The King of Hide-and-Seek

The King of Hide-and-Seek [躲猫猫大王] / written by Zhang Xiaoling 张晓玲; illustrated by Pan Jian 潘坚. Jinan, China: Ming tian chu ban she, 2008. (Cotsen N-000732)

When I first came to the United States and lived in a campus town, I was struck by how often I encountered people in wheelchairs—maneuvering coolly on the street, wheeling onto buses that knelt gracefully before letting down a ramp, shopping in the store, and studying in classrooms and libraries. “Why is there a higher rate of disability in the US than in China?” I wondered for a moment before realizing my mistake. The accessibility-compliant public facilities and educational services in the university allowed more people with disabilities to carry on active, and visible, social and academic lives.

When I think back to the rural town in China where I grew up, I can recall hearing bits and pieces about children who were physically or mentally “different”—family members of a distant relative or of an acquaintance whom my parents knew. I hardly ever met those children, who might or might not have been hidden in the same manner as Ariana Dumbledore has been by her family in Godrics Hollow. When children with disabilities appear in Chinese literature and media, they fall into tropes. As Melissa A. Brzycki observed about Chinese children’s stories from the early 1970s, first, there is a scarcity of mental disabilities represented in them. Second, books that are primarily concerned with physical handicaps model how disabled children should be strong and how “normal kids” should extend kindness and support to them. Thirdly, people with disabilities who have made extraordinary achievements are portrayed as role models for the rest of the population to look up to and emulate. In stories published during the Cultural Revolution, Maoism is the spiritual source of strength for children, who overcome danger, fear, and disabilities to contribute to the revolution. Yet those empowering messages can be just as endangering for children with hero dreams. In several nonfiction accounts of real-life heroines, heathy young girls were maimed as a result of following the Communist slogan “Fear Neither Hardship nor Death,” thrusting themselves into perilous circumstances in order to protect communal property or save lives (Brzycki, “Fear”). These resolute girls came from a long line of self-sacrificial female figures, who, in feudal China, practiced the Confucian virtue of placing the interests of their fathers, husbands, and sons above their own; and, in Communist China, submitted themselves to Chairman Mao Zedong, to the Party, and to communes.

The King of Hide-and-Seek, unpaged.

Given the sobering history of representing disabilities in Chinese children’s materials, The King of Hide-and-Seek, a picture book published in 2008, is a refreshing take on the topic. Written by Zhang Xiaoling and illustrated by Pan Jian, the warm yet poignant story tells about a rural Chinese boy named Xiaoyong and his playmates. An unnamed girl, his neighbor and best friend, is the first-person narrator of the story. Xiaoyong lives with his grandfather, a fish seller who is out in the market all day, and the boy is often at home by himself. He and a bunch of preschoolers love to play hide-and-seek around the house, but he is terrible at the game and always the first one to be found.

One day, the girl comes up with a clever plan to help Xiaoyong, making sure that neither of them will become “it” and giving her just enough time to conceal the boy in ingenious spots. Xiaoyong’s happiness from winning the game for once is palpable. His playmates make a crown out of grass and twigs and call him “the King of Hide-and-Seek.” Left to his own devices, however, Xiaoyong is as easy to be found as ever.

One by one his playmates start school. For reasons unknown to the girl narrator, Xiaoyong doesn’t. He can’t help his grandfather in the market either, because he cannot tell one-yuan bank notes from ten-yuan ones. It is at the funeral of Xiaoyong’s grandfather that the girl overhears a comment on the boy, “This is a dim-witted child. Grandpa is dead and he doesn’t even know to cry.”

A few days later, a man who introduces himself as Xiaoyong’s father comes looking for the boy. Xiaoyong is supposed to leave the village with him, but is nowhere to be seen. The boy’s old playmates form a search party. They look around the house; they try the clever spots which have helped Xiaoyong win the game; they search all over the village, but can’t find him this time. Finally, someone suggests calling out the phrase that ends a hide-and-seek game, “Xiaoyong, come out, come out. I guess you win!” Slowly the boy emerges from the vegetable field where he has been hiding, “his eyes so puffed up that he could only squint through slits in the sunlight.” He leaves with his father, but not before casting a last look at his friends. Their parting chorus “Xiaoyong, you rock! You are the King of Hide-and-Seek!” brings a smile to his face once more.

