Dorothy Neal White
The Annual General Meeting held on 28 Wednesday April 2010
Archives New Zealand Trainging Room (101 Mulgrave Street)
6pm with drinks and nibbles from 5:30pm
Philippa Werry, Wellington children’s author, on the topic ‘A Writer’s Journey’.
National Library building redevelopment
While the Library building is being redeveloped the Dorothy Neal White Collection is available on-site at the Archives New Zealand Reading Room, 101 Mulgrave Street, Wellington. To see books from the National Children’s Collection you can visit the National Library Reading Room at 77 Thorndon Quay, Wellington. If you have registered as a client, you can request your books on-line to be available when you arrive. Otherwise, you will need to await the next batch delivery (usually every 1.5 hours). The NCC will also remain available for inter-library lending. For more information, please refer to the National Library web sitehttp://www.natlib.govt.nz/about-us/visiting-us
About the Research Librarian position
On 10 July 2009, Lynne Jackett retired from the position of Research Librarian. In the following months Linda McGregor ably undertook the responsibilities for the role. On 22 March 2010 Mary Skarott was appointed to the position on a one year secondment.
Introducing Mary Skarott
I am thrilled to have been appointed as Senior Research Librarian, Children’s Literature. This position is a temporary one for the moment, until the end of January 2011.
I have worked at the National Library for 19 years, with a couple of breaks for parental leave during that time. My children are now aged 10 and 8, so this 20 hour a week position is ideal for me. Cataloguing has been the focus of my career so far, and much of my work has been with children’s material from the National Children’s Collection, Dorothy Neal White Collection, Schools Collection and Alexander Turnbull Library.
In my spare time I completed a Diploma in Children’s Literature from Christchurch College of Education. My studies allowed me to look in depth at some of my areas of particular interest, including illustration and book design, the fantasy genre, and children’s literature in the Victorian era.
It was a love of literature that originally drew me into librarianship. My parents both ran small branch libraries in England, and much of my school holiday time was spent reading in the children’s corner while they worked. It is a real pleasure now to be able to work with and explore the Dorothy Neal White Collection and National Children’s Collection from both a literary and research perspective. The more I delve into the collections, the longer my “to read” list becomes!
From the former Research Librarian’s farewell speech
Lynne thanked friends and current and former colleagues for coming to help celebrate the end of her children’s literature career at the National Library.
My career that got off to a shaky start, as my avowed intention to focus on children’s books saw me declined entry to the Library School twice. However, stubbornness paid off and it was 3rd time lucky.
Mary Hutton, Mary Hall and Trevor Mowbray who were already in the School Library Service Head Office when I began there in early January 1977. I owe especial gratitude to Mary Hutton who taught me how to really look at a picture book and who put up with my sometimes erratic reviewing habits – most notably going a whole month just reading the books and leaving writing all the reviews to the last day.
I have appreciated the support of the Friends of the DNW Collection Committee during the last 15 years. I wish to acknowledge Susan Price, whose amazing generosity and passion for children’s books means that we have not 2, but 3 notable collections of children’s literature.
Thank you to all the cataloguers who have worked on the DNW and NCC down the years and to the Gallery and Conservation staff who made my displays and the Grimm Stuff Exhibition look so good. And thank you to my current family, the group formerly known as Reference Services, and to friends across the Library here in Wellington and around the country.
It is customary to say that what you will miss most when you leave – what has made your workplace special – is the people, the people, the people. Well, don’t get me wrong – as I have said, I value many of you highly – but what I am going to miss most deeply is my daily interaction with the children’s books. Kipling’s description of Auckland in Song of the Cities as “Last, loneliest, loveliest, exquisite, apart” pretty well describes how I feel about the National Children’s and DNW Collections – and their location within this building. They have been an important part of my life for 32 years, and it is hard to leave them.
There have been some lows among the highs – some restructurings, cessation of the early childhood reviewing journal The book corner after 6 years, the media mess surrounding the book disposals when I was managing Collection Development, – but most of my working life has been happy. Highlights have included getting appointed to a job where I was paid to read and have opinions about books – too good to last, but it took 17 years for it to go! Editing The Book corner was really rewarding, and, as I said, it was a real blow when it was axed. We kept getting requests for it for years, so the target audience appreciated it. I also found I really enjoyed policy development and the triennial challenge of the collection revaluation when I was managing Collection Development. More recently, being involved in the International Children’s Digital Library (including speaking at its launch in Washington, DC); being invited to speak about management of children’s collections in South Korea; and the Grimm Stuff Exhibition have all provided a real buzz.
I have enjoyed my interactions with the researchers who have mined the collections looking for Kiwi iconography, Victorian adolescence, imperialsim, multiculturalism … and Noddy. One of my cherished encounters (and probably a demonstration of a than a less-than-ideal reference interview) was with a man seeking images of “traditional fairies” to inspire his cover art for a new edition of A midsummer nights dream. I showed him pictures by Rackham, Mabel Lucie Attwell, Ida Rentoul Outhwaite and Ciceley Mary Barker, but none of them were quite what he wanted. He then showed me the work in progress – it seemed to have been inspired by Xena Warrior Princess, and none of the fairies in children’s books were that curvaceous!
So, how to actually say goodbye and thank you? Well, there’s a children’s book for every occasion, so to conclude I am going to read to you from George Speaks by Dick King-Smith (Kestrel, 1988). To set the scene, George was born able to speak, but for most of his first year, only his older sister Laura knew that. This passage is at his first birthday party:
“Come on, everyone!” said the large jolly uncle. “Let’s sing Happy birthday!”
“Excuse me,” said Laura quickly. “George doesn’t want the singing yet. He wants to eat first, and then, after he’s cut the cake, you can sing.”
“Well, well!” laughed the large jolly uncle. “And the what happens?”
“Then,” said Laura, “George speaks.”
So they all ate, then George cut the cake, with Laura’s help, and after that everyone sang, “Happy birthday, dear George, Happy birthday to you.”
“Speech!” shouted the large jolly uncle, winking at the others.
Then Laura wiped a mixture of ice-cream and cake off George’s face and took off his plastic bib, and George rapped with a spoon on the tray of his high-chair, and all fell silent.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” said
“I am delighted to welcome you here today, and trust you will forgive me if I remain seated. Standing up in a high-chair is, you will agree, a dangerous business.”
He paused and looked round at the circle of astonished faces. The large jolly uncle gaped.
“First,” George went on, “I should like to thank all of you for the gifts which you have brought. I am sure you meant well.
“Next, I wish to thank my parents for the excellent meal which they have so kindly provided.
“And thirdly, I want to take this opportunity to say how grateful I am to my sister Laura.”
“Without her understanding, support and affection, “ George continued, “this past year would indeed have been a trying time for me.”
He paused to take a sip of orange juice from his feeding-cup.
“For a long time now,” he said, “Laura has known of my personal good fortune, namely the possession of intelligence beyond my years. Or rather, I should have said, beyond my year. Ha ha.”
“Ha ha,” said several voices nervously.
“More recently,” said George, “my parents have also become aware that I am not, shall we say, as other babies are, but to the rest of you it may come as something of a shock. May I hope that the shock is not an unpleasant one. All of you are of course much older than myself, some” (and he nodded politely towards the four grandparents) “very much older. You therefore have what I lack, namely experience of the world, and I look forward to many interesting discussions with you on a variety of subjects. And now, if you will forgive me, I must leave you. Sleep is important at my age, and it has been a tiring day.”
George bent forward in his chair in a kind of bow.
“Once again,” he said, “thank you all for coming.”
Lynne with flowers from the Friends & Farewell card drawn by Ron Johnson
both photographs photographer Joan McCracken
Following the Annual General Meeting in April 2009, Lynne Jackett gave a slide presentation entitled A few of my favourite thingsfeaturing books from the children’s literature research collections of the National Library. Selected highlights are reproduced here:
This small volume is one of the oldest books in the Dorothy Neal White Collection. Mrs Barbauld had a successful writing career at a time when female professional writers were rare. She was an innovative children’s writer and her primers provided a model for pedagogy for more than a century. For the first time, the needs of the child reader were seriously considered.
Barbauld demanded that her books be printed in large type with wide margins so that children could easily read them and, even more importantly, she developed a style of “informal dialogue between parent and child” that would dominate children’s literature for a generation. In Lessons for Children, a four-volume, age-adapted reading primer, Barbauld employs the conceit of a mother teaching her son. Many of the events in these stories were probably inspired by Barbauld’s experience of teaching her own son, Charles.
A gamut and timetable in verse by Charlotte Finch. London: Dean and Munday, [ca. 1825]
This slender volume arrived tucked inside a tatty envelope, in amongst many more substantial volumes, in a large donation.
Despite the lack of the cover and preliminary pages, it was the greatest treasure unpacked that day. The delicately hand-coloured illustrations are a delight.
The sentry and the shell fairy by George W Martin.[Wellington, N.Z.?] : Shell Company of New Zealand, [192-]
The pictures are by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite (1888 – 1960), a leading Australian children’s illustrator. This slender book was created as an advertisement and perhaps it is because it was “a freebie” that so few copies seem to have survived.
