Tales of Tremendous Vegetables

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The hero of Jan Le Witt’s The Vegetabull.

Inanimate and oddly shaped edible objects, vegetables star in far fewer stories for children than anything with legs, antennae, feathers or fur.  In honor of the Thanksgiving weekend, I’ve dug up a handful of interesting vege-tales, one new, one old and twice retold.  Gratins and buttery purees are not the inevitable ends of a gigantic vegetable, so their stories can be relished by meat-eaters and vegetarians.

“Die Ruebentante” –or Aunty Root–is a story I’ve wanted to feature in a post for a long time.   Its creator, Max Froelich, seems to be unknown except for the work he published in Heim der Jugend: Ein Jahrbuch fuer Kinder und Eltern (1905).  It is a cautionary tale in two frames about a generously proportioned lady turnip of a certain age, who goes for a walk in her slippers on a moonlit night.  In the dark she trips over two potatoes and tumbles down into the mud, unaware that the moon has witnessed the whole ridiculous episode.  The moral? No midnight strolls for root vegetables with spindly legs and tiny feet shod in slippers.

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Aunty Root’s luxuriant trailing leaves make a nice contrast to the elaborate border of carrot greens. Max Froehlich, “Die Ruebentante,” on page 285 in Heim der Jugend, edited by Adolf Cronbach and H. H. Ewers. (Berlin: Siegfried Cronbach, 1905) Cotsen 12147.

For a vegetable of stupendous girth and length that inspires shock, awe, and veneration, see Vladimir Radunsky’s The Mighty Asparagus (2004), a picture book for three- to eight-year-olds.   As the recipient of a New York Times’ Best Illustrated Children’s Book Award, the judges must not have thought it very likely that parents would have to fend off questions like,  “Why does a giant asparagus make the little king nervous?”  or “Why does queen hug the asparagus?” or “Why does the princess want to eat the yucky asparagus?”  On the other hand, all the nudge-nudge, wink, winks will be over the children’s heads, but will help keep the adult reader awake.  Likewise the good-natured liberties taken with the paintings of Piero della Francesca, Andrea Mantegna, Perugino, and several other Renaissance artists …   Here is the fold-out plate showing the full grandeur of the asparagus.

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The fold-out plate folded (panels 1 and 4). Vladimir Radunsky, The Mighty Asparagus. (New York: Silver Whistle/ Harcourt, 2004) Promised gift.

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Panels 2 and 3.

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Panel 4.

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Panels 5 and 6, in which the musicians sing the ballad of the asparagus.

The Mighty Asparagus is, of course, a fractured version of the venerable folk tale of the turnip and Brian Alderson’s telling illustrated by Fritz Wegner is one of the most enjoyable  of the many versions.  A poor farmer finds himself the proud cultivator of the most prodigious, round, unblemished specimen ever seen in those parts.  Such a “right champion turnip” can only be fit for a king, so once the farmer and his family manage to pull it out of the ground and heave it onto a wagon, off they go to the castle.  The king is so impressed with this “most champion turnip” that he fills the farmer’s cart full of gold.

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Page [15] in Brian Alderson, The Tale of the Turnip. Illustrated by Fritz Wegner. (Cambridge: Candlewick Press, 1999) Cotsen 53048. Inscribed by the author to Lloyd E. Cotsen.

Now when the rich squire gets wind of his neighbor’s good luck, he is so consumed with jealousy that he must take the finest horse in his stable, who is worth more than a thousand turnips, and present it to the king, confident of receiving an even bigger and better reward.  The squire gets his money’s worth in turnips all right, as the new owner of the right champion vegetable.

With badgers in bright Russian folklorist costumes, Jan Brett gives her picture book of “The Turnip” a new twist.  By eliminating the greedy resentful neighbor, she focuses instead on the communal effort of pulling the turnip out of the frozen field.  The successful conclusion of this Herculean labor is celebrated with singing and dancing.

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Cover design for Jan Brett, The Turnip. (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015). Cotsen in process 7374091.

Taking a hint from Helen Bannerman’s Little Black Sambo, Mother Badger grabs her griddle and gets down to making a mountain of turnip pancakes to warm everyone up.  It seems unlikely that a savory Chinese or Korean turnip pancake was on the menu, so I like to imagine that she whipped up a kind of latkes, made from half grated potato and half grated turnip, which would taste equally good with butter and syrup or sour cream and smoked fish.  If you are still feeling hungry after Thursday’s overindulgence, there are recipes for either kind of turnip pancake on the Internet.

7374091page30The holiday season is officially declared open!

Halloween Costume Crisis? Some Last-Minute Ideas from the Collection

halloween-storage-com-pumpkin-paintingNow that the end-of-the-year holiday season in America has been pushed back from Thanksgiving to Halloween over the last ten years or so, the festivities associated with October 31st have changed dramatically, not the least of with their profitability–$8.4 billion this year.

