Humble Contributions to the Peoples' History

Posts tagged ‘Children’s literature’

Winnie the Pooh Sooths the Savage Beasts

Sixth Grade Mayhem

When I was in sixth grade, some of the boys in my class were mean, rough and nasty. One of our former teachers said of our class that they were the worst she had ever taught. The boys were disruptive and opportunistic, seeming to find ways to cause trouble without getting caught. The boys cursed at one another and at the girls. Giving the finger was part of their repertoire but well-hidden from teacher’s eyes.

In past years, I had been injured during rough-housing. In third grade, a boy pushed me off a wall, and I chipped my tooth. A year later, I almost lost my eye when boys were taunting us by lifting our dresses up. I bent down to push my dress down and my head went into a pencil in the boy’s pocket. My Mother always warned me to just stay away from them, which was the strategy I tried to practice through grade school.

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Wikipedia

Our sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Boyer, was a great teacher and a sweet person. She seemed to manage the class, often by telling stories of her life or reading to us. She would say, “I’m not sure we have time for Winnie the Pooh today.” The class would immediately go into begging mode, “Please read Winnie the Pooh.” As I looked around the room, I would see even the most hardened boy pleading for a story about the bear.  During story time, the class would settle and the students would fold their arms on their desks, listening intently. I remember asking myself how could a story quiet such restless anger.

When Mrs. Boyer read the stories, I could easily visulize the Hundred Acre Wood, and we’d look at the map on the inside cover of the book as if it were a geography lesson. Pooh was the most endearing character, almost the alter ego of the classroom boys. Pooh was never mean-spirited, and he was always kind to his woodland friends.

“We’ll be friends forever, won’t we, Pooh? asked Piglet. “Even longer,” Pooh answered.

Although the bear supposedly was of “very little brain,” Pooh was hopeful and comforting.

“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there someday.”

“Promise me you’ll never forget me because if I thought you would, I’d never leave.”

Of course, school is a place where your self worth is constantly on the line with test taking. In contrast to the academic demands of school, Pooh offers an alternate view of cleverness:

“Rabbit’s clever,” said Pooh thoughtfully.
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit’s clever.”
“And he has Brain.”
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit has Brain.”
There was a long silence.
“I suppose,” said Pooh, “that that’s why he never understands anything.”

Good-bye to Elementary School

The next year our elementary school class went off to a large junior high school, and I had little contact with the boys in my class after that. In general I don’t remember that the classroom dynamic in junior high being as hostile as it was back in elementary school. Maybe the boys matured or began concentrating on the grind toward college. I wondered whether in transitioning into junior high, Winnie the Pooh offered emotional support that eventually altered world views, even if slightly.

winnie the pooh

The Bumper Book: Enchanting Stories from Childhood

Bumper BookWhen I was a child, the book I treasured most was The Bumper Book: A Harvest of Stories and Verse. The condition of my book would not command the $350 that this vintage edition is selling for on eBay: the binding is gone, pages are torn and the cover is well-worn. Published in 1946, and given to me for my fourth birthday, these stories, fables and poems were my bedtime companions. “Wynken, Blynken and Nod” by Eugene Field, “Animal Crackers” by Christopher Morley and “The Swing” by Robert Louis Stevenson were some of my favorites. The colorful illustrations, printed on heavy glossy paper, fascinated me, drawing me into the stories because of the sweet depictions of the children in their vintage clothing.

 W, B, and Nod2

Thoughts on Anachronisms

One particular poem featured vignettes of the days of the week, illustrated with a little girl doing chores for each day. Around the turn of the 20th century, women’s chores were assigned a day of the week, as described on the blog, A Hundred Years Ago. When I was a child, I loved play houses, and the settings in these illustrations seemed to take place in child-sized surroundings. I marveled that somewhere children played in these finely crafted miniature homes.

The Week’s Calendar

Monday, Watch the bubbles fly –

Monday

Tuesday, See the wash get dry –
Wednesday, Mend with all our might  –

Wednesday

Thursday, Make things clean and bright –
Friday, Bad for dust and flies  –

Saturday

Saturday, Good for cakes and pies.
Sunday, From all tasks we’re free
After church we have our tea.
–Frances Heilprin

Because the little girl was cleaning and cooking in these picture frames, I wonder about the message that gave me about preparing for the eventual role of running a house. And then I wondered again, was that such an unfortunate model? Regardless of our path in life, we do have to take care of a home, either as a single person or with a partner and children. Of course, the drawings would have been more socially progressive if she had a boy to help out.

In our hierarchy of important jobs, our culture views work inside the home as a lower value. Yet today, with so many demands on our time, managing a home is a difficult responsibility. Cleanliness, orderliness, household finances and meal preparation offer considerable challenges. Work inside the home is the glue that keeps any society held together. This is honorable and necessary work that is best shared by all in the household.

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My  laundry circa 1949.

Question: Artistic Greatness

Eulalie Banks, a British/American illustrator, born in 1895 and who lived to be 102 years old, did all the artwork in the book.  In her obituary, Nicholas Tucker wrote,

Eulalie Banks illustrated over 50 children’s books during her long lifetime. Never a great artist, she was always a popular one.

Interesting how the terms never a great artist, fill the second line. Really? I’ve seen many testimonials on the Internet to the Bumper Book, as adults reflect on how the stories and artwork became part of their childhood. Many, like myself, read the stories to their own children. The delightful illustrations offered a window into a rich fantasy world, enhancing the writing of the authors and poets. Conventional interpretations of greatness rarely include the breadth of experiences of children, which would lead to wider interpretations of artistic influence and “greatness”.

More on Antique Books

Children’s Books Online: The Rosetta Project: Largest Collection of illustrated antique books on-line . . . we think.

Literature with Girls as Strong Characters

Strong Girl Character: Middle Grade and Young Adult Novels

 

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