Two kids’ books (rest goes in backlog)

I was browsing the library shelves looking for titles to consider for our proposed parent-child book club (inspired by Deconstructing Penguins). I checked these out not because I’d consider them for that (in fact we’ve chosen Christopher Paul Curtis’ wonderful Bud, Not Buddy for the first meeting), but just because I was curious about them (familiar author/unfamiliar work, or, in the case of the dragon book, a genre I like).

Michievous Meg – Astrid Lindgren, 1962.

I was a big Pippi Longstocking fan as a kid, although I don’t think Lindgren is a great writer (unlike Tove Jansson). This is a cute collection of stories about Meg getting herself into hot water, sometimes dragging her little sister Betsy along. Meg floats Betsy off in a boiler to be Moses in the rushes, uses an umbrella to parachute off the roof, skates too far and gets them lost, and stars in a shameless rip-off of the story “Charles” by Shirley Jackson (the classic tale wherein a child tells hair-raising stories of the awful boy who causes so much trouble at school, ending with the parent meeting the teacher and discovering that the awful child does not exist and their own offspring is the trouble-maker).

McBroom’s Almanac: Containing Truthful Accounts of Amazing Happenings on McBroom’s Wonderful One-Acre Farm, to which are added Astounding World Records, Infallible Weather Signs & Predictions, Useful Advice (Fully Guaranteed), Miraculous Inventions & Sundry Jollifications – Sid Fleischman, 1984.

I’m a big fan of the McBroom family (“Willjillhesterchesterpeterpollytimtommarylarryandlittleclarinda!”) and their forty-acre farm, which is only one acre in extent, but forty acres deep–hence the incredibly fertile soil that grows giant vegetables in minutes. This isn’t really a McBroom book, even though it has a few stories about the McBrooms versus their rival, Heck Jones; rather it’s a hodge-podge of one-liners, tall tales, silly proverbs, etc.–viz. the subtitle. Some samples:

Rowdy storms, cold and gruff;
A week of Feb. is quite enough.

It’s poor advice to plant potatoes in the dark of the moon. Better to plant
them in the garden.

The Shlunk
This is a shy little animal with big feet and pink whiskers. Shlunks come out of their burrows only one day a year, on April 31. They are impossible to track because they walk single file and eat each other’s footprints. The last one walks backwards.

Unfortunately it’s illustrated by Walter Lorraine, one of the few children’s book artists I really dislike.

In the Frame – Dick Francis, 1976

Dick Francis is/was one of my favorite writers; not that I think he’s one of the greats (like Ursula LeGuin), but there’s something about his writing that I couldn’t get enough of at one point, so I collected everything he wrote. I still enjoy his horse-world-centered mysteries, but some of the appeal is fading with age. Somehow I misplaced my copy of In the Frame, so I hadn’t read it on my last Francis kick. Though it’s an above-average Francis, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. The main character is a painter of horse portraits who uncovers the typical Francis horse-crook ring through Australian galleries selling fake Munnings canvases. Like many mysteries, part of the appeal is vicariously enjoying the research and travel the author got to do.

Eagles Mere and the Sullivan Highlands – J. Horace McFarland and Robert B. McFarland, 1944

Subtitle: “Origin and History of the region. Illustrations and descriptive text of this vacation-land of Pennsylvania.”

Eagles Mere is less than two hours from here. The name itself fascinated me initially, and my first visit gave the impression of a magical, romantic place away from everyday life. Alas, a subsequent visit revealed that there’s not much “there” there for a day visit, unless you love browsing little shops (a little goes a long way for me). But this book (which I checked out from the library basement when we were weeding the collection) reveals that there used to be more, especially for residents and long-term visitors. The hiking trails must still be there, and the “lake on top of a hill” is still beautiful. There’s lovely architecture as well, although a number of hotels described in this book have since burned or been torn down. The book is full of beautiful black-and-white photographs, on surprisingly nice paper (considering it was wartime). This type of old guidebook/souvenir/coffee table book has a relaxed and uncommercial feel compared to its tightly-marketed equivalents today. The McFarlands skip leisurely from topic to topic; they are sometimes conversational or anectodal, sometimes didactic and tedious. They basically toss in everything they know or could find: descriptions of all the Eagles Mere hotels, an analysis of the lake water (“pH: 6.2. Amorphous matter: Considerable.”), a poem about Joe Pye weed.

Just found the whole thing online! Yay Penn State!