Aleph-Bet Books has issued Catalogue 103 of Children's & Illustrated Books. Around 99% of what is offered qualify as both. Two hundred years worth of books for children are represented. From the early 19th century we find books that mostly carry a religious moral lesson. As time goes by, we become no less interested in impressing messages on young minds, but what we say expands. Some try to impress their intolerance towards others on children; other express a more positive view towards other people. Some books attempt to stick to more neutral instruction in reading, though basic community values still find their way in barely below the surface. By the late 19th century, we find advertisers using children's books as a means to sell their products, or at least try to develop a positive image toward their brand within the young people's psyche. Occasionally, a book will just try to expand a child's imagination and provide some fun, though even then it's hard to escape a moral or two coming along for the ride. As we change, and our values evolve, so do what we teach our children. Here is a look back at what we taught over the years.
We will start with a most disconcerting story, a message relayed in a way that must have produced nightmares for little children. This is the story of The Discontented Frogs. This amphibious colony lived in a nice little pond, with plenty to eat and safe from predators. They were not content. Life was boring. So they all followed a frog who promised to lead them to the vibrance and excitement of life in the city. Off they hopped, oblivious to the dangers that lay ahead. However, what they encountered was more than a few lessons that quickly sent them hopping back to their pond. One by one, they were killed. The trip was horrible, a virtual death march. No water, little food, hot and dusty land. The first was crushed by a cow. Next, when they found some water, one was snatched up by a pickerel. Finally, a swooping flock of drakes picks them off, until all but one has been devoured. That last frog manages to find another pond like the one they left, but all of his family and friends are gone. The message of this brutal tale is to be content with what you have, and always look before you leap. Item 345, published around 1875. Priced at $600.
Item 239 is the manuscript for a hard-to-find yet delightful book by John Goodall. In this case, a manuscript consists of 14 watercolors. Goodall didn't need text. He told his stories in pictures. This is the manuscript for Paddy Pork – Odd Jobs, which was published in 1983. The images depict poor Paddy's attempt to undertake various around-the-house type of tasks, which as the cover picture on this catalogue shows, invariably turn into disasters. We aren't sure what the moral of this story is, other than never hire a pig to do a man's job. $11,000.
Item 24 is an alphabet book, but one that asks the theological question that has baffled me for ages. It is Sullivant's ABC Zoo, and features T.S. Sullivant's line drawings and humorous verse. The editors compiled the ABC from Sullivant's earlier work. This explains the book being published in 1946, twenty years after Sullivant died. For an example of Sullivant's humor, E is for an elephant, who tried to escape his hotel without paying the bill, only to find the cashier is holding his trunk. Back to the theological question, under N for Noah, Sullivant posits, “Thank you, Noah, for saving the deer's doe / Yak, anteater, pig, ARMADILLO, / Emu, sheep, cow and hen - / Yes, and even the men. / But why did you save the MOSQUITO?” $500.