Horrid Henry’s Predecessors

May 4th, the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections began the Big Move, where miles of rare materials were shifted into its cavernous new vault in Firestone Library.  (We celebrated its early and successful conclusion in the previous post, “Moving Day in Feather Town.”)  During any collections move, books with problems crop up and  sometimes combinations of them turn out to be unexpectedly interesting.  When resizing books the other week, three nineteenth-century books featuring boys who are no angels passed over my desk.

These days characters whose halos have slipped down to their shoulders are not underrepresented in children’s books.  Think of Francesca Simon’s Horrid Henry, whose antics have given rise to a multi-media empire.  My trio of old books offer some pretty compelling evidence that the way bad boys are punished for their evil deeds has changed dramatically as attitudes towards authority, curiosity, mischief, and mistakes have become more tolerant–or overly lenient, depending upon your point of view.

Contrast the implicit acceptance in Horrid Henry of children disrespecting adults with the Old Testament’s zero tolerance. In Kings 2:22-3, when the prophet Elisha passes a pack of young louts on the road to Bethel.  Because the word for the boys was mistranslated in the King James Bible, they are usually understood to be little boys,not teenagers. These ancestors of the Purple Gang yell at Elisha, “Go up, you old baldy.”  He curses them and two female bears come out of the woods and maul forty-two of the no-goods.  If the punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime, Biblical scholars are inclined to think that for centuries readers really haven’t understood the text between the lines that explains what was really going between the young men and the prophet.


The story of Elisha and the bears must have inspired many cautionary tales about bad boys who mess with the wrong person  and get more than they bargained for.  Another familiar type in cautionary tales is the no-good who disobeys his loving parents and comes to a spectacularly gruesome end.  The history of the brothers Tommy and Harry in Daniel Fenning’s The Universal Spelling Book (1756) was in wide circulation from the mid-eighteenth to the late nineteenth centuries and was even mentioned in  Dickens’ David Copperfield.  Harry the elder is a rotter and Tommy the younger is a Peter Perfect.  Guess which brother goes to the dogs and is eaten by lions?

Woodcut, page 43, Cotsen 118 (19th edition, 1773)

Woodcut, page 43, Cotsen 118 (19th edition, 1773)

Nineteenth-century picture books are full of bad boys, but often they are shown making mischief in a series of detailed illustrations rather than starring in a continuous narrative.  All three of the books I found during the Big Move–one French, one British, and one German–all fall into this category.  In Les Proverbes de Pierre (1890), illustrator Jean Geoffrey dresses up his sturdy little devils in Pierrot costumes and sets them loose in the classroom and in the street.  Notice that it is a young peep show operator (the one with what looks like a little tower strapped on his back), not an adult, who breaks up the squabble in the first illustration.  In the second picture all hell seems to have broken loose when the teacher steps out of the classroom.  Is the boy in the upper left sending up his teacher?  Where are the wild beasts?


Page 21, Cotsen 10743


Page 1, Cotsen 10743

In Young Troublesome (ca. 1850), John Leech gleefully shows just how much mischief a public school boy could make at home during the Christmas holidays.  In this plate the adults stand by helplessly as the young pickle shows his little brothers and sisters how easy and delightful it is to slide down a bannister.

Plate [2], Cotsen 3141

Plate 2, Cotsen 3141

There are also illustrations showing boys playing practical jokes that are anything but fun and games.   In Ludwig Kies’ Der Kinder Art und Unart (ca. 1855′), the boys in the boat dump an elaborately dressed tailor overboard.  The tailor’s terrified expression suggests he fears he will drown once his heavy clothes become waterlogged.  The boys, who may be working class, show no remorse for their act of gratuitous cruelty, for which they deserve to be severely punished.  Likewise Leech’s Young Troublesome seems to think nothing of interfering with the servants while they are on duty, even if his prank ruins their clothes.  The hapless servant may have no other recourse than complaining to his comrades below the stairs.


