One Child at a Time

LAST year we wrote a sour little article in which we viewed the latest children’s books with considerable dimness. We were taken to task for this by a number of people, among them an editor who complained that our attitude was lacking in the proper reverence. She affirmed her affection for that portion of the human race which is frequently classified as “The Kiddies,”and stated that she herself was moved to awe and humbleness by the spectacle of children reading.
This overemphatic, unselective attitude of dedication to children in the aggregate is far too prevalent among the authors and publishers of juvenile books. It is suspect because it is depersonalized and consequently sterile. Awe and humbleness are a first-rate barrier to seeing the child as he really is, and to any identification with him in writing or selecting his books. There is no element of awe or depersonalization in Huckleberry Finn, Little Women, or the Just So Stories. They are timeless examples of the personal, selfish, happy identification of the authors with the child in themselves which is the basis of all good juvenile writing.
We have received several collections of children’s stories written and compiled by child study groups who have put a lot of thoughtful, honest effort into their work. We can’t say exactly what is wrong with the stories — nothing, really, except that they don’t go over very well. They are usually described in the introductions as having been okayed by groups of children, and perhaps the nursery school stimulation provides a vitality that our neighborhood children find lacking. We can only report on the basis of the acid test, and we are truly sorry when stories fail, for we admire and respect people who work to understand children, and we appreciate their contribution to society. The onlypossible explanation lies in the fact that while a children’s author must identify himself with his audience, a psychologist who identified himself emotionally with children would be of little value in his job.
The books we are recommending here have several things in common. They are all well written, with lively, natural dialogue, expert characterization, and authentic background, and they have been read with enthusiasm by more than one child of our acquaintance, in the age group for which the books are intended. All this goes without saying, but they share another quality, more subtle, and manifest on every page_ the men and women who wrote them forgot for a time that children are supposed to be taught — forgot the adult world and its problems, and went back down the years to share a story , an emotion, a hobby, or a joke. There is every reason to believe that, despite the headaches attendant on writing anything, the authors were having a pretty good time themselves.


Winter Noisy Book, by Margaret Wise Brown, is another story of Muffin, the little dog with the expanding consciousness, and like its predecessors it is original, beautiful, funny, and composed with every possible awareness of what a child would like said next. Margaret Wise Brown, who is, in our opinion, tops among writers for the very young, was once quoted as saying that she didn’t like children. As it happens, we do like children, but when it comes to writing for them, Miss Brown can give them something that we can’t. She has miraculously retained the perceptiveness which most of us lose in the second grade, and her flair for the instinctive rhythms of a child’s attention is extraordinary. We endeavored, in a somewhat heavyhanded way, to analyze her methods how she knew when to ask a question and when to answer; how she knew when to be stark and when to pile on the adjectives; when to appeal to her customers’ tenderer emotions and when to set them rolling in the aisles. We gave it up. Miss Brown’s talent is in a class by itself, and figuring it out would be like taking a master’s degree in leprechauns.
John G. McCullough, the author of Dark Is Dark, is another writer who knows his way to the heart of the very young. His book says just the things about the night that children want to know and to hear reaffirmed. Both this book and Miss Brown’s are illustrated by Charles G. Shaw, who can get a tremendous amount of suggestion into a few simple lines.
We were somewhat startled to receive a book called Timothy’s Angels, by — of all people William Rose Benét, and illustrated by — of all people Alajálov. It turned out to be a warm, funny, simple little poem, completely unpretentious, and the pictures have just the touch of sophistication that no well-run nursery should be without.
A Lion for Patsy, by Miriam E. Mason, is a book for the four-year-olds and up, rather than for the very little, for the story is longish, and there is too much text with the pictures to hold the attention of the average nursery-schooler. It is, however, an inventive and charming story of a little girl who wanted a lion, and found herself able to compromise contentedly on an unusually marked caterpillar.
Curious George Takes a Job, by H. A. Rey, is also longish for a book in this age group, but it is acceptable to the very young, partly because of a more spread-out arrangement of text and pictures, and partly because George is a monkey, and his adventures are sensational and enormously comic.
The adventures of The Three Little Chipmunks, by Marjorie Torrey, are not so concise as those of The Three Little Kittens, but they are delightful, and us amusing as those of George — in a more tenderhearted way. The author’s illustrations are exquisite.
Our exasperation with the poems of the childserving lady at least answered one purpose — it pointed up the excellence of the Golden Hook of Poetry, edited by Jane Werner. This wide-ranging, beautifully illustrated anthology is not just a collection of the old favorites. To be sure, it includes “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,”and “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod,”but there are also many poems by people like Rachel Field and Margaret Widdemer, not to mention Ogden Nash. We recommend it for any age — up to the time when they discover T. S. Eliot.


