Brain Pickings Icon
Brain Pickings

Page 790

Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls: Mischievous Vintage Illustrated Verses by Shel Silverstein, A. A. Milne, Lewis Carroll, and Ted Hughes

“Moral: Never stew your sister.”

In 1963, editor William Cole and beloved children’s book illustrator Tomi Ungerer joined forces on a little gem titled A Cat-Hater’s Handbook. The following year, the two came together in a different yet equally endearing collaboration: Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls (public library) — a charming 1964 collection of “funny, absurd, and truly ridiculous rhymes” ranging from folk limericks to anonymous poems to verses both famous and little-known by literary luminaries like Ted Hughes, Lewis Carroll, Shel Silverstein, and A. A. Milne, accompanied by Ungerer’s signature irreverent drawings.

Cole himself sets the tone with an opening rhyme:

Here in this book, collected for you,
Are hundreds of things that you never should do,
Like stewing your sister, scarring your brother,
Or disobeying your father or mother.

What follows falls somewhere between Edward Gorey’s delightfully dark alphabet and Mark Twain’s playful Advice to Little Girls.

NOTHING TO DO?
Shelley Silverstein

Nothing to do?
Nothing to do?
Put some mustard in your shoe,
Fill your pockets full of soot,
Drive a nail into your foot,
Put some sugar in your hair,
Place your toys upon the stair,
Smear some jelly on the latch,
Eat some mud and strike a match,
Draw a picture on the wall,
Roll some marbles down the hall,
Pour some ink in daddy’s cap —
Now go upstairs and take a nap.

MY BROTHER BERT
Ted Hughes

Pets are the hobby of my brother Bert.
He used to go to school with a mouse in his shirt.

His hobby it grew, as some hobbies will,
and grew, and GREW and GREW until —

Oh don’t breathe a word, pretend you haven’t heard.
A simply appalling thing has occurred —

The very thought makes me iller and iller:
Bert’s brought home a gigantic Gorilla!

If you think that’s really not such a scare,
What if it quarrels with his Grizzly Bear?

You still think you could keep your head?
What if the Lion from under the bed

And the four Ostriches that deposit
Their football eggs in his bedroom closet

And the Aardvark out of his bottom drawer
All danced out and joined in the Roar?

What if the Pangolins were to caper
Out of their nests behind the wallpaper?

With the fifty sorts of Bats
That hang on his hatstand like old hats,

And out of a shoebox the excitable Platypus
Along with the Ocelot or Jungle-Cattypus?

The Wombat, the Dingo, the Gecko, the Grampus —
How they would shake the house with their Rumpus!

Not to forget the Bandicoot
Who would certainly peer from his battered old boot.

Why it could be a dreadful day,
And what Oh what would the neighbors say!

THE GOOD LITTLE GIRL
A. A. Milne

It’s funny how often they say to me, “Jane?”
“Have you been a good girl?”
“Have you been a good girl?”
And when they have said it they say it again,
“Have you been a good girl?”
“Have you been a good girl?”

I go to a party, I go out to tea,
I go to an aunt for a week at the sea
I come back from school or from playing a game;
Wherever I come from, it’s always the same:
“Well?
Have you been a good girl, Jane?”

It’s always the end of the loveliest day:
“Have you been a good girl?”
“Have you been a good girl?”
I went to the Zoo, and they waited to say:
“Have you been a good girl?”
“Have you been a good girl?”

Well, what did they think that I went there to do?
And why should I want to be bad at the Zoo?
And should I be likely to say if I had?
So that’s why it’s funny of Mummy and Dad,
This asking and asking in case I was bad,
“Well?
Have you been a good girl, Jane?”

