Saturday, January 08, 2011

"Mew, mew," said Kitty.

Many Surprises, in the Developmental Reading Series, is a textbook from 1949. The section I scanned is illustrated by Ann F. Hurford and Miriam Story Hurford, whose familiar artwork appeared in many such early readers.

Americans of the Baby Boomer generation learned to read from such books, but the stories are pabulum. Give me a BATMAN comic book or a Tom Swift Jr. book to learn to read from any day! Still, I love the gentle watercolor pictures, which presented an idealized America of the middle decades of the Twentieth Century. These textbooks of that era didn't allow for any diversity in our society, just showing well-to-do suburban white children frolicking, perfectly well-behaved and polite. There are no disagreements or fighting over toys. Besides teaching reading they were also indirectly teaching standards of decorum and behavior. They also taught something a bit more dangerous. "Kitty" is a story of a kitten handed over to a little girl, Jane, like a toy by her father. There are no instructions on how to take care of a living creature; instead Kitty has to fend for herself.

Poor Kitty! Chased by the family dog! Ignored by children except as a plaything! Look! look! Kitty! You are alive. You are not a toy. Look, Jane and Billy. Kitty needs water, food, shelter. Look, Daddy! Turn on your damn brain.

Hopefully by now we've discarded the old-time attitude toward animals. But at least the pictures are nice.

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