A soldier on guard near the pyramids in Egypt is deep in thought when he suddenly comes alert “For, though he was thinking about the Pyramid, yet, true to discipline, he never forgot that thousands of Australian and New Zealand soldiers were sleeping soundly close at hand, trusting in his alertness”. His peace had been disturbed by a Shell Fairy who explains how the fairies had carried a wondrous fine oil in shells to oil the building equipment for the Pyramids. And the booklet closes with this advertisement:
Boy’s Own Annual
The Boy’s and Girl’s Own Annuals, Chums, etc, are a treasure trove of stories, both fictional and informational, and craft activities. I’ve always been intrigued by a less showy feature, the Correspondence pages. These only contain the answers, not the questions. Topics display a wide range of interests and concerns. Sometimes it is easy to guess what was asked, but others are slightly more mysterious. Here are some of the answers:
- RTB – the white standard with a red triangle on top is a motor-post; that is, a danger signal marking a hill, or curve, or crossing, which should be taken at slow speed. You meet with them all over the country.
- J W Phillips – None of the books are worth selling. The most valuable thing about them would seem to be the book-plate, the coat of arms you describe as “stuck on the inside of the cover.”
- Weak heart etc (Anxious) – 1. No, not under these circumstances. 2. Walking-exercise best. 3. You must obey your own doctor strictly and no one else.
- Dumb-bells (OHN) – Not over two pounds.
- Horrified (Leytonstone) – The book to which you refer is all right – at least, in intention – and you have obviously misunderstood the meaning of the writer. Still, the less you allow your thoughts to dwell on the matter, the better, as the trouble is largely one of imagination. Take up some healthy hobby, have plenty of outdoor exercise and the cold tub in the morning. Ask God to help you to be true to your manhood and purity.
- X – No, the highest individual score was made by AEJ Collins, at Clifton, in 1899. It was 628 not out.
- FIP McGee (Australia) – Don’t think about your state or condition at all. You are nervous. Take a bath every morning, live in the open air, and take Virol thrice daily after food.
- Nervousness – (T-n) – Nay, never despair. No tonic should be taken longer than 3 weeks at a time – except the cold tub! Start learning some language. We knew a young fellow who began learning Spanish (a most beautiful tongue, and very easy if you know any Latin). He afterwards became war correspondent. But German would do, only it is more difficult. (With hindsight – German would have been much more useful for a war correspondent in the early 20th century! LDJ)
At the end-of-year event for members, we launched Notes-Books-Authors 11, authored by Beatrice Turner: Keeping “each of the twos in its right place”: the problematic return journey in “The Cuckoo Clock” and “The Tapestry Room” by Mrs Molesworth. Bea Turner, 2008 FDNW Scholarship winner, then discussed her research and answered questions from the highly interested and entertained audience.
It is with great sadness we note the passing of two members of the Friends, and three notable children’s authors.
Hugh Price: Energetic bookworm took words to millions by Peter Kitchin in The Dominion Post 18 January 2010
Hugh Price was an eminent New Zealand publisher whose devotion to books was lifelong.
The influence and success of the Price Milburn company he founded in 1957 with school teacher Jim Milburn grew from kitchen-table beginnings into an important and influential publisher specialising in learn-to-read and educational books, with a general list of New Zealand non-fiction books, poetry and plays.
Price’s £25 stake in the tiny Wellington company was half its start-up capital. By the time the sale of the company was concluded in 1982, it was New Zealand’s principal publisher of educational books, with substantial sales abroad.
Books were second nature to Hugh Price.
Price Milburn’s learn-to-read and storybook list ran to more than 400 titles, all edited or written by Price’s wife, Beverley Randell, and sales ran into the millions. He could have retired, but did not. Books were second nature to him. He collected, read, edited and designed them, and wrote or co-wrote bout 20 titles after 1982. His output was staggering, to say the least.
Like most New Zealanders, Price came to books as a child, although in his case he was a captive audience of one, the sole child of a Masterton woodwork teacher and his homemaker wife. He attributed his early start in reading to an affliction – he had been born with club feet. While he recuperated from a series of operations to straighten them, his mother adopted a massage routine as part of his healing and used the daily sessions to read to him. The patient was hooked for life. He was a schoolboy at Hadlow School in Masterton. His fascination with books would have doubtless seemed precocious in a classroom where the observations he offered were wider than the conformist prescriptions expected. The school’s reaction was violent disapproval.
Later, his physical inability to engage in field games and the corporal punishment used in futile attempts to make him meet Wairarapa College’s physical standards drew a lifelong distaste for sport. Significantly, the lesson he learned was that he would never inflict violence on anyone. Cruelty and bullying were anathema to him, and his courage in the face of adversity was unshakeable for the rest of his life.
Wellington would prove to be a saviour in 1948 for this small, quiet bloke with a stutter, fresh from the Wairarapa as a new student at Victoria University College and later at the city’s teachers’ college. At the time, the Victoria was a crucible for debate – academic, political and often very public. Price thrived in it. He would lose his stutter on the way to earning a master’s degree in history and, crucially, gain entry to the world of book production, thanks to Prof John Beaglehole, who explained to him how he was going about production of his book on the papers of Captain Cook.
His teaching career was short-lived. He took a job in the textbook department at Whitcombe and Tombs Ltd (now Whitcoulls) in Lambton Quay, and transferred to their London buying office in 1955.
He studied print production and typography at the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts and at the London School of Printing and Graphic Arts, and worked on small projects for Penguin, Methuen, Hodders, Gollancz and the BBC.
He returned to Wellington in 1957 to be manager of Modern Books, a co-op retailer at 48a Manners St with 3000 members. Modern Books was an important source of books for New Zealanders. It was Price’s pledge that the shop would locate, order and import any book from any publisher anywhere for any New Zealander. It not only catered for readers in English, but imported books for migrants keen to read in their own language.
The shop attracted the interest of the police Special Branch. There was an assumption that it was a Communist Party front, notably because it sold books in foreign languages from Iron Curtain countries along with books from obscure publishers in the West.
For Price, it was grist to the mill. He was not to know it, but at the time he and two student colleagues, none of whom were communists, were already on the Special Branch list as compilers of a short-lived cyclostyled sheet Newsquote, which consisted of commentaries they had clipped from foreign newspapers but which had not seen the light of day in the local press.
Penned by reputable journalists or commentators from illustrious newspapers, among them the Wall Street Journal, The Times and The New York Times, they were somehow viewed as potentially deleterious to the conduct of good order in Cold War New Zealand. Price sought to have more than 50 years of official covert attention ended for what he described as an official fantasy. The matter was resolved last year when he received a letter from the SIS, successor to the Special Branch, telling him that “hindsight shows Newsquote to have been misjudged”, but there was no apology.
Later, he would move to the School Publications branch of the Education Department until 1963, when he was made the founding general manager of the Sydney University Press.
Meanwhile, Price Milburn, the publishing company he had co-founded in 1957, was able to cover its costs but was not yet able to employ any of its partners on a sustainable basis. While the Prices handled the editing and production side of the company, the Milburns handled sales and distribution from the garage at their Silverstream residence.
Change was in the wind. In 1964, Milburn advised Price that they had just had an order from the United States. The order was for 1.4 million learn-to-read books. Business boomed and in 1968, Price, his wife and daughter returned to Wellington, where he became managing director of the company and moved the operation to central Wellington. By the 1970s, Price Milburn was a substantial operation in New Zealand publishing, and grew to include a music division managed by conductor Peter Zwartz.
The educational books were the company’s lifeblood, largely because the Price Milburn school readers revolutionised the way children learned to read. Graded words, careful layouts and stories with plots are still the essence of Price Milburn readers, which are now produced by the Cengage company of Australia from a list of 1000 titles. About 200 million have now been printed.
Hugh Price held that literacy itself was a civil liberty. If one cannot read or is discouraged from it or not permitted to read, or if books are withheld or sanitised, chances are that society will act out an endless set of undemocratic drills.
He was a longtime member of the successful campaign to end capital punishment, and of the Council for Civil Liberties. He loathed racism wherever it reared its head. From the 1960s, he campaigned for mixed-race All Black teams to tour South Africa when the New Zealand Rugby Football Union still picked all-white teams to conform with South Africa’s apartheid obligations.
He was a member of Defence and Aid, an organisation that raised funds for apartheid’s victims hauled before South Africa’s courts, and he was a trustee of the Africa Information Centre in Wellington.
Hugh Price was kindly. He had an impish sense of humour. He was always generous with his time and, once he could afford it, generous with his money. He was an important figure in the establishment of the Victoria University Press and in 1992, with his wife and daughter, Susan, he established the Gondwanaland Press. The Prices gave the Randell Cottage as a writer’s residence.
In what passed for retirement, he wrote or co-wrote bout 20 titles, among them a dinosaur series for children and historical books. He made considerable donations to New Zealand libraries. In 2001, he gave more than 300 examples of school textbooks published in New Zealand between 1860 and 1960 to the Alexander Turnbull Library and another collection to the Auckland University library.
He served on the Book Council and was a consultant to the Alexander Turnbull Library.
Price did not stand on ceremony, although he submitted to it when he was made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in last year’s New Year’s honours list. He was further honoured last August when Victoria University awarded him an honorary doctorate of literature for services to publishing and for his contribution to New Zealand literature.
Hugh Price is survived by his wife, Beverley, and their daughter, Susan Price.
Hugh Charles Llewellyn Price, book publisher: born Wellington, July 13, 1929; married 1959 Beverley Randell 1 daughter; died Newtown, December 28, 2009, aged 80.
