The Poky Little Puppy by Sebring Lowrey and Tenngren

Tenggren, Gustaf, The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowrey, 1942

The Poky Little Puppy is a classic Little Golden Book by Texas writer Janette Sebring Lowrey, illustrated by Gustav Tenngren. This story was one of the first 12 Little Golden Books, first published in 1942, a big year in general for the world. Parents were wanting something light and playful for themselves and for their children, no doubt. 40 years later, The Poky Little Puppy was one of my favourite books as a preschooler and when I told my mother this, she said it had been my Auntie Sue’s absolute favourite as well. Fast forward another 30 years and my own kid loved it.

What I’d like to know is this: Can we put into words what makes The Poky Little Puppy such a popular picture book, so enduring it spans at least three generations (so far)? I know we’re not the only family this applies to; The Poky Little Puppy is the tentpole Little Golden Book which helps to sell other (also popular) Little Golden Books:

The Poky Little Puppy itself is a descendent of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, whichin turn is a descendent of 3000 years of mythic adventures starring (mainly) boys embarking upon adventures then returning home changed. The Poky Little Puppy is the cosy equivalent, for preschoolers, with no real opposition. As we shall see, any potential scariness of this adventure has been stripped away.

Although I won’t get into the language aspects here, The Poky Little Puppy is, above everything, a beautiful thing to read aloud. You can’t not read it in a kind of sing-song voice pitched at preschoolers. The text also contain parts which are likely to become catch phrases, used outside the reading of this book:

  • I smell something!
  • roly-poly, pell-mell, tumble-bumble
  • mother was greatly displeased
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Washing Work and Washing Lines in Illustration

Francisco Fonseca, Portuguese Illustrator, Neighbours washing
Francisco Fonseca, Portuguese Illustrator, Neighbours washing
Martin Lewis, Tree, Manhattan, 1930
Martin Lewis, Tree, Manhattan, 1930
‘A Modern Man — The Average Guy Pin-Up Calendar’
from ‘A Modern Man — The Average Guy Pin-Up Calendar’
Illustrator not found. Illustration of children is remininscent of E.H. Shepherd.
Margaret Bloy Graham for Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion (1957)
Margaret Bloy Graham for Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion (1957)
Harry Clarke (1889 - 1931) 1923 Illustration for Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe The Man of the Crowd
Harry Clarke (1889 – 1931) 1923 Illustration for Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe The Man of the Crowd
Wood block print by Brown County artist, Gustave Baumann, 1912 'November'. Illustration for "All The Year Round" by James Whitcomb Riley. Washing on the line.
Wood block print by Brown County artist, Gustave Baumann, 1912 ‘November’. Illustration for “All The Year Round” by James Whitcomb Riley.
Look What I’ve Got By Anthony Browne, 1980
Look What I’ve Got By Anthony Browne, 1980
Edmund Blair Leighton – September
Edward Wilkins Waite - A Surrey Cottage in June
Edward Wilkins Waite – A Surrey Cottage in June
Arthur Herbert Buckland - In a Cottage Garden 1910
Arthur Herbert Buckland – In a Cottage Garden 1910
American Artist Illustrator John L Sloan 1912 A Womans Work NYC 1912 washing
American Artist Illustrator John L Sloan 1912 A Womans Work NYC 1912 washing
Conte De Noel, Charles Dickens, illustrations by A.Pecoud (Paris 1952). In earlier times, before well-heated houses and the invention of dryers, it would have been common to hang washing to dry from the ceiling. We should probably see more of it in illustration.
Charles Courtney Curran - Shadows
Charles Courtney Curran – Shadows
Hilda Boswell washing
Arthur Rackham (English,1867-1939) - Girl in shawl with Ducks
Arthur Rackham (English,1867-1939) – Girl in shawl with Ducks
Poor Cecco by Marjery William Bianco illustrated by Arthur Rackham Mrs Woodchuck
Poor Cecco by Marjery William Bianco illustrated by Arthur Rackham Mrs Woodchuck
Frozen Laundry Saturday Evening Post Cover, March 8, 1952 Giclee Print by Stevan Dohanos
Frozen Laundry Saturday Evening Post Cover, March 8, 1952 Giclee Print by Stevan Dohanos
Lilla Cabot Perry (1848 - 1933) A snowy Monday, 1926
Lilla Cabot Perry (1848 – 1933) A snowy Monday, 1926

THE HILLMAN’S HOIST OF AUSTRALASIA

New Zealand and Australian yards are well-known for the Hillman’s Hoist, a rotary clothesline which can be wound up and down.

from Harry and Hopper
'Bottomley Potts covered in spots by Lynley Dodd washing line
‘Bottomley Potts covered in spots by Lynley Dodd washing line

New Zealand painter Nigel Brown makes sure to include the Hillman’s Hoist in his depictions of suburban New Zealand.

Suburban Clothesline Nigel Brown
Suburban Clothesline by Nigel Brown
Nigel Brown
English Woman July 12 1958, washing
English Woman July 12 1958, washing
1909 Frank Pape, for Anatole France's Penguin Island
1909 Frank Pape, for Anatole France’s Penguin Island
Great Grandmother Goose by Helen Cooper, illustrated by Krystyna Turska, Hamish Hamilton, London 1978
The City By FRANS MASEREEL (London 1988 - originally published by Kurt Wolff Verlag, Munich 1925 as DIE STADT washing
The City By FRANS MASEREEL (London 1988 – originally published by Kurt Wolff Verlag, Munich 1925 as DIE STADT
Anatoli Michailovich Eliseev, Story of the stupid mouse frog washing
Anatoli Michailovich Eliseev, Story of the stupid mouse frog washing
starch advertisement
Tide washing powder, Woman and Home May 1958
Tide washing powder, Woman and Home May 1958
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Blood Symbolism

BLOOD AS SYMBOL OF LIFE

Ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes of Apollonia (born 460 BCE) thought of life as pneuma coursing through vessels. In Stoic thought, pneuma is the vital spirit, soul, or creative force of a person.

