Children's Books from Aleph-Bet
By Michael Stillman
Aleph-Bet Books recently issued their Catalogue 85 of Children's Books and Illustrated Books. Offered are 555 books for the young at heart, each represented by a description and illustration. This may be a catalogue filled with fantastic fiction, but it is also an insightful look at history. Nothing displays our values and beliefs quite like what we teach our children. What we taught them in years past is revealing, at times reassuring, at times frightening. On one side, there's The Child's Anti-Slavery Book from 1859, an attempt to humanize America's most unfortunate people, while on the other side there are all too many versions of the Ten Little N…s, a work repeatedly published, not only in America, but overseas as well. It is not that hard to see where certain attitudes and prejudices developed when we see what we were teaching our children. Here are some more selections from this latest Aleph-Bet catalogue.
An unusual, positive view of America's natives was presented in The Indian Chief and the Little White Boy. It is a story of a white boy from New York whose parents place him under the care of an Indian Chief. While Aleph-Bet notes that some portrayals are stereotypical, the book does present Indians as human. At the time of its publication, 1855, Indians were more likely to be described as savages. Item 296. $750.
A very different type of image can be found in the 1909 German book Der Kleine Stapelmatz. This book depicts a stereotypical Jewish man who abuses little children. It is no wonder these children might grow up to be susceptible to Nazi propaganda a few years later. Item 301. $2,250.
And why are black people always depicted eating watermelon? Do not white people, or those of other colors, eat watermelon too? I can't figure this one out, but here is the offensive Kinky Kids, a story where Little Kinky Wooltop falls for Melinda as she sits atop a watermelon. Maybe we should just let our kids watch television after all. Item 88, from 1908. $600.
Item 31 is an oddly named book -- Paraplyernes Opror (the Umbrellas' Revolt). I had no idea umbrellas were so revolutionary, but perhaps they resent being kicked out in the rain. $200. If that isn't strange enough, there's Freddy and the Flying Saucer Plans. Aleph-Bet describes the plot as, "Freddy the Pig goes to jail as a traitor in order to let the spies steal the false flying saucer plans." Item 93. $350.
For those who collect cartoons, there is Walt Disney's Donald Duck. This 1935 printing was the first book devoted to this conniving fowl. His beak was longer and more pointed than it became in later years, but he's still dressed in his trademark sailor's suit. Item 200. $500. And then there is Happiness Is A Warm Puppy, the first book by Peanuts' creator Charles Schultz. This first edition, published in 1962, contains an inscription from Schultz along with an ink drawing of Snoopy. Item 458. $1,350.