Tidbit Histories – A Boy and His Fawn: THE YEARLING

In the late 1920s, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and her husband, Charles, thought a simpler life than journalism might be just the thing to save their failing marriage, so they bought a 72 acre orange grove at Cross Creek, outside Hawthorn, Florida.

The first few years Ms Rawlings tried her hand at both farming and short fiction. She submitted a number of stories about the Florida hammock to Scribners where they were read by Max Perkins, one of the finest editors of the 20th century. Mr. Perkins suggested she write something more than short stories which lead Ms Rawlings to move deep into the scrub and live with an old woman and her moonshiner son.

Her experiences in the scrub were mirrored in her first book, SOUTH MOON UNDER. Perkins wasn’t shocked by her use of four-letter words (after all he was Hemingway’s editor), but felt that Ms Rawlings should consider a book with a similar theme for young readers centering on her boy character, Lant.  While she liked Perkins’ suggestion, she was already writing GOLDEN APPLES, an “English” novel which, when published, only garnered mediocre reviews.

Now, free to heed Perkins’s advice, she took up residence in an abandoned cabin to write a book about a boy raising an animal in the scrub. A year into the writing Rawlings, disgusted with the book, threw out the manuscript and began again. Finally, in 1937, Scribner’s published THE YEARLING. Both reviews and sales were through the roof, landing Ms. Rawlings the Pulitzer Prize for 1939 and gifting to the world, one of the most endearing boy/animal stories of all time. Rawlings4

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Tidbit Histories – Are they Big Little Books or Little Big Books?

Like so many things familiar to us, their history stretches back further than we might expect. The comics, or “funny pages” we all enjoyed growing up actually date back to the early 1800s when Swiss writer and illustrator Rodolphe Topffer decided to divide his story into separate frames with an ongoing narrative printed beneath each panel.

By 1889 his style had made its way to America where Joseph Pulitzer started running a regular comics section in the Sunday edition of “The New York World”.  Just a few years later in 1892, “The Little Bears and Tigers” by James Swinnerton appeared in the San Francisco Examiner. Light hearted and humorous, Swinnerton’s strip offered a bit of pleasant distraction from the more serious news of the day. This was the first strip to appear regularly and garnered a wide audience.

In 1896 another breakthrough occurred when “The Great Dog Show in M’Googan’s Avenue” appeared in New York World in color. The star of this strip, a funny little kid printed in yellow, was so popular that he showed up a month later in “War Scare in Hogan’s Alley, and is thought to be the starting point for the cartoon “funnies” that we still love today.

On December 12, 1897, The Katzenjammer Kids by Rudoph Dirks made its debut in the American Humorist. Dirks was the first to experiment with moving the text from beneath the panel to little balloons drawn inside the illustrated panel finding that his readers would react to his humor with greater spontaneity.

In 1932, Whitman Publishing licensed the reprint rights of some of the more popular comic strip characters and created small, thick picture books which they called Big Little Books. Beginning with “The Adventures of Dick Tracey”, their popularity was explosive, drawing numerous other companies into the fray. Defensively Whitman changed the name to Better Little Books but by then, Big Little Books was such a household name, no one thought of them otherwise. Saalfield, Whitman’s biggest competitor, slyly called them Little Big Books but they never trumped the supremacy of Whitman. In their heyday from the 1930s to the 1940s over 1100 titles were produced starring heroes from comics, movies and the legendary past. Dick Tracey, Betty Boop, Flash Gordon, Kit Carson, The Lone Ranger, Robin Hood and a cast of thousands entertained millions of children around the world.BigLittle13





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Tidbit Histories – Peter Parley Teaches Children to Love Learning!

Samuel Goodrich was born in Connecticut, in 1793, the son of a Congregational minister. In the late 18th century, most reading available for children was either fairy tales or moral tales. Consequently his early reading consisted of Jack the Giant Killer, Puss in Boots and the like. But it was enough to engender a love of books, and in 1816 at the age of 23 he became a bookseller and publisher.

