Tidbit Histories – WWI is Raging when Raggedy Ann Makes Her Debut!

Born in 1880 into the household of noted landscape painter Richard B. Gruelle, John Barton Gruelle developed rapidly as an artist. While still in his teens, Gruelle became a cartoonist for the Indianapolis Star and by the time he was twenty, he had accepted a position at the Cleveland Press. A gifted artist, Gruelle could draw any kind of cartoon or illustration and began writing and illustrating his own children’s stories for the Cleveland paper.

As his reputation grew, so did his output including the cartoon strip Mr. Twee Deedle for the New York Herald and numerous children’s stories for Good Housekeeping. At home he loved to tell stories to his daughter, Marcella. One day, Marcella found an old rag doll in the attic of the family home. Though the doll was in decrepit condition, Gruelle thought that he could rejuvenate it for his daughter. He drew the doll a new face and Grandmother Gruelle sewed on a new shoe-button eye and hand-stitched a perfect heart-shaped candy heart.

Marcella became inseparable from the doll. Gruelle realized the economic potential and soon set up a home assembly line to produce replicas, obtaining a patent in September of 1915. With World War I raging, his doll became the darling of American households. Soon Gruelle translated the image to the drawing board while writing the dolls adventures. Marcella’s beloved doll eagerly awaited her debut and in 1918 RAGGEDY ANNE STORIES, by Johnny Gruelle set sail on its incredible journey into the hearts of millions of children all over the world.RA Raggedy Ann

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Tidbit Histories – Flash! James and the Giant Peach better than Charlotte’s Web!?

On September 19, 1940 a young Royal Air Force pilot named Roald Dahl stepped out of a Gloster Gladiator onto a remote military airfield in northern Egypt. This was the beginning of his military service and the experiences that would shape much of his writing for the rest of his life.

Aside from a book he did for Walt Disney (to be covered in later post), Dahl published his first book in 1946. For the next fifteen years he would experience modest success with adult fiction, much of it autobiographical. But by the time his short story collection KISS KISS was published in 1960 his popularity had waned and he was finding writing difficult.

More than once his long time agent, Sheila St. Lawrence, had encouraged him to try writing for children. Since Dahl’s wife was a successful actor and was frequently on location, Dahl wrote at home and loved telling stories to his children. The combination of slow sales and his natural story telling ability made him finally considered his agent’s suggestion.

In 1959 the family went on a vacation to Norway where elements from stories previously told his children started to coalesce into a new story. As he said, he started to “walk around [his new story] and look at it, and sniff it.” The more he smelled it, the more he liked it. St. Lawrence loved the story and told Virginia Fowler, then children’s editor at Knopf, that it was even better than E. B. White’s CHARLOTTE’S WEB.

In 1961 Dahl started the second and more important part of his career with a bang, when Knopf published JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH. It would take seven more years for an English publisher to have the sense to publish it in Dahl’s home country.James and the Giant Peach

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Tidbit Histories – Alphabet books from A-Z and Beyond!

If you were a child in colonial America, you would probably start your school day by reciting “In Adams Fall / We Sinned all.” From that day to this, two things in the classroom have remained constant, children and alphabet books.

Countless authors have invented variants on the staple “A is for apple” and a gaggle of artists have tried to make a picture of a boy to accompany “B is for Boy” exciting enough to encourage preschoolers to link oral language with its written counterpart.

By the late 20th century the alphabet book had evolved into such wondrous books as ANNO’S ALPHABET  by Mitsumasa Anno and ALPHA BETA CHOWDER by Jeanne and William Steig.  But to contend with the complexities of modern life, once again the sage Dr. Seuss expressed it best in ON BEYOND ZEBRA:

“In the places I go there are things that I see /That I never could spell if I stopped with the Z …This is really great stuff! / And I guess the old alphabet / ISN’T enough!”Abc8

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Tidbit Histories – Flash! GRINCH rolls off Seuss’ pen.

Shortly after publishing the ground-breaking THE CAT IN THE HAT in 1957, Ted Geisle set about writing a Dickensian story to protest the commercialization of Christmas.

