Monday, January 16, 2017

Kimberley Reynolds's "Left Out"

Kimberley Reynolds is Professor of Children’s Literature at Newcastle University and a historian of children’s books. She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her 2016 book Left Out: The Forgotten Tradition of Radical Publishing for Children in Britain 1910-1949, and reported the following:
Left Out begins the work of correcting the established histories of publishing for children in the first half of the twentieth century. The consensus has for long been that this was a fallow time of cheaply produced annuals and bumper books, but Left Out points to both the many fine writers and illustrators who were producing classic works, and, more central to the study, the vigorous group of people creating or importing politically and aesthetically radical books for young people. Page 99 looks at perhaps the best-known of the imported works; the fantastically inventive picturebooks that were imported from the Soviet Union. It traces how books created by Soviet writers were brought to the UK and permanently affected British children’s publishing. Page 99 considers the case of Noel Carrington (brother of the artist, Dora Carrington), who in 1943, while Director of the publishing firm Transatlantic Arts, published some of the picturebooks created by Samuil Marshak and Vladimir Lebedev for Soviet children. Shortly after doing so Carrington began to work with Allen Lane, and launched the influential series of Puffin Picture Books. The series clearly owes much to the Soviet children’s books.

One of Left Out’s key concerns is with how British interest in what was happening in Soviet Russia carried over into radical publishing for children. Page 99 encapsulates this concern by discussing the work of Samuil Marshak. It explains that,
His interest in children’s literature began during a visit to a British progressive school in 1913 when he was a student in London; by 1920 he and some colleagues had established the first fine arts complex for Soviet children including a library, a theatre, and some studios….
One of Marshak’s and Lebedev’s picturebooks published by Noel Carrington (and retranslated and published by Tate publishing in 2013) is The Ice-Cream Man. Page 99 explains that the story contains obvious traces of its Soviet origins, but also works as a fairy tale in the tradition of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes.
The Ice-Cream Man tells what happens to an ostentatiously dressed and over-fed business man who stuffs himself on ice cream. Watched by a group of children who have each eaten only one ice cream, he gulps down all the wares of one seller after another. As each one runs out of ice cream he runs to tell his friends about the insatiable customer and soon the ice cream sellers’ chant has changed from ‘Lovely ices! Lowest prices! To ‘Lovely ices! Highest prices!’ His inability to be satisfied is his undoing; the businessman is gradually transformed into a snowman whose frozen hands can no longer hold his ‘well-lined morocco pocket-book’ (n.p.). It falls to the ground, signalling a change in his audience. Uninterested in his money, they are delighted by his frozen state which makes it possible to play with snow in the summer. Clearly it is possible to read this as a critique of capitalism and an attack specifically on businessmen who make excessive profits…. However, Lebedev’s bold, geometric images help make this a cautionary tale about the price of greed of any kind.
Learn more about Left Out at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue