Learning Table Manners Can be Hilarious!

Of all the rules of life’s road we learn, table manners are probably among the most valuable.  A meal is a social situation where the participants are mindful that curbing self-expression makes for a more pleasant occasion.  However, a small person in a high chair next to the table may be present, so everyone else must stifle their heartfelt wish to be enjoy their meal in peace and quiet a safe distance away.  But how to teach the small person that flinging pureed peas from a spoon makes a disagreeable mess no one wants to clean up while the lemon chicken grows cold?  Some public-minded picture book artists have ridden to the rescue by pairing clearly expressed standards with funny illustrations.

Diane Goode’s inspiration for Mind Your Manners! (2005) was The Child’s Spelling Book (4th ed.: Hartford: Increase Cooke & Co., 1802), which includes a section of thirty-five explicit prohibitions for good behavior at meals, such as “Throw not any thing under the table” or “Take not the salt with a greesy knife.”  Goode puts courtesy into action by imagining that a well-mannered family has accepted an invitation to dine at the Abbotts.  She teases a narrative out of a cleverly chosen sample of prohibitions that demonstrate how the Abbotts cheerfully embarrassed their guests. The dining room table extends across the double-page spread, which provides ample room to show the various things four adults, four children, two dogs and one cat ought not have done that evening.

Dinner is well underway.  On the left, Mr. Abbott and his son are shouting over their guest, who, with a pained expression on her face, remains silent, remembering the rule that “If thy superiors be discoursing, meddle not with the matter; but be silent, except thou art spoken unto.”  On the right, Mrs. Abbott is holding forth even though she should know that polite people “Drink not, nor speak with any thing in thy mouth.”  On the floor there is a stand-off between the spaniel and the cat, who don’t care that they are breaking the rule “Stare not in the face of any one (especially thy superiors) nor fix thine eye on the plate of another.”

The puzzle picture with a test is central to the pedagogical strategy of the husband and wife team Caralyn and Mark Buehner (she’s the writer, he’s the illustrator) in It’s a Spoon not a Shovel (1995).  Each full-page illustration shows a set of characters negotiating sticky social situation.  On the facing page, the problem is posed as a question with three possible answers.  After choosing the one he or she thinks is best answer, the reader can check to see if the letter he chose is hidden in the picture, along with teeny pictures of a dinosaur, rabbit, cat, and bee just for fun.  Here is the dilemma of Wolfgang the Wolf when he introduces to his brothers his buddy Lambert the Lamb, who will be staying for dinner.

Should Wolfgang say:

a. “Lambert, this is Howler, Snarler, and Fang.”

b. “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!”

c. “Hubba Bubba!”

“Pleased to meet you,” Lambert bleats, and the very hunger wolves politely growl:

d. “Mother’s red pajamas.”

e. “Where’s the salt and pepper?”

f. “We’re so glad to have you for dinner, Lambert.”

If one fails to find the letter(s) of the right answers (and they are not very easy to find) there is a key with the locations of the letters in the pictures printed upside down on the final page.  Try the tailpiece if the previous picture stumped you.

For pure verbal and visual ingenuity, Table Manners, the edifying Story of two Friends whose Discovery of good Manners Promises them a glorious Future ( 2001) by Chris Raschka and Vladimir Radunsky, takes the cake. The two friends are Chester, the tall, thin, green-complexioned alter ego of Rashka, and Dudunya, the squatty, slow-witted, round-faced orange fellow who channels Radunsky.

The process of civilization begins when Chester gently, affectionately says to his smutty-faced friend,  “Dudunya, if I may say so, you look like a pig.”  Chester shows Dudunya that the importance of the place setting–plate, glass, and napkin–lies in its power to prevent a human being from eating like a wild animal.  With a knife and fork, it is possible to  divide a big baked potato into sixteen cubes  “small enough to fit into your mouth.”  Chewing is essential to good digestion, but not at the expense of spraying the members of your dear family with bits of candy sprinkles, bread crumbs, schwarma or drops of cream sauce.  “This,” notes Chester sagely, “I learned from my father’s father’s father.  One day you will pass this on to your children’s children’s children’s.”   But when Chester lays out of a schedule of meal times and what is typically served when, Dudunya is rapt: “Oh wow.  What a busy day of eating.”