Sources: J Milburn, S Price, B Randell, R Steele, V O’Sullivan, A Somerset, NZ Book Council and others.
Lady Elspeth White, Friend and donor
Lady White died in Melbourne on 20 January 2010. She was 93 years old. Lady White had returned to her home town of Melbourne following the death of Sir John in November 2007. Lady White was a member of the Friends of the Dorothy Neal White Collection for many years and regularly attended events in Wellington. Lady White also wrote Notes-Books-Authors Number 3 December 1989 about her ancestor the children’s author Mrs George Cupples
Artist and animator best known for the children’s cartoon characters Captain Pugwash and Mary, Mungo and Midge
By Peter Stanford, guardian.co.uk, Friday 24 July 2009
In the age of computer-generated animation and wisecracking cartoon characters, the work of the illustrator John Ryan, who has died aged 88, looks a little old-fashioned. But there was a childish innocence about his blustering pirate Captain Pugwash shouting “dollopping doubloons” or “kipper me capstans” that marked him indelibly as part of BBC children’s television in its 1970s heyday. Ryan’s techniques – using cardboard cut-outs of the characters, manipulated by levers against a painted background – seemed more like Punch and Judy to children used to Toy Story.
Advances in technology may have left Ryan behind but Pugwash’s classic status was confirmed in the late 1990s by the children’s TV conglomerate Britt Allcroft (later Gullane Entertainment), whose computer-animated episodes (made by John Cary Films with Ryan’s approval) brought in a fresh audience.
In its time, though, Ryan’s work was at the forefront of his craft. Mary, Mungo and Midge, made for the BBC in 1969, took as its subject a latch-key child who lived in a tower block with her dog and mouse. Narrated by the newsreader Richard Baker and Ryan’s daughter Isabel, the series even managed to capture the spirit of the age with its assumption that high-rise living was exciting and the way of the future. Later, The Adventures of Sir Prancelot (1972), also for the BBC, featured a medieval crusader knight with an almost scientific taste for inventing new gadgets, to the evident displeasure of his spouse, Lady Hysteria.
In 1981, Ryan worked with Anne Wood, later the creator of Teletubbies, on The Ark Stories, an acclaimed animated series for Yorkshire TV in which each episode started in his studio in Notting Hill, west London. A mixture of dapper in his cravat and free-spirited with his unruly grey hair, he introduced each tale of Jaffet and Jannet, children of the Ark, by doing some sketches on his desk.
It was to religious themes that Ryan increasingly turned in later years. A devout and traditional Catholic who liked his mass in Latin, he had since the early 1960s contributed a weekly cartoon for the Catholic Herald featuring his own Vatican insider, the scheming but inept Cardinal Grotti. He managed always to avoid upsetting the church, gently poking fun at the ecclesiastical bigwigs but never ridiculing them.
In the 1990s he produced a string of Bible-based storybooks for young children, including Mabel and The Tower of Babel (1990), The Very Hungry Lions (1996) and Jonah, A Whale of a Tale (1992). He always had a certain schoolboy sense of fun that is well reflected in his choice of book titles. When combined with increasingly lavish illustrations, the result was something to be treasured.
Ryan never took his art too seriously. In some of his public lectures and many visits to schools, he would cheerfully demonstrate how Grotti, Pugwash and Prancelot were all closely related by drawing the outline of one and then redressing the chubby, almost triangular figure in the garb of the other two.
He was born in Edinburgh, the son of a diplomat, Sir Andrew Ryan. His childhood hero, he later recalled, was AA Milne. He wrote his first story at the age of seven, entitled The Adventure of Tommy Brown. He went to school at the Catholic Ampleforth college, in North Yorkshire.
School was followed almost immediately by wartime service, first in India and then Burma. On discharge, he studied art at the then Regent Street Polytechnic and then taught at Harrow.
All the time, however, he was working on cartoon characters. Captain Horatio Pugwash, forever bold before the event, suffered 12 rejections before he cast off in 1950 in his ship, the Black Pig, in the first ever edition of the Eagle comic, and then enjoyed an eight-year passage in the Radio Times. He first appeared on television in a series of 58 black-and-white episodes (1957-66), but fared better in books until his mid-1970s small-screen heyday.
For the Eagle, Ryan also introduced Harris Tweed, Extra Special Agent, a topical figure given the communist spy scandals of the 1950s. In Girl magazine, he created Lettice Leefe, the greenest girl in school who had a certain sanitised St Trinian-style charm, while in Swift, Sir Boldasbrass first took up his sword. By 1954, Ryan was sufficiently in demand to risk giving up his day job. He married a fellow artist, Priscilla Blomfield, in 1950, and they went on to have three children.
It was Mary, Mungo and Midge that truly made Ryan’s name on television. The series was aimed at a younger audience than Pugwash and featured Isabel’s voice as Mary. Ryan’s “real-time” technique for animating his artwork involved special set-ups or backdrops he called captions, and then levers and pull-aways to make the movements. It was often Ryan himself or Priscilla who were operating the levers to move hands, arms and mouths. A standard episode would take them three weeks to film, usually in the studio above their home, with the help of contributors such as Percy Edwards – who did the animals on Noah’s Ark – and Peter Hawkins, who had provided the voices for the Flowerpot Men.
Despite its enduring reputation, there were only 13 episodes of Mary, Mungo and Midge. Sir Prancelot, which followed, clocked up 32 before Ryan turned back to Pugwash. He made a further series of 30 five-minute, colour cartoons, again using Hawkins to voice the pirate and his crew – Tom the cabin boy, Willy and Barnabas and Master Mate – as well as Cut-Throat Jake, Pugwash’s arch enemy.
Even when the series’ 1970s slot, just before the early evening news, was only a distant memory, new Pugwash comic strip books by Ryan – such as The Secret of the San Fiasco and The Quest of the Golden Handshake in the late 1980s – continued to command a healthy following.
At around this time, the good captain became the subject of an urban myth. The crew included characters, it was commonly believed, called Master Bates, Roger the Cabin Boy and Seaman Staines – all loaded with sexual innuendo. Ryan responded angrily to published misrepresentations and his lawyers successfully obtained public retractions from the Guardian and the now defunct Sunday Correspondent.
With their children grown up, the Ryans gave up their London base in 1987 and moved to Rye on the East Sussex coast, where they settled easily into a gentler pace of life. An aortic aneurism in the late 1990s slowed him up a little.
Tall, sometimes eccentric in dress and with red cheeks – the result of many long walks in all sorts of weather with his beloved dogs – Ryan never sought the limelight. If he had to meet his public, he preferred them to be children, among whom he was most at ease. In private, though, he was always the wittiest of company. In general, his views were conservative; and occasionally his cartoons could carry a sharp political edge. At the time of the first Gulf war, he produced for the Catholic Herald a drawing of the Cenotaph, doubling as a petrol pump.
He is survived by Priscilla and their children, Marianne, Christopher and Isabel.
• John Ryan, artist, illustrator and animator, born 4 March 1921; died 22 July 2009
• This article was amended on 30 July 2009. The original said that Sir Prancelot appeared in Swift magazine; two references differed over whose voice was used for the character Mary; and John Ryan was said to have had a stroke. This has been corrected.
Photo: Kevin O’Malley, Publishers Weekly
Sid Fleischman, Newbery Medal-winning children’s writer, dies at 90
By Dennis McLellan, LA Times March 21, 2010
Fleischman, known for his humor and nose for history, wrote more than 50 children’s books, including ‘The Whipping Boy’ and ‘By the Great Horn Spoon!,’ as well as biographies for young readers.
Sid Fleischman was a successful suspense novelist and screenwriter whose credits included the screenplay for his novel “Blood Alley” when he decided to write a book that his young children could read so they would understand just what it was he did at home all day.
“I seem to have written a children’s book,” Fleischman wrote to his agent in New York. “If you’re not interested, just drop it in the waste basket.” The 1962 lighthearted tale of an Old West traveling magician and his family, “Mr. Mysterious & Company,” sold to the first publishing house that read it, launching Fleischman into a long and much-honored career as a children’s book author.
Fleischman, whose book “The Whipping Boy” earned him the prestigious Newbery Medal in 1987, died of cancer Wednesday at his home in Santa Monica, the day after his 90th birthday, said his son, Paul.
“Sid was a national treasure in the field of children’s books,” said Lin Oliver, a children’s book author and executive director of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. “It really is a monumental loss for the field.”
Known for his humor, love of language, adventuresome plotting and nose for history, Fleischman wrote more than 50 children’s books. “He was a true master of the craft and a writer’s writer,” said Oliver, adding that Fleischman wrote in many genres, including novels, tall tales, picture books and biographies.
“By the Great Horn Spoon!,” a lively tale of the California Gold Rush, has been required fourth-grade reading in California and was turned into the 1967 movie “The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin.”
Fleischman had written more than 30 children’s books when he won the Newbery Medal for “The Whipping Boy.”
He was inspired to write the book after discovering the practice of the royal houses of Europe, where, he told The Times in 1987, “the prince, the heir to
the throne, couldn’t be punished. So if they had a rotten prince, they installed a commoner off the streets, and he took the punishment for the prince. “The injustice of it enraged me. The lunacy of it!”
