The Robbers Squeak

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The Robbers Squeak from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

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The Robbers Squeak from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I purchased this volume after researching another book I wrote about recently, Lady Pussy-Cat’s Ball, which featured illustrations by the more than capable artist A.M. Lockyer. This volume however credits only Mr. Lockyer so we must assume that it is not only illustrated by him, but that the story, written entirely in verse, is as well. (There is a song over several pages, Sergeant Sleek’s Song, with music and three verses in the middle of the book. However, words are credited to G.E I. and music by F.R. Cox. A casual search did not turn up any information on them.)

The book’s story is an odd one – and considering I featured dogs yesterday it is a bit shocking that I go out way out on a Pictorama limb and feature mice today, because this is indeed a story of mice. They are both the heroes and the villains of this story, which it should be noted, is a stretch for children, at least as we see children’s stories today. It is a tale of mice who are a marauding band of thieves, stealing feasts of food, but eventually kidnapping a beautiful girl kitten they adore. The image below is when Momma cat comes calling for her little girl kit. This interaction with maternal cat love reforms them and they turn over a new leaf and become monastic mice – who occasionally tell tales of the days of yore.

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The Robbers Squeak from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

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The Robbers Squeak from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

As best I can tell, it was published in 1889 – there is no copyright information in the book, although the publisher is noted as Marcus Ward & Co Limited, London, Belfast & New York. Given the availability of the book even now, it must have been relatively popular. The illustrations are beautifully executed, even if the story is a bit odd. Meanwhile, anthropomorphic cats and other animals seem to be A.M. Lockyer’s bread and butter and I have my eye out for other books by him – in particular on called The Cat Concert. I have yet to find a biography of him, although there is no shortage of his illustrations available when you search on his name.

The story of cat and mouse is one that goes back to the beginning of a certain kind of story telling as we know it. It starts with illustrated books and eventually winds its way to Felix and Farmer Alfalfa cartoons and beyond. It is of course an old, old story from life itself – going back to the domestication of our feline friends. Just this morning, as I sat on the phone during an out of the ordinary Sunday morning call for work, I noticed Cookie and Blackie united in an investigation under Kim’s desk. Despite being litter mates, our duo rarely unite in any effort so it is notable. As I attempted to carry on my conversation with the volunteer in Florida the cats chattered and meowed to each other about something under the desk. (Kim wasn’t home and I could not investigate.) By the time the call ended, the cats had tussled with each other and subsequently retreated to their own perches, but of course I do wonder what they saw, or thought they saw.

Living in a many decades old building in New York City generally means you have rodents (and roaches) and it is merely a question of keeping them at bay. To date just the presence of the cats, and their predecessors, have influenced the rodents to bypass us as a stop along the way as they search for food and fun. Still, you never know when a little mousie fellow or gal takes a wrong turn, or decides that they can take on the big guys, much like The Robbers Squeak. Even if I do not, Cookie and Blackie, meanwhile, live in anticipation.

 

Lady Pussy-Cat’s Ball

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Last week’s post about forgotten cartoonist/illustrator Frederick White Good Cats and Bad Cats lead to poking around for other ancient cat books and this one turned up immediately on eBay. I bought it for a song and here it is.

As you can see, this little gem appears to be a hand-stitched book. It is  published by Hildesheimer & Faulkner, London, printed in Germany, but it also has Geo. C. Whitney, New York at the bottom so perhaps that was the American distributor. There is no publication date on it although some research turns up a 1910 date that seems about right. It is nine illustrated pages and I offer some choice examples below. (It is too fragile to scan and I am sorry the photos are not a bit better.)

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Interior page, Lady Pussy Cat’s Ball, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

frogs and mice

End page, Lady Pussy Cat’s Ball, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Lady Pussy Cat’s Ball was written by F.E. Weatherly (1848-1929) and illustrated by A.M. Lockyer. The internet of today shows that both author and illustrator enjoyed wide reputations in their own right. Weatherly (born Frederick, but eventually assuming the spelling Frederic, Edward Weatherly) was a lyricist and author. Out of his extensive bio (he evidently wrote the words to more than 3,000 tunes which makes you wonder how he found time for anything else) I would randomly pick his penning of the tune Danny Boy as the highlight. (Here I have provided the link to John McCormack singing it on Youtube if you are in the mood. Kim informs me that there is more than one set of lyrics, but I cannot find information about whether Weatherly wrote all, this version or not.) Interesting to note that while A.M. Lockyer seems to lack an easily accessible bio online, his work proliferates, as do examples of his illustrations. I have already found several other items I must acquire so Pictorama readers will see more of him I hope. He is definitely what gives this book its charm.