Unfortunately in 1823 his beloved wife of 5 years passed away and his business collapsed. This double shock would prove a significant turning point in Goodrich’s life and started him on the path that would  make him both famous and loved by children all over the world.

The year following his wife’s death, a wealthy uncle helped him make a trip to Europe, hoping that it would help him recover from the tragedies of the previous year. While in Europe, Goodrich met Sir Walter Scott, an author that he had published (probably pirated), but more importantly met Hannah More, whose “Shepherd of Salisbury Plain” (1795), he had enjoyed as a child. His meeting with Ms More, turned his thoughts to improvements in children’s books.

In his autobiography he wrote; “Do not children love truth? If so, was it necessary to feed them on fiction? Could not History, Natural History, Geography, Biography, become the elements of juvenile works, in place of fairies and giants, and mere monsters of imagination?”

If 1823 was a year of tragedy, 1826 was a year of renewal. Goodrich remarried and established himself in Boston as an author and publisher. The next year marked the first appearance of his fictional character Peter Parley. Peter Parley, a kind-hearted old man, was a veteran of the War of 1812 and was the storyteller in all of Goodrich’s books, bringing real history alive for children in a chatty, informative and highly readable format.

Within months The Tales of Peter Parley about America was in demand all over America. Followed in 1828 by The Tales of Peter Parley about Europe, Parley’s Winter Evening Tales in 1829 and Parley’s Juvenile Tales in 1830, Goodrich single handedly changed the face of children’s publishing. In his long career Goodrich, aka Peter Parley introduced children to ancient Greece, mythology, industry, astronomy and a host of other subjects. Often working 14 hours per day and sometimes employing other authors including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Goodrich would ultimately lay claim to 116 books with total sales topping 7 million in America alone. Widely imitated but never equaled, Goodrich performed a miracle, making learning fun for millions of children all over the world. Peter Parley5

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Tidbit Histories – Louisa May Alcott’s original title, “The Pathetic Family”

Louisa May Alcott’s father, Bronson Alcott, proved a better philosopher, counting Thoreau and Emerson as close friends, than he did a provider. When Louisa published her first story in 1852, she realized that her writing could be a much needed source of income for their family. She soon found success in writing lurid stories for Dime Novel publishers.

After returning from a trip to Europe as a paid companion to an invalid in 1865, she was encouraged by Thomas Niles of Roberts Brothers publishing in Boston to write a book for girls. The result was LITTLE WOMEN (originally titled ‘The Pathetic Family’). In August 1868, an entry in Ms Alcott’s journal read; “Roberts Bros. made an offer for the story Little Women, but at the same time advised me to keep the copyright; so I shall.” Seventeen years later, she amended her note with the following; “An honest publisher and a lucky author, for the copyright made her a fortune.”

Published in 1868, and based mostly on memories of her childhood, LITTLE WOMEN was an immediate success and the royalties from this and it sequel, GOOD WIVES, produced enough income to wipe out all family debts. At the time of her death in March of 1888, Louisa May Alcott’s writing had earned her over $200,000, much of it spent lovingly on her “pathetic family.” http://readmeastoryink.com/Louisa

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Tidbit Histories – Books for the Million! A Dollar Book for a Dime!!

In 1858 three gentlemen, Erastus & Irwin Beadle and Robert Adams, moved to New York from Buffalo where they had been publishing a children’s magazine, “The Youth’s Casket.” Irwin, the printer in the group, advertised a Dime Song-Book followed by a Dime Cook Book along with other non-fiction. But this was only a prelude to the storm that was about to occur. In 1860, Irwin Beadle and Co., began a series of fiction called the Beadle Dime Novels.

Advertised as, ‘Books for the Million! A Dollar Book for a Dime!!, these 128 page, 80,000 word sensational novels swept the nation. By the end of 1860, 13 titles had been published and the firm’s name had been changed to Beadle and Adams and the name of the series became famously, The Beadle and Adams Dime Novels.