Many fourth-, fifth- and sixth-century thinkers are called “Pythagoreans” in the Greek tradition after the fourth century BCE. These Pythagoreans (Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle et al) thought the soul was nourished by blood.

Empedocles (400s BCE) was a Greek pre-Socratic philosopher. He is best known for originating the cosmogonic theory of the four classical elements. He had some wacky ideas about blood and its purpose. He thought blood was the seat of perception. Warm blood was involved in nourishing the body, digesting food, and even let the body respire and think. Technically, he wasn’t wrong? The key wacky thing being, Empedocles thought blood was the physical basis by which all of these things happened, and also the physical basis of consciousness. He believed blood contained the four material elements: fire, air, earth, water. These elements governed the entire universe, so blood was the most important aspect of humanity and life and existence and nature. Basically, Empedocles thought blood was really, really important. Blood connected humans to the world around them.

We know that during the High Middle Ages (1000 to 1250 AD) people thought of the body more like a mould, into which blood was poured, bringing the ‘mould’ to life. As evidence we have devotional writing. (Caroline Walker Bynum writes about this in Wonderful Blood, 2007). In one 14th century story from Germany, angels escort a widow to a wine press, squeeze out all of her blood and replace it with virginal blood. Now she’s a virgin again. (This presumably improves her remarriage prospects and therefore her socioeconomic status.) Obviously, this story didn’t really happen (at least, I hope not) but the fact that this story exists offers insight into how people of that time thought of blood and the body. To exchange blood is literally to become a different person.

Blood as a symbol of life can be seen in classical, Biblical and Medieval thought.

In the Hebrew Bible, the tribes of Israel are not allowed to eat blood.

For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the alter; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.

Leviticus 17:11

In Medieval Christianity, blood spritually nourished Christians in the same way that mothers nourish babies with milk. Although blood and milk may seem to be very different substances, they are not. Their colours are nothing alike, and are symbolically quite often opposite. In fact, breastmilk has many shared properties with blood. Colostrum, the earliest form of breast milk contains 1 to 5 million white blood cells per milliliter. (Breast milk is constantly changing to adapt to babies’ growth.) So when Medieval Christians started the tradition of forming community around the drinking of God’s (symbolic) blood in the performance of the Eucharist (aka Holy Communion, Lord’s Supper), perhaps this spoke to a deeper biological knowledge.

Christ is both priest and sacrifice. His body and blood are truly contained in the sacramane of the alter under the forms of bread and wine having been changed in substance, by God’s power, into his body and blood, so that in order to achieve this mystery of unity we receive from God what he received from us.

The Fourth Lateran Council (1215)

Why is Christ’s blood so important? It is thought that his blood is able to give life, even without his body. This is an affirmation of his divine status.

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Writing Activity: Describe The Outside Of A House

A SOUTHERN AMERICAN PORCH IN SUMMER

People took porches and porch time for granted back then. Everybody had porches; they were nothing special. An outdoor room halfway between the world of the street and the world of the home. If the porch wrapped around the house as the Abbotts’ did, there were different worlds on the front, side, and back porch. If you were laid up on the side porch the way the Ya-Yas were in the picture, you were private, comfortably cloistered. The side porch — that’s where the Ya-Yas went if their hair was in pin curls, when they didn’t want to wave and chat to passersby. This is where they sighed, this is where they dreamed. This is where they lay for hours, contemplating their navels, sweating, dozing, swatting flies, trading secrets there on the porch in a hot, humid girl soup. And in the evening when the sun went down, the fireflies would light up over by the camellias, and that little nimbus of light would lull the Ya-Yas even deeper into porch reveries. Reveries that would linger in their bodies even as they aged.

from Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells

There isn’t much to be said about a porch itself there’s little furniture, no wall-hangings, and little to distinguish one porch from any other architecturally. So the author writes about all the people who inhabit the porch, and evokes an atmosphere via character memories.

A HOUSE IN MONTANA ON DUSK

The novel opens via the viewpoint character of a wolf, who starts in the forest then happens upon a house, taking the reader into civilisation. Wolves would not be able to describe a house in the following way, but a few details suggest a wolfish, and therefore forbidding, lens.

Notice too how Sparks takes the ‘camera’ from the porch to the inside, led by the cry of the baby, through the veil of curtains.

[The small ranch house] had been built on elevated ground above the bend of a creek whose bends bristled with willow and chokecherry. There were barns to one side and white-fenced corals. The house itself was a clapboard, freshly painted a deep oxblood. Along its southern side ran a porch that now, as the sun elbowed into the mountains, was bathed in a last glow of golden light. The windows along the porch had been opened wide and net curtains stirred in what passed for a breeze.

From somewhere inside floated the babble of a radio and maybe it was this that made it hard for whoever was at home to hear the crying of the baby. The dark blue buggy on the porch rocked a little and a pair of pink arms stretched craving for attention from its rim. But no one came. And at last, distracted by the play of sunlight on his hands and forearms, the baby gave up and began to coo instead.

The only one who heard was the wolf.

The Loop, Nicholas Evans

WRITE YOUR OWN

Frank Blackwell Mayer - Independence (Squire Jack Porter)
Frank Blackwell Mayer – Independence (Squire Jack Porter)
Carl Larsson dog on front steps
Carl Larsson dog on front steps
Continue reading “Writing Activity: Describe The Outside Of A House”

Marriage á la Mode by Katherine Mansfield

“Marriage á la Mode” (1921) is a modernist short story by Katherine Mansfield, first published in a December edition of The Sphere: An Illustrated