This worldly little chapter book could have only been written by an adult like an elementary school teacher with a great deal of experience blocking children’s underhanded exercise of agency. Florence Parry Heide (1919-2011) had the requisite qualifications, as the mother of five, grandmother of eight, and great grandmother of four, to describe supposedly perfect little girls.
Ruby plays a mean game of butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-her-mouth. At the end of a long day, her mother wants to relax in a hot bath and asks her to keep an eye on her brother, who has just learned to crawl. Ruby has other plans and quickly figures out a way to get to her friend Ethel’s house more or less on time. She watches Clyde, just as her mother asked, but does no more than that. As soon as mother is out of the bath, Ruby skips off to Ethel’s, leaving behind the colossal messes Clyde made while being watched.Gloria knows how to shirk without flouting Mother’s orders by taking advantage of her dutiful and careful sister Gertrude. Asked to clear the table, wash, dry, and put away the dinner dishes, Gloria drops the plates and puts the survivors away in the wrong places. By doing such a miserable job in comparison to Gertrude, Gloria is excused from helping with this daily chore. “Good for Gertrude,” comments Heide.Dawdling is Bertha’s preferred strategy. On a beautiful day her mother tries to tear her away from the television and schoo her outside to play in the fresh air. Bertha continues to watch cartoons while getting dressed, which means misplacing necessary garments to slow down the process of getting ready. Her mother succeeds in finding the shoes and jacket in their hiding places, but by that time the rain has started up, leaving Bertha in repose on a cushion in front of the tube.Harriet has learned that whining loud and long for something will eventually fray her mother’s nerves and result in victory. To get a slice of blueberry pie before the company comes, she just has to follow her mother around the kitchen, tug at her apron, and keep on message.“Sneaky” describes perfect Ethel once her parents forbid her to chew bubble gum in their sight. Had they specified “in their presence” it would not have been so easy for Ethel to feign compliance and continue indulging in the prohibited substance.Heide’s wry and dry humor is heightened by the quirky, slightly macabre illustrations of Victoria Chess, whose thick, squatty, catty creatures with perfectly round staring eyes and sharp little fangs are more menacing than adorable. They act as sly as they look, perfect representations of girls who maintain a façade of goodness through passive aggression.