Thus I bring up the topic of children's books. It's easy to look at them and think they could be created in a whim. Not so, I'm sure. I recently retrieved a favorite old children's book of mine from the basement. I can see why I never discarded it. It was a gift to me from neighbors/friends in St. Paul. That's where I spent the first five years of my life.
The book is actually an old classic in children's literature. It was first published in 1924. There are eight charming and humorous linked stories about characters whose names will stay etched in your mind. Central are little Andrewshek and his Auntie Katushka. Just say those names over and over in your mind! When reviewing this book recently, it seemed like yesterday when I first read it. "Andrewshek and his Auntie Katushka."
My book is signed by the gift givers: "To Brian on his fifth birthday, from his friends, Emerson and Aileen Woodward." Those first five years of my life were precious. I hadn't yet come in contact with all the sobering vicissitudes of life. That happened when I came to Morris.
I remember we had a primitive TV set with a maroon trim. I was already interested in the evening news. Dwight Eisenhower was president. I remember a constant theme of international tensions. Those were Cold War times.
The program I remember best outside of Saturday morning cartoons was the game show "Concentration" with host Hugh Downs. That show was valuable for kids in getting them to develop the power of. . .concentration. Kids who really focused on that show could get real good at it. I remember the great game player Ruth Horowitz. Not yet was I aware this was a classic Jewish name. I hadn't yet learned to pigeon-hole people (or worse yet, judge them) by name, ethnicity or religion. My family never steered me in the negative way regarding anyone.
When I became a fan of George Wallace in 1968, even advocating for him in a classroom debate, I was too naive to be aware of the racial stuff. I admired him as an eloquent and interesting political performer. As for his ideas, I was captivated by his populist sense. I became more aware of his underbelly later. Still I find it hard to completely condemn.
Upon researching Wallace a year or two ago, I gained the sense that his heart was never in racism. This isn't to forgive him for the segregationist pronouncements. I figure he went to his grave begging for forgiveness. Getting crippled humbled him. An African-American attorney once said of Wallace, from when Wallace was a judge: "He was the first judge who ever called me mister in a courtroom." Wallace had to go with the prevailing winds in Alabama - may God have mercy on his soul. As for his sheer performance qualities, we might admire Donald Trump in the same way today.
God bless Emerson and Aileen Woodward for their gift to me on my fifth birthday. I have never forgotten the Woodwards.
The name of this classic book is "The Poppy seed Cakes." We got introduced to young children like Andrewshek, who, typical of all young children, wanted to follow his own impulses and not follow directions from elders. We meet animals with anthropomorphic traits. I remember being scared of that big green goose that came to the front door when Auntie Katushka was away. The goose "wanted his feathers back" from Andrewshek's mattress!
Andrewshek loved to bounce up and down on his fine feather bed. Auntie Katushka made poppy seed cakes while Andrewshek was bouncing. Auntie Katushka - it doesn't seem right to ever abbreviate the name - asked Andrewshek to watch over the cakes while she went to market. Andrewshek said he would. Ah, there was no chance of that happening. He kept bouncing up and down on the bed.
Auntie Katushka left for the market and soon there was a hissing sound at the front door. Here I started getting scared. "There stood a great green goose as big as Andrewshek himself. The goose was very cross and was scolding as fast as he could." The anthropomorphic goose demanded all the goose feathers from the fine feather bed. Andrewshek responded "they are not yours. My Auntie Katushka brought them with her from the old country in a huge bag."
The goose continued combative. Andrewshek tried the strategy of offering the goose a poppy seed cake. The goose agreed to the deal but was not to be trusted. The goose demanded more than one. And then, another. Finally the cakes prepared by Auntie Katushka were gone! Auntie Katushka arrived back at the front door. She was incensed at the big green goose. The goose then tried making off with the feather mattress.
Was this an allegory? Was the big goose to be seen as similar in character to the Soviet Union? Such was the way we were inclined to think in the 1950s. Oh, but the book came out in 1924. Written as it was between the two major world wars of the 20th Century, people were legitimately wary of menacing nation-states. We could interpret that goose symbolically around times of conflict.
Auntie Katushka began pursuing the goose. "Just then there was a dreadful explosion." The goose had burst and his feathers flew all over the room. Auntie Katushka was pleased now, knowing "we soon shall have two fine feather pillows for your fine feather bed."
Surely there was a dark element to this story. But the sheer innocence counterbalances that. Thus is reflected the skill of a children's author. The scary elements are used to create tension and thus interest. Kids will turn the pages. But the overriding quality is charm.
The story moves on to include a white goat obtained by Auntie Katushka in her visit to town, and a mischievous swan that tries making off with a picnic basket. These creatures also talk.
The book then introduces us to a character named Erminka. I didn't find this portion of the book to be as interesting. Rather it was Andrewshek and his Auntie Katushka giving the book its defining quality. Erminka had her "red-topped boots."
Margery Clark is credited as author of "The Poppy Seed Cakes." However, the name represents a combination of two people: Margery Closey Quigley and Mary E. Clark. Both were librarians. Maud and Miska Petersham did the illustrating which is a defining feature. This husband/wife team made their biggest mark writing and illustrating "The Rooster Crows," a book of American songs, rhymes and games similar to Mother Goose.
Quigley also wrote "Portrait of a Library" which got adapted to a film.
As for the pseudonym of "Margery Clark," I don't wee why it was necessary. The real names of the two would have been just fine. Yes, librarians can write! I'm sure our Morris Public Library director, Melissa Yauk, would be quite capable writing something. Melissa's birthday is on the day I'm posting this: Tuesday, April 12. Happy birthday, Melissa!
I have never read literature more rewarding than "The Poppy Seed Cakes." It is irreplaceable in my memory.