Fleischman came to enjoy writing for children. In another 1987 Times interview, he recalled the fan letters he began receiving after his first children’s book was published. “Adult readers never write,” he said. “It was the first time I ever felt in touch with my audience.” And, he said, “their letters are wonderful. They make you feel like Shakespeare must have felt when he heard the applause.” For the first time, he recalled, “I felt I was doing something important.”
One of the pleasures of writing for children, he said, is the enduring nature of good children’s books. “Adult novels are as ephemeral as newspapers,” he said. “Children’s books stay in print for decades.”
The list of Fleischman’s books include two biographies for young readers in recent years, “Escape!: The Story of the Great Houdini” and “The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West.” “Sir Charlie,” a biography of Charlie Chaplin, will be published in June.
Fleischman was a founding member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and had been on its board of advisors since its inception in 1972. In 2003, the organization named an award for him that honors humorous writing for children. “Humor is the oxygen of children’s literature,” he told the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch in 1997. “There’s a lot of competition for children’s time, but even kids who hate to read want to read a funny book.”
Born March 16, 1920, in Brooklyn, Fleischman grew up in San Diego, where he began studying magic as a child. As a teenager, he performed in vaudeville and nightclubs. His first book, a collection of magic tricks he had created, was published when he was 19.
After serving in the Navy Reserve aboard a destroyer escort during World War II, he graduated from what is now San Diego State University in 1949. He worked as a reporter on the San Diego Daily Journal and was associate editor of a small magazine before he began writing fiction full time in 1951.
Fleischman’s “The Charlatan’s Handbook,” a 1993 compendium of magic tricks, was written for professional magicians. “He was somebody, more than anyone I know, who loved his work; he loved to write,” said Oliver. “He also was a great magician. He was devoted to that, and I think he regarded writing as magic.” Indeed, Fleischman’s 1996 autobiography for young readers is titled “The Abracadabra Kid: A Writer’s Life.”
His wife, Betty, died in 1993. In addition to his son, who also is a Newbery Medal-winning writer, Fleischman is survived by his daughters, Jane Fleischman and Anne Fleischman Miller; his sister, Arleen Kornet; and four grandchildren.
William Mayne, who has died aged 82, was one of the most highly regarded writers of the postwar “golden age” of children’s literature. His output was huge – well over 100 titles, encompassing novels and latterly picture books, rich in a sense of place and feel for the magical, and beautifully written. He wrote several books a year in a career that spanned more than half a century and won him the Carnegie medal and the Guardian children’s fiction prize. Although never widely popular and sometimes thought of as inaccessible for his young readers, his distinctive, allusive and spare writing had considerable influence and, despite being sometimes out of fashion, his books were often thought due for a comeback. That was never to happen. Instead, Mayne’s books were largely deliberately removed from shelves from 2004 onwards following his conviction and prison sentence for indecent assault on children.
The originality of Mayne’s writing and his talents for telling original stories, often based on the search for something hidden or elusive, were obvious from A Swarm in May (1955), the first and most outstanding of his quartet of choir-school stories evocatively illustrated by C Walter Hodges. Swiftly followed by Choristers’ Cake (1956), it weaves the revival of an old tradition into a contemporary school story, showing how the past can influence and give strength in the present. Mayne captures the delicate balance between the mundane, temporal demands of everyday boarding-school life and the almost magical qualities of the music and the space of cathedral life.
William Mayne’s Hob and the Goblins Hob and the Goblins featured a creature who lived in a cupboard under the stairs whom only children could see. Photograph: Dorling Kindersley
Deftly humorous in ways that lifted it well beyond the run of school stories, Mayne’s hallmark elliptical style, dotted with jokes (Latin puns in the case of the choir school stories), was already evident. Although he left school at 17 and later claimed, “I gave up thinking school was any good at 14, though social pressures didn’t allow one to abandon it”, the books are based on his own experiences as a chorister at Canterbury Cathedral from 1937 until 1942, the only part of his education he valued.
A Swarm in May was hailed as a “minor masterpiece … one of the 20th- century’s best children’s books” by Frank Eyre in British Children’s Books in the Twentieth Century (1971). Like many of his subsequent titles it also embodied Mayne’s powerful sense of place and how the physicality of a building or landscape affects children.
Mayne also received great praise for Choristers’ Cake. A review in the Times Literary Supplement highlighted the already clearly recognisable qualities of Mayne’s writing while also pointing out the difficulties: “Its virtuosity and verbal richness, as well as the undoubted oddness of many of its characters, put it beyond the range of the average reader. But for the child who can meet its demands it will be a deep and memorable experience. In insight, in gaiety, in exuberance of idea and language, it is in a class apart. Mr Mayne is certainly the most interesting, as the most unpredictable, figure in children’s books today.”
Mayne’s next book, The Member for the Marsh (1956), has a quite different location, but similar emphasis and role for the setting. It led Mayne to be described in a review in the TLS as “a master – the master in contemporary English writing for children – of setting”. The same sense of place, this time the Yorkshire Dales, and the search for something mysterious and elusive from the past which can affect and shape the present, now a unicorn rather than the old beekeeping traditions of A Swarm in May, marked A Grass Rope (1957), for which Mayne won the Carnegie medal.
A recurrent theme of Mayne’s stories was how children could see and accept magic and magical explanations, while the adults around them create rational stories to explain the same outcome. There was no sentimentality around Mayne’s sense of children’s belief. Instead he simply posited that children are as at home with unreality as reality, while adults take a different view. Mayne somehow seemed able to take both views himself, perhaps because he described his writing by saying: “All I am doing is looking at things now and showing them to myself when young.”
Following the success of A Grass Rope, Mayne wrote mostly under his own name, but also using the pseudonyms Martin Cobalt, Dynely James and Charles Molin. In the 1960s, he wrote several books for younger readers, including No More School (1965), The Big Egg (1967) and The Toffee Join (1968). These lacked enough action to be really gripping but often had a pleasingly domestic quality providing a gentle kind of reading and a mesmerising introduction to careful if unusual use of language.
In these titles, and in general in Mayne’s books, the characters are quiet and gentle. There are no heroics. If there is power, it usually lies within the land and its past; it can temporarily be used by humans passing through. This absence of heroes and the lack of major dramatic focus, combined with increasing obliqueness, caused Mayne to become less popular with children by the mid-1960s as his slower-paced stories failed to chime with the expectations of his readers. But, even before then, Mayne was always admired more by adults than children. For those who did enjoy his books, the way so much was left to the imagination was part of the charm, but for many, there was too much left unsaid and too many possibilities to be wholly satisfying.
Mayne himself may have felt this too, because he changed style in the 1960s, moving to writing more fantasy or books tinged with the supernatural. He found greater success with Earthfasts (1966), a Yorkshire time-slip story about an 18th-century drummer boy who disappears for two centuries and comes back in the 20th century without realising how much time has passed. The first of a trilogy, it was followed by Cradlefasts (1996) and Candlefasts (2000)
Although his status was no longer so significant, Mayne continued to have success with particular titles including The Jersey Shore (1973), which was described as “a stylistic tour de force” and, in particular, The Book of Hob Stories (1984), a wonderfully inventive collection for younger readers stunningly illustrated by Patrick Benson which featured a strange creature living in a cupboard or “clutch” under the stairs whom children, but not adults, could see.
Mayne won the 1993 Guardian children’s fiction prize for Low Tide, set in New Zealand after a tidal wave at the turn of the 19th century. His picture book Lady Muck, illustrated by Jonathan Heale, won the Kurt Maschler prize in 1997.
William Mayne– Children’s author convicted of indecent assault on young girls byJulia Eccleshare guardian.co.uk, Monday 5 April 2010 17.59 BST
From the mid-1990s onwards several of Mayne’s books were reissued along with his new titles in the hope of reviving his career but, although still admired by librarians and critics, he never became bestselling. In 2004, Mayne was convicted of 11 charges of sexual abuse with young girls and was sentenced to two and a half years in prison and placed on the sex offenders’ register for life. It was a death knell for his books, but it did not stop Mayne from writing and he was still doing so at the time of his death. Print on demand had recently helped Mayne, with reprints of some of his titles due to become available on Faber Finds.
The son of a doctor, Mayne was born in Hull and lived in the Yorkshire Dales for most of his life. He was famously reclusive. When asked if he would be interviewed for a children’s books magazine, Mayne replied: “I am sure this sort of thing never works. I shall go nowhere to accomplish it and I’m sure others would find it unrewarding to come here. I have not sensed the lack of my not appearing in your neologies … but if you find it necessary to molest my ancient solitary peace for the sake of your new, maddening piece, I am prepared to tolerate for a short time some person guaranteed not to be strident.”
Mayne was briefly married and is survived by two stepdaughters.
William James Carter Mayne, children’s writer, born 16 March 1928; died 24 March 2010
The Lion and the Mouse the battle that reshaped children’s literature.
by Jill Lepore July 21, 2008
in The New Yorker July 21 2008
Illustration: Ian Falconer
Anne Carroll Moore was born long ago but not so far away, in Limerick, Maine, in 1871. She had a horse named Pocahontas, a father who read to her from Aesop’s Fables, and a grandmother with no small fondness for “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Annie, whose taste ran to “Little Women,” was a reader and a runt. Her seven older brothers called her Shrimp. In 1895, when she was twenty-four, she moved to New York, where she more or less invented the children’s library.