This book is so fragile, so much more so that Good Cats and Bad Cats which was published a year later and a sturdy volume still today, I have trouble imaging how it fulfilled its mission of an earlier rough and tumble past as a child’s book. Of course more than a hundred years is bound to wear on a book like this, and it was well read and loved.

At firsts glance, before reading the story, I thought maybe the frogs and mice were rowdy and disruptive additions to Lady Pussy Cat’s Ball, but no, you will be glad to know that it turns out that they were all very friendly and a good time was had by all.

Three White Kittens

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This is another item dug out of the Pictorama archive. As you can see, it is quite fragile and frankly even the amount of scanning we did, as feared, seems to have injured it further. I do not have a clear memory of how I acquired it. At first I thought I bought it at a flea market, but no, it was a birthday gift from my friend Eileen shortly after I met her. It is odd in that the pages are not printed on both sides, so you have spreads of blank pages between those that are printed. Therefore it was unclear if it was complete with all its pages – in addition they are not numbered – however some quick research found a copy on Abe’s Books (you can own your own in significantly better condition for $75 at the time of writing this) and my copy does appear to be complete.

Three White Kittens was published in 1880 by McLoughlin Bros. Publishers, New York. McLoughlin was a publishing company founded in 1858 based on the new color printing methods for children’s books. They also produced board games and were eventually purchased and made a division of the Milton Bradley Company in 1920. Their game production ceased, but they continued to produce children’s books, paper dolls, linen books and the like for several more decades. A quick search on images shows a vast amount of this colorful material surviving in collections and archives today. The kitten theme was popular with the company and I supply another cover below. (I find it an interesting coincidence that both this one and my copy have handwritten notes at the top of the cover. This one a gift, and mine indicating ownership.)

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3 Little Kittens, not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

The writing, however, is quite not aimed at children. As Wikipedia expresses it, these are slightly bowdlerized or retold versions of children’s tales for a more adult audience. As a result, these kitten stories, told in rhyme, are of kits trying to eat someone’s bird, or gold fish. They have titles such as The Greedy KittenThe Cross Kitten, and The Disappointed Kitten. By way of example I offer a verse from The Disappointed Kitten below:

I flew to save my darling,
The dreaded foe in view, –
Oh! never fear, my birdie dear,
No kitten shall dine upon you!

Alas, for those of us who worship at the alter of the fluffy and adorable kitten perhaps not the feline attributes we most prefer to be reminded of. For the record, the kittens appear to be named, Tit, Tiny and Tittens, which appears at the top of each page of verse. Below are some of the illustrations from inside the book, a slightly different look, highlighting the hijinks of those naughty white kitties.

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The Greedy Kitten (?) Pams-Pictorama.com collection

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The Foolish Kitten, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

Finally, this is clearly a deep area of collecting and I offer a few highlights of other covers and games, pulled off the internet and into a slideshow below.

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The Story About Ping

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I have previously spent some time on some of my favorite books from childhood. There was the chapter book, brilliantly illustrated, The Cricket in Times Square (one of  my most popular posts over time) and another Garth Williams delight, Push Kitty, which is a book for younger children. Push Kitty was a bit harder for me to remember because I did not own a copy and had only taken it out of the library as a child. However, out of all of them, The Story About Ping, was a book that I owned and a constant favorite demanded for bedtime reading.

To digress a moment, I have always adored being read to – it did not leave off as I grew up and could read on my own. I demanded that boyfriends read to me in high school, listened to books read on radio programs when I could find them, and eventually graduated to audio books, first on tape and now on an iPod which I listen to at the gym for a couple of hours most days which makes even the elliptical a joy. I am a voracious reader, but I am simply delighted to listen.

Anyway, The Story About Ping, which in my mind is always just Ping the Duck remained in my mind as an all-time favorite. Ping was written in 1933 by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Kurt Wiese, so even when I discovered it in about 1968 or ’69 it was an old book. Ping’s story goes roughly like this: a flock of ducks are released by their houseboat owner daily to feed on the river. At the end of the day the last little duck to get on gets swatted for being last. One day in an attempt to not get spanked, Ping swims off. He gets lost, has adventures, almost becomes someone’s dinner, and finally finds his way back. He is, alas, the last one on, but accepts the spanking, glad to be home at last.

