Just a Few Cat Tales…

Judith Kerr’s Mog the Forgetful Cat (1970)

The news being what it is these days, we all have a lot on our minds, no matter where we live. Many of us (the lucky ones in many ways) find ourselves working from home, trying to do our jobs as best we can and keep up some semblance of “normalacy” to our colleagues, often in makeshift work-from-home arrangements. But real life intrudes in surprising and, thankfully, not always bad ways.

Just the other day, a coat-and-tie-wearing professor being interviewed live on the BBC from what looked like a professional-looking setting — a world wall map and glass-fronted library bookcase behind him – was astonished when his two little children crashed the interview by bursting into the room (thereby unmasked as a home office) and temporarily disrupted the proceedings; the kids just wanted to see the person who, to them, was “Daddy,” not a world expert. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the video clip of this escapade went viral – and I really wish I could use another term – on CNN, BBC, and YouTube and was widely reported and commented on in news broadcasts and TV or cable talk shows.

“Library Cat” offering  assistance to her working-from-home (WFH) erstwhile servant — or wondering “What are you doing here?”

We all need a break from grim tidings and we could also all relate to the incident.  As the Cotsen Library and the Princeton Library has been largely closed in the last week because of health precautions, those of us in Special Collections have been working from home and holding daily video conference meetings via Zoom as part of our work. At one point, somebody’s cat sauntered across the desk. Those of us in the conference all had more or less the same spontaneous reaction as those seeing the BBC video clip – we could all relate. Several of us hijacked our own cats from their early afternoon naps, held them up, and shared the view with our colleagues. Thus, the cats all, unwittingly, got their “fifteen seconds of fame”… (There was one dog too, and a puppet, but mostly cats – cats must be a librarian thing.) Lasting literally seconds, this non-agenda event eased the rest of our (otherwise serious) discussion in the same the way that a meeting-opening “ice-breaker” often does.  It helped us get on with our work.

With all that in mind, I thought perhaps we could use more cats on the Cotsen blog this week. Several weeks ago in a posting about Judith Kerr – Tigers Who Came to Tea, and other Cat Tales – I’d mentioned that I hoped to do a follow-up about some of Kerr’s cat books too. That’s my excuse, anyway.  So without more prologue…

Mog was nice but not very clever… She was a very forgetful cat.

While The Tiger Who Came to Tea is Judith Kerr’s best–known book, she authored some thirty-six others, including a series about Mog the cat — beginning with Mog the Forgetful Cat in 1970 and ending with Goodbye Mog in 2002 — that were also best-sellers, loved by children and cat aficionados, and a testament to Kerr’s interest in exploring aspects of the life of a cat in her books for children.  The Mog series was apparently based on the Kerr family cat, who seemed to have quite a propensity for getting into trouble, causing comical mayhem, and yet somehow remaining endearing to her family (and readers alike), if the books are any indication. And doesn’t that sound like classic cat behavior?  Has anyone ever had a cat that was completely quiet and obedient all the time and never, ever got into trouble?

Having forgotten about her cat-flap door, Mog meowed until someone let her in.

Kerr introduces her feline heroine to readers for the first time in Mog the Forgetful Cat by telling us about her:

Mog was nice but not very clever.
She didn’t understand a lot of things.
A lot of other things she forgot.
She was a very forgetful cat.

Cat-owners will probably be attuned to the sorts of things that cats “forget”– trouble’s coming… One of the things that Mog seems apt to forget is how to use her cat-flap door to the garden to get back into the house after a trip outside to explore or use her “lavatory.”  Mog’s solution to the problem of forgetting is to jump up onto the kitchen-window flower box and meow “very loud” “until someone let her in.”  In the process, she trashes the flowers and causes a surprised Mrs. Thomas to drop part of the dinner she has been cooking on two separate occasions. “Bother that cat” becomes the parents’ refrain.

Then one night after having had a “bad day,” Mog races out of her cat-flap and finds herself alone out in the garden at night.  Nobody is in the kitchen to let her back in.  But then, she sees a faint light in the kitchen and a man moving around inside, and Mog thinks: “Perhaps the man will let me in.  Perhaps he will give me my supper.”  (Cats have their priorities!)  Kerr’s illustration makes clear to the reader what Mog doesn’t understand: the man is a burglar robbing the house.

Perhaps the man will let me in. Perhaps he will give me my supper.