Plate [53], Cotsen 24963


Plate 10, Cotsen 3141

Of all activities forbidden to children, playing with fire may have been one of the most satisfying because so risky.  From the late eighteenth century onward, it is not that difficult to find illustrations of children whose clothes have caught fire, a very real possibility in homes where there were multiple fireplaces with open grates.  William Darton senior liked such subjects, but no engraving in his firm’s juvenile books can compare with this one from Der Kinder Art und Unart of a boy running out of the hen house, which he accidentally set aflame.  Unlike many of the plates in this book, no adult appears to reprimand him (or mourn his passing as the kitties did Hoffmann’s Paulinchen).

Plate [30], Cotsen 24963

Plate [30], Cotsen 24963

In sharp contrast, Young Troublesome and his assistant look as if they have deployed every bit of firepower behind the scenes to bring the juvenile theater production of The Miller and His Men to a triumphant conclusion. The size of the explosion seems to have given his papa pause.  Or perhaps his ears were ringing from all the racket from the special effects.

Plate 7, 3141

Plate 7, 3141

Last but not least, is this illustration of a boy on his way to school pausing to get a light from a street urchin, while a gaping classmate watches them indulging in a forbidden vice.  A casual depiction of underage smoking like this one in a picture book would be enough to get Les proverbes de Pierre a PG-13 rating these days.  But did boys have more fun back then?  I wonder…


Page 33, Cotsen 10743




Moving Day in Feather Town


Front wrapper, Item 6540798

To celebrate the very early end of our recent department wide collections move, we thought it would be fun to post about an item from the collection that’s all about moving.

Moving Day in Feather Town (1989) is a fun little picture book written by Ann M. Martin and illustrated by her father Henry Martin about two chickens, Fran and Emma, who decide to switch houses.

Ann’s name might sound familiar because she’s the author of the first 35 novels of the prolific “Baby-Sitters Club” series and other novels like the 2003 Newbery Medal awarded A Corner of the Universe. Henry Martin might be better known for his New Yorker illustrations and his long running comic strip “Good News/Bad News”. Perhaps less known, however, is that Ann happens to be a Princeton native and Henry a member of the Princeton University class of ’48.

This Princeton connection perhaps explains why the Illustrator kindly gifted his original artwork for the book to the Cotsen collection. So today I can not only show you some of the highlights of this story, I can showcase aspects of the production of the work as well.

Original artwork for the front wrapper

Original artwork for the front wrapper, Item 6540798, (notice the addition of a blue background to the published work)

The story Begins with a frustrated Fran and Emma waking up in their respective homes:

Page spread of [1] and [2]

Page spread of [1] and [2]

They’re both so envious of the other’s house and just sick of their boring old places!So they have they a great idea: swap houses!

And they both get excited and packed up and ready to move. But before long they both get cold feet. Unfortunately, neither has the heart to admit it to their friend. So they both decide to go through with it instead, on the day of the big parade no less:

Page [8]

And with heavy hearts, and all the items in the house packed away, each prepares her respective final act in the home:

Page [12]

Page [12]

But much to their mutual excitement, the two moving chicken friends get caught in the very parade they thought they’d miss. They even run into each other during the festivities:

Page spread of [18] and [19]

Page spread of [18] and [19]

Page spread of [18] and [19] galley (Notice how the original boarders have been clipped during production)

Page spread of [18] and [19] original artwork (Notice the absence of text and how the original boarders have been clipped during production)

Unfortunately they run into each other a little too literally and disaster strikes:

Page [19]

Page [20]

Page [19] original artwork

Page [20] original artwork

After all the commotion and confusion the pair are distraught and fear that they will never be allowed to join the parade again. Emma finally admits that she doesn’t want to move, and Fran is relieved at feeling the same. The friends part in happiness and return to their original houses:

Page [23]

Well so much for Fran and Emma’s move . . . but it all worked out in the end!

Our move to new vault space in Firestone Library, on the other hand, was much more necessary and much more efficiently handled. Not one crash!

***We’d like to thank the hard work and dedication of the CDTF team (you know who you are) and the Clancy-Cullen movers for doing such a great job.