Through the girl narrator’s innocent eye and nonjudgmental voice, it gradually dawns on an adult reader that her best friend likely has mental disabilities. Young readers, however, will first recognize Xiaoyong as a good-humored playmate and relate to his emotions—great joy at being crowned the king of hide-and-seek, quiet content at accompanying a good friend, loneliness and sorrow that he is unable to express with words. This is not a book about disabled angels or saintly helpers, but about irrevocable losses we all experience as we grow up—loss of friends, of family, of blissful unawareness of a challenging life, and of pure joy from the simplest offering. Zhang’s language is subtle, poetic, and rhythmic. Pan’s earthy yellow palette immerses us in a poverty-stricken Chinese village, the drabness of which is broken only by the bright faces of the laughing children.

Reference

Brzycki, Melissa A. “Fear Neither Hardship nor Death: Stories of Disabled Chinese Children in the Early 1970s.” Cotsen Children’s Library Blog. November 6, 2015.

Acknowledgment

Thanks go to Helen Wang, children’s literature translator, for her generous editing work of this post!

If It Moves, Is It A Book?

“Goodbye to the Martians” pop-up from The Jolly Jump-Ups Journey Through Space (McLoughlin Bros., c1952) Cotsen 586

We all know what a book is, don’t we?

A collection of printed or hand-written pages, bound together with some sort of covers, be they hardback or paper wrappers of some sort, right? And definitely something meant to be read or perused (in the case of picture books or volumes collecting illustrated plates).

But a few weeks ago here on the Cotsen blog, we looked a genre-bending variation on the general theme of a children’s book: an interactive musical toy, which combined (simplified) musical scores with words, bright color-process illustrations, and a mini musical instrument: read, perused, and played upon.

This week, I’d like to tell you about another variation on the theme, a type of “moveable” book, which also defies our normal expectation of a book as essentially a two-dimensional object: pop-up books.  As the name implies, pop-up books make use of carefully-folded cardboard or paper (that’s thick enough to stand up), which then “pops up” to reveal an illustrated scene when the pages are turned. (Illustration is key — a pop-up book with printed text alone generally wouldn’t very interesting.)

One of the pop-ups in Robert Sabuda’s Winter’s Tale

In terms of historical development, late nineteenth century paper-engineered mechanical books by Lothar Meggendorfer (1847-1925) are often regarded as forerunners of moveables and pop-ups. Meggendorfer’s work was not aimed at children, although children certainly do delight in seeing them — and a lucky few probably did get to actually manipulate these fairly pricey publications at the time.  In terms of recent pop-ups for adults and children of all ages, some of Robert Sabuda’s work comes to mind, Winter’s Tale, for instance. But the genre usually seems to be aimed at children, who delight in the bright illustrations and the non-static, interactive aspects of pop-ups.

Chromolithographed cover of The Jolly Jump-Ups & their New Home (McLoughlin Bros., c1939) Cotsen 12945

The bright colors of chromolithography were certainly an important part of the visual appeal of children’s pop-ups, which became major items in the inventories of England’s Ernest Nister and America’s McLoughlin Brothers, both of whose work is very well represented in Cotsen’s collection.  Nister’s chromolithographed books were generally printed in Bavaria or Germany (thus carrying on Meggendorfer’s legacy), while McLoughlin’s books were first printed and assembled in the firm’s Brooklyn production facility, in the days when Williamsburgh was a gritty manufacturing, not a trendy boutique and art center. After being sold to Milton Bradley, the McLoughlin imprint changes to “Springfield, Massachusetts,” the location of the parent company. (Thanks to technological developments in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth centuries, chromolithography, which had originally been a printing process for plates and art book reproductions, became commercially viable for cheap, children’s books — McLoughlin’s stock-in-trade).

