginald Birch has come back after long absence from the fleld of children’s books to propitiate the lovers of Gilbert and Sullivan. Louis Utermeyer retells the stories of seven of the operas in The Last, Pintle (Harcourt, brace, $2.50). The text is ‘a thing of shreds and patches’ and extremely annoying to those who prefer W. S. Gilbert and the Bab Ballads in their own settings. Even the titles of the operas are changed, as The Pintles of Penzance to ’The Curious birthday,’ Iolanthe to ‘The Fairy bridegroom.’ boys and girls may or may not be annoyed by devices anti fantastic substitutes for the familiar; but neither young nor old will fail to respond to the perfection of line, the skill in characterization, the beauty of composition, and the matchless stage ensemble of these drawings. It is as if Mr. Birch, having seen and heard the operas at their best, had given back to the very life Pinafore, The Mikado, and Iolanthe.
The Pageant of Chinese History by Elizabeth Seeger (Longmans, Green, $3.00), is the best history of China available for children of twelve years and upward, and as such is highly commended by a young Chinese student of children’s literature. It represents a very notable contribution to the undeveloped field of writing history for children. A remarkably clear plan has been followed by the author in the retelling of over three thousand years of history from the authentic sources she names. Selective skill, deep human understanding, and ability to interpret facts in colorful prose have been heightened rather than lessened by experience in teaching.
It is evident that as a writer Miss Seeger has realized the difference between writing for her own classroom and writing for anyone who may read her book — a distinction too often overlooked by teachers turned writers who fail to select, organize, and present anew material of intrinsic value. Bernard Watkins has made at t raetivepictorial maps and illustrations for a book which is most acceptable for one’s personal shelf.
A fresh lease of life has been given to The Treasure of the Isle of Mist, by W. W. Tarn (Putnam, $2.00), by the drawings of Robert Lawson fora new edition of this sole contribution to fantasy of a distinguished scholar. Following Fiona of the ‘warm heart’ and the ‘largish size in shoes’ takes one completely out of doors in September and October, and restores one’s faith in Fairyland.