At the time, you had to be fourteen, and a boy, to get into the Astor Library, which opened in 1854, the same year as the Boston Public Library, the country’s first publicly funded city library, where you had to be sixteen. Even if you got inside, the librarians would shush you, carping about how the “young fry” read nothing but “the trashy”: Scott, Cooper, and Dickens (one century’s garbage being, as ever, another century’s Great Books). Samuel Tilden, who left $2.4 million to establish a free library in New York, nearly changed his mind when he found out that ninety per cent of the books checked out of the Boston Public Library were fiction. Meanwhile, libraries were popping up in American cities and towns like crocuses at first melt. Between 1881 and 1917, Andrew Carnegie underwrote the construction of more than sixteen hundred public libraries in the United States, buildings from which children were routinely turned away, because they needed to be protected from morally corrupting books, especially novels. In 1894, at the annual meeting of the American Library Association, the Milwaukee Public Library’s Lutie Stearns read a “Report on the Reading of the Young.” What if libraries were to set aside special books for children, Stearns wondered, shelved in separate rooms for children, staffed by librarians who actually liked children?
In 1896, Anne Carroll Moore was given the task of running just such an experiment, the Children’s Library of the Pratt Institute, in Brooklyn, built at a time when the Brooklyn schools had a policy that “children below the third grade do not read well enough to profit from the use of library books.” Moore toured settlement houses and kindergartens (also a new thing), and made a list of what she needed: tables and chairs sized for children; plants, especially ones with flowers; art work; and very good books. The kids lined up around the block.
The cornerstone of the New York Public Library was laid in 1902, at Forty-second Street and Fifth Avenue. Four years later, after the library’s directors established a Department of Work with Children, they hired Moore to serve as its superintendent, a position in which she not only oversaw the children’s programs at all the branch libraries but also planned the Central Children’s Room. After the library opened, in 1911, its Children’s Room became a pint-sized paradise, with its pots of pansies and pussy willows and oak tables and coveted window seats, so low to the floor that even the shortest legs didn’t dangle.
Much of what Moore did in that room had never been done before, or half as well. She brought in storytellers and, in her first year, organized two hundred story hours (and ten times as many two years later). She compiled a list of twenty-five hundred standard titles in children’s literature. She won the right to grant borrowing privileges to children; by 1913, children’s books accounted for a third of all the volumes borrowed from New York’s branch libraries. Against the prevailing sentiment of the day, she believed that her job was to give “to the child of foreign parentage a feeling of pride in the beautiful things of the country his parents have left.” She celebrated the holidays of immigrants (reading Irish poetry aloud, for instance, on St. Patrick’s Day) and stocked the shelves with books in French, German, Russian, and Swedish. In 1924, she hired the African-American writer Nella Larsen to head the Children’s Room in Harlem. In each of the library’s branches, Moore abolished age restrictions. Down came the “Silence” signs, up went framed prints of the work of children’s-book illustrators. “Do not expect or demand perfect quiet,” she instructed her staff. “The education of children begins at the open shelves.” In place of locked cabinets, she provided every library with a big black ledger; if you could sign your name, you could borrow a book. Moore considered signing the ledger something between an act of citizenship and a sacrament, to be undertaken only after reading a pledge: “When I write my name in this book I promise to take good care of the books I use in the Library and at home, and to obey the rules of the Library.” During both the First and Second World Wars, soldiers on leave in the city climbed the steps past Patience and Fortitude, walked into the Children’s Room, and asked to see the black books from years past. They wanted to look up their names, to trace the record of a childhood lost, an inky, smudged once-upon-a-time.
In the first half of the twentieth century, no one wielded more power in the field of children’s literature than Moore, a librarian in a city of publishers. She never lacked for an opinion. “Dull in a new way,” she labelled books that she despised. When, in 1938, William R. Scott brought her copies of his press’s new books, tricked out with pop-ups and bells and buttons, Moore snapped, “Truck! Mr. Scott. They are truck!” Her verdict, not any editor’s, not any bookseller’s, sealed a book’s fate. She kept a rubber stamp at her desk that she used, liberally, while paging through publishers’ catalogues: “Not recommended for purchase by expert.” The end.
The end of Moore’s influence came when, years later, she tried to block the publication of a book by E. B. White. Watching Moore stand in the way of “Stuart Little,” White’s editor, Ursula Nordstrom, remembered, was like watching a horse fall down, its spindly legs crumpling beneath its great weight.
E· B. White, born in Mount Vernon, New York, in 1899, was a generation Moore’s junior. As a boy, he was frustrated that there were books in his town library he wasn’t allowed to look at. He had a pet mouse; he thought he looked a little mousy himself. In 1909, when he was nine, he won a prize for a poem about a mouse. The New York Public Library opened the year he turned twelve and won a silver badge for “A Winter Walk,” an essay published in St. Nicholas, a magazine that Moore stocked on the shelves of her Children’s Room. White grew up and in 1917 went to Cornell, where he became the editor of the college paper, the Cornell Daily Sun. In 1918, Anne Carroll Moore wrote her first book review, in The Bookman. That review marks the birth of serious criticism of children’s literature. (The next year saw still more firsts: the first Children’s Book Week, organized by Moore, and the appointment of Louise Seaman—soon to be Louise Seaman Bechtel—to head the first children’s department at a major publishing house, Macmillan. In 1922, the Newbery Medal was first awarded.) Moore’s column ran in The Bookman until it folded, in 1926, the year after Harold Ross launched The New Yorker, where he hired White as a writer and a crackerjack thirty-two-year-old freelancer named Katharine Angell as a reader of manuscripts. Not long afterward, Angell became the magazine’s fiction editor.
About this time, E. B. White fell asleep on a train and “dreamed of a small character who had the features of a mouse, was nicely dressed, courageous, and questing.” White had eighteen nieces and nephews, who were always begging him to tell them a story, but he shied away from making one up off the top of his head. Instead, he set to writing, and stocked a desk drawer with tales about his “mouse-child . . . the only fictional figure ever to have honored and disturbed my sleep.” He named him Stuart.
Anne Carroll Moore had an imaginary friend, too. “I have brought someone with me,” she would tell children, singsongy, as she fished out of her handbag a wooden doll she called Nicholas Knickerbocker. She even had letterhead made for him. “I’m the sorriest little Dutch boy you ever knew over your accident,” she once wrote, signing herself “Nicholas,” in a letter to Louise Seaman Bechtel. (When Moore forgot Nicholas in a taxi, her colleagues did not mourn his loss.)
In 1924, Moore published her own children’s book, “Nicholas: A Manhattan Christmas Story.” It begins with Nicholas’s Christmas Eve arrival in a New York Public Library Children’s Room filled with fairy creatures:
The Troll gave a leap from the Christmas Tree and landed right beside the Brownie in a corner of the window seat. Just then the Fifth Avenue window swung wide open and in walked a strange boy about eight inches high.
It has not aged well.
From 1924 to 1930, Moore reviewed children’s books for the New York Herald Tribune; beginning in 1936, her reviews also appeared in The Horn Book. She could be a tough critic, especially of books that violated her rules: “Books about girls should be as interesting as girls are” or “Avoid those histories that gain dramatic interest by appeal to prejudice. Especially true of American histories.” But merely in bothering to regularly criticize children’s books Moore was ahead of everyone. Only in 1927 did The Saturday Review begin running a twice-monthly column called “The Children’s Bookshop.” The Times Book Review didn’t routinely review children’s books until 1930. In 1928, The New Yorker’s Dorothy Parker, in her Constant Reader column, reviewed A. A. Milne’s “The House at Pooh Corner.” (Moore called another Pooh book “a nonsense story in the best tradition of the nursery.”) Pooh’s wasn’t just a Good Hum and a Hopeful Hum, Parker noted. It was a hummy hum. “And it is that word ‘hummy,’ my darlings,” Parker wrote, “that marks the first place in ‘The House at Pooh Corner’ at which Tonstant Weader fwowed up.”
In 1929, E. B. White married Katharine Angell and, with his office mate, James Thurber, published his first book, a lampoon featuring fake Freudian sexologists, titled “Is Sex Necessary?” (Their answer: not strictly, no, but it beats raising begonias.) In 1933, when the Whites’ son, Joel, was three, Katharine, who also had two children from her first marriage, began writing an annual and sometimes semi-annual roundup of children’s books for The New Yorker. Katharine White’s taste in children’s literature, if it fell short of Tonstant Weader’s fwowing up, was more than spitting distance from Moore’s indulgence in the adventures of Troll, Brownie, and Nicholas Knickerbocker. White found an A. A. Milne introduction to Jean de Brunhoff’s “Travels of Babar” to be “an unnecessary and misleading condescension, since de Brunhoff is witty without being Poohish, and Babar is an elephant who can stand on his own feet.” She favored sturdy characters and spare prose. But there was something else at stake. White’s column, which she once titled “The Children’s Shelf,” called into question the very idea of a children’s library. Maybe all kids needed was a shelf?
Then, as now, some of the best prose and poetry, not to mention the best art, was to be found in books written for children—disciplined, inspired, elevated, even, by the constraints of the form. Katharine White loved many books for children; above all, she admired the beauty and lyricism of picture books and readers for the under-twelve set. But she had her doubts about books aimed at older kids:
It has always seemed to us that boys and girls who are worth their salt begin at twelve or thirteen to read, with a brilliant indiscrimination, every book they can lay their hands on. In the welter, they manage to read some good ones. A girl of twelve may take up Jane Austen, a boy Dickens; and you wonder how writers of juveniles have the brass to compete in this field, blithely announcing their works as “suitable for the child of twelve to fourteen.” Their implication is that everything else is distinctly unsuitable. Well, who knows? Suitability isn’t so simple.