Mog jumps up on the window-box, as is her usual wont, and meows “her biggest meow, very sudden and very, very loud,” surprising the burglar, who drops his bag of loot, thereby making a “big noise” of his own that wakes up everyone in the house. The police are called, and a friendly Bobbie terms Mog: “a remarkable cat. I’ve seen watch-dogs but never a watch-cat. She will get a medal.” And that’s just what happens — along with the added treat of an egg for breakfast every day, which Mog had previously been stealing from the family breakfast table.

She meowed her biggest meow, very sudden and very, very loud. The man was surprised. He dropped his bag. It made a big noise.

Mog had a medal.  She also had an egg every day for breakfast… They said, “Mog is really remarkable.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Translation: One day Mog woke up and nothing was like it used to be.

Mog feiert Weihnachten (Mog Celebrates Christmas) Cotsen 96507

Kerr’s other Mog books generally provide variations on this pattern of misbehavior, mildly comic pandemonium, and redemption. In Mog’s Christmas (1976), which Cotsen Library has in a German-language edition, Mog is put out of sorts by all the Christmas preparations noises, smells, and worst of all the arrival of a terrifying Christmas tree — cats generally don’t like commotion or changes from their familiar routine, as most cat-owners can attest.  Since the story is told from Mog’s point-of-view — as are all the Mog stories — we discover that Mog thinks the tree is some kind of horror with legs of its own.  Kerr’s illustration clearly depicts the happy father, Mr. Thomas, carrying the tree for her readers, but Mog doesn’t see him — or simply can’t understand what’s going on.  This ironic split between what Mog sees or seems to understand and what the reader sees and knows is one of the narrative charms of Kerr’s work, I think, and a source of much of the gentle humor in her books.

Suddenly she was startled when she saw something it. It was a tree that was running.

Terrified, the Mog flees up to the roof of the house, refuses to come down, even when offered her favorite food. Hungry, but too scared to come down, Mog later curls up for a nap on top of the nice warm chimney, only to come crashing down into the (fortunately fireless) fireplace, all covered in soot — a parody of sorts of Santa, or Father Christmas, making the same (utterly improbably) descent.  After a bath — an indignity for which Mog’s face shows the general feeling that cats have about baths — Mog gets some nice cat toys as Christmas presents, and all’s well that ends well.

Mrs. Thomas held the food bowl out but Mog never came down.

And Mog got three boiled eggs and another present (i.e. a cat toy).

Mog’s Bad Thing (2000)

Kerr’s other Mog stories follow the same basic pattern, but each tale somehow seems fresh and new in its particulars, at least to me.  In Mog’s Bad Thing (2000), Mog heads out into the garden for a nighttime trip to her lavatory, following a day spent happily playing in the garden.  But she gets a shock.  Instead of the familiar garden, she sees “a big white flappy-floppy thing,” flapping ominously in her direction and making a loud noise as the wind blows shifts.  It’s a tent, as Kerr’s artwork makes clear, set up for a cat show the next day, but Mog thinks it’s alive, just like the walking Christmas tree was. Terrified, she races back into the house and then is so scared that she “does a bag thing.  She did not mean to do it but she did it.  And she did it in Mr Thomas’s chair.”  Mog knows that she’s going to be in the dog-house, so to speak, so she hides in the attic the next day.

At one point, when she thinks the coast is clear, Mog tries to jump out the window, onto the tent, and hop down into her beloved garden.  But there’s a hole in the tent, and Mog comes flying through it into the middle of the cat show.  But the judge is so taken with Mog’s flying “through the air like a circus cat…an acrobat” that he awards her a special prize as the “most unusual cat.”  Her family is so “very proud” proud of Mog that’s all’s forgiven.  Best of all for Mog, the tent comes down, and “her garden reappeared.  It was all there as before. The grass… the flowers… the tree… and her lavatory behind the tree.  She was very happy.”

Mog takes a flyer into the cat-show tent:  Something more than rain came through. It was something furry. It was something stripy.  Nicky shouted, “It’s Mog!”

As endearing — and in many ways unique — as Judith Kerr’s Mog stories are, they also suggest what I think are some common elements found in children’s stories and folklore concerning cats. Cats are unpredictable, and their motivations mystifying to human beings, even the cats’ owners.  Cats are prone to do anything — or nothing — at the drop of a hat, or the sight of a Christmas tree being carried into a home.  They’re self-centered — Mog is always thinking of her food and her comfort — in a manner unlike dogs, who generally embody loyalty and devotion to people in many children’s stories and tales.  Mog rescues her family from the burglar, but not by crying out at the intruder like a watch-cat, but rather by trying to get him to let her in to escape a dark, scary night. Cats tend to be disruptive: look at all the chaos Mog causes in the stories outlined above.  Or at the very least, cats don’t follow “the rules” that people expect in the same way that dogs do.