Written mainly by hacks, the most popular subjects up until the 1880s where pioneer and frontier life, with a strong compliment of Revolutionary War, and, of course, Indians. Indians seemed to find their way into nearly every dime novel ever produced. Many of the stories featured American folk heroes like Buffalo Bill and Davy Crockett. Characters the likes of Deadeye Dick and Nick Carter had their origins in the Dime Novels. And some surprising names show up in the long list of forgettable authors fueling the frenzy for this most American form of fiction, not the least of which is Louisa May Alcott.

While read by a wide ranging audience, children, especially boys, made up a large part of the readership. As competition grew, Beadle and Adams had to abandon its ban on ‘characters that carry and immoral taint’, shocking some parents and forcing children to head for the hay-loft to read in secret. By 1900, the dime novel had nearly passed into history but not without having provided millions of readers (including children) with countless hours of entertainment. One literary critic noted, ‘This type of story…was the first absolutely American thing.’Beadle8

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Tidbit History – Darn! Who Wrote That Book.

We all have favorite books from our childhood, many of which are beloved classics with well-known authors like A. A. Milne or Kenneth Graham or Rudyard Kipling. But we have all had the experience of trying in vain to remember the title, much less the author of an equally beloved book. Trying in vain with remembered lines or vague remembrances of characters, or the color of the binding, the books remain just on the other side of memory.

One book loved by millions but with an author so forgotten, his name is nearly anonymous is “Little Toot” by Hardie Gramatky. Gramatky graduated from the Chouinard Art School in the early twenties then joined the team at Walt Disney studios as head animator. In 1936 he moved on to Fortune magazine as a pictorial reporter, frequently braving life-threatening conditions to paint the flooding Hudson or a tropical storm in the Bahamas. In 1944, after a stint in the army producing training films, he became a freelance artist, setting up his studio on Wall Street overlooking the East River. From here he watched tug boats chugging up and down the river, imagining each with their own personality. “One tiny boat stood out among all the rest. It had so much personality that a story developed out of it.” “Little Toot” was published by Putnam’s in 1939, was immediately picked up by the Disney Studios, became the basis for both radio and television broadcasts and was re-created as a Tournament of Roses Parade float.

Another book approaching American legend status is usually remembered in the form of a quote by its main character; “I think I can, I think I can.” “The Little Engine That Could” was adapted from Mabel Bragg’s “The Pony Engine” illustrated by Lois Lenski and published in 1930 by Platt & Munk.  Even if you remember that Watty Piper appeared as the author, it’s a cinch that you can’t bring any image to mind. Watty Piper was a Platt & Monk house pseudonym, a name that appeared on anthologies of rhymes, fairy tales, folk tales and stories.

So next time you try to remember a book from your childhood but it remains frustratingly out of reach, just close your eyes, click you heels three times and repeat; “I think I can, I think I can”Little Toot3



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Tidbit History – Along Came Dick and Jane

With the westward expansion in the early 19th century Truman and Smith, publishers in Cincinnati, saw opportunity in the new western empire. They approached a professor of ancient languages at Miami University to write a book to help children learn to read. In 1836 they published THE ECLECTIC FIRST AND SECOND READERS by William Holmes McGuffey. McGuffey arranged selected texts to match children’s interests and level of comprehension. These were the first books intended for mass instruction of beginning readers.

By the end of the 19th century all states were offering free elementary education, with compulsory education becoming law in 1918. The spread of education helped make the McGuffey readers virtually synonymous with reading instruction. In the early 20th century William Elson’s ELSON READERS were gaining ground and won market dominance when Elson collaborated with William Gray (a prominent specialist in reading development and an early pioneer in the whole word approach) in 1930 to create the Elson-Gray basic readers.

In 1920 two new characters appeared in the basic reader’s series in a book called FUN WITH DICK AND JANE. Dick and Jane, with their emphasis on repetition of a limited number of carefully chosen words, remained the standard well into the sixties until they were suddenly and unexpectedly dethroned by a loveable, if slightly naughty cat … in a hat. http://readmeastoryink.com/Early Readers

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Tidbit History – Green Eggs, 50 Words – 50 Bucks

Bennett Cerf, Dr. Seuss’ publisher, had once challenged Seuss to write a book using the 235 words he thought every grade-schooler should know. The result was the ground-breaking THE CAT IN THE HAT.