And who decides what’s suitable, anyway? Parents? Librarians? Editors? White had her own ideas about who should draw the line, if a line had to be drawn, between what was good for children, what was childish, and what was just plain rotten. About Anne Carroll Moore she once fumed, “Critic, my eye!”
Sometimes, books labelled juvenile are, instead, antique. Children’s literature, at least in the West, is utterly bound up in the medieval, as Seth Lerer, a Stanford literature professor, argues in “Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter.” Lots of books for kids are about the Middle Ages (everything from “The Hobbit” to “Robin Hood” and “Redwall”), but the conventions of the genre (allegory, moral fable, romance, and heavy-handed symbolism) are also themselves distinctly premodern. It’s not only that many books we shelve as “children’s literature”—Grimms’ Fairy Tales or “Gulliver’s Travels” or “Huck Finn”—were born as biting political satire, for adults; it’s also that books written for children in the twentieth century tend to be distinctly, willfully, and often delightfully antimodern. “The Phantom Tollbooth” has more in common with “The Pilgrim’s Progress” than it does with “On the Road.” Lurking in the stacks of every “children’s library” are dozens of literary impostors: satires, from ages past, hiding their fangs; and shiny new books, dressed up in some very old clothes.
Today, children’s book publishing—an industry richly described in Leonard S. Marcus’s excellent new book, “Minders of Make-Believe”—is one of the most profitable parts of the book business. But that industry exists only because, in much the same way that the nineteenth-century middle class invented childhood as we know it, early-twentieth-century writers, illustrators, editors, and publishers—and, most of all, Anne Carroll Moore—invented children’s literature. It would be convenient if White and Moore stood on either side of a divide between antimodernist and modernist writing. But things don’t really sort out along those lines. A better way of thinking about it might be to say that Anne Carroll Moore did not like fangs. She loved what was precious, innocent, and sentimental. White found the same stuff mawkish, prudish, and daffy. “There are too many coy books full of talking animals, whimsical children, and condescending adults,” White complained.
Katharine White also hated the word “juvenile,” and sorely regretted, in the nineteen-thirties, that “it still adequately describes the calibre of the great majority of these books.” But what about her husband’s teensy talking mouse-child? True, Stuart was six inches shorter than Nicholas Knickerbocker. Whether he was juvenile remained to be seen, because, for now, he was still stuck in that desk drawer.
In April, 1938, Life ran a photo-essay called “The Birth of a Baby,” still shots from a film that depicted one woman’s pregnancy, labor, and delivery. The film had been banned in New York. Even the photographs proved too much for the American public, and the issue was pulled from newsstands in thirty-three cities. In The New Yorker, E. B. White offered a lampoon called “The Birth of an Adult,” stills of a film—drawings by Rea Irvin—portraying “the waning phenomenon of adulthood.” (Frame 1: “The Birth of an Adult is presented with no particular regard for good taste. The editors feel that adults are so rare, no question of taste is involved.”) “I have written a fine parody of Life’s ‘The Birth of a Baby,’ ” White wrote to Thurber, adding, “I also have a children’s book about half done.” He had, at last, opened the drawer.
That summer, the Whites moved to the tiny town of North Brooklin, Maine. In a November, 1938, essay for Harper’s, White complained that review copies of children’s books, two hundred of them, sent to his wife by publishers, were spilling out of the cupboards, stuck under sofa cushions, tumbling out of the hearth. About the only one he liked was Dr. Seuss’s “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.” The rest were cloying, clunky, and hopelessly naïve. (“One laughs in demoniac glee,” he wrote, “but this laugh has a hollow sound.”) What E. B. White found most depressing—and he was pretty discouraged in 1938, “this year of infinite terror”—was the looming war that threatened to make the whole planet unsuitable for anyone, while, in the world of children’s literature, “adults with blueprints of bombproof shelters sticking from their pants pockets solemnly caution their little ones against running downstairs with lollypops in their mouths.”
In his Harper’s essay, White mused, “It must be a lot of fun to write for children—reasonably easy work, perhaps even important work.” After Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) pointed White’s essay out to Anne Carroll Moore, she sent White a letter. If it’s so easy, why don’t you do it? “I wish to goodness you would do a real children’s book yourself,” she wrote. “I feel sure you could, if you would, and I assure you the Library Lions would roar with all their might in its praise.” (Moore often inscribed her letters with a return address of “Behind the Lions.”) White replied that he had started writing a children’s book, but was finding it difficult. “I really only go at it when I am laid up in bed, sick, and lately I have been enjoying fine health. My fears about writing for children are great—one can so easily slip into a cheap sort of whimsy or cuteness. I don’t trust myself in this treacherous field unless I am running a degree of fever.”
Moore pursued the correspondence. In early 1939, she pressed upon White no fewer than five letters. She sent him copies of her reviews. She gave him writing tips: “Let it flow, without criticizing it too close to its creation.” She inquired after his family, asking, more than once, after his child. She was very, very keen to make the acquaintance of his wife: “I’d like to include Mrs. E. B. White in this letter for two reasons. The first that she is the mother of the boy, or is it a girl? And second because she reviews children’s books for The New Yorker or some other magazine.” She begged him to get back to his children’s book. “Can’t you achieve a temperature, without getting sick, and finish it off?” She was attempting, as she often did, not only to cultivate this author but to claim him. “No one will be more interested than I when your children’s book is ready,” she wrote in February. “Let me know if I can be of service at any stage.”
In March, White sent an unfinished manuscript to his editor at Harper & Brothers, Eugene Saxton. “It would seem to be for children, but I’m not fussy who reads it,” he offered, adding, “You will be shocked and grieved to discover that the principal character in the story has somewhat the attributes and appearance of a mouse.” Saxton was far from grieved. He wanted “Stuart Little” for a fall, 1939, publication date. Anne Carroll Moore would have liked that, too, eager as she was to take credit for the book. But that mouse would have to wait for a pack animal to budge. As White gently warned the pestering librarian, “I pull back like a mule at the slightest goading.”
Two books that were published in 1939, Gertrude Stein’s children’s book, “The World Is Round,” and John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath,” reveal a bit more about what was turning into a baby battle of the books. Anne Carroll Moore applauded Stein’s book. Katharine White found it numbingly insipid. (It begins, “Once upon a time the world was round and you could go on it around and around. Everywhere there was somewhere and everywhere there they were men women children dogs cows wild pigs little rabbits cats lizards and animals. That is the way it was.”) In her New Yorker column, White took aim at Moore: “A number of experts in children’s literature have pronounced ‘The World Is Round’ a good book, but that does not surprise me, since, with a few exceptions, the critics of children’s books are remarkably lenient souls. They seem to regard books for children with the same tolerant tenderness with which nearly any adult regards a child. Most of us assume there is something good in every child; the critics go on from this to assume there is something good in every book written for a child. It is not a sound theory.”
“The Grapes of Wrath” met with the disapproval not of Anne Carroll Moore but of Annie Dollard, the librarian of a private subscription library in Brooklin. “She was a tiny spinster with firm convictions about which books were fit to read,” E. B. White wrote. “The library had acquired ‘The Grapes of Wrath,’ but Annie took it off the shelf and placed it on her chair and sat on it. That solved that.” Of course, that didn’t solve that, and Katharine White decided to do something about it, to make the library public, and better. Those two hundred review copies her husband had been tripping over before Christmas? She hauled them to the Brooklin library.
In November of 1939, Katharine White wrote to “Miss Moore,” for the first time, delicately hinting that she stop bothering her husband about “Stuart Little”—“I’ve decided that the less we say the sooner it will be done”—and steering the correspondence in another direction by seeking advice about how to apply for Carnegie funds for the Brooklin library. She also inquired, a little wickedly, after recommendations from the formidably humorless Moore for material for an anthology she and her husband were compiling, “A Subtreasury of American Humor.” Moore, apparently, was unhelpful.
Anne Carroll Moore did not write again to E. B. White until February, 1941, alerting him, in confidence, of her plan to retire: “I am telling you because I would love to make one of my very final recommendations a large order for E. B. White’s children’s book.” White wrote back to say how impressed he and his wife were by her “long and fruitful service to the children of the world,” which he considered “one of the great and honorable careers—none finer.”
Meanwhile, Katharine White had become something of a librarian herself. “Public libraries have more and more seemed to me a democratic necessity,” she wrote to Moore in 1942, “so most of my war efforts so far, instead of going into civilian defense proper, have been devoted to keeping alive the little library in this town.” What with all her donations of The New Yorker’s review copies, her little library, now public and incorporated, boasted “the best collection of children’s books in the country.” The only reason she was still writing her children’s literature column, she wrote, probably not entirely in jest, “is to have the books for the Brooklin library.”
Katharine White believed passionately in public libraries, and in stocking them with books for children. What worried her was tiny spinsters sitting on books. Making a room for children was one thing. Guarding the door was entirely another. And then there was the matter of setting traps for mice.