The Jolly Jump-Ups series list (from rear cover of The Jolly Jump-Ups Journey Through Space)

McLoughlin Brothers was a real pioneer in mass-produced, relatively inexpensive color-printed materials for children, and the firm’s output included paper toys, board games, all sorts of novelties, and elaborately-cut paper Valentine’s Day cards.  The clever paper engineering in pop-up books was thus a natural for them.  One of their earliest pop-up books was The Jolly Jump-Ups and their New House, of which Cotsen Library has two copies, both marked “copyright 1939,” but with one bearing the text “patent applied for” above the copyright mark and the other noting “trade mark” after the title words “Jolly Jump Ups.”  “Jolly Jump Ups” was McLoughlin’s title for this series of pop-up books, whuch eventually included eleven titles, and the “patent applied for” label indicates how proprietary McLoughlin was about their pop-up paper engineering.  (This cover variation between what otherwise looks like identical editions, exemplifies an aspect that makes McLoughlin publications so tricky to catalog or identify with certainly — especially in view of the frequent lack of a publication date on many of their other books, which the firm often reissued over and over again over the years, sometime with the same inventory number noted and sometime with different ones.  Are these two copies of New House from two different editions printed at different times, or part of the same edition  — what bibliographers often term “the same setting of type” — with “just” minor printing variations on the cover, perhaps just “stop press” changes made to reflect a change in patent or trade-mark status? )

“Moving Day” – Pop-Up #1

Take a look at the cover of The Jolly Jump-Ups and their New House.  It’s a virtual collage of all the idealized aspects of small-town or suburban life that you could imagine!  Packed together are happy children playing, a boy on his bicycle, a horse-drawn flower-seller’s cart, a pretty girl in a princess dress buying some flowers, a delivery van, and even an organ grinder and his monkey.  In the background, a flashy car drives in front of brand-new subdivision housing, with the Jump-Ups’ large, brand-new house looming large on a hill. It’s hard now not to find this jumble of so many sentimentalized features a little over the top, but perhaps McLoughlin Bros. thought children needed all the cheer they could get in the dark days of 1939, when war had just broken out?  Sentimentality and nostalgia for an idealized past were important aspects of many wartime stories for both children and adults.

The pop-up pages inside the book continue in this cheerfully idealized vein, depicting the perfect house, the perfect sunny day, the perfect happy family, lots of good wholesome fun… And despite the fact that the book has quite a bit of text, it’s really the color-rich pop-up illustrations that make a vivid impression and bring the story to life.

Lots to do — but no mischief afoot!

Family time in the evening “children’s hour”

Copyrighted some ten years later, the 1948 Jolly Jump Ups ABC Book features a cover of happy children presented as fancifully-manipulated lottery figures.  Quite a range of fun activities are displayed.  I particularly like the fact that P and R are playing with phonograph records (along with Q) and that S is in the sand-box (along with T, U, and V), but perhaps I’m reading too much into this?

S is for Sand-box?  Cover of The Jolly Jump Ups ABC Book, featuring children as lottery figures (McLoughlin Bros., c1948) Cotsen 19276

The actual pop-pages inside the book take a different pictorial tack though, using familiar illustrative objects for each letter of the alphabet: A is for child artist, C is for clown, T is for turkey, etc.  In addition, each letter is chalked on a recurring blackboard backdrop, both in capital letters and cursive writing (remember that?) and provides the object of short, four-line poems in the manner of many earlier alphabet rhymes.

And S is for Saw, T is for Turkey, U is for Umbrella…

Pop-up depiction of the letters: A is for Artist

The illustrative objects seem to be an eclectic, free-associative combination, and at least one of the juxtapositions seems portentous, perhaps unintentionally.  Does the “sharp saw” leaning on the turkey somehow suggest the poor bird’s Thanksgiving fate?