The most critical question of them all is addressed in this colorful, dynamic double-page spread.   Provisions have been made at the bottom for the eater to select the sweet of her or his choice… 

Chester demonstrates how to eat messy foods like roast duck dripping with sauce without soiling his hands or shirt, but Dudunya needs a few more lessons before passing the test with flying colors (yes, this picture book also features a multiple-choice test to measure mastery).  Alas, he draws the wrong lesson from his education in manners, but luckily Chester sets him straight and prevents him from starvation!

How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea (2017) by Kate Hosford and illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska teaches something just as important as remembering that a spoon is not a shovel. The spoiled queen goes around the world in search of the best of the best, when she can no longer tolerate the slop being offered her at breakfast.  It turns out that it is not the method of making the tea that matters, although she enjoys the cups of tea Noriko in Japan, Sumil in India, and Rana in Turkey brew using completely different equipment and recipes.  The queen takes the secret back home with her and invites her new friends to a royal tea party.

The truly charming and not alarming person knows that extending warm hospitality to the people around the table will make them feel more welcome than the most exquisite tea served in the most beautiful china cup with pinkies up!


Marks in Books 9: Daydreaming Boys Draw in Their Schoolbooks

Cotsen 1638.

Many copybooks do not look especially interesting, until you go through them carefully page by page.  This one is tacked into a raggedly limp leather wrapper is a case in point.   It was made by a David Kingsley of Rehoboth, Bristol County, Massachusetts between 1797 and 1799.  Much of the contents consist of proverbs, precepts, and sets of words copied out doggedly line after line after line after line.  David signed every single page, one, two, three, or four times, usually in different places, perhaps at his teacher’s bidding.  An undated signature “Mary S.” was written in a different hand was  in the upper right hand corner.  Perhaps she was responsible for the great looping scribbles on top of David’s writing…

Cotsen 1638.

David’s copy book looks like a textbook demonstration of how rote instruction deadens children’s souls and stifles their curiosity except for the page he filled with an illustration of a two-story building with two doors and six windows.  Snaking down the left-hand margin is “David Kingsley made this house.”  David’s source of inspiration came from somewhere other than the facing text on the  comparisons of measures and a practice word problem.  Nor does the copy below it have anything about houses: “Wonce more the year is now begun David Kingsley This Second day of January 1799 the Shool Book of David Kinglsey of Rehoboth February 11 day 1799.” . Perhaps it was supposed to be the home of the “gallant female sailor” the subject of the ballad written on the back of the leaf…    David’s drawing is undated so we cannot know when or where he drew it. At school, when he should have been concentrating on finishing his lesson?   Or somewhere else when he was free to design a house in which he would like to live when a man grown.

Cotsen 52980.

Cotsen 52980.

Cotsen 52980.

Seventeenth-century school master Edward Young’s The Compleat English Scholar in Spelling, Reading, and Writing (1726) was in  a fifty-second edition by 1752.  Cotsen has the only copy of the twenty-seventh edition of 1726 and it belonged to a Lumley Tannat, who may be the child baptized on the eleventh of July 1726 in Saint Dunstan’s in Stepney, London.  He wrote his name multiple times on the book’s preliminary pages but without a date, a  common but annoying habit of children centuries ago.   Of course they had no idea that people nearly three hundred years later would want to be able to calculate their age when they used the book.   On the final blank page Lumley put his name and doodles.

The sketches of boats seem to be preparatory drawings for his masterpiece on the rear board, which even with the book in hand is quite difficult to see unless the light is just right.  Lumley’s ship has one mast, carved figurehead on the bow, gunports for the artillery, two flags.  Was he intensely bored by the lessons, which were mostly drawn from Scripture?  Would he have rather been reading Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719)?Was he dreaming of going to sea in defiance of his father’s wishes to find his a place with a merchant?

Not all of the marks pupils put on bindings are legible, by the way, and they are far more common than drawings of ships of the line or houses. The front board on this book appears to have been poked decoratively with a pen knife, an essential part of a pupil’s academic tool kit in the days of quill pens. How exactly this binding got in this state I cannot guess, but scenarios with small boys, a handy sharp object, and a book bound in leather are easy to dream up.  But then again maybe this is a girl’s handiwork.

Cotsen 362.

Cotsen 362.

Children should not always be blamed for the marks on bindings. Booksellers’ marks can be distinguished easily enough from those children make.  It’s not at all unusual for prices to be written at the head of the paper wrappers on pamphlets.  It’s less common to find such marks on books bound in boards.  The back board of Cotsen’s copy of the 1791 twentieth edition of James Greenwood’s London Vocabulary  has both a paper label identifying it as a copy of the “London Vocabulary with Pictures” and note in ink on the canvas  that it is in two languages.