Compared to now, the bar was set shockingly low in Manhattan Beach, California, my hometown in the 1960s.  No one considered painting pumpkins.   A day or two before Halloween we hacked crude faces in pumpkins with kitchen knives instead of a selection of cunning little saws.  By first grade, I had graduated from trick-or-treating under the supervision of a sane adult to running around with a pack of neighborhood kids after dark.   Most of us wore homemade costumes and carried swag bags recycled from the grocery store. When we had reached the legal limit of candy, we would head over to the house of Skipper Frank, a local kiddie television show host, to admire the audio-animatronic horror sitting on his porch, being careful not to  set off his bad-tempered Afghan hounds.

One thing hasn’t changed–some one (meaning mom) is under considerable pressure to make their children’s dreams of disguises that can’t be topped come true.  Mothers shake in their boots when outfitting has been  left so long that they can begin living in dread against the day their angel kvetches, “I’ve never forgotten the time I had to go around as a friendly ghost in an old ripped pillow case that was so long I tripped over it and fell down and lost almost all my candy because YOU said the mermaid suit I REEEEALLY wanted was too hard to make.”

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The Halloween nightmare of mothers who aren’t crafty…

To put that maternal anxiety in perspective, look at some examples of gay apparel children donned during the heyday of fancy-dress balls in England during the late 1890s and early 1900s.  Fairy tale and storybook characters, queens and clowns (Pierrot was not a scary creep) were all favorites for dress-up costumes then.  The publisher, Dean’s Rag Book Company, also marketed a brochure promoting different costumes based on illustrations in their books–you paid for the instructions, but received the “rag book material” gratis as thanks for the willingness to be a living advertisement for Dean at a public ball or carnival.  Unfortunately, the Cotsen textile collection does not own an example of the fancy dress costumes.

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Alice Hanslip, Fancy Dress A.B.C. Dean’s Rag Book, number 49. London: Dean’s Rag Book Company, 1905 (Cotsen 74181).

Another book in the collection confirms that costumes like these did not just exist in the eye of the illustrator.   It features a dozen plates of fabulous costumes, any of which makes the construction of the adorable mermaid suit look like child’s play.  Miller’s costumes also suggest that they were built to last for more than one party for more than one child.  For each of the late Victorian costumes, color choices, fabric suggestions, estimates for yardage and special materials were all provided.  It was also possible for families with deep pockets to purchase them ready-made.  Neither option was especially reasonable, from the standpoint of either time or money.

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The choices include Puss in Boots, Cinderella, Dick Whittington, and a fairy godmother. Children’s Fancy Ball Costumes Illustrating Familiar Characters from Nursery Rhymes. London: Samuel Miller, ca. 1905 (Cotsen 1691).

Nowdays trick-or-treaters wouldn’t recognize many of the characters in the Miller book, so of course new ones from contemporary children’s books, cartoons, and movies have taken their place. How about some of the strong women from Greek mythology and French history memorialized in the book of pantins, or jointed paper dolls, below?  They could be the inspiration for a new super heroine with or without the horse.  No need to explain who Penthesilea was, except in a head-to-head with a mom with a chair in the  Classics department.

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Job’s pantin of Penthesilea, the queen of the Amazons, killed at Troy by Achilles, is decently covered up, but still looks pretty fierce. Aristide Fabre, Amazones d’hier et d’aujourd’hui. Illustrated by Job (i.e. Jacques Maris Gaston Onfroy de Breville). London: Hachette, ca. 1905 (Cotsen 150584).

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The book’s front board features Joan of Arc and la Grande Mademoiselle.

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Twiggy Paper Doll. Racine, Wisconsin: Whitman, c.1967 (Cotsen in process 7419826).

How about something less ambitious, more modern, but still a little retro?   This paper doll book manufactured as merchandise to be sold during super-model Twiggy’s American tour in 1968 made it easy for her little fans to strut her style.

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With a pair of fishnet stockings, you’re ready to go.

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This is the actual dress bound into the paper doll book. It is one of the more restrained ensembles in the book. Don’t pretend there wasn’t a fake fur mini coat in neon colors hanging in the closet for years…

Take heart, set up the sewing machine, grab your glue gun (or credit card) and remember that even Martha Stewart doesn’t hit the bull’s eye every year..

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The Queen of Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things.

And when your husband asks for help coming up with something to wear to the office Halloween party, take a hint from the newest addition to Cotsen’s paper doll collection.  Inspiration is as close as your husband’s closet…  Add that chicken suit lying around from a previous Halloween, he can say he’s Albert Einstein  going to a party at the Institute.

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einstein Gift of John Bidwell, gift of Molly Bidwell and Susan Klaiber.