The 1940s were clearly a tumultuous time in the world. Here are some highlights and trivia from about.com:
1940–Bugs Bunny character debuts
1941–First Captain America comic published, M&Ms created
1942–Anne Frank’s family goes into hiding
1945–Germans surrender, microwave oven invented
1947–Dead Sea Scrolls found, Polaroid cameras invented
1949–Nineteen Eighty-Four published
Newbery winners for the decade are a better mix of male and female authors than before:
1940–Daniel Boone, by James Daugherty
1941–Call It Courage, by Armstrong Sperry
1942–The Matchlock Gun, by Walter Edmonds
1943–Adam of the Road, by Elizabeth Janet Gray
1944–Johnny Tremain, by Esther Forbes
1945–Rabbit Hill, by Robert Lawson
1946–Strawberry Girl, by Lois Lenski
1947–Miss Hickory, by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey
1948–The Twenty-One Balloons, by William Pene du Bois
1949–King of the World, by Marguerite Henry
Caldecott Medals awarded during the decade include the following:
1940–Abraham Lincoln, by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire (with Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans, a perhaps better-known runner-up)
1941–They Were Strong and Good, by Robert Lawson
1942–Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey
1943–The Little House, by Virginia Lee Burton
1944–Many Moons, illustrated by Louis Slobodkin, by James Thurber
1945–Prayer for a Child, illustrated by Elizabeth Orton Jones, by Rachel Field
1946–The Rooster Crows, by Maud & Miska Petersham
1947–The Little Island, illustrated by Leonard Weisgard, by Golden MacDonald (Margaret Wise Brown)
1948–White Snow, Bright Snow, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin, by Alvin Tresselt
1949–The Big Snow, by Berta & Elmer Hader
Betsy-Tacy, by Maud Hart Lovelace (1940): I had never read this book when I first heard of it in library school, but several classmates listed it as one of their all-time favorite childhood books. Then a good friend mentioned it as something that reminded her of our girls, so I grabbed a copy of it for GirlChild…and she has since read it twice! This first book in the (apparently very long) series starts when the two girls are not yet five years old and are just meeting for the first time. (Within the first chapter, a bit of antiquated terminology will throw an older reader for a loop, but my eight-year-old didn’t even register that her hat had a very peculiar name. That said, when you find it, DON’T GOOGLE IT.) The books takes place in Minnesota during the time period when little girls still wore winter underwear and petticoats under their dresses and people moved into houses with the aid of a dray (a low cart without sides used to haul heavy things) instead of a moving van. Betsy is friendly and eager and inventive, and Tacy (short for Anna Anastacia) is reserved but just as imaginative. (Neither one seems to be aware that a milk cow or a hen is always a she.) Betsy has an older sister, and Tacy is one of eleven children. There are small issues (first day of school, etc.) that the girls handle together, but the death of Tacy’s baby sister is a serious one that is dealt with gently. Mostly the author just describes the stories the girls tell and the different ways they play together (like going calling dressed in their mother’s old clothes and leaving cards where they’ve visited–I seriously want to bring back leaving calling cards!). The very last chapter introduces a new character, Tib (short for Thelma), a girl who is introduced to Betsy and Tacy because of one of the calling cards they leave at a home they pass on their way to school. (The shout-out to Milwaukee was a fun part, too, since that’s where we are, and GirlChild’s friend moved here from Minnesota.) I’d recommend this first book as a read-aloud for a young listener (kindergarten-ish) or independent reading for an older reader like GirlChild, but you might need to be prepared to explain some of the less-than-modern elements of the story to help them fully understand.
Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey (1941): This Caldecott-winning picture book tells the story of Mr. and Mrs. Mallard’s search for a place to raise their ducklings. Mrs. Mallard dismisses each idea as being too dangerous (foxes or turtles might be there!) until they arrive in Boston and find a little island in a pond in the Public Garden, and they almost decide to stay there until they discover the number of children on wheeled toys rushing by on the banks. They fly all over town looking for another place to nest, and they finally settle on an island in the Charles River since it seems peaceful but is close enough to the Public Garden to benefit from the peanuts people give them! When Mr. Mallard goes on to explore further down the river shortly after the ducklings hatch, Mrs. Mallard teaches the children all kinds of ducky things before they set off to meet Mr. Mallard at the Public Garden. Michael the policeman stops traffic for the little train of ducks, then he calls downtown to get support to stop traffic along the rest of their route as well. (Here’s where the book gets its name!) When they arrive at the Public Garden again, the ducklings love the island, so they decide to remain in the garden pond, eating peanuts and sleeping on the island.
The Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes, illustrated by Louis Slobodkin (1944): This Newbery Honor book is familiar to many of my era, and GirlChild really enjoyed it, too. (I reminded her of another book we’ve read with a similar theme, Jacqueline Woodson‘s Each Kindness.) In the book, a Polish immigrant girl is constantly taunted by a pretty, popular, and well-to-do girl named Peggy because she has dared to claim that she–Wanda Petronski, who lives in Boggins Heights and wears the same faded dress to school every day–has one hundred dresses lined up in her closet. Maggie, Peggy’s friend, is unsettled by the mockery because she worries that she may become a target, too, since she is also poor, but she says nothing. The day when the teacher announces that Wanda has won the drawing contest for her one hundred beautiful dress designs, she also receives and reads a note from Wanda’s father explaining her recent and now permanent absence in the light of the mockery over her name and speech. The girls, especially Maggie and Peggy, are riddled with guilt and write a letter to try to patch things up. Wanda replies back that they may all keep the drawings she made, and Peggy and Maggie realize the ones she designates for them were actually drawn with their faces before all this happened. Maggie realizes in the end that she will never really be able to make things right except to never allow that kind of cruel behavior to happen to another child again; she vows to always speak up.
The Carrot Seed, story by Ruth Krauss, pictures by Crockett Johnson (1945): This is by far the simplest book of the bunch. While I’m not entirely sure that this particular title is well-known, the illustrator certainly is! (His Harold and the Purple Crayon will show up in next month’s post.) I loved the story, too, actually, and BoyChild listened carefully, remarking on how “mean” everyone was to tell the little boy that his seed wouldn’t grow. (We had a bit of a connection to make, actually, since we just planted carrot seeds in our garden and are waiting for them to grow!) Each page has a single sentence and illustration as the little boy waits, pulls weeds, and waters the seed. Finally, “a carrot came up”–a vast understatement since the carrot top that springs forth is taller than the boy–“just as the little boy had known it would”–and he carts off a gigantic carrot. BoyChild was somewhat shocked and very pleased by the sudden and very large carrot crop, and I think this would be an excellent read aloud to share with a classroom of young children who might be studying plants!
My Father’s Dragon, by Ruth Stiles Gannett, illustrated by Ruth Chrisman Gannett (1948): While I acquired this book somehow in an inherited classroom library, I was not aware of its background at all. I happened to see it on a list of first read-alouds for kindergarten children when I was looking for a book for a friend, and then I realized that it was also a Newbery Honor book, so I decided to give it a try! After reading through its simple silliness, I do think I’ll read it to BoyChild to see what he thinks. It tells the story of a boy (referred to as “my father” in the book, thus the title) who is kind to an alley cat who then tells him about another creature who is in need of rescue: a baby dragon on Wild Island. The boy sets off to help the dragon. He tricks or distracts several different animals on the island so that he can access the dragon and set him free, and they fly away together. There are several opportunities for a little fun prediction and a little light suspense, so I agree with the age-level and read aloud suggestion for this one, but I’m pretty sure GirlChild would enjoy reading it as well!
Blueberries for Sal, by Robert McCloskey (1948): This book is the Caldecott Honor picture book that tells the story of a little girl who goes blueberry picking (eating?) with her mother and not the horrifying story about the child who is stung by bees while picking berries and dies of an allergic reaction like I first thought (and therefore avoided the book). It follows a human mother and her child, Little Sal, as they go berry picking, but it also follows a bear mother and her child, Little Bear, as they forage for berries, too. BoyChild and I each kind of expected a more frightened response when each child started following the wrong mother, but worry about the missing child seems to be the only fear shown; the human mother and child even continue picking berries on their way home after they’re reunited!
A few other iconic books that were published in this decade but that were too long for me to reread and review this time are The Black Stallion (1941), My Friend Flicka (1941), and Misty of Chicoteague (1947). Books about horses for more advanced juvenile readers were apparently pretty popular in the ’40s! Misty of Chincoteague (and all the Marguerite Henry books, actually) was my favorite, and my mom read all the Black Stallion books aloud to us at some point, too. What Do We Do All Day’s comparable review list doesn’t have any overlap, but it does mention a couple books that I chose to review since I’ve chosen to focus on lasting favorites while that blog tries to share hidden gems!