“A Subtreasury of American Humor” was published in 1941. As for including humor from children’s books, “we gave it up,” the Whites admitted; there wasn’t any. The next year, E. B. White wrote a wartime pamphlet on freedom of speech. In the winter of 1943-44, the Whites moved back to New York. Katharine began editing Nabokov. Her husband’s nerves were shot. He felt as if he had “mice in the subconscious”: “The mouse of Thought infests my head, / He knows my cupboard and the crumb.” Then, miraculously, over eight weeks in late 1944 and early 1945, he finished the book that he had been writing all his life. Saxton, White’s editor, had died in 1943. White sent the manuscript of “Stuart Little” to Ursula Nordstrom, the director of Harper’s Department of Books for Boys and Girls; so great was Nordstrom’s influence that she sometimes called herself Ursula Carroll Moore. (When the real Moore asked Nordstrom what possibly qualified her to edit children’s books, Nordstrom replied, “Well, I am a former child, and I haven’t forgotten a thing.”)
Anne Carroll Moore had been waiting for “Stuart Little” for seven years, and during that time she had claimed E. B. White, the most celebrated American essayist of the century, as her writer. She may have been retired, but her grip on power had scarcely loosened. She still showed up for meetings at the New York Public Library; she still ran those meetings, dismaying her successor, Frances Clarke Sayers, who tried switching meeting places, to no avail: “No matter where you held them, she was there.” (In an oral history conducted at U.C.L.A. in the nineteen-seventies, Sayers admitted that she found it all but impossible to stand up to Moore, who made her life “an absolute hell” by refusing to cede control: “She hung on to everything.”) Moore had come to think of recruiting E. B. White to the world of juvenilia as her final triumph—a victory over Tonstant Weader, a victory over Katharine White. “Stuart Little” was to be Anne Carroll Moore’s lasting legacy to children’s literature. In her mind, it was her book. There was nothing for it: Nordstrom sent her a galley.
“I never was so disappointed in a book in my life,” Moore declared. She summoned Nordstrom to her rooms at the Grosvenor Hotel, where she warned her that the book “mustn’t be published.” To the Whites she sent a fourteen-page letter, predicting that the book would fail and that it would prove an embarrassment, and begging the author to reconsider its publication. Exactly what the letter said, and even to whom it was addressed, is much disputed. The Whites threw it away—in disgust, Katharine said—and only six pages of an incomplete copy in Moore’s hand survive. But even in this expurgated version Moore’s criticisms were severe: the story was “out of hand”; Stuart was always “staggering out of scale.” Worse, White had blurred reality and fantasy—“The two worlds were all mixed up”—and children wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. “She said something about its having been written by a sick mind,” E. B. White remembered. Everyone agrees that Moore made a threat and meant to carry it out: “I fear ‘Stuart Little’ will be very difficult to place in libraries and schools over the country.”
“It is unnerving to be told you’re bad for children,” E. B. White admitted, “but I detected in Miss Moore’s letter an assumption that there are rules governing the writing of juvenile literature—rules as inflexible as the rules for lawn tennis. And this I was not sure of.” He shrugged it off: “Children can sail easily over the fence that separates reality from make-believe. They go over it like little springboks. A fence that can throw a librarian is as nothing to a child.”
White did not write back. His wife did. “K refused to show me her reply,” White wrote to his brother, “but I suspect it set a new world’s record for poisoned courtesy.” It did and it didn’t. “I agree with you that schools won’t be likely to use ‘Stuart Little,’ ” Katharine wrote to Miss Moore, “but, to be very frank just as you have been, I can’t imagine libraries not stocking it.” And she couldn’t help asking, “Didn’t you think it even funny?”
On October 17, 1945, some fifty thousand copies of “Stuart Little” hit the shelves. The book’s pictures, by Garth Williams, share with its story a quiet tenderness, hushed but somehow breezy, too. (Nordstrom and White had rejected seven other illustrators, whose mice looked too slick, or too much like Mickey.) On the cover, little Stuart, in his shorts and shirtsleeves, paddling his canoe—a boat named Summer Memories—is at once so tiny and so grown up that he could easily have illustrated White’s wistful 1941 essay “Once More to the Lake,” about going camping with his son at a place in Maine where he had long ago gone with his father, and coming to realize that he wasn’t so sure, anymore, just who was who. (“Everywhere we went I had trouble making out which was I, the one walking at my side, the one walking in my pants.”)
The most disappointing book Anne Carroll Moore ever read begins with these words:
When Mrs. Frederick C. Little’s second son was born, everybody noticed that he was not much bigger than a mouse. The truth of the matter was, the baby looked very much like a mouse in every way. He was only about two inches high; and he had a mouse’s sharp nose, a mouse’s tail, a mouse’s whiskers, and the pleasant, shy manner of a mouse.
Two days after “Stuart Little” was published, an unhappy Harold Ross stopped by White’s office at The New Yorker. White recalled:
“Saw your book, White,” he growled. “You made one serious mistake.”
“What was that?” I asked.
“Why, the mouse!” he shouted. “You said he was born. God damn it, White, you should have had him adopted.”
Next, Edmund Wilson caught White in the hall. “I read that book of yours,” he began. “I found the first page quite amusing, about the mouse, you know. But I was disappointed that you didn’t develop the theme more in the manner of Kafka.”
White tried to laugh about all this—“the editor who could spot a dubious verb at forty paces, the critic who was saddened because my innocent tale of the quest for beauty failed to carry the overtones of monstrosity”—but then Malcolm Cowley, reviewing the book in the Times, proved skeptical, too: “Mr. White has a tendency to write amusing scenes instead of telling a story. To say that ‘Stuart Little’ is one of the best children’s books published this year is very modest praise for a writer of his talent.”
The real blow came when Frances Clarke Sayers, presumably acting on Moore’s orders, refused to buy “Stuart Little” for the library, sending a signal to children’s librarians across the country: “Not recommended for purchase by expert.” In November, a syndicated New York Post columnist squibbed, “There will be a to-do about the New York Public Library’s reluctance to accept ‘Stuart Little.’ ” For this unsavoury gossip, White graciously apologized in a letter to Sayers, assuring her that neither he nor Nordstrom had planted the notice to apply pressure on the library (as, clearly, Sayers suspected), and that he regretted the appearance of “dark and terrible goings on in the world of juvenile letters.”
One way to read “Stuart Little” is as an indictment of both the childishness of children’s literature and the juvenilization of American culture. Published just a year before Benjamin Spock’s “Baby and Child Care,” E. B. White’s “Stuart Little” might justifiably have been titled “The Birth of an Adult.” That or “Is Childbirth Necessary?” The Washington Post even ran a review in the form of an affectionate imitation of “Is Sex Necessary?,” right down to the idiotic sexologists. (“ ‘Lacks verisimilitude from the very first line,’ said Herr Von Hornswoggle. ‘Man or mouse, homo sapiens or Mus musculus—no little rodent can sail a ship in Central Park lagoon while still teething. Much, much too Jung.’ ”)
Whether Mrs. Frederick C. Little had given birth to a mouse or to a creature that just looked like a mouse was, especially in 1945, poignant social commentary about a culture that refused to look at the facts of life. The one thing Stuart wasn’t was a baby. No bottles, no diapers, no nighttime feedings, no prams, no cribs. No baby talk. From the first, Stuart dressed himself and was helpful around the house. The Littles’ biggest problem was that mice were so badly treated in children’s books. Mr. Little “made Mrs. Little tear from the nursery songbook the page about the ‘Three Blind Mice, See How They Run’ ”:
“I don’t want Stuart to get a lot of notions in his head,” said Mr. Little. “I should feel badly to have my son grow up fearing that a farmer’s wife was going to cut off his tail with a carving knife. It is such things that make children dream bad dreams when they go to bed at night.”
The Littles also questioned the suitability of “ ’Twas the night before Christmas,” when not a creature stirs, not even a mouse. “I think it might embarrass Stuart to hear mice mentioned in such a belittling manner,” Mrs. Little told her husband. They settled, at last, on another kind of bowdlerizing:
When Christmas came around, Mrs. Little carefully rubbed out the word mouse from the poem and wrote in the word louse, and Stuart always thought that the poem went this way:’Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a louse.
Tearing the pages out of books and rubbing out words that might worry their little one—it was just what Katharine White had been complaining about all along. In “Stuart Little,” her husband backed her up. And, in her next children’s-books column, she, in turn, vindicated him, lamenting the pitiful state of a literature “careful never to approach the child except in a childlike manner. Let us not overstimulate his mind, or scare him, or leave him in doubt, these authors and their books seem to be saying; let us affirm.”
“Stuart Little” leaves you in doubt, a good deal of doubt, really; it doesn’t exactly end so much as it’s just, abruptly, over. In Chapter VIII, Stuart falls in love with a bird named Margalo, and when she flies away he goes on a quest. In the book’s last chapter, he stops his coupe at a filling station and buys five drops of gas. In a ditch alongside the road, he meets a repairman, preparing to climb a telephone pole. “I wish you fair skies and a tight grip,” Stuart says, thoughtfully. “I hope you find that bird,” the repairman says. Then come the book’s final, distressing lines:
Stuart rose from the ditch, climbed into his car, and started up the road that led toward the north. The sun was just coming up over the hills on his right. As he peered ahead into the great land that stretched before him, the way seemed long. But the sky was bright, and he somehow felt he was headed in the right direction.
Stuart Little isn’t Gregor Samsa. He’s Don Quixote, turning into Holden Caulfield.
