25 April 2006

24 April 2006

Classics Continued

I have finished Volumes 1 and 2, Fairy Tales and Fables, and Folk Tales and Stories of Wonder. The familiar old fairy tales (well, most were familiar anyway) were easy reading, but I discovered small details in the tales that I'd forgotten over the years (there's a lot more to the Three Little Pigs, for instance, than shows up in the tales abbreviated for small children or in the Disney cartoon version). The second volume was more difficult to slog through—it includes Charles Dickens' "The Magic Fishbone," which is pretty dull (the king's interminable whining is annoying as well) and so many versions of the younger son or the dullard son who goes off to make his fortune and wins the the princess that they blur together. It did have the long versions of Aladdin and Ali Baba; those who have only seen the Disney version of Aladdin would probably be perturbed by the original. Aladdin is thoroughly unlikeable; he doesn't do a lick of work in the entire story and still gets rewarded for his "cleverness." Cleverness my foot; the genie does all the dirty work. The volume also includes some Asian folk tales that I had not heard before, including a magical one about a starved artist's dogsbody who longs to paint and receives instructions from a master's painting.

I have now started the third volume, with the familiar Greek and Roman myths: Phaeton, Prometheus, etc. I haven't read these since late elementary school/junior high and am interested in how the stories were adapted for the Collier printing.

18 April 2006

Classics Revisited

Wow! I received my Junior Classics set yesterday—five days from purchase to shipment arrival! I hadn't bought anything on eBay since fall of 2004, partially because of Mom being sick and all the other things that happened in 2005, and partially because, on my penultimate purchase of 2004, I never received my merchandise and the seller never responded to my e-mails. (After I posted feedback stating this, at least four other people contacted me saying this same seller had never sent their merchandise either and had not responded to their e-mails. I discovered just this morning that the seller actually left me a negative feedback, saying I was a "pain in the ass" for inquiring about my order!) Anyway, it had put me off ordering from eBay for a while.

The books are not mint, but in excellent shape. When I used to go upstairs at Linda's house and sneak a look at the copies her brother had (I still think of these volumes as "Armand's books" <g>), I mostly concentrated on Volume 9, "The Animal Book," but am planning to read them all, even the Greek and Roman myths, which I consider rather boring, and have started from the beginning with the fairy and folk tales. I'm discovering stories I recall reading so long ago, not just the standards like "Cinderella" and "Puss in Boots," but the entire story of "The Three Little Pigs," "The Goose Girl," etc. (I need to let James read "The Bremen Town Musicians" so he'll know what the statue of the animals at Lenox Mall is all about.)

Refreshingly, none of these books are in BIG PRINT or contain paragraphs interrupted with BIG COLORED WORDS in simplified vocabulary (dialect from other countries is even used); even the youngest child is considered to have some intelligence (and a friendly person to read it to them if necessary).

I did page through all of them, including "The Animal Book" and discovered that it contains John Muir's "Stickeen," which I originally read in an elementary school reader, and Eric Knight's original short story of "Lassie Come-Home," which contains several differences from the book, including Joe being named after his father and Priscilla being named Philippa and being older in the story (she can drive a car). Lassie's travels actually take up only two or three pages in the short story; it is mostly about the people around her and how they react to her faithfulness rather than actually about Lassie.

It is interesting to realize that much of what we think of as "children's stories" were not originally written just for children. Rather today their subject matter pegs them as "children's stories." "Lassie Come-Home" was not written for children and did not appear originally in a children's magazine, but rather in The Saturday Evening Post. "My Friend Flicka" is another—it was originally published in Story magazine, not a children's publication. People who see the novel version of Flicka as a sweet story about a boy and his horse have never read the book: Rob and Nell's marriage is chronicled in an adult manner, and topics of adult responsibility, the harsh reality of Western range life, and keeping body and soul together financially are all explored...not your usual topics for children. Years ago, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Black Beauty, Beautiful Joe, The Call of the Wild, White Fang, and others were all written as adult books.

13 April 2006

Got A Set!

Won a set of Collier's Junior Classics on eBay last night. Supposedly mint, from 1956. Too cool.

03 April 2006

Speaking of Series Books...

...here's a new fan-written Dana Girls mystery, "The Clue in the Rainbow." It's okay; the "Ice Castle" story is head and shoulders superior.

Sadly, No Mystery at All

I've always been an American history junkie, as well as collecting children's books, especially those I read in my childhood. When the Pleasant Company started publishing their American Girls books, I was frankly in "hog heaven" (except for the price—talk about overpriced books!—and then Sam's Club started stocking the collections, which removed the fiscal obstacle). The original stories were about Felicity, a colonial girl; Kirsten, an immigrant pioneer girl; Samantha, a wealthy Victorian girl; and Molly, a girl growing up during World War II. Naturally my first purchase would be Molly's stories, since my parents were teenagers and then adults during the Depression and World War II and I felt close to their history.

Gradually, and through a buyout of Pleasant Company by Mattel, the series grew to include Kaya, a pre-Revolutionary War Nez Perce girl; Josefina, an early 19th-century New Mexican girl; Addy, a girl who escaped slavery near the end of the Civil War; and Kit, a girl growing up during the Depression. Accompanying the books were dolls and accessories for each girl and then other special volumes (short story books, cookbooks, "how to draw" books, etc., the finest of these being the volumes "Welcome to _________'s World," which used photographs and drawings of the time to illustrate the era of each girl in the series—just the sort of thing I doted on).

The best development to emerge from the American Girls franchise, however, was a stand-alone series of books called the "History Mysteries." These did not involve the series characters and moved in a random manner from a mystery taking place in one era of American history to another. One book might take place in War of 1812 Louisiana, while another would involve a mystery while collecting scrap metal in World War II. The "mystery girls" weren't cookie-cutter versions of any of the series book leads and some of the various mysteries involved history eras not much talked about today, such as the participants of the Alaskan gold rush, the world of the War of 1812, the fascinating lives of the lighthouse keeper's children, and even the plight of the Loyalists during the American Revolution. One of the "History Mysteries," The Night Flyers, about homing pigeons and World War I, won a Juvenile Edgar Award (mystery writer's trophy) and another was nominated.

But since girls and mysteries have gone together since the days of August Huiell Seaman and the Stratmeyer Syndicate books, including the immortal Nancy Drew, the Mattel folks have recently released a new line of mysteries starring the American Girls series book protagonists themselves. The books are fairly interesting in working the mystery format into the series milieu (some of the series stories already having involved minor mysteries), but sadly it seems to have spelled the end of the "History Mystery" stand-alone stories (not one has been released since volume 22, which was at least two years ago). It means the mystery stories are now stuck completely in the era of the series stories and we won't see any other eras represented—so many stories and periods were still waiting to be told: how about a mystery set during the cattle drive days? during the Spanish-American war? in a CCC camp? in a post-war (WWII) housing shortage area? in Florida during its "wild west" pioneer days? at a Northwest logging camp? an early California fruit farm or at one of the Spanish missions or during the "Okies" flight west during the Dust Bowl? or a Northwest Native American mystery (or perhaps a Pilgrim era version)? or one set in the early New England textile mills? Hundreds of wonderful ideas here yet to go!

Maybe Mattel is just taking a breather...but I fear it's the last gasp instead. Apparently, like the television networks, they would rather rake in the bucks while sticking to a formula than continue to branch out into other interesting directions to challenge the minds of their readers. And that, especially for history and mystery lovers of all ages, is a great shame.