Author Marjorie Flack did not have an especially illustrious career despite the extraordinary and long-standing popularity of Ping. She evidently eventually wrote a series of books about her dog that had some popularity, but I am not familiar with them. Ping won numerous awards and was evidently featured on everything from Soupy Sales to Captain Kangaroo, Shari Lewis even did a sock puppet version! I don’t remember any of this, although I watched all those shows – I think I would remember seeing it because of my affection for the book. Kurt Wiese on the other hand, enjoyed more popularity as a children’s book illustrator and illustrated the first edition of Bambi in 1929. Born in Germany he fought in WWI and ended up as a prisoner of war in Australia. After circling back to Germany he ultimately settled on a farm in my home state of New Jersey.

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I know part of the reason I loved this book was the illustrations. Drawn as if inked and then filled in with the most exquisite crayon, I remember being fascinated as a kid. I think the exoticness of the story – taking place in China on house boats and junks on the Yangtze River also appealed wildly. There is a segment where Ping watches these black ducks (Cormorants) being used for fishing which also blew my mind – and still seems strange and cruel now that I look back on it. In fact, in retrospect, I am not entirely sure I endorse the message of the book – after all, some duckling would always be last so why swat him or her? I think I even remember thinking that as a child.

Still, my memory of this book is such that I persist in buying it for my friend’s children. Sadly, you cannot buy a hardcover version new these days, I have only been able to find it in soft cover. I deeply suspect that some people find this version of China and Chinese culture outdated to say the least as well – perhaps all the way to racist by today’s standards. Nonetheless, The Story About Ping remains one of my favorite childhood stories and I figure I couldn’t have been all wrong as a kid.

ping

 

Honey Bunch

Pam’s Pictorama: I am going to swerve way off topic today and discuss my affection for the Honey Bunch series. Before I drill down on that specifically I should confess that since childhood, whenever under tremendous stress, it is my habit to curl up in bed with what I shall describe as incredibly light reading. I trace this practice back to when I was about twelve and saw my sister Loren get hit by a car (it was summer and we were walking to the beach; she was hit from behind by a car going around an obstruction that blocked her from view) which was unsettling to say the least. She was knocked unconscious, smashed the windshield, had a severe concussion and a very badly broken leg. The broken leg, which resulted in a huge plaster cast, sidetracked her from her many beloved sports for a number of months. Anyway, all this to say that the evening it happened a visiting mother of a friend looked at me and said, “You’ve had an awful fright. You find something nonsense to read before you go to bed tonight so you don’t have bad dreams.” And I still have been following that advice ever since, whenever I am very stressed or sad.

A Honey Bunch book is about as benign a book as you can get. Clearly meant for the early reading set – or those still being read to, although they are “chapter books” – Honey Bunch is an adorable small child and the books describe various minor adventures she has, such as a trip to the seashore (not to be confused with her first trip to the ocean), a trip on a plane or to a farm. She has a lovely kitty friend – as every small child should – named Lady Clare, and she has a garden. Honey Bunch is a pretty well traveled kid for the pre-school set of her day, but she enjoys routine as much as most small children, all cats, and myself. A plot might include the temporary loss of a treasured doll, a misunderstanding with a friend, or amazement at getting on a train, but you can be pretty sure all loose ends will indeed be sewn up nicely in the end.

For those of you not in the Honey Bunch know, it was another of the famed Stratemeyer Syndicate, along with the slightly better known Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mystery series. The books were written under the name of Helen Louise Thorndyke, which is a nome de plume for a series of writers. Josephine Lawrence wrote 17 of the 32 volumes and the most by far, with Mildred Wirth Benson running a distance second at five. (Josephine Lawrence also wrote a number of adult novels, include Make Way for Tomorrow, which was made into a brilliant tear-jerker film by Leo McCarey.) The majority were published by Grosset and Dunlap and the cover art by Walter S. Rogers makes them nice objects as well, as you can see above with one of my copies. I think there would be less satisfaction in reading a Honey Bunch book that wasn’t one of these beautiful editions. You are usually provided with a single handsome inside illustration as well.

While even I cannot recommend a full diet of Honey Bunch, or reading of this genre, the occasional mental rest of a Honey Bunch books has stood me in excellent stead, and I do believe has contributed to ongoing good mental health. I suggest purchasing a few and keeping them in the house. You never know when you might need to sink into bed with Honey Bunch: Her First Little Circus.

Honey Bunch inside cover

Honey Bunch inside illustration.

