Best-Selling Potty Training Books

This post from 2016 was inspired by the idea that the successful potty-training books must sell almost as many copies of Harry Potter.  Probably almost no one will remember having one read aloud during the critical period, so it seems fitting to rerun this tribute to the secret bestsellers of toddlerhood.   Next week we’ll run one more oldie but goodie and resume posting new material in February.

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Find the baby on the close stool! From the manuscript, “The Life of a Baby,” by A. B. ca. 1839. (Cotsen 46434).

In theory and practice, the non-fiction picture book can play an important teaching skills and competencies in a concrete way. Picture books have been drafted into the late twentieth-century campaign to make the critical transition from messy blithe incontinence to conscious, hygienic elimination trauma-free. While it no longer seems desirable to motivate gaining control over bodily functions by associating it with shame or guilt, the attempt to be upbeat about a semi-taboo subject can be interesting.

Japanese author-illustrator Taro Gomi took a strictly factual approach: every living thing eats, so we’re one big happy family when it comes to getting rid of the by-products. First published as part of the “Masterpieces of the Friends of Science” series in 1977, the English-language translation rights to Minna uchi were acquired by Kane/Miller in 1993. Gomi’s truthful but slyly humorous approach caused a stir when Everyone Poops came out in the United States, but once the initial shock wore off, it become something of a cult classic. Cotsen has the English- and Chinese-language translations, but not the Japanese original.

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Double-page spread from Taro Gomi, Everyone Poops. Translated by Amanda Mayer Stinchecum, Brooklyn, NY: Kane/Miller, 18th printing, c1993 (Cotsen 24016).

When Israeli writer Alonah Frankel was a young mother with a son, she wrote a book to help other parents toilet-train their boys. The first of her many children’s books in Hebrew, “Sir ha- Sirim” [The Potty of Potties] became an instant best-seller in Israel when published in 1975. It was issued in 1980 under the title Once Upon a Potty in the United States and after that went on to find an international audience. In the 1990s, the version for girls, audible, audio-tape, and cartoon versions have bolstered sales in the US. Written from the point of view of the mother, who has to do the dirty work, she nicely but firmly demonstrates all the steps in the process.

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What’s going to happen next? Alonah Frankel, Sir ha-Sirim [The Potty of Potties], Tel Aviv: Masadah, 1984, 18th printing (Cotsen 7519).

A friend gave Mr. Cotsen a copy of the original Hebrew-language book and his note explains something important that was lost in English translation.

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Note to Mr. Cotsen laid into Cotsen 7519.

But Gomi and Frankel aren’t to everyone’s taste. Some people are more comfortable with a less clinical approach, and lots of authors and illustrators have risen to the occasion. The most obvious ploy is to let a cute baby animal stand in for the nah-saying toddler. Little bear Bartholomew feels pangs of distress after running out to play without going first like his George daddy bear suggested. I refuse to believe that the choice of a bear cub alludes to the well-known and slightly rude rhetorical question meaning, “It sure do!” to cheer on discouraged parents.

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From the board book version of On Your Potty! by Virginia Miller. Cambridge, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2000. (Cotsen 87638)

What if a writer tries to convince the unwilling party that a toilet is a perfectly designed object for the use of human beings by showing why no other animal could find it convenient?

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Andrea Wayne von Konigslow, Toilet Tales, Willowdale, Ontario: Annick Press, c.1987, 5th edition 1990. Gift of Jeffrey P. Barton. (Cotsen in process 7386230).

I happen to think this is pretty funny, but it’s easy to imagine von Konigslow’s whimsical strategy backfiring with a child who believes there are monsters under his bed. After looking at this opening, the suggestible pre-schooler might come to the sensible conclusion that there are really nasty things in the plumbing that might surface in the toilet at any time hunting for something tender to nibble. So why would you sit on it ever?

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Alternative uses for the spurned potty chair.

One of the best-known euphemisms for the toilet seems to have inspired Tony Ross to create a toilet-training picture book that is much more imaginative than practical. A toddler princess (crown, but no frilly dress) who wants to get rid of her nappies puts up quite a fuss when the Queen Mummy tells her “The potty’s the place.” But the gist of the story is how the princess’s request for her plastic throne throws the court into hysterics…

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Tony Ross, I Want My Potty, London: Andersen Press, c.1986 (Cotsen 86775). I assume the “L” stands for “loo.”

Some authors would rather bring to life the comic dimensions of the battle between generations during toilet training instead of offering tips. Littlesaurus leaves piles of poop everywhere in defiance of his elders’ efforts to civilize him, singing an obnoxious ditty to celebrate his independence. Finally his exasperated Daddysaurus yells he doesn’t care if Littlesaurus ever uses the potty, so the contrarian dino decides to give it a try, only to be caught in the act and given a taste of his own medicine by his beloved family…

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Revenge is sweet… Colin MacNaughton, Potty Poo-Poo Wee-Wee! Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2005 (Promised gift). Would a publisher have touched this manuscript if the characters had been human beings?

In researching this post, I’ve come to the conclusion that the collection needs more specimens of this underappreciated genre of picture book to more fully document a) modern anxieties about toilet-training and b) portable potty design.

