Thursday, September 13, 2012

Figth* (for Fight*)

Children's author Else Holmelund Minarik was born on September 13, 1920, and died this past July at the age of 91. She was born in Denmark, but moved here with her family when she was four years old. Like everyone else who has ever read them, I adored her Little Bear books, with their gorgeous illustrations by Maurice Sendak. (A publisher had wanted her to change the bears to people; however, said Minarik, "all children of all colours would be reading the stories" and "all children love animals... I love them because Mother took me to the Bronx zoo every day, and I fell in love with the cubs. My bears were a family.") But as the eldest of four children, I especially enjoyed the hilarious No Fighting, No Biting! in which the author wryly compares a squabbling pair of siblings to a suspiciously similar set of restive young reptiles. This 1958 classic begins with a young woman named Joan sitting on the sofa, trying to read a book. Her little cousins crowd in next to her, jostling and needling as only such creatures can. Joan repeatedly implores them to cut it out, but to no avail. Then she gets an idea. She tells them a shaggy alligator story about "Light-foot" and "Quick-foot" who are constantly "fighting and biting and hitting and spitting," until finally Willy and Rosa get both tired—and the point. An "I Can Read" chapter book comprising four gentle cliffhangers, it's kind of like an Arabian Nights for naughty kids. Minarik, who was a first-grade teacher on Long Island, New York, said she began writing children's books (which she always did in longhand since she couldn't type) when she realized that children needed more to read than the sort of "Dick and Jane" primers so ubiquitous back then. This reminds me of my own earliest visits to the library where the children's collection consisted of a single shelf of volumes, which seems hard to believe by today's standards. Yet that one small shelf contained books that are now known as classics of the genre, Minark's own included. There were six cases of today's troublesome typo in OhioLINK, and 94 in WorldCat.

(Cover of No Fighting, No Biting! by Else Minarik.)

Carol Reid

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