 

 

The Cricket in Times Square

Pam’s Pictorama: I’m on a bit of a tangent today. In a previous post, Push Kitty, I mentioned my affection for the illustrator Garth Williams. For me The Cricket in Times Square, illustrated by Williams and written George Selden is a nearly perfect children’s early reader chapter book. As a committed New Yorker, I love the view of a somewhat period yet timeless New York, as seen from the ground up, in Grand Central station. Much like Charlotte’s Web it is a story that pairs unusual animal friends. There is the glorious, fluffy fat cat, Harry – he exudes purrs and tummy rubbing – and of course his wily friend Tucker the rat. (E.B. White did something entirely different with his story of a pig and a spider who become friends – and take on the subject of mortality of all things – whereas this story is about being far from home, and how even a cricket can make his way in the big city with a bit of talent, pluck and good friends.)

Williams Cat and Rat

Garth Williams, (b. 1912-d. 1996) illustrated piles of children’s books – many of which became classics including Stuart Little and the Little House books. He wrote several as well, but it is the clutch that I have mentioned here that form an archetype in my mind. His illustrations are so synonymous with these books that, at least for me, his style is just what I think of when I think of children’s books and my earliest book experiences. (On his wikipedia page you can read about a book he wrote and illustrated, The Rabbits Wedding, which sparked controversy in the South because one of the rabbits in question was black…)

For those of you who don’t know the story of The Cricket in Times Square quite simply the Cricket, Chester, has found himself in Grand Central station, quite out of his element and country origins. He is adopted by the rat and cat duo, and a small boy whose father owns a newsstand, and who takes him as a pet – even supplying him with a cricket cage home acquired in Chinatown! Chester repays the kindness by providing cricket concerts in the train station, which makes all activity cease briefly and ultimately makes the newsstand wildly popular. Of course, eventually Chester, homesick, has to find his way back to the country, where I guess crickets belong.

Williams Cricket

I don’t remember my first reading of this. I believe I read it myself, rather than having it read to me, as was Charlotte’s Web. by my third grade teacher. But the story and the illustrations – ones that made not only a kitty, but a rat and a cricket lovable, stayed with me forever. The book is still in print, but sadly only in paperback – luckily I believe that version does contain all the illustrations. (I was able to acquire a hardcover copy in excellent condition a few years ago on Amazon or eBay.) It is my favorite book to buy for the children of my friends – for those who have left the New York area I consider it my subversive move to convince their children that New York City is the only place to live – a world of wonders! Maybe you will consider it for a juicy little reading project as we head into fall this year. Let me know how you like it!

Push Kitty

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This was a book I took out of the library only once as a child, but never forgot. My memory of the copy I saw did not have the slip jacket cover, nor an illustrated cover at all. Somehow I stumbled on it, undoubtably the title, and dragged it home with me. The illustrations were magnificent and those are what I remembered.

If we fast forward to years later, Kim and I were comparing notes on the illustrator Garth Williams. We both love his illustrations – for me A Cricket in Times Square topped even Charlotte’s Web for memorable illustrations cherished from childhood. This book, Push Kitty, nagged at the back of my mind although I do not believe I remember that the illustrations were by Garth Williams, only that they were in that style and had been great. By then the miracle of the internet was well upon us. Sure enough, between eBay and a used book site (one later absorbed whole by Amazon) I had a few copies to choose from. To my joy, I quickly became the owner of this deaccessioned library copy. Kim’s recent Facebook posts about Gustaf Tanggren and a book he remembered fondly (but like me, never owned) called Cowboys and Indians made me think about pulling this one out. There is a lot to be said about Garth Williams that I will save for a future post, but it should be noted that Push Kitty was originally published in 1968 which means it was only a few years old when I would have seen it, probably in the early seventies.

When I read it again I realized why I had loved it so much as a child! In addition to the illustrations, the story, written by Jan Wahl, is about a little girl who dresses up her kitty (much to his obvious displeasure) and drives him around town, showing him off in a baby carriage. Since I too liked to try to dress my wriggling cat Snoopy (who was very dignified; in retrospect it must have really, deeply displeased him) in doll clothes and try to persuade him to stay in a small, tin baby carriage, I clearly identified with the story.

Kitty starts out all fluff and sweet adorableness, Kitty White is his name, and gets more and more annoyed as he is taken about and shown off. He returns to a fluff ball cuteness as he races away once the doll clothes have been removed at the end. Williams does a splendid job of drawing a cat frowning and in all his moods!

Presented below is a sampling of illustrations from the book.

Push Kitty 1   Push Kitty 2

Push Kitty 3   Push Kitty 4