SARAH CYNTHIA SYLVIA STOUT
Shelley Silverstein

Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout
would not take the garbage out!
She’d boil the water
and open the cans
and scrub the pots
and scour the pans
and grate the cheese
and shell the peas
and mash the yams
and spice the hams,
and make the jams.
But though her daddy
would scream and shout,
she would not take the garbage out.
And so it piled up to the ceilings:
Coffee grounds, potato peelings,
mouldy bread and withered greens,
olive pits and soggy beans,
cracker boxes, chicken bones,
clamshells, eggshells, stale scones,
sour milk and mashy plums,
crumbly cake and cookie crumbs.
At last the garbage piled so high
that finally it reached the sky.
And none of her friends would come to play.
And all the neighbours moved away.
And finally Sarah Cynthia Stout
said, ‘I’ll take the garbage out!’
But then, of course, it was too late.
The garbage reached beyond the state,
from Memphis to the Golden Gate.
And Sarah met an awful fate,
which I cannot right now relate
because the hour is much too late.
But, children, think of Sarah Stout
and always take the garbage out!

RICE PUDDING
A. A. Milne

What is the matter with Mary Jane?
She’s crying with all her might and main,
And she won’t eat her dinner—rice pudding again—
What is the matter with Mary Jane?
 
What is the matter with Mary Jane?
I’ve promised her dolls and a daisy-chain,
And a book about animals—all in vain—
What is the matter with Mary Jane?

 
What is the matter with Mary Jane?
She’?s perfectly well, and she hasn’?t a pain;
But, look at her, now she’?s beginning again!
What is the matter with Mary Jane?
 
What is the matter with Mary Jane?
I’ve promised her sweets and a ride in the train,
And I’?ve begged her to stop for a bit and explain—
What is the matter with Mary Jane?
 
What is the matter with Mary Jane?
She’s perfectly well, and she hasn’?t a pain,
And it’?s lovely rice pudding for dinner again!—
What is the matter with Mary Jane?

THE DUCHESS’ LULLABY
Lewis Carroll

Speak roughly to your little boy,
And beat him when he sneezes:
He only does it to annoy,
Because he knows it teases.

THINK OF EIGHT NUMBERS
Shelley Silverstein

Think of eight numbers from one to nine —
That’s fine.
Now pick up the phone and dial them all —
That’s making a call.
Now wait till somebody answers,
Then shout ‘Yickety-yick!’ and hang up quick.
And sit for a while,
And have a smile,
And start all over again.

BROTHER AND SISTER
Lewis Carroll

Sister, sister, go to bed!
Go and rest your weary head.”
Thus the prudent brother said.

“Do you want a battered hide,
Or scratches to your face applied?”
Thus his sister calm replied.

“Sister, do not raise my wrath.
I’d make you into mutton broth
As easily as kill a moth”

The sister raised her beaming eye
And looked on him indignantly
And sternly answered, “Only try!”

Off to the cook he quickly ran.
“Dear Cook, please lend a frying-pan
To me as quickly as you can.”

And wherefore should I lend it you?”
“The reason, Cook, is plain to view.
I wish to make an Irish stew.”

“What meat is in that stew to go?”
“My sister’ll be the contents!”
“Oh”
“You’ll lend the pan to me, Cook?”
“No!”

Moral: Never stew your sister.

Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls is an absolute treat from cover to cover.

BP

Stress As Metaphor

“Stress signified hardship, and endurance was needed to deal with it. Now … we ‘work’ to overcome stress; we don’t suffer it.”

Modern neuroscience has strongly suggested that optimism might benefit physical health, and researchers are now confirming that psychoemotional stress might actually trigger physical inflammation in the body. Even back in 1934, they knew that the key to mastering life was the elimination of worries. F. Scott Fitzgerald set out to immunize his daughter Scottie against stress with an itemized list of the things in life to worry and not worry about. But what, exactly, is stress — and how did we come to think of it the way we do?

In One Nation Under Stress: The Trouble with Stress as an Idea (public library), Dana Becker investigates the origins of our stress metaphors:

Stress has had many different meanings over the centuries, and because of this, the way we talk about ‘stress’ now bears only a shadow of a resemblance to the way people talked about stress long ago. At one time, stress was a name for ‘what was hard and had to be endured,’ as Robert Kugelmann has noted. Stress demanded strength and fortitude. The image that was often invoked was that of a ship tossed about by the stress of bad weather, and in that image Kugelmann sees the difference between the stress of then and the stress of now. The storm-tossed ship represented something that neither challenged the forces outside it nor was wholly separate from these forces. Stress was what ‘proved the strength, power, and virtue of the ship and crew.’ It was occasional, like wintery blasts that assailed that metaphorical ship; stress signified hardship, and endurance was needed to deal with it. Now, particularly in the middle class, we ‘work’ to overcome stress; we don’t suffer it. And stress is not considered a sometime thing in contemporary Western societies; it is believed to be constant.

