Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Slovenly Peter and other Cautionary Reading.

Grandma and Grandpa didn’t have a lot of children’s books or toys, but there were plenty of forbidden attractions like Grandpa’s knife and sword collection. Although he kept the dangerous items under lock and key, other curios were on display throughout the house—and this house had a basement!

I discovered a collection of books, put away for safe keeping, that used to be read by other members of the family when they were young. There was a complete set of “The
Bookhouse Books” a collection of graded short stories edited to encourage the young person to read for enjoyment. The pages were enhanced with drawings depicting the stories and their characters unrealistically floating in space, such was the vignette style of the time. This suspension of reality mesmerized me and in my imagination, the characters inhabited worlds of my own making. This was particularly true with the book, “Slovenly Peter”, a collection of cautionary tales of misbehaving

Here is the book's namesake himself, Slovenly Peter. When a little girl, Romping Polly played with the boys, she took a fall and broke her leg--off! Naturally, blood spewed out of the limb. Tom Bogus, otherwise known as "The Sweet Tooth" had a thing about sugar to the point of driving his father to have his teeth pulled out. While Tom struggled on a stool, his hands held back, a foreign looking character with a giant set of tongs pulled out the teeth one by one.

children and the horrible consequences of their behavior. Part of the book had easily read stories framed in organic illustrations featuring the bad child doing something awful, followed by a succession pictures of his or her gruesome fate, such as what happens to the little girl who played with matches and eventually ended up a small pile of ashes.

There was a fascination these stories held for kids and for me particularly, in the total lack of restraint exhibited by the author/illustrator. Part of the book was translated from the original German and part was supplemented by what looks to be mid-nineteenth century American illustrations and stories which are equally dreadful and much more literal. As an example, there is the story of “The Sweet-Tooth” which tells the tale of a little boy who was addicted to sweets, eating everything in sight that was sugary. Eventually, his fate was to have his rotting teeth yanked out by a man with a giant set of tongs, while another man held his hands back of him. The last picture showed him astraddle a barrel of syrup sucking on a straw. These were the children’s stories of real kids.

A band of Brownies, written and illustrated by Palmer Cox

Another favorite were the Goop books and the Brownies. These were books that my Aunt Betty and Uncle Edward must have
had before WWI when they were little since the illustrations had a distinct Edwardian look to them. Palmer Cox’s Brownies were supposed to be like fairies or elves, little people that came out when the household was asleep. They got into mischief but always ended up doing good deeds. I liked them but the book was falling apart and eventually got thrown out.

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