I want to share some more photographically illustrated books for young people with you that I treasure because they are marvelous to discover, as well as unlikely to ever be published these days. In the post-Law & Order SVU-era, they would raise too many red flags in showing, for example, bears carrying naked babies through the forest, or tying little girls to trees. Of course, they are stuffed Steiff bears, and these 2 girls are toy dolls I am referring to, and these are playful non-violent books. Nevertheless, when assessing books to read for a group of children in the library recently, I left these 2 favorites off in favor of some of the more benign works in fear that I might raise parents’ hackles.
Granted, all librarians know that children really gravitate towards to the kind of books that deal with good and evil in really tangible ways. No one knew that better than the Brothers Grimm.
Dare Wright, whose remarkable story was told in Jean Nathan’s biography, The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll, was a master of illustrating the inner thoughts and fears of children, and turning them into rather broad & engaging morality tales a la Grimm and Aesop.
The 2 books illustrated above are Edith and Big Bad Bill , which was my absolute favorite book as a child, and The Little One . Edith was already known for a decade of Lonely Doll adventures when she ran into Big Bad Bill in the forest. Of course she charms him, much as Heidi did her grandfather, but along the way there are many opportunities to weave in rustic scenes of forest life. In retrospect, I can remember the images on the television and in Life magazine when I first read the book and it seems very much a product of its time – violence meets chaos meets peace and understanding – all tossed like a salad.
The Little One is, as well, but is an outlier in Wright’s doll books – one of only 2 books featuring a different doll – named Persis. She cavorts with turtles and butterflies and takes off all of her clothes and has the bears help her into a leafy tutu. Maybe this is a product of its times, but it is a lyrical photobook – something like Truffaut’s film l’Enfant Sauvage [Wild Child], with Persis cavorting with nature and ultimately falling falling falling from a tree across a 2-page spread.
What keeps drawing me back to Dare Wright? The enduring themes of photobooks that reach the library – inner psychological states, morality plays, toys as effigies for people, nature and street photography – yes, it really does sound like too much…you will have to sit before a stack of Dare Wright books to understand.
Come on by to the ICP Library and see for yourself.