Much like our early metaphors for memory, which likened the mind to the recording technologies of yore, Becker traces the metaphor for stress to yesteryear’s depictions of the body as a machine and an industrial apparatus:

Early engineering gave us the ideas of stress and strain, and from these followed the metaphor of the body as a machine with a finite store of energy and with parts that life could grind down. The 1949 edition of the Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary defined stress completely without reference to human beings, as the ‘action of external forces; especially to overstrain.’; Today, the definition reads like this: ‘a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tensions and may be a factor in disease causation’ and ‘a state from a stress; especially one of bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existent equilibrium.’ Stress now derives from physics, where it refers to the force that can transform material in ways that cause it to change its form or to break. In our vernacular, stress can be both a cause (‘It was stress that caused his heart attack’) and effect (‘When the plane was late I was so stressed out’). But although we refer to stress as both a force outside the person and an inner state, recently it is the inner state that has been getting the primary emphasis.

This inward reorientation of the stress metaphor, Becker argues, is largely the result of the rising monoculture of liberal individualism, which places individual freedom and self-actualization at the heart of what it means to be human, all the while preserving and honoring the fluid self and negating the myth of fixed personality:

The ‘self’ has become something we can think and talk about — something we can even remake, if necessary. But individualism or no, the self is not separate from social expectations and norms; it can’t be considered apart from the way it is talked about and judged, as British psychologist Nikolas Rose has pointed out. Many of the events in our lives (marriage, unemployment, combat) are open to judgments about how we have coped with or adjusted to them, and these judgements are steeped in a psychological language that has slipped its middle-class moorings to become the currency of our time. … [At] other times in our history, when the stress concept didn’t exist, we couldn’t experience ourselves in the way that stress both describes and delimits.

In the rest of One Nation Under Stress: The Trouble with Stress as an Idea, Becker, a professor of social work at Bryn Mawr College, goes on to argue that the concept of stress has become inflated to a deleterious degree over the past 40 years, critiquing our cultural tendency to approach stress management and the preservation of sanity as a matter of perpetual bandaging of symptoms rather than a deeper concern with understanding and healing the underlying causes.

BP

A Design History of Childhood

“Children help us to mediate between the ideal and the real.”

“Every child is an artist,” Picasso famously proclaimed. “Every child is a scientist,” Neil deGrasse Tyson reformulated. But, as it turns out, every child is also a designer — so argues Century of the Child: Growing by Design 1900-2000 (public library), the impressive companion book to the MoMA exhibition of the same title, which explores “children as design activists in their own right, pushing against imaginative and physical limitations and constantly re-creating the world as they see it, using whatever equipment they happen to have at hand.” Remarkably researched and lavishly illustrated, the large-format tome is titled after Swedish design reformer and social theorist Ellen Key’s seminal 1900 publication presaging a new era of focus on the rights and well-being of children. Through 100 years of toys, playgrounds, classrooms, clothing, furniture, posters, animation, books, and other ephemera, it covers such expansive and interrelated subjects as genetic engineering, the role of play in cultivating creativity, the importance of children in expanding 20th-century economies, the rise of comic strips, and the cultural significance of nostalgia.

MoMA curator of Architecture and Design Juliet Kinchin writes in the introductory essay, titled “Hide and Seek: Remapping Modern Design and Childhood”:

We have been periodically reminded how the forces of modernity shape design and childhood in ways that are extraordinary and exhilarating yet complex and contradictory. What has remained consistent, however, is the faith among designers in the power of aesthetic activity to shape everyday life. As an embodiment of what might be, children help us to mediate between the ideal and the real: they propel our thoughts forward. Their protean nature encourages us to think in terms of design that is flexible, inclusive, and imaginative.

