The SpyGlass

- tHe MaD hAtTeR, column editor


The Hatter loves a good piece of gossip and one of my most informed sources has been culling the annals of children's literature looking for especially tasty bits. Said source sent the Hatter three most eclectic morsels which the Hatter passes on to you. They are quite unsubstantiated at the present time, but has that ever stopped the Hatter? Never!

Well, when a large hotel was built opposite his house and blocked out the light from his studio, Edward Lear had another house built to exactly the same plan in order not to upset his cat. Maria Edgeworth's third stepmother was a year younger than Maria herself was. And at her first day-school, Noel Streatfeild formed a society whose members were given 100 points at the beginning of term and lost a point each time they were polite to a teacher. Readers of Spyglass are cordially invited to search for the truth of the matter. Even the Hatter would like to know what's really what. Imagine that!


In Priscilla Galloway's Too Young to Fight, a collection of memoirs by notable Canadian children's writers focusing on the effect that the Second World War had on their lives and literary imaginations, contributor Claire Mackay thrusts readers into the world of socialist politics in wartime Toronto. Claire, who was just eleven at the time, relates how during one scare her grandmother gathered up all the books by Marx, Lenin and Bernard Shaw along with pamphlets by Tim Buck, leader of the Canadian Communist Party, and threw them in the furnace in the middle of July! An avid reader, Claire notes in her journal-cum-memoir that in February 1942, she read Gone with the Wind, White Fang, The Call of the Wild and The Iron Heel ("about socialism defeating fascism, and the world being at peace.") And one of the most stirring moments for the Hatter is her description of a rally at the Maple Leaf Gardens arena with the great African-American singer Paul Robeson -- "His voice goes so low you can't hear it. You feel it instead, as if you swallowed some thunder." The Hatter's granny was at that rally too! Claire's is an inspiring piece in a fine collection.

And talking about "Reds", storyteller extraordinaire Joan Bodger related to the Hatter an anecdote from her post-WW II experiences when she was attending Barnard College on the GI Bill. In a car pool one day, someone asked if the name Whittaker Chambers meant anything to anyone in the car. This was just prior to the revelation of the very un-American activities in which Chambers was involved, and the Alger Hiss case. Joan piped up that, yes, she knew of Chambers -- he was quite well known for a novel that he'd translated. The title, you ask? Bambi, by Felix Salten, translated from the German by Chambers in 1928 when he was just 18! Canadian children's author Kathy Stinson was quite right, red is best!


News Flash from Hatter Headquarters! Did you know that Joseph Jacobs, the pre-eminent English folklorist, was actually an Australian-born Jew? His shul paid for his education at Cambridge and in Berlin. In addition to being a serious folklorist, Jacobs was a hack writer and the first journalist in the popular press to write about pogroms and other attacks on Jews in Tsarist Russia at the end of the nineteenth century. Jacobs moved in Pre-Raphaelite circles, reading his English Fairy Tales to children including the young Rudyard Kipling and his sister. After the trial and conviction of Oscar Wilde, Jacobs and his family immigrated to the United States, Jacobs maintaining that "after the Oscar Wildes of this world, come the Jews." The Hatter thanks Joan Bodger for yet another surprising story!  


Thank you Horn Book for providing the Hatter with such a feast of information about children's literature and the occasional bit of gossip too! In his acceptance speech for the 1998 Newbery Medal, author Louis Sachar revealed that it was the heat of a Texas summer that inspired his award-winning novel, Holes: "Anybody who has ever tried to do yardwork in July can easily imagine Hell to be a place where you are required to dig a hole five feet deep and five feet across day after day in the brutal Texas sun." You can take Sachar's word for this -- he isn't the kind of writer who's interested in fooling readers. After all, any writer who debunks his own cleverness -- he says he was so caught up in creating his story that he didn't want to stop his train of thought to think of a last name for his main character and just wrote his first name backwards, figuring that he'd change it later -- isn't going to lie about where his story came from!

Have you got something you want to share among friends? Something you might not want just anyone to know? Contact me, the MaD hAtTeR . I promise to be really discreet and it'll be for my eyes only!

Volume 3, Issue 3, The Looking Glass, 1999

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The Looking Glass: new perspectives on children's literature

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