Anne Carroll Moore tried very hard to insure that schools would ban “Stuart Little.” Some did. But some schoolteachers decided, instead, to teach the book. In February, 1946, a fifth-grade class in Glencoe, Illinois, was assigned the task of writing a different ending. One little girl managed, with felicitous economy, to get to a happy ending in just nine paragraphs:
After talking to the repairman, Stuart took the road heading north. “Chug chug” went his car. “Five drops running out,” thought Stuart. “I’ll stop at that filling station just ahead.” So he drove in.
“What do you want?” said the man.
“Five and one-half drops,” said Stuart. “The last five drops I got didn’t take me as far as I wanted to go.” Just then Stuart saw a bird hop out of the filling station.
“This is Margalo,” said the man.
“MARGALO!” yelled Stuart.
“You must know each other,” said the man.
“I’ll make you a deal,” said Stuart. “I’ll give you a whole ten dollars if you’ll let me have your bird.”
“It’s a deal,” said the man.
“Hop in, Margalo,” said Stuart and away they went. They were married back in New York and raised a family of half mice and half birds.
That little girl cleared the fence by a good three feet.
And the New York Public Library? Did the mouse scamper past the lions? In late 1945, the library’s director, Franklin Hopper, invited Louise Seaman Bechtel, the pioneering editor of children’s books at Macmillan, to deliver an endowed lecture on book publishing. Bechtel had discovered that although Sayers had bought a copy of “Stuart Little,” she kept it under her desk. At the library, Bechtel, appalled, urged Hopper to read it. He did, and wrote to Bechtel the next day. He liked it very much. He was furious: “Have those who talk about its abnormalities no imagination?” Did Anne Carroll Moore think she could rule his library from the goddam Grosvenor? Hopper ordered Sayers to take Stuart out of his hiding place. “He got into the shelves of the Library all right,” E. B. White wrote, “but I think he had to gnaw his way in.”
For a while, many American libraries did ban “Stuart Little.” But the best librarians, like the best schoolteachers, have a genius all their own. In March, 1946, the seventh graders at the Clifton School, in Cincinnati, Ohio, mailed a letter:
Dear Mr. White:
We have just finished your book “Stuart Little.” Our school librarian asked us to read it to help decide whether it would be a good book for the library. We think it would be.
It’s a quiet little letter. But that noise, the scritch-scratch of pen across paper, those thirty-eight seventh graders signing their names at the bottom of that letter? That’s the sound of a horse falling down.
In January, 1946, when Louise Bechtel delivered her lecture at the New York Public Library, Anne Carroll Moore was sitting in the front row, glaring. Undaunted, Bechtel made a point of plugging “Stuart Little”: “I hope it gets all possible awards and medals.” Moore made her disapproval known. “E.B.W. will be tickled to hear that A.C.M. sent me a blast,” Bechtel wrote to Katharine, afterward. Very likely, he wasn’t so tickled. He didn’t much like the dark and terrible goings on in the world of juvenile letters.
Moore, in her rage, fallen but still kicking, seems to have used her influence to shut “Stuart Little” out of the Newbery Medal, a prize awarded by a panel of librarians, including, that year, Frances Clarke Sayers. White’s book was not even among the four runners-up. The day after the awards were announced, Bechtel was “still grinding my teeth in rage,” she wrote to Katharine White, complaining about “these stupid unliterary women in charge.”
Harper, meanwhile, headed Moore’s criticism off at the pass. “Some people—those who think they understand a thing if they can paste a neat label on it—will call ‘Stuart Little’ a juvenile,” the press’s publicity material read. “They will be right. They will also be wrong.” In December, 1946, while Katharine White was ushering J. D. Salinger’s first New Yorker story to press, a story that turned into “The Catcher in the Rye,” Nordstrom told E. B. White that there were now a hundred thousand copies of “Stuart Little.” White invited his editor to a posh lunch to celebrate. “You can eat 100,000 stalks of celery and I’ll swallow 100,000 olives. It will be the E. B. White-Ursula Nordstrom Book and Olive Luncheon.” Not exactly happily ever after, but close.
Katharine White wrote her last children’s-books column in 1948. Her own children were grown. The Brooklin library would survive without her review copies. But she was exasperated, too. “No one who has examined five hundred and more juveniles, as I have this year,” she wrote wearily, “could say that the American child now occupies a submerged position in an adult world. There can surely be no childish taste, good, bad, or indifferent, that the eager publishers have not tried to satisfy.” In those baby-boom years, you couldn’t walk a block without bumping into a pram. Did American letters, too, have to make way for babies?
E. B. White published a second children’s book, “Charlotte’s Web,” in 1952. His wife said that he considered it “his only really completely satisfactory children’s book,” and it was adored, as far as I can tell, by everyone—everyone, that is, except Anne Carroll Moore, who complained that Fern’s character was “never developed.” Nordstrom, after hearing of Moore’s reservations and reading a rave by Eudora Welty in the Times, gleefully wrote to White, “Eudora Welty said the book was perfect for anyone over eight or under eighty, and that leaves Miss Moore out as she is a girl of eighty-two.”
Anne Carroll Moore died in 1961. “Much as she did for children’s books and their illustrators at the start of her career,” White wrote to Bechtel, “I can’t help feeling her influence was baleful on the whole. Am I wrong?”
The Central Children’s Room at the New York Public Library on Forty-second Street closed in 1970; it reopened at the Donnell Library Center, on Fifty-third, the next year. Next month, the Donnell is closing, to make way for a hotel. Plans have been made for a new children’s room to open in a different space at the main library sometime after the building’s centennial, in 2011. (This fall, kids’ books will circulate from a temporary space on the ground floor.) To augur the return of the Children’s Room to Forty-second and Fifth, Christopher Robin Milne’s stuffed animals, Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, and Kanga, donated to the library in 1987, have been installed on the third floor.
“Stuart Little” has now sold more than four million copies. In later editions, E. B. White made a tiny change. Mrs. Frederick C. Little’s second son is no longer born. He arrives.
For up-to-date news about the Friends, visit the website. Plans are afoot to put both the photos and the captions of the Grimm stuff exhibition on the site.
Suggestions and contributions to the site are welcomed by webmaster Jeff Hunt -phone 04 479 6123, email email@example.com or contact him through the website http://www.dnwfriends.nzl.org/
Margaret Mahy Medal 2009
Dunedin Publisher Barbara Larsen is the recipient of the 2009 Margaret Mahy Medal, recognising her specific and outstanding contribution to the important genre of young adult fiction. Barbara will present the Margaret Mahy lecture this Saturday in the Takapuna Grammar School Hall- a rare opportunity to hear her in Auckland. Sherryl Jordan will receive the Gaelyn Gordon Award for the Wednesday Wizard, and the 2010 winners of the Joy Cowley, Tom Fitzgibbon and the new Gavin Bishop Award will be announced. For anyone interested in children’s books or in writing for children this is a great day out. See the Storylines website for details. http://www.storylines.org.nz/Events/Margaret+Mahy+Day.html
Winners of the 2009 LIANZA Children’s Book Awards Announced (11 August 2009)
New Zealand’s oldest book prize, the Esther Glen Award, was presented at the LIANZA Children’s Book Awards ceremony in Wellington last night (Monday 10 August).
The Esther Glen Award was established in 1944 and is presented to the author whose work is considered a distinguished contribution to fiction for children. The prize was presented to Wellington writer Fleur Beale for her young adult novel Juno of Taris (Random House). The judges said Beale “excels in descriptions of life as a feisty teenage girl. Juno is a remarkable character, the reader delights in her triumphs and commiserates in her disappointments.”
Dunedin based author and illustrator Robyn Belton received the Russell Clark Award for Herbert: The Brave Sea Dog (Craig Potton Publishing). The Russell Clark Award was established in 1975 and celebrates a distinguished contribution to illustrated children’s books. The judges could imagine “librarians uming and ahing about whether to place this book in the true story, non-fiction, or picture-book sections of the library. We thought the connectivity of text and illustration resonates with readers of all ages and the superb endpapers intrigue the reader. An entirely satisfactory and uplifting ending that touches all reader’s hearts.” Belton first won the Russell Clark Award in 1985 for The Duck in the Gun, written by Joy Cowley.
For the first time the Te Kura Pounamu Award has been won by a novel. Mihiroa by Peti Nohotima with illustrations by Misty (He Kupenga Hao I te Reo) caught the judge’s attention for its skill in capturing a teenage perspective. “From texting to teenage jealousy, from budding relationships to the intensity of sporting competition, one of the most captivating features is how the language is used to develop the characters and their interactions. The delightful line drawings add to the story’s attraction too.” This award was established in 1995 and celebrates works written in te reo Māori for children and young people.
Radio New Zealand host Veronika Meduna and science historian Rebecca Priestly were the recipients of the Elsie Locke Award for Atoms, Dinosaurs and DNA (Random House). The judges noted that the book had developed out of a 2006 National Library science exhibition, and delighted in the insights it gives to the lives of the sixty eight New Zealand scientists profiled. “Did you know that entomologist George Hudson did his field work in a three piece suit? Beneath his suit he wore head to toe pink woolen underwear. As librarians we knew that this book filled a gap in our collections.”
Together the LIANZA Children’s Book Awards celebrate the unique contribution New Zealand authors and illustrators make to our cultural heritage and national identity. Award recipients are selected from a shortlist of five titles and receive a medal or taonga and $1,000 prize money.
Communications & Publications Coordinator, LIANZA