Lorraine Schneider. ‘War is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things.’ 1966
Schneider, an artist and mother of four, created this poster for a print show at Pratt Institute in New York, out of concern that her eldest son would be drafted. The rough composition, with its simple sunflower and childlike scrawl, became the logo for Another Mother for Peace, an organization led in the present day by Lorraine’s daughter Carol, and went on to become one of the most ubiquitous protest images of the Vietnam War era. (Museum of Modern Art, New York)
Lewis Hine. Child in Carolina Cotton Mill. 1908
American photographer and sociologist Hine recorded children’s working lives on behalf of the National Child Labor Committee, an organization established in 1904 to alleviate the exploitation of children, with headquarters in New York. A source of cheap labor then as now, children in factories and sweatshops assisted in the process of churning out goods designed for markets that included their middle-class peers. (Museum of Modern Art, New York)

Kinchin examines children’s awkward placement in the historiography of modern design:

The stereotypical perception of children as sensual and intuitive sits uneasily with the critical discourse of intellectualism and rationality that surrounds heroic modernist architecture, but with the advent of postmodern and psychoanalytic approaches to academic studies, beginning in the 1970s, many innovations in children’s design have begun to attract the critical attention they deserve, particularly in relation to comics, animation, and video games.

[…]

Bringing children from the periphery to the forefront of our attention cuts across geographical, political, and stylistic demarcations in the mapping of modern design. … Children bring into focus how modern design has straddled high and low cultural practices, from comics to architecture and urban planning. They enable us to follow threads throughout the century that connect the most disparate and apparently contradictory tendencies.

Rudolf Steiner. ‘In mir ist Gott – Ich bin in Gott (God is in me – I am in God).’ 1924
This drawing indicates how Steiner, one of the most influential educational theorists of the twentieth-century, would illustrate school lessons and public lectures with rapid chalk sketches on a blackboard or sheets of black paper. By means of such instantaneous mark-making, he communicated his sense of thought as living, creative energy, and of the individual as part of larger metaphysical harmonies. Steiner established his first school in 1919 for children of employees at the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart. Within a decade Steiner schools had been established not only in Germany and his native Switzerland, but in Austria, Britain, Hungary, the Netherlands, Norway, and the United States, where the first one opened in New York, on East 79th Street. (Museum of Modern Art, New York)
Lyonel Feininger. ‘The Kin-der-Kids’ from Chicago Sunday Tribune. April 29, 1906
The modern mass-circulation comic appeared in Europe and the United States in the 1890s, but it wasn’t until the twentieth century that comics and animation – two art forms initially created for children – began to have a profound impact on modern visual culture. Feininger and Winsor McCay, the two great illustrators of American comics in the opening decades of the twentieth century, conceived of the comic strip as full-page layouts with radical and inventive experiments in scale, sequence, and format. (Museum of Modern Art, New York)

Like Steve Jobs, who famously proclaimed that “creativity is just connecting things,” and Paula Scher, who likens creativity to a slot machine, and like other theorists of creative problem-solving, Kinchin emphasized this inherent pattern-recognition gift of the child mind, also manifested in the most impactful design for children:

Designers, like children, find patterns and make connections. The importance of pattern making and creative play with material things, for children and adults, as a route to understanding spatial relations and problem-solving, as well as creating a sense of the individual in relation to larger cosmic harmonies, comes up again and again in the twentieth century.

She cites the legendary Hungarian-born Bauhaus architect and designer Breuer:

When children play with building blocks, they discover that they fit together, because they are square. . . . Then, the child discovers that the blocks are empty, that the sides turn into walls, and that there is a roof and a structure . . . . That is when the child will indeed become an architect. Manager of voids and spaces, priest of geometry.