Two years later, as a private joke, Cerf bet Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) $50 that he couldn’t write a book using only 50 words. Whether or not Cerf actually expected Geisel to take his challenge, Geisel obviously took the challenge seriously and in mid 1960 a Random House office memo from Louise Bonino read: “You are invited to stop by my office on April 19th at 11 o’clock when the great Dr. Seuss will give the first reading of his fall Beginner Book, GREEN EGGS AND HAM.” Cerf changed the meeting to an intimate dinner party so that he could officiate. Helen Geisel, nervous about its reception wrote: “Don’t say ‘the great Dr. Seuss, in person.’ That makes him feel he has got to have something extra, like horns or three ears…”

But Helen needn’t have worried. When Dr. Seuss finished the first reading, the room erupted with cheers and a call for a second reading. Cerf conceded the bet, although Ted Geisel claims he never got paid. GREEN EGGS AND HAM met with an equally enthusiastic public response, going on to break all records selling tens of millions of copies. http://readmeastoryink.com/Green Eggs

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Tidbit History – Two Little Words, Hat – Cat

The publication in 1955 of Rudolf Flesch’s WHY JOHNNY CAN’T READ fueled concerns about growing illiteracy among children. William Spaulding, from Houghton Mifflin’s educational division, was convinced that a new primer would do wonders and developed a list of 225 words that every first grader should be able to read. He then invited his friend Ted Geisel to write a book using these words.

Geisel was baffled at how to begin and angry that the list contained no adjectives. So, he decided to look for any two words that rhymed, hoping for inspiration.  He found “cat” and “hat,” which was a good starting point, but writing still didn’t come easily. But perseverance paid off, and after a year of anguish and frustration (It took me a year of getting mad as blazes and throwing [the manuscript] across the room), Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) finally presented his finished manuscript for THE CAT IN THE HAT.

Just one problem, Spaulding was with Houghton Mifflin while Dr. Seuss was a Random House author. Luckily for children everywhere, Spaudling agreed to publish the school edition, while letting Random House publish the trade edition.

Clifton Fadiman, noted critic, said it was “probably the most influential first-grade reader since McGuffey.” John Hersey described it as a “harum-scarum masterpiece…[a] gift to the art of reading”, and Newsweek declared that Ted was “the moppets’ Milton.” The rest, as they say, is history…  http://readmeastoryink.com/


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Tidbit History – Winsor McCay and His Walking Beds

Winsor  McCay, never wrote or illustrated a children’s book, but his highly original comic strip “Little Nemo in Slumberland” delighted children everywhere.

Born in Michigan in 1871, McCay eventually studied at the Ypsilanti Normal College and afterwards moved with his family to Chicago. Unable to afford the Art Institute, McCay produced woodcuts used to illustrate theatrical productions and traveling circuses using bold color and heavy outlines, two qualities that would be signature in his later work.

In 1889, McCay settled in Cincinnati where he went to work as a poster painter for Kohl and Middleton’s Vine Street Dime Museum, a museum modeled after Barnum’a famed freak show. While his illustrations of bearded ladies and dog-faced boys tended towards the grotesque, they attracted the attention of The Cinicinnati Commercial Tribune where he was hired as a staff artist drawing engaging renditions of fires, criminal trials, sports events and famous people. McCay also created his first color comic strip, Tale of the Jungle Imp, for the Cincinnati Enquirer.

But it was 1905 when McCay created his first strip for children and the one that would be his legacy, Little Nemo in Slumberland. Breaking with tradition, McCay experimented with breaking the page into different sized panels for overall visual effect with Little Nemo’s bed on tall stilt-like, animated legs.

In the same year that Little Nemo debuted, McCay, inspired by flip-books his son brought home, single-handedly created animation as we know it with fully developed three-dimensional characters moving like real people. Melding his two creations, he took four years to complete 4000 drawings and to hand color each of the 35mm frames. Little Nemo, the animated short, debuted in 1911 paving the way for Walt Disney, Walter Lantz and other great animators.McCay5

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