Crocodiles Ready for Their Closeups

The number of crocodiles and alligators in picture books have proliferated over the last few decades for no obvious reason.  Increasing the representation of reptiles might be a good thing if we think their stories should be told alongside those of creatures with fur and feathers.  They aren’t the usual friendly beasts in children’s  books.  Just watch a crocodile bring down a wildebeest on a BBC Earth or a YouTube video of a gigantic alligator marching across a Florida golf course.

F. D. Bedford’s illustration of Captain Hook’s demise from J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan and Wendy (1911).

Famous literary crocodile characters tend to be wily predators, like the ticking one waiting for its chance to nab the rest of Captain Hook or the soft-spoken “large-pattern leather ulster” that grabs the Elephant Child’s nose to drown him for dinner.  After its fifteen-minutes of fame in Paris as the Egyptian sensation, the reptile in Fred Marcellino’s I, Crocodile (1999) eludes Napoleon’s cook by slithering down a manhole into the sewer, where it can pick off unwary merveilleuses for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.Hippos can take on crocodiles in nature, a situation playfully recreated in Catherine Rayner’s Solomon and Mortimer (2016), where two bored male juveniles find themselves at the receiving end of their own practical joke.  Humans fare less well. Thomas in Patricia McKissack’s A Million Fish…More or Less (1992) illustrated by Dena Schutzer doesn’t stand a chance against Old Atoo, the grand-pere of the Bayou Clapateaux’s alligators, when he claims share of the enormous catch.Girls seem better at eluding crocodile incursions than boys. In Sylviane Donnio’s I’d Really Like to Eat a Child (2007) illustrated by Dorothee de Monfried, a girl so effortlessly repels scrawny Achilles’ attack that he realizes that he will have to consume mountains of bananas to grows big enough to catch tasty young humans. Poling through the bayou in her flat boat, the girl in Candace Fleming’s Who Invited You? (2001) illustrated by cartoonist George Booth has to let a heap of bold animals cadge rides. The low-riding boat catches the attention of “a-smilin’, a-slinkin’, a-blinky-blanky-winkin’” old gator who tries to clamber in too.  When the original nine freeloaders tell him there’s no more space, he just grins as wide as he can, “That’s all right…’cause I have room for YOU.” The girl escapes without a scratch. The heroine of author-illustrator Sophie Gilmore’s Little Doctor and the Fearless Beast (2019) runs a jungle clinic catering to sick crocodiles. One day Big Mean, the largest and surliest of them all, turns up at the door and isn’t especially uncooperative.  While the monster takes a cat nap, the little doctor finally succeeds in prying open her jaws.  By falling accidentally into Big Mean’s mouth, she finds the real patients, little hatchlings that need untangling from plastic waste.  For freeing them without a second thought about ng her own safety, Big Mean pronounces the little doctor  a “fearless beast…who could not rest until she had helped her fellow creature.”Of all the scene-stealing reptiles, the one in Laura Amy Schlitz’s Princess Cora and the Crocodile (2017) takes the prize.  The princess begs her fairy godmother for a dog and receives a crocodile instead, who has been charged with rescuing the princess from her overly fastidious nanny and slave-driving royal parents.  The crocodile will impersonate the princess and refrain from biting or eating anyone so she can have a day off to do exactly what she pleases.  During her absence, he stays more or less within parameters, but uses deliberately inappropriate methods of sensitizing the nanny, queen, and king to her discontents.  But they do set the stage for Princess Cora to calmly renegotiate the terms of her daily routine, which earns him in perpetuity a place in the royal lily pond and all the chocolate and vanilla cream puffs he can gobble up.

The gaping jaws need never be opened to make a wonderful picture book starring crocodiles, as the last two featured titles demonstrate. The quiet crocodile Fossil, created by Natacha Andriamirado and Delphine Renon, cheerfully plays along with his small herd of animal friends who clamber onto his back to form and reform into living sculptures until commanded to roar and send them flying.Instead of imagining a friendly crocodile at play, Giovanna Zoboli and Mariachiara di Giorgio celebrate the daily routine of a contented working reptile in their wordless Professional Crocodile (2017).  If you want to know his place of employment, you’ll have to read the book!With apologies to Bernard Waber and Maurice Sendak for not having room for Lyle, Lyle Crocodile and No Fighting, No Biting!

Make Your Paper Dolls Parisian Easter Bonnets

La recreation des demoiselles. Paris: H. Jannin for H. Rousseau, ca. 1852. Cotsen Toys unprocessed 6186008.

Is there anything as stylish as a French doll?  Cotsen has a very elegant kit from mid-nineteenth-century Paris for making paper dolls and wardrobes of undergarments, dresses, hats, and coats.  Above is the box lid and the designer of the pictorial title label has, of course, shown Maman and her two daughters absorbed in the activity of making paper dolls from this very object.     Here is the inside of the box.

The large center compartment holds different kinds of colored papers.  Finished hats are in the upper right hand corner and bits of tinseled ribbon in the upper left.  Dolls are in the rectangular compartments on the sides.  Because of all the evidence that the kit was used, it is probably missing original materials that the publisher included.  Perhaps new colored papers were supplied as the little girls consumed the nicest ones dressing the dolls.

 

 

 

Simple patterns were printed on this sheet above the lithographed text.  The  only skills required were cutting along the outlines, including the circle for the doll’s neck, and folding in half at the shoulders.

 

 

Not so!   This sheet shows that the little girls were expected to transfer the outline of the pattern onto the fabric with pin pricks, which is much more economical than cutting them out and throwing them away.  This way patterns can be used over and over again.

Three dolls modelling white dresses, perhaps underclothes.The shift for the youngest girl (number 3) is completely without any decoration, while the knee-length one (number 2) has trim on the hem of the sleeves and the neckline.  The garment with the elbow flounces hovering just above the tops of number 3’s boots might be a dress.

Wrong again!  The doll in the lower right hand corner is clearly wearing number 3  with all the lace trim under her blue skirt and white jacket with something that looks like a peplum.  the jacket is number 3 on the sheet of pricked patterns. The doll above her has garments created from textured papers in pink and green.  The doll to the left is dressed in active wear, suitable for rolling her hoop.

Some unfinished finery underneath the paper samples in the central compartment.

Big brother inspects the ladies’ handiwork and seems to find the results attractive. His approval of their good taste selecting silhouettes, combinations of colors, and “fabrics” is probably critical, as they are playing at living, learning how to make themselves attractive to future suitors!

This kit is another example of the fine lithography of the H. Jannin firm, which has been highlighted in a post on Noah’s ark toys and a jigsaw puzzle  of fashionable fruits and vegetables in Cotsen.  Jannin also made fans and panoramas, and, of course, illustrated books of all kinds for children.