Monday, April 21, 2014

coy, contrived and condescending, and Buzzing as loud as a Bold Brass Band

Last Tuesday I was a guest on Julie Danielson's blogSeven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Julie's questions are fun and thoughtful, and she takes great care to link to sites about the people and books referenced throughout the Q & A. Some of her links I'd never seen before. 

One link, to an Amazon placeholder  of The B Book, prompted me to photograph and upload pictures of my 1962 edition, written by Phyllis McGinley and illustrated by Robert Jones (above).

Below is a 1968 edition illustrated by  John C. Johnson, that I found on Etsy. (Thank you, Pipi Pompon.)

The B Book was the first book that I read by myself. I loved it. But the premise of the book involves a play on words that troubled my six-year-old brain.

The little protagonist named Bumble is tired of being a bee and wants to be somebody else.  He asks a big bee how to be something "Besides a Bee."  The big bee then takes Bumble on a tour of all the wonderful things (Buttercups, Butterfly, Blackbird, etc.) that begin with the letter B, explaining with each stop that "Everything Best in the world Begins with a Big Bee." By the end of the tour Bumble is happy to be a bee. WHAT?  

If I enjoy the illustration and the characters, can I ignore a big fat non sequitur? Almost.

The B Book is one of several in a beginning reader series called "Modern Masters Books For Children."  The editor of the series was the poet Louis Untermeyer. (My friend, Jennifer Thermes, lives in Untermeyer's old house!)

In looking for information on the "Modern Masters" books, I found another from my childhood via Ward Jenkins, and a review of The B Book from the 1963 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Reviewer (and the third editor of The Horn Book Magazine) Ruth Viguers found the The B Book  “limp, listless, unoriginal, mediocre and humdrum," as well as "coy, contrived, and condescending."   I sense that Viguers suspected that the entire "Modern Masters" series was a ploy to corner the snob market. 

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