Vladimir Lebedev. Cover of ‘Vchera i segodnia (Yesterday and today)’ by Samuil Marshak. 1925
Lebedev’s philosophy toward children’s books was clear: they should be, in his words, ‘colorful, specific, concrete,’ and find a balance between sophistication and accessibility, high and low. Though he drew on the avant-garde languages of Cubism and Suprematism, he never fully abandoned figuration, offering a familiar anchor to children while introducing them to new visual modes. Likewise, the goal of his collaborator, writer Samuil Marshak, was to create a new children’s literature, one that nourished the mind in both content and form. Lebedev and Marshak, who began working together in 1924, created dozens of books, many so popular that they were issued in massive editions of 10,000 with reprints not far behind. (Museum of Modern Art, New York)
Advertisement for Gymbo School & Gym Shoes. 1930
This brochure advertising Gymbo shoes emphasizes the ‘absolute freedom’ given to every part of the foot by the rubber-soled canvas shoes that were required for pupils in most British schools in the 1930s. With medical experts and educators endorsing the beneficial effects of physical activity on academic performance as well as general health, schools began to pay greater attention to nurturing children’s bodies through movement and exercise. Innovations in children’s clothing soon followed, with designs for activewear to accommodate this new emphasis on freedom of movement. Girls in particular benefited from the increased mobility and encouragement to participate in sport or dance that challenged conventional constructions of femininity. (Museum of Modern Art, New York)

Kinchin points to the unburdened optimism of the child as a beacon of modernist thought:

Children, with their perception uncluttered by the baggage of social and cultural conventions, have long symbolized the visionary modernist focus of the future. In this respect they belong at the heart of utopian thought, and they inspire us to demand a different, better, brighter future.

Frankie Faruzza. Cover of the book ‘Children and the City,’ by Olga Adams. 1952
Adams, one of the best-known kindergarten teachers in the United States in the 1950s, initiated a classroom project called ‘Our City’ at the Laboratory School in Chicago to stimulate children’s appreciation of how cities worked. Following extensive discussion about how they interacted with and understood the city, the pupils imagined a model town, and then went on to develop their ideas into a cardboard community that they governed themselves. (Museum of Modern Art, New York)
Times Wide World Photos. ‘A Famous School of Dance Has a Birthday,’ class at an Isadora Duncan dance school. 1929
A quasimystical belief in the psychological and therapeutic power of expressive movement inspired pioneers of modern dance education in Europe and the United States, among them Isadora Duncan and Margaret Morris, each of whom established private schools for children. Classes were frequently conducted outdoors, and emphasized a natural athleticism. Touring troupes of scantily clad girls trained by Duncan performed with bare feet and loose hair, causing a public sensation before and after World War I. (Museum of Modern Art, New York)

“The skills of the 21st century need us to create scholars who can link the unlinkable,” science educator Ainissa Ramirez argued in her manifesto for saving science education, and Kinchin sees an equally pressing urgency in how the intersection of design and education evolves in the future:

It now seems as urgent to drastically shift our conception of education and modern design as it did in 1900. What is necessary for this to happen … is a new generation equipped with new ways of thinking. … The need to foster the young child’s innate capacity for divergent thinking — the ability to come up with lots of different answers — brings us back to the early-twentieth-century pioneers of the kindergarten movement and the concept of open-ended play as a strategy for learning and design innovation … If there is one lesson that adults should learn from children, it is that at a time of environmental and economic crisis, play is a crucial point of connection to the physical and imaginative world. We need to give ourselves time and space for play, space in which the unpredictable can happen.

Froebel Gift 2. 1890
Intent on fostering the curiosity and creativity of young minds, Froebel devised a series of twenty playthings, which he called ‘Gifts.’ These objects formed the core of his pioneering model of early childhood education, anchoring sessions of play that were either directed by teachers or instigated by the children themselves. Gifts one through ten included crocheted balls in different colors, wooden building blocks, geometric shapes, and steel rings that could be arranged in numerous temporary configurations. Gifts eleven through twenty provided the materials for focused activities, such as multicolored sheets of paper for cutting, weaving, and folding. By the early twentieth century, this system was so popular that Froebel Gifts were being manufactured on a large scale in both Europe and the United States. (Museum of Modern Art, New York)
Ludwig Hirschfeld Mack. ‘Optical Color-Mixer.’ 1924
Experience with toy design, often as a result of idealistic attempts to bring up their own children in a new and creative manner, was common among staff and students of the progressive Bauhaus school. These spinning disks, also known as the Optische Farbmischer (Optical color mixer), adhered to the emerging Bauhaus aesthetic of simple geometric forms and unmodulated primary colors, which was due in part to a method of teaching inspired by the kindergarten movement. Toys like the spinning disks and Alma Siedhoff-Buscher’s construction blocks sold well, providing an important source of income for the new institution. (Museum of Modern Art, New York)

The introduction opens with a beautiful quote from Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra (free ebook):

The child is innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a self-propelled wheel, a first movement, a sacred ‘Yes.’ For the game of creation, my brothers, a sacred ‘Yes’ is needed: the spirit now wills his own will.

