When William Faulkner and Langston Hughes Wrote Children’s Books

You might think that celebrated adult authors writing for kids is a new trend. It isn’t.

‘The World Is Round,’ by Gertrude Stein

For a skeptic who never quite finished the first paragraph of “Tender Buttons” it is a pleasant duty to report that Miss Stein seems to have found her audience, possibly a larger one than usual, certainly a more appreciative one. As to just why, it would take an expert in the subconscious and a corps of child psychologists fully to determine. Not the intoxication of words which keep “tumbling into rhyme,” as one little girl neatly described it; not the irresistible rhythm of such songs as “Bring me bread, bring me butter” and “Round is around,” nor the fun which flashes out when least expected, can fully explain its success. Perhaps it is because, in addition to these virtues, Miss Stein has caught within this architectural structure of words which rhyme and rhyme again the essence of certain moods of childhood: the first exploration of one’s own personality, the feeling of lostness in a world of night skies and mountain peaks.

It is printed in blue ink, on fiercely pink paper, as toothsome-looking as 10-cent store candy. It is hard on the eyes, but to children it is beautiful, and certainly Clement Hurd’s drawings are delightful. — Ellen Lewis Buell [Review first published Nov. 12, 1939]

‘Many Moons,’ by James Thurber

When a well-known writer of adult books dashes off a juvenile story, a scarred and hardened reviewer is apt to approach it a little gingerly. In Mr. Thurber’s case, happily, such caution is unnecessary. Brief, unpretentious, but sound and right of its sort, his fable is one which adults and children both will enjoy for its skillful nonsense and for a kind of humane wisdom which is not always a property of his New Yorker stories.

Once there was a little princess, Lenore, who “fell ill of a surfeit of raspberry tarts and took to her bed.” Imperiously (as befits a princess), she demanded the moon to make her well. So the king called in the lord high chamberlain, the royal wizard and the royal mathematician. They flatly said it couldn’t be had, presenting widely varying statistics to prove it. So, as in all good fairy stories, it was the court jester who solved the problem, not without some slight deception but to the satisfaction of the Princess Lenore.

Perhaps Mr. Thurber means that things are what you want them to be. Perhaps he means that children know all along when grown-ups are fooling them; or that they accept the inevitable with more grace and understanding than their elders. Perhaps not. It is not always easy to know exactly what Mr. Thurber means.

Explore the New York Times Book Review

Want to keep up with the latest and greatest in books? This is a good place to start.

    • Learn what you should be reading this fall: Our collection of reviews on books coming out this season includes biographies, novels, memoirs and more.
    • See what’s new in October: Among this month’s new titles are novels by Jonathan Franzen, a history of Black cinema and a biography by Katie Couric.
    • Nominate a book: The New York Times Book Review has just turned 125. That got us wondering: What is the best book that was published during that time?
    • Listen to our podcast: Featuring conversations with leading figures in the literary world, from Colson Whitehead to Leila Slimani, the Book Review Podcast helps you delve deeper into your favorite books.

    Louis Slobodkin’s pictures are suitably wacky and fill the book with fresh vital colors. — Ellen Lewis Buell [Review first published Sept. 19, 1943]

    ‘The First Book of Jazz,’ by Langston Hughes

    Jazz, Langston Hughes says firmly, is fun. Unlike many of its devotees, he doesn’t regard it as a peculiarly esoteric art; instead he writes with a refreshing lack of pomposity and with a clarity which will delight those who might be confused at the differences between cool and hot, swing and bebop. He shows how certain elements from the spirituals, the blues and the weary field hollers of the slaves mingled with merrier elements of the jubilees, street songs, minstrel songs and eventually evolved into a distinctively American art. Homage is paid to the influences and achievements of the great figures of jazz — especially Louis Armstrong, whose career, says Mr. Hughes, “is almost the whole story of orchestral jazz in America.” — Ellen Lewis Buell [Review first published Jan. 30, 1955]

    ‘The Little Steamroller,’ by Graham Greene

    Applying Graham Greene’s own definition of certain of his novels, his most recent picture story might best be described as an “entertainment.” This is pure melodrama, starring a brave and resourceful steamroller of an early Rube Goldberg pattern and a gang of smugglers. These, we are assured, are “desperate men,” but not even the cleverest of the Black Hand gang is a match for the steamroller once the latter, with extraordinarily quick perception, has detected his true nature. — Ellen Lewis Buell [Review first published March 13, 1955]

    ‘The Wishing Tree,’ by William Faulkner

    William Faulkner wrote one children’s book in his life, as early as 1926, typed and bound it himself, and presented the single copy to an 8-year-old child named Victoria Franklin, who later became his stepdaughter. Except for the author’s name, there seems little reason to publish it now. Although it appears in a charming edition with lavish illustrations by Don Bolognese, it is a curiosity rather than a book that a child would rejoice to read and read again. I can’t believe that a collector would read it either.

    Faulkner’s shining talent is sadly missing from these pages. He begins, promisingly enough, with Dulcie waking on her birthday to find a redheaded boy standing beside her bed. Maurice, a magical figure in a black velvet suit, red shoes and stockings, carries Dulcie off in a pony cart to an enchanted world. With them go small brother Dicky, George from across the street and Alice, a maid with a wicked temper.

    As might be guessed from the start, Dulcie is merely having a dream. A grown-up reader may wonder uneasily about the dark nature of her fantasies, the sense of violence, plus the fact that she undoubtedly has it in for poor George. I can well imagine Faulkner spinning out the tale on a lazy afternoon, as anyone may launch freely into preposterous invention to amuse a child. Yet to write it down was perhaps a mistake in judgment. — Helen Bevington [Review first published May 7, 1967]

    Site Information Navigation

    Source: Read Full Article