Despite his wife Helen (also his long time editor) claiming that his first drawings of Papa Who made him look like a bug and his struggles with the conclusion, “I got hung up getting the Grinch out of the mess. I got into a situation where I sounded like a second-rate preacher…,” Ted Geisle felt that HOW THE GRINCH  STOLE CHRISTMAS was the easiest book of his career.

Everyone at Random House expected THE GRINCH to be Dr. Seuss’s second blockbuster of 1957. The numbers didn’t disappoint with a first print run of 50,000 copies and immediate critical acclaim. After a career of two decades, THE CAT IN THE HAT  in tandem with HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS established Dr. Seuss as one of the most important children’s writers of the 20th century.Grinch4

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Tidbit Histories – Mr. Toad Takes the World by Storm

In May of 1904, Kenneth Grahame’s son Alastair had a disastrous fourth birthday ending in a flood of tears. In his attempt to comfort his son, Kenneth Grahame promised a bedtime story about any subject his son chose.

Alastair, nicknamed Mouse, said he wanted a story about a rat, a mole and a giraffe. The story continued until midnight and for three years off and on after that with never a word being written down.

It was on Mouse’s seventh birthday, when he was to go to the shore for the summer that he made his father promise to continue the story in letters. Kenneth Grahame willingly complied and wrote his son fifteen letters between May and September of 1907, some of them upwards of 1000 words.

A friend, who had known of the ongoing saga, persuaded Grahame to recreate the earlier part of the story.

When THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS was published in 1908, there was no mention of a giraffe, but readers of all ages opened their hearts to Ratty, Mole and the irrepressible Mr. Toad, who was, after all, a cunning likeness to Mouse himself.Wind in the Willows2

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Tidbit Histories – African-American Children’s Literature: The Creative Explosion.

During the first half of the twentieth century there was a very small body of work by African-American authors and illustrators of African-American children’s books (see last week’s post, http://readmeastoryink.com/blog/?p=186 ). However by the early 60s, spurred on by the civil rights movement and Brown vs Board of Education, there was an explosion of African-American children’s literature and illustrations. In 1964 Virginia Hamilton became the first African-American to win the Newbery Award for her book ZEELY. In 1975 Mildred Taylor’s powerful ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY followed suit.

In 1970 the Coretta Scott King Award was founded.  Like the Newbery Medal, it was under the auspices of the American Library Association, and has been given annually since its inception to an African-American author or illustrator whose books demonstrate an appreciation of African-American culture and universal human values.

With each decade ever greater numbers of authors and illustrators make their debut. Multi-honored Jerry Pinkney’s illustrations depict the beautiful uniqueness and individuality of African-Americans. John Steptoe’s illustrations for MUFARO’S BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTERS are without equal. The must read list for African-American authors grows by the year: Walter Dean Myers, Joyce Hansen, Julius Lester, Andrea David Pinkney, Patricia McKissack, just to name a few. While the output of African-American children’s literature may not be the equal of white authors and illustrators in quantity, it is certainly every bit its equal in quality.RA African-American2

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Tidbit Histories – African-American Children’s Literature: The Early Period.

In the first half of the twentieth century, literature and illustration for African-American children was frequently the work of white writers and illustrators. Some showed a sensitivity and respect for African-American culture. A good example is Lynd Ward’s dramatic figures for Hildegarde Swift’s moving biographical sketches in NORTH STAR SHINING. Some, however, would promote stereotypes doing little to advance a child’s self esteem, instead using exaggerated and comical dialect along with “pickaninny” imagery.

Much of the literature by African-American writers was written by authors primarily for an adult audience who wrote only an occasional book for children. Arna Bontemps wrote A FASTER SOONER HOUND (a personal favorite about a dog who loves to outrun trains), and Countee Cullen, noted African-American poet, collaborated with his cat to write MY LIVES AND HOW I LOST THEM. Langston Hughes, one of the most important of the Harlem Renaissance writers, didn’t write specifically for children, but drew from his body of work those pieces that he thought would speak to children, and published THE DREAM KEEPER. W.E.B. Du Bois founded the periodical “The Brownies Book” for “children of the sun” and filled it with African stories, riddles and songs.