In some stories dogs do cause confusion, to be sure.  In the classic picture book Harry the Dirty Dog, Harry doesn’t want a bath so he runs away from home; while he’s out and about, he gets so dirty that even his family doesn’t recognize him when he finally comes back home.  But most of the consequences of Harry’s misadventures affect him, not his family or his home, the symbol of everyday stability that he eventually seeks to return to.

The Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss (1957), first edition — Cotsen 16735

Cats seem to be associated with disruption of everyday mundanity or even comic disorder and misrule.  Perhaps that’s why they’re such good comical characters in children’s stories?  Disruption of everyday order is the essence of a much traditional comedy — just think of Shakespeare’s “festive comedies,” where order and decorum consistently get overturned, only to be eventually restored at the end with a happy resolution.  “Everyday” becomes “holiday” license and then reverts back to everyday, but with an increased awareness by the participants.

What character could be more disruptive of everyday order than Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat (1957)?  On a boring, rainy day, he bursts into the home of two children (whose mother is conveniently away) and — grinning all the while — he introduces mayhem and anarchy while demonstrating all sorts of entertaining tricks, upending the everyday order of the house, and wrecking it in the process.  Fortunately — alerted by the children’s goldfish to the mother’s impending arrival! — the cat restores order and cleans up the house via a a wonderful contraption, just before the children’s mother comes through the front door.  In Cat in the Hat, children experience the comic chaos, but the usually order-symbolizing mother has absolutely no idea: “Did you have any fun? Tell me, what did you do?”  The children remain silent, and Dr Seuss asks his readers, “What would YOU do if your mother asked you”?  at the very end of the story.

The grinning Cat in the Hat intends to introduce comical disruption of the everyday life of two bored children, while Mog had no such intentions.  She’s unaware, and the chaos she causes is unwitting and unintended.  And the Cat in the Hat can, of course, both understand and talk to people, unlike poor Mog, whose lack of understanding of things is often a prime cause of her confusion and the mayhem she causes.  Yet both cats are the cause, intentional or unwitting, of confusion and disorder.  Kerr’s stories are very different from Dr Seuss’s in this way, as well as in many others, but it’s hard for me to imagine that she didn’t have some aspects of the chaos-causing Cat in the Hat in the back of her mind while later writing a series of some ten books about the various comical misadventures of Mog the cat.

The Cat only grinned when it saw Alice. It looked good-natured, she thought: still it has very long claws and a great many teeth…
(Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1866) — Cotsen 657

And where have readers of children’s books seen confusion-causing, grinning cats before?  Alice in Wonderland, of course!  The Cheshire Cat is one of the funniest and best-known creations of both Lewis Carroll and John Tenniel in both language and visual representation.  While it’s hard to say that he causes mayhem in the topsy-turvy world of Wonderland, he certainly adds to it and seems to delight in doing so, if we can possibly ascribe anything to his motivations.

Alice is “startled” to see him sitting on the bough of a tree, and at first he only grins at her.  The Cheshire Cat then proceeds in his hilarious dialogue with Alice when she asks him which way she ought to go. “That depends a great deal on where you want to go.”  When she says she’s not sure, but only wants to “get  somewhere,” he replies: “Oh, you’re sure to do that… if you only walk long enough.” Strictly speaking, that’s a totally logical response, but one that’s also comically illogical at the same time.

A grin without a cat…

The Cheshire Cat then proceeds to disappear and reappear several times, the final time beginning with his tail and ending with his grin, which lingers for some time after the rest of him is gone.  Alice responds: “I’ve often seen a cat without a grin … but never a grin without a cat.”  Somehow the grin seems to be the essence of the comical cat in a mad, mad world.  And as the Cat comments before his final fade to nothingness, “We’ll all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”  He proceeds to contrast his behavior in the mad world of Wonderland with that of a dog, presumably one in the normal world, which “growls when it’s angry and wags its tail when it’s pleased.”  He and Alice then debate the difference between growling dogs and purring cats for a few lines.  Thus, the Cheshire Cat himself invites a comparison between cats and dogs!