And please remember that ages overlap, depending upon the individual child.
Treasure Was Their Quest, by William Bunce, is for nine-year-olds, and beyond. It is a delightful, highly humorous account of the treasure hunt of a pair of twelve-year-old boys in an upstate New York village. Willie and Ham believe in doing things the hard way, and their treasure divining rod, their battles with other boys, their secret hut, the Ghost-Face House, and their quest are all good straight boy stuff, as natural as a skinned knee but much more exciting.
The Trolley Car Family, by Eleanor Clymer, is a charming, happy story of a family who spent the summer in a trolley car. Girls will enjoy it, particularly if they are the domestic type, but you can’t tell us that any tomboy won’t love the idea of living in a trolley, and that means that boys will go for it, too. A warm,goofy book, delightfully written, as usual.
Gooseberry Jones, by Will Gerber, is the story of a small colored boy who has no dog. His mother is terrified of dogs — and a strict disciplinarian. It’s a lovely book, tenderly and sympathetically written, and most unusual in plot and background. It will be a relief to colored parents to be able to put into their children’s hands a book in which their race is not represented as idiotically childlike or unbearably oppressed, but lives normally and matter-of-factly.
In Little Eddie, Carolyn Haywood has created a line figure of a seven-year-old — astonishing, unpredictable, and entirely recognizable. Eddie’s adventures are always peculiar and always plausible, at least from his point of view, and they are told with the dead-pan attention to detail which is necessary to bring really funny stories to life.
The Story of Pamela, by Mabel Jones Woodbury, is told in the first person by a trained chimpanzee who has all of the graces — she dances superbly —and none of the virtues. She is inquisitive, destructive, vain, vindictive, and a prima donna of the most deplorable type. Her adventures add up to a fine, funny, never-a-dull-moment book.


Assorted Sisters, by Florence Crannell Means, has top honors as far as we are concerned. Mrs. Means has an exceptional gift for finding the least common denominator in girls. She never preaches, her dialogue is up-to-date and crisp, her characters are well rounded and colorful, and she writes with both humor and understanding. This story of four girls in a Denver high school — one American girl, one Chinese, one Spanish, and, later, one colored — is cheerful, dramatic, and fast-moving, and though not so unusual as Great Day in the Morning, it is unusual enough, and a book that any girl will love.
Adventure in Russia, by Ruth Epperson Kennell, is another unusual and beautifully written book — a story of inside Russia today, and of a boy orphaned by the war, who is afraid of horses, though his father was a Cossack officer, and of a girl who is Champion Rider of the High Plains. The book is exciting and interesting.
In The Pigeoneers,Anne Molloy has written another of her splendid books for children. This is the story of a group of boys in an orthopedic hospital, whose lives take on new meaning when they become interested in homing pigeons. The book has pathos, humor, tenderness, vitality, and charm, to say nothing of the fascinating material. We almost bought a pigeon on the strength of it.
Rocket Ship Galileo, by Robert Heinlein, describes the first space ship to land on the moon. It is so real that one feels that the idea may become an actuality at any moment. And the book is not too technical to be understood. For all ages up to one hundred.
Partners of Powder Hole, by Robert Davis, is an unusual tale of Cape Cod lobster fishermen — which in itself is enough to fascinate any child who has spent half a day at the beach. Furthermore, while it smells of the sea in every line, it is a pleasant, homey change from the conventional sea story of hardhearted skippers, crashing wrecks, cannibals, and what have you. This does not mean, however, that the book lacks excitement. It begins on page one, when a fifteen-year-old boy falls overboard off a scow while trying to fish his dog out of the water. Swimming side by side through the night, they finally wind up at Powder Hole, and enter an entirely new existence.
There are two books — for boys — which seem to us to be first-rate examples of a new trend in juveniles. Rebel Halfback, by Joe Archibald, is a football story, and If Window on the World, by Joseph Gollomb, describes the adventures of a boy on a newspaper. These fast-moving, wellwritten stories illustrate a shift in the moral values purveyed for the young. In our day, the emphasis was on showing the superiority of honest poverty to corrupt riches, and it was always the poor boy who made the winning touchdown or outwitted the villain and brought the scoop to his paper.
Apparently this point has been made sufficiently clear, for nowadays the hero accepts his poverty casually. The important issue is the brotherhood of man, and it is the boy who likes Negroes and is all out for the United Nations who cops the honors. In these two books the issue is handled skillfully and admirably, without interfering with story or action. In lesser hands it could be as deadly as the worst of Horatio Alger.