The Jolly Jump-Up Series includes the Jump-Ups at the Circus, … On the Farm, … At the Zoo,At the Circus, and … On a Vacation Trip, when they visit Washington, DC, West Point, and the Grand Canyon.  But, without question, my favorite of Cotsen’s books in the series is The Jolly Jump-Ups Journey Through Space, copyrighted 1952, a real evocation of the era when “outer space” and the idea of humans traveling into space really took hold of the public’s imagination.  (As context, Sputnik was launched in 1957, the first Earth-orbiting satellite, transmitting radio signals back to Earth, a landmark event in the furious competition between the USA and the USSR to be “first” in the various aspects of space exploration.)

The text is presented in the narrative frame of a series of reports transmitted from “Station S-C-I-E-N-C-E radio and T.V., located in the Inventagon,” which describibe the Jump-Ups’ voyage to Mars. As such, the text is longer and perhaps more imaginative than that found in any of the other books in the series.  But, once again, the illustrations really steal the show and make dynamic use of color-process-printing in the pop-up format.

Up, up & away in a spacecraft from Jules Verne…

“Set for Mars” – The Jump-Ups & the 1952 media.

In the book’s first pop-up illustration, the Jump-Ups (traveling as a family, just like the Space Family Robinson) pose for the press.  A veritable catalog of 1950s clothing and then-state-of-the-art media technology is set against a futuristic backdrop that seems to belong to a very different world.  In the second pop-up, a spacecraft more akin to something from Jules Verne than even the most fanciful 1950s mock-ups, blasts off against a beautifully-rendered sunrise.  The ship’s fire-red blast-off plume is vividly done, and the its horizontal trajectory dramatically cuts across the rectangular plane of the illustration and perhaps even presses up against the envelope of the book’s “two-dimensional” rectangular plane.

Let’s take a closer look at the colors and details:

Space Ship away … in a fiery exhaust plume

Once on Mars — which looks like a cross between the enchanted wood of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Grand Canyon (which the family had visited in their Vacation Trip pop-up book) — the Jollys meet friendly Martians, who look a lot like fairy sprites or the “little green men” of Martian lore.  And of course, they get back to Earth safely.  But how? Take a look the illustration!  Did they fly home with wings?  No, as the narrative below informs us (which I’ve cropped out here in hopes of better showing the illustration), the children have used their “spectrachutes,” a gift from the Martians, and ask their parents to safely land the spaceship.  Some aspects of the relation between parents and kids never change, do they?

Floating down to Earth via “spectrachutes,” a Martian gift

On Mars, with friendly Martians, taking lots of vacation photos

The Jolly Jump-Up Series must have been popular with children or — at least their book-buying parents — since the books were in print for well over ten years, and the number of titles in the series continued to expand during that time. The popularity of the Jump-Ups Series is also documented by several McLoughlin Brothers catalogs from the 1940s, copies of which we have in the Cotsen collection from McLoughlin’s own publisher’s archives”.  The series is often the lead item in a catalog, and a four-page 1947 Price List touts the “The New Jolly Jump-Ups,” in addition to listing the well-known series titles. But what became of popular books?

Publication of the series ceased, not because it fell out of favor with child readers, but rather due to hard realities of business financials.  Milton Bradley shut down publication of McLoughlin Brothers titles some time after the end of World War I; in 1951, Julius Kushner, a New York toy manufacturer, bought the trademark and reissued the Jolly Jump-Ups for a few years until some time about 1954.  So The Jolly Jump-Ups Journey Through Space seems to have been something of a last hurrah for McLoughlin publications, and, indeed, its 1952 copyright date makes it quite possibly the last-issued McLoughlin publication in Cotsen’s collection.

Gone but not forgotten, the Jolly Jump-Ups pop-up books represent an important phase in American children’s book publishing, particularly in terms of “interactive” books or print items that push the envelope of what a “book” can be. So apart from sharing delight in the color-printing and ingenuity of pop-ups, I invite you to to use the Jump-Ups as an invitation to think about questions like, “What is a book?” and “What is it that a book can, or cannot, do”?

Cover of The Jolly Jump-Ups Journey Through Space (c1952)