Nigel Henderson. Untitled, from Chisenhale Road Series. 1951
In 1953 architects Peter and Alison Smithson collaborated with photographer Nigel Henderson on this influential visual statement of their new approach to urban planning. As seen in this mapping of urban experience – from house to street, and district to city – it is children at play who embody the Smithsons’ guiding principle of social connectivity that underpins the concept of a ‘cluster city.’ The Smithsons were critical of the prevailing modernist orthodoxy of the rational, zoned city; instead they searched for new architectural equivalents to the more intuitive unfolding of spatial relationships that they observed in children’s play. Their approach brought them together with Aldo van Eyck and other dissenting architects within CIAM. (Museum of Modern Art, New York)
Werner John. ‘Kinder Verkehrs Garten (Children’s traffic garden),’ poster advertising a children’s traffic school. 1959
The graphic simplicity of John’s poster design succinctly references both the abstract forms of children’s construction toys and modern styles of road signage being introduced internationally. In the 1950s and ’60s, the proliferation of motorized vehicles was creating concern about children’s public safety and liberty. One response was to merge traffic and play in the form of children’s traffic schools. For play advocates, however, the lack of public space allocated to children and the overbearing presence of cars were indications of adults’ lack of respect for children’s freedom and basic human rights. (Museum of Modern Art, New York)
Walt Disney with original aerial-view painting of Disneyland, produced for ABC Television. October 1954
Walt Disney introduced Disneyland to the public with this bird’s-eye rendering by Ellenshaw, an artist and designer. The park, which opened in 1955, was a physical extension of Disney’s cinematic and television projects; it was originally intended as a kiddieland adjacent to the Burbank television studios but grew to become one of the most iconic statements of twentieth-century American popular culture. Disney planned the park as a miniature city that followed the layout of the world’s fairs of the 1930s, with a nostalgic Main Street based on his boyhood hometown of Marceline, Missouri, linking four distinct areas of what he called his ‘magic kingdom’ – Fantasyland, Frontierland, Adventureland, and Tomorrowland. Together these elements contrasted a sentimental image of nineteenth-century America with the modern, exotic, and futuristic. (Museum of Modern Art, New York)
Boys in a Glasgow back court show off their Christmas presents, which include astronaut suits and Space Hoppers. 1970
Outer space, a new frontier, was sufficiently vast and mysterious to allow designers and toy manufacturers near-complete freedom of imagination and creation. One rather enigmatic but popular product was Mettoy’s Space Hopper. These bright orange vinyl bouncing balls, two feet in diameter, with kangaroolike faces and handles that resembled horns, are said to have been inspired by children bouncing on fishing buoys in Norway. (Museum of Modern Art, New York)

Kinchin concludes with a conception of the child as a sort of antidote to the pretense of the present:

For designers seeking to reconcile in their work the tensions and ambiguities of modern life, children seemed an inexhaustible source of renewal, evoking both a paradise lost in the remote past and the future possibility of an ideal city or state. … In directing their attention to children, many educators and designers sought to recover an authenticity of expression that they felt had been lost with the innovations of modern life.

Century of the Child goes on to explore the paradoxical role of children as both targets of consumer culture and cogs in its machinery by providing cheap industrial labor, tracing how the New Art movement catalyzed a new culture of relating to childhood alongside an evolving conception of pedagogy, covering such cultural revolutions as the rise of kindergarten, the golden age of the playground, playtime in the avant-garde era, and the body politics of the child. Complement it with Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects, another fantastic and mind-expanding companion to an eponymous MoMA exhibition by Paola Antonelli.

BP

View Full Site

Brain Pickings participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn commissions by linking to Amazon. In more human terms, this means that whenever you buy a book on Amazon from a link on here, I get a small percentage of its price. That helps support Brain Pickings by offsetting a fraction of what it takes to maintain the site, and is very much appreciated