Children's Books of the Golden Era

Discussion in 'The Reading Room' started by LizzieMaine, Nov 26, 2015.

  1. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    My recent reconnection with one of my favorite kids' books, Robert McCloskey's "Homer Price" from 1943, as discussed in the What Are You Reading? thread, has gotten me thinking about other kids' books from the Era that I enjoyed when younger, and which might still be entertaining and useful for kids today.

    My all time favorite picture book, then as well as now, was "The Bear That Wasn't," by Frank Tashlin, first published in 1946. Yes, that's the same Frank Tashlin who directed brilliant cartoons for Warner Bros and other studios in the thirties and forties, and went on to become a prominent direction of live-action comedies in the fifties and sixties. But "The Bear That Wasn't" is a wonderful fable about a bear who ends up being inadvertently sucked into the production-line environment of a large factory built on top of his den, and spends most of the book trying to convince a long series of foremen, vice-presidents, and bosses that he's a bear and not a silly man in a fur coat who needs a shave. It's hilarious, touching, inspiring, very well illustrated, and still in print.

    In terms of "chapter" books, I read and loved the Radio Girls series by "Margaret Penrose," a house name for a series of anonymous authors working for the Stratemeyer Syndicate in the 1920s. These books were inspiring to me because they showed a group of young girls who could handle just about anything -- they were all hands-on radio enthusiasts who built and maintained their own equipment, and used it to solve mysteries and do good works in their small town. These have been out of print for decades, but they're still affordable on the secondary market, and while the technology might be outmoded for modern kids, today's girls might still find inspiration in the fact that these gals make no apologies for their interest in science and technology, not just as consumers of it, but as technicians themselves. "Penrose" also wrote the "Motor Girls" series, which was the same type of stories about a group of girls who were all skilled auto mechanics.

    Those are some of my favorites. Who else grew up with Golden Era Children's Books?
     
  2. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    "Stuart Little," by E.B. White (who, amongst many achievements, also wrote an outstanding little book on grammar and writing, "Elements of Style"). I loved "Stuart Little" as a kid and while it has some messages about love and acceptance of differences (maybe a bit ahead of its time), for me, as a kid, it was just a fun tale of an anthropomorphized mouse who had great adventures in his "little" world.

    I also read a bunch of "The Hardy Boys" mysteries and remember enjoying them, but don't remember much from them today.

    And as I got older, I discovered "The Saint" books by Leslie Charteris, which I still read to this day.

    There are move, I'll add some later.

    But had to ask, Lizzie, have you read "The Bear Went Over the Mountain" by William Kotzwinkle? It's the story of a bear who, through a series of misunderstandings, is mistaken for a brilliant author and how he tries to acclimate his "bearness" to humans and how humans are willing to accommodate his "bearness" because of his success. Your "The Bear That Wasn't" book reminded me of the one I mentioned (which I read +/- 15 years ago and gave as gifts to several family members who loved it). Based on your recommendation, I already put a $2.50 copy of "The Bear That Wasn't" in my Amazon cart.
     
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2015
  3. Stormy

    Stormy A-List Customer

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    Madeline, Mr. Popper's Penguins, The Secret of the Old Clock (my big sis used to read this one to me), The Velveteen Rabbit, all of the Agatha Christie children's books, The Five Chinese Brothers to name a few. There are so many wonderful children's and young adult titles from the era. It's difficult for me to say which were absolutely my favorites. When I was a kid, the library was sort of like my best friend and baby-sitter. The time I spent there influenced my life more than anything. This is why I studied literature, became an English teacher, and why I love to travel and write.
     
  4. dh66

    dh66

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    My older kids have dabbled in a few Hardy Boys books, but for the most part it's all about Harry Potter with them these days. The littler ones, however, are still enthralled with some golden era classics. 'Goodnight Moon', Cowboy Small', Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel', 'Danny and the Dinosaur', 'The Little Engine that Could', and countless Little Golden Book titles. They also had some Dick and Jane around to help them when they were learning to read.

    I guess it isn't really children's literature, but my oldest son (11) recently found my old stash of H.G. Wells classics at his grandmother's house and has been wearing them out.
     
  5. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    That's fantastic - hopefully, that will lead to further "vintage" reading.
     
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  6. Steve27752

    Steve27752 One of the Regulars

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    Enid Blyton's famous Five books.
     
  7. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    I dearly loved "Mike Mulligan" as a kid, and I used to tear up at the end when it showed Mary Ann all cozy in the cellar acting as a boiler. We tend to view our heating systems with great affection here in the Northeast.

    McCloskey's "Make Way For Ducklings" was another favorite from about the same period, and is viewed with great esteem here in New England. The ducklings themselves are commemorated by statues in the Boston Public Garden.

    [​IMG]

    Another book that used to make me all teary was Clare Turlay Newberry's "Mittens," from 1937. It told the story of a little boy looking for his lost kitten -- and when he puts an ad in the paper, he gets dozens of cats in reply, none of which are his. It all ends well, and the cat drawings were very well observed. It helped that the title kitten was a tabby, and I have nearly always had tabby cats.

    I was quite amused when I learned that Syd Hoff, creator of Danny and the Dinosaur, had had a whole 'nother life in the thirties, as "A. Redfield," editorial cartoonist for the Daily Worker. I have an album of his cartoons from that period which I leave out on the coffee table for unsuspecting guests. As "Redfield" Hoff wrote his first children's book, a 1939 revolutionary fable called "Mr. His," which nurtured a generation of red-diaper babies.

    Another kids' book of the late thirties that was equally revolutionary, albeit in a different way, was Munro Leaf's "The Story of Ferdinand," which is probably best remembered today as the inspiration for a Disney cartoon. But the original book, in which Ferdinand refused to participate in bullfighting, roughhousing, and other he-bull activities, because he'd rather enjoy the flowers, was both a plea for pacifism and a direct attack against gender stereotyping. Although no one seems to know for certain if Leaf himself was gay, the book was taken to heart by the gay community from the moment of its first release in 1936.
     