All of this, along with the civil rights movement and the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, set the stage for an African-American literary explosion in the second half of the century. Stay tuned. Part duex next week!RA African-American1

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Tidbit Histories – Caldecott winner, Lynd Ward Testifies: “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words.

Lynd Ward was born in Chicago, in 1905, into the house of a Methodist Minister. Forbidden to play games on Sunday, the young Lynd Ward would pass the time reading and looking at the pictures in the few books found in their household.

Two of Ward’s favorites were a bible, illustrated by the great French engraver, Gustave Dore, and a circus story in which the animals came to life. Both books, he remembered, led to his interest in how pictures can communicate without words.

Later, while an art student at Columbia, he served as art editor and contributed numerous drawings to the “Columbia Jester.”

Shortly after graduation he married his college sweetheart and set off on a European tour, ending in Leipzig where the National Academy for the Graphic Arts was located. He enrolled as a special student and spent the next year learning both traditional printmaking techniques and book design.

His time spent at the National Academy, in conjunction with his discovery in a small bookshop of a book done entirely in pictures by the famed Belgian engraver Franz Masereel, would set his course for the remainder of his career. From that time forward, his time was spent in the painstakingly slow medium or wood engraving.

In the months that followed their return to the US, Ward put together a portfolio of his work, partially done in Leipzig, which told an entire story without words. Published by the Plimpton Press in 1929, GOD’S MAN was highly successful, encouraging Ward to create three more “books without words” and to use the medium to illustrate children’s books.

In 1930 his illustrations graced the Newbery Winner, THE CAT WHO WENT TO HEAVEN, by Elizabeth Coatsworth, and in 1953 he won the prestigious Caldecott Award for THE BIGGEST BEAR.  In 1950 and 1973 Ward received the Caldecott Honor Award for his woodcut illustrations to AMERICA’S ETHAN ALLEN and THE SILVER PONY.

Lynd Ward’s work, whether woodcuts or watercolors, reflects Mr. Ward’s life-long belief that “illustrations are an integral part of a book from its inception.”Lynd Ward2

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Tidbit Histories – The Story of Ferdinand Written in Record Time!

When inspiration hits, books can be written with amazing speed. A contender for the world record, though, is one of the most beloved children’s books of the 20th century.  Munro Leaf jotted down THE STORY OF FERDINAND on a yellow legal pad for his illustrator friend, Robert Lawson, in less than one hour.

May Massee, Viking’s gifted juvenile editor, immediately accepted the collaboration and the story of the gentle bull who loved to do nothing but sit and smell the flowers was published in fall of 1936.

To this day, it remains a near perfect example of the marriage of illustration with text in a children’s book.Story of Ferdinand3


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Tidbit Histories – Did Mary Really Have a Little Lamb?

On a cold March morning in the early days of the nineteenth century, a young girl named Mary Sawyer went to the barn with her father. That night two lambs had been born and one had been forsaken by its mother. Mary nurtured the newborn and they grew inseparable.

Mary even took the lamb to school where she hid it beneath her bench, under a shawl. All went well until the teacher called on Mary to come forward and Mary’s soft footsteps were followed by the clip-clop of little hooves.

Everyone was amused, but the lamb spent the remainder of the day in a shed. The next day, a young man named John Roulstone, who had witnessed the events of the previous day, rode up to Mary, and leaning down from his horse, handed her a folded slip of paper.

As he rode off, Mary opened the paper and read a simple but charming 12 line poem which began: “Mary had a little lamb/Its fleece was white as snow…” These immortal words didn’t appear in print until 1830 in a collection of poems by Sarah J. Hale.

There were twelve additional lines of inferior quality and no attribution to earlier authorship. There is still debate as to the author, but to anyone with a sense of romance, they were the inspired gift of a young man to a little girl.Mary3

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