Mocking the proceedings: The Cheshire Cat’s grin implicitly comments on the absurd proceedings and discussions.

The Cheshire Cat makes another appearance, later on — at least his floating, disembodied head does — during the Queen of Hearts’ Croquet Game — the one played with flamingos and hedgehogs, as you may remember.  As comical absurdities pile on top of each other, we really know that we’re not in Kansas anymore, if we didn’t before.  And the Cat adds to the absurdity with his comments mocking the proceedings and the participants, particularly the King and Queen of Hearts. The angered King and the characteristically-enraged Queen want to lop off the Cat’s head for his impertinence, and the executioner is summoned.  But a comical debate between them follows about if and how the executioner can cut off a head if there’s no body attached to it.  In response, the Cat’s head fades away, making mockery of the harridan Queen and her imperious commandments.  Carroll’s language of nonsense and illogic and Tenniel’s depiction of the grinning cat perfectly complement each other in scenes with the Cat; it’s hard to imagine one without the other, as so often is the case with Alice.

The Cheshire Cat is clever, at least rhetorically, and a master of tricky language.  The cleverness of cats is another frequently-mentioned aspect in children’s books.  Cats are identified as predators, full of guile and deception, at least when it comes to mousing, one of their traditional roles in human society.  Guile and trickiness can be double-edged swords, admirable in proper service but a source of suspicion in other contexts. There’s a long European folklore tradition expressing suspicion of cats as being somehow tricky, untrustworthy, and connected with magic, sometimes even witchcraft.

Walter Crane’s vivid depiction of Puss in Boots ingratiating his poor master with the king and his daughter; note all the detail Crane includes, both decorative and background context to the story (Puss in Boots, Routledge & Sons, [1874]) — Cotsen 2394

One of the most famous clever cats in literature is Puss in Boots, whose story was famously adapted by Charles Perrault in Histoires ou contes du temps passé (1697) and first published in an English translation by Robert Samber in a 1729 edition.  The Cotsen Library has a 1737 second edition, with parallel text in both French and English, issued by Richard Montague and Joseph Pote: Histories, or Tales of Passed Times, which also contains: Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella, along with others. As most of us remember, the story or Puss in Boots concerns a poor miller’s third and youngest son, whose only inheritance is his father’s cat. But this cat can not only talk, he’s very very clever!  Through a series of cunning ploys, Puss makes various gifts to the king, convinces him that his penniless master is really the Marquis of Carabas who has been robbed of his clothing (thereby getting rich clothing from the sympathetic king), tricks an ogre with a large castle into turning into a mouse, which Puss then eats, and helps pass off the castle as belonging to his master. Suitably impressed, the king allows his daughter to marry the miller’s son, allowing Puss to obtain a fine estate too. Many artists and children’s books adapters have tried their hand at Puss in Boots.  One of my favorites is Walter Crane’s “toy book” version of Puss in Boots — featuring vivid color wood-block (chromoxylograph) illustrations by Edmund Evans, which are full of rich detail and visual allusions to fairy tales and the lives of cats in the background (mousing, encountering dogs, etc.).

As Robert Darton points out, Puss is basically a cunning, fox-like trickster, who succeeds with his deceptions, but his success raises a certain level of suspicion about the merits of Puss — who succeeds by deception not virtue — and the merit of his master, whose good fortune stems largely from following his trickster cat’s cagey directions. Darton adds that this suspicion and a general fear of tricksters — especially ones with apparently supernatural powers like Puss — is not unrelated to the horrible treatment that cats often suffered in early modern Europe.¹  Folk tales and superstitious beliefs can cut both ways.

Dogs, however, typically seem presented with less distrust and suspicion than cats in children’s stories and other writings.  Dogs are demonstrated to be exemplars of loyalty, reliability, and obedient fidelity to their human masters.  This goes way way back in time.  In the Odyssey (termed the “basis of all Western literature” by one critic) Odysseus returns home after twenty years, and nobody recognizes him after such a long time, even his son Telemachus. But as Odysseus approaches his old dog, Argos does recognize him: Argos “lifted up his muzzle, pricked his ears” and “he thumped his tail, nuzzling low, and his ears dropped, though he had no strength to drag himself an inch.”²  (The language of Robert Fagles’ peerless translation of the Odyssey is so moving that I just had to quote it directly.)  Odysseus cannot acknowledge his dog for fear of discovery by the hoard of predatory suitors who have descended on his hall over the years, but the sight of his ancient dog’s loyalty brings tears to his eyes, which Odysseus must also conceal for fear of revealing himself too soon.