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A tasteful tailpiece.

Picturing Alice in Wonderland: How Do Child Readers Imagine It?

This post was first run in 2016 to promote a Cotsen exhibition about the Alice in Wonderland industry.  You can’t see the show, but you can enjoy the wonderful illustrations made by children of their favorite characters featured here.

Tenniel’s Alice and the playing cards from the end of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (1865) Cotsen 657.

Alice in Wonderland has been delighting children and grown-ups for over 150 years now. In addition to Lewis Carroll’s text, the illustrations by John Tenniel and other, later illustrators have been a major source of readers’ delight.

Try to imagine Alice without any illustrations of the famous characters and scenes, either by Tenniel or other illustrators. Virtually impossible isn’t it? Carroll himself provided very, very little descriptive detail, if you actually look at his text. So our sense of how Alice and all the inhabitants of Wonderland look is strongly conditioned by illustration, when you stop to think about it. Textual and visual elements of Alice seem inseparably intertwined, with the illustrations shaping meaning, extending it, and sometimes commenting ironically on the text. Tenniel’s Queen of Hearts and Mad Hatter look comically absurd, rather than menacing or hostile, illustration leavening the tone of the words, which can be quite edgy, or even scary, all by themselves.

Professional illustrators have been reimagining Alice in new versions since the nineteenth century, including names like Arthur Rackham, Willy Pogány, Ralph Steadman, or Salvador Dali. (Yes, Dali did have a go at illustrating Alice, in his own distinctive style! More on that “curiosity” in a later posting.). The flood of the new illustrations shows no sign of abating in the twenty-first century either, based on recent editions.

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“Cipher Alice” Cheshire Cat (detail) by Lesley Young (Cotsen 20836).

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Another “Cipher Alice” Cheshire Cat (detail) by Lee MacArthur & David Dansey (Cotsen 20836).

But it’s worth remembering that adults haven’t been the only illustrators of Alice. Generations of children have reimagined Alice in their own pictures, mostly unpublished, but some have found their way into various publications. For instance, the Cipher Alice — a coded version of the story based on the Telegraph Cipher devised by Carroll — credits some twenty-six ten- and eleven-year old children as illustrators (in addition to twenty-nine named “code checkers” for the coder cipher text), all of whom were students at the Edward Peake Middle School in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, England in 1990, when the book was printed by L & T Press, Ltd.

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Alice & the “Drink Me” bottle, by Louise Lawson.

The students’ graphic renderings vary in style and sophistication, but all display the obvious pleasure that children have taken in Alice since 1865. Louise Lawson, for instance, pictures Alice as a smiling little girl with huge bow on her hair, wearing a variation of Alice’s traditional pinafore emblazoned with a super-hero’s “W” (“Wonderland”) and the name “Alice” added on her apron, just for good measure. She chooses to depict Alice theatrically holding up the “Drink Me” bottle at the beginning of her Wonderland adventures.

The book’s Preface, by supervising grown-up, Edward Wakeling, notes that the Cipher Alice was produced for the Alice 125 Project of the Carroll Foundation, Australia, which attempted “to set a world record for the number of different languages version of the same book.” Interest in Alice was indeed world-wide in 1990, and if anything, it has become even more so in 2016 (Alice 150), with the book having been translated into more than 170 languages in countless editions!

But as in so many editions of Alice, I think the illustrations in the Cipher Alice are “the thing” (with apologies to Hamlet), so I’d like to share some others with you. It’s one my very favorite editions, since it shows how child-readers responded to Alice. I also like the way that different children sometimes imagined quite different depictions of the same scene — there’s no one, “right” way to depict Alice, as the many different versions over the last 150 years have shown us! The illustrations are simply terrific fun to see too! (Click on any thumbnail image to see a larger version.)

Down into Wonderland via a tunnel-like maelstrom... Past curious things on the way

Down into Wonderland via a tunnel-like maelstrom… past curious things on the way.

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Descending into Wonderland via a bucket in a well… Past dinosaur fossils on the way!

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Alice and the White Rabbit “after the fall” — Alice looks distinctly unhappy (and wears a name-tag).

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Alice (wearing a “Cool” tee-shirt) as she shrinks, becoming too small to reach the key on the table.

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Tiny Alice after shrinking too small to reach the door key on the (now giant-sized) table.

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The Mad Hatter (price tag in his hatband) with a hot-dog, a coke, and an earring!

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Alice and a mustachioed caterpillar, who also wears a monocle and smokes a gentleman’s pipe.

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Alice (with a name-tag), an unusual-looking White Rabbit, and the Court of the Queen of Hearts.

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“You’re nothing but a pack of cards!” –Alice. (And how about the Hatter’s outfit shown here?)

How do these illustrations compare with how you visualize Alice, Wonderland, and its inhabitants?

If you’d like to see more illustrations of Alice, Wonderland, and all its inhabitants, come visit the exhibition now in the Cotsen Gallery: “Alice, after Alice: Adaptation, Illustration, and the ‘Alice Industry’!”

Alice after "Alice" at Cotsen Library

Alice after “Alice” Exhibition at the Cotsen Library:
April 15–July 15, 2016
Free & Open to the Public, Daily 9-5