We have complained in the past that the authors of juvenile biographies tend to write as if they expected the families of their subject to leave them money. We do not make this complaint about Woodrow Wilson, by Alden Hatch, although he writes with an enthusiasm that might be more suit able in an admirer of Frank Sinatra. Mr. Hatch says on the blurb that he has never written about a man for whom he does not have sympathy and admiration, and this is apparent on every page. Nevertheless, his attitude gives the book a vitality it would lack if written with more detachment, and it is well documented, with both index and bibliography.
In the story of Susan B. Anthony: Champion of Women’s Rights,Florence Horn Bryan has material that is considerably more dramatic, if less important, than the Wilson book, and she has a fascinating tale to tell. Susan B. Anthony’s turbulent and successful life has all the elements necessary to a first-class biography. Mrs. Bryan has written well, and handled her drama skillfully, and certainly Miss Anthony was a superb woman, deserving every kind of admiration. Perhaps the book is a little flawed by Mrs. Bryan’s playing up Women’s Rights for a little more than they are worth. She doesn’t quite say that women will end corruption at the polls, but her implication is clear that they will stop wars. This may startle realistic readers, but a surprise or two won’t hurt them, and the book should attract the attention of boys as well as girls.
Victorian Cinderella, “The Story of Harriet Beecher Stowe,” by Phyllis Wynn Jackson, is one of the briskest biographies we have read in some time, and one of the best balanced. It is neither underdone nor overdone, has no dull spots, doesn’t gush, and presents both Mrs. Stowe and the period with a lively warmth and reality. It should be required reading on any school list.


There comes a time in the life of every young person when he wants his facts straight, without fictional interference, and this goes for the eights and nines, as well as the teens. Goldfish, by Herbert S. Zim, is almost a necessity for any child who is interested in goldfish and able to look after them himself. For older readers Mr. Zim has a book starkly entitled Plants. He approaches his subject not as a biologist, but as someone to whom plants are a hobby, and in no time had us out in the woods collecting mosses for a terrarium.
Despite the fact that we enjoyed The Insect World, by Hilda T. Harpster, we are not going out to collect insects, but we might if we were in our teens, and even if we didn’t we’d like the book.
Regardless of the appearance of occasional unappetizing throngs of bobby-soxers, girls in their early teens are, in general, more attractive today than they were fifteen years ago. We feel that the credit for this goes to the women’s magazines. When the fact was accepted that Susie was going to wear make-up no matter what, it was agreed that she had better be told that there is a right way and a wrong way, and while she was at it she might as well learn to keep her hair clean, her skin clear, and not to wear satin to school. As a result, the furtively smudged-on purple mouth is as rare as a shiny nose, and girls who ignore their appearance are no longer regarded by parents or teachers as prize examples of maidenly virtue. Judith Unger Scott, in Lessons in Loveliness, has compiled just about everything that a girl trying to make the best of herself would need to know, and the young lady who couldn’t read it with interest and profit can hardly exist.
Nancy Keeps House, by Helene Laird, is a slightly fictionized book on housekeeping methods, from how to wash dishes to spring house-cleaning. Girls who like that sort of thing will profit by it. Those who hate housework but have to help Mother will be grateful for it.
Experiments in Science, by Nelson F. Beeler and Franklyn M. Branley, is for either boys or girls, and it’s fascinating. Furthermore, parents needn’t worry. Neither Johnny nor Ann will turn up with singed eyebrows or ruined clothes after trying to bake apples in snow, make their own telephone, bend light, or see through their hands. The accompanying illustrations are large and clear, and so simple that even the seven-year-olds can follow t hem easily.
C. J. Maginley’s Historic Models of Early America is a splendid hobby book for not too advanced manual training students. It teaches you how to make anything, from a tobacco roller to a miniature one-horse shay. Young carpenters will hail it with delight.
How Much and How Many, “The Story of Weights and Measures,”by Jeanne Bendick, explains itself. A good book for fifthand sixthgraders. It’s fun and it’s interesting, and should prove a blessing in disguise to unmathematicallyminded youngsters.