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  8. lolly_loisides

    lolly_loisides One Too Many

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    My favourite childhood book was "Ameliar-Anne and the green umbrella" (by Constance Heward & delightfully illustrated by Susan Beatrice Pierce. First published 1920).
    Ameliar-anne's brothers and sisters can't go to the Squire's tea party but she thinks of an ingenious way of taking some treats home to them.
    Edit - The above link is a download of the book in Archive com
    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2015
  9. dh66

    dh66

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    Ah...Ferdinand. I forgot about him. Another one enjoyed greatly by the littles in my house.
    Another huge favorite (and I mean totally obsessed with for a period) that I had forgotten about, until I got in the car yesterday and saw him sitting in the back seat, still kicking despite the dog chewing off his nose, is Curious George. First appearing in 1939, the little monkey has had quite an illustrious career, thanks in part to rampant licensing by the estate of Hans and Margaret.
    My kids have also enjoyed being read the adventures of Babar, Paddington, and of course, Pooh.

    And speaking of tearing up during Mike Mulligan, that was one of the first books I enjoyed as a child that I found and bought for my own kids, and I certainly teared up a little the first time I tried to read it.

    And thanks for the tip about "Mr. His". I am not looking to raise a houseful of little socialists, but I certainly am doing my level best to bring them up unfettered by the bonds of mass marketing and consumerism - and if that is an inadvertant result, well..........
     
  10. dh66

    dh66

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    Post -post edit....."Mr. His" is available online, fittingly for all and for free, but is NOT available from Amazon. Hmmmm.....the online retailer that has so successfully undercut prices and put soooo many brick and mortar establishments (both big and small) out of business.
     
  11. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    The original edition was a paperback, put out by New Masses magazine, and is quite scarce today. I get a catalog from time to time from a West Coast dealer in "radical literature," and I've never seen a copy listed there. I imagine most of the original copies, which were, like New Masses itself, printed on a highly-acidic newsprint stock, haven't survived the decades.

    Dr. Seuss had a career track not too dissimilar to that of Hoff/Redfield. In the early forties he was the editorial cartoonist for the ad-free New York newspaper "PM," a paper which, while not as radical as the Worker, was known for a very left-of-center point of view. He worked his views into a number of his stories over the years, notably "Yertle The Turtle," "The Sneetches," The Lorax," and "The Butter-Battle Book."

    "Ferdinand" may have been the best-selling childrens' book of the thirties -- it was a best-seller from 1936-39, and got another big boost when the Disney cartoon came out. It had the disctinction of being banned and burned in Germany and Francoite Spain, the latter ban remaining in force until Franco died in 1975.

    Themes of identity seemed to be very important to Munro Leaf. His followup to Ferdinand was a book called "Noodle," published in 1937, the story of a dachshund who was given the chance to be anything he wanted -- he considered many different options, but finally decided he was happiest just being himself.
     
  12. DNO

    DNO One Too Many

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    The one I remember most from my childhood was Uncle Wiggily. Later, it was the Hardy Boys.
     
  13. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    Based on Lizzie's recommendation, I ordered a copy of "The Bear that Wasn't" and highly recommend it as a wonderful children story that also works on an adult level - and the illustrations are beautiful. (And kudos to Amazon, a fresh hardcover copy made it to me in two days and for six bucks all in.)

    Since there was no comment, but I bet some have read it, I repeat a comment from an earlier post here ("my" bear book is for adults, but still echoes some of the themes of the children's book):

    ... have you read "The Bear Went Over the Mountain" by William Kotzwinkle? It's the story of a bear who, through a series of misunderstandings, is mistaken for a brilliant author and how he tries to acclimate his "bearness" to humans and how humans are willing to accommodate his "bearness" because of his success. Your "The Bear That Wasn't" book reminded me of the one I mentioned (which I read +/- 15 years ago and gave as gifts to several family members who loved it).
     
  14. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    I haven't seen that one, but am meaning to ask my children's librarian friend if she knows it. We often visit the library together, and I'll look for a copy next time I'm there.

    Frank Tashlin was a newspaper cartoonist before he went into animation, and his technique was perfectly suited to children's book. He wrote two other kids' books -- "The Possum That Didn't" and "The World That Isn't" -- with much the same style and tone.
     
  15. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    The book will probably be in the adult section - just my guess.

    And I know we - you and me and the forum large - have discussed how gorgeous the illustrations were back in the first half of the 20th Century, how robust it was as a medium and what a shame it is that it's a much less important art form today.

    My favorite illustration from "The Bear that Wasn't" is when he is in the factory, with his back to us, working on the line - so much symbolism, but just a great illustration also.
     
  16. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    It reminds me a lot of a shot from Fritz Lang's "Metropolis." Tashlin was a serious film buff before being a film buff was fashionable, and was just the right age to have seen "Metropolis" in theatres as a teenager. I have no doubt at all that the resemblance was intentional.

    One of the things I dearly loved about that book as a child was the level of detail in the drawings, especially the big panoramic shots of the factory, the zoo, and the circus. Tashlin put lots of tiny little gags into those drawings which require careful examination to pick out.

    In the late sixties, Chuck Jones, one of Tashlin's old colleagues from Warner Bros, adapted "The Bear That Wasn't" into a cartoon short for MGM. He redesigned the characters and the look of the story to fit his own style, and when he had a scene with the bear walking around with a cup of coffee and a cigarette in his mouth, Tashlin was outraged -- because, he argued, his bear wouldn't do that. He was so upset by this that he never spoke to Jones again.
     

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