Chromolithographed upper wrapper of Hector the Dog (McLoughlin Bros., ©1889)

It’s hard to do justice to all the stories and nonfiction about dogs, and there are certainly many nuances of presentation.  But perhaps one children’s book can at least suggest the way that dogs are characteristically portrayed: Hector the Dog, a “toybook,” first issued by Frederick Warne & Company (London) in about 1870 and then later reissued by New York’s McLoughlin Brothers (©1889).  The book is prefaced by an epigrammatic paean to “the noble dog,” which begins:

Man loves the dog, the dog loves man:
The dog is trusty, strong, and brave,
And God has on the dog bestowed
The power and will man’s life to save.

Leaving aside this book’s over-the-top sentimentality, religious tone, and “man”-only world, its general view of dogs is clear: they’re loving, trustworthy, brave, and both willing and able to save people’s lives.

In Hector the Dog, a traveler decides to go hiking in the Swiss Alps on Christmas Eve, despite the warnings from his inn-keeper about an impending storm.  Of course, there is a storm, and the exhausted hiker collapses unconscious on a mountain.  But he is rescued by a group of “kindly” monks from a mountain-top monastery, led by their four St. Bernard dogs, who are made “restless” by the storm and seem to sense that someone needs help. Off they go, braving the “storm-blasts’ rage,” led by the “noble hounds [who] will do till death what their life-saving law commands.”

The Dogs Discover the Traveler in the Snow.

The monks and their St. Bernards manage to find and rescue the stranded hiker, but not before catastrophe strikes. “Brave Hector… the bravest of the brave” is lost, buried by an avalanche.  The other dogs seek frantically for Hector; “with whine and cries, they scratch the appalling mound of snow” left by the avalanche.  But their efforts are all in vain: “Thousands of tons of ice and snow, / Heaped up in one vast funeral pile / Poor Hector hold entombed below.  Heavily anthropomorphized terms, like “mighty courage” and “noble hounds,” abound in this illustrated story to describe the dogs and their efforts.

The language, chromolithographed visual presentation, and sentiments in Hector the Dog might be products of nineteenth-century sensibility and book technology.  Nevertheless, I think the book encapsulates some attitudes towards dogs that seem to characterize children’s books generally from early printed books onward to the contemporary works.  Maybe that’s something to look at more closely in another blog posting some day?3

Heraldic cat bookplate of Sir John William Dawson (1820-1899) found in all copies of a 3-volume set, The Natural History of Birds (1791) Cotsen 14097

But cats do get their due too, at least from some book collectors.  One of my favorite bookplates among all those I’ve encountered so far in Cotsen Library books includes a stern-looking cat as part of the heraldic crest of former, nineteenth-century owner, Sir John Dawson (1820-1899), on the front paste-down of all three volumes of a 1791 set of The Natural History of Birds, originally sold by Joseph Johnson, a London bookseller of the previous century.  As you can see if you look closely, the bookplate features a cat with a mouse in its mouth.  That cat looks pretty “noble” too and apparently excels at its job.  While I don’t know much about Sir John Dawson, I’d be willing to bet that he was a cat-lover!

 

 

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  1. Robert Darnton, “Peasants Tell Tales” and “Workers Revolt: The Great Cat Massacre” in The Great Cat Massacre & Other Episodes in French History (Basic Books, 1984) pp. 29-33 & 90-101.
  2. Robert Fagles, trans., The Odyssey (Penguin Books, 1996) pp.363-364.
  3. As an aside to the depiction of dogs in Hector the Dog, it’s interesting to see that the illustrations of the heroic monks in the book seem to have been adapted from McLoughlin Brothers’ earlier toy book-version of a Winter’s Tale — collected together with three other fictionalized versions of Shakespearian [sic] Tales in Verse, ©1892 — which includes several depictions of cloaked and hooded, distinctly monk-like figures, including a group of men seated in front of a roaring fire, one of whom, an “old shepherd,” tells “his Winter’s Tale.”  McLoughlin was not above repurposing artwork, or even entire stories themselves, in later — sometimes slightly differently-titled — stories for children; they were real forerunners in terms of reusing and recycling material to keep publication costs low and commercial profits as high as possible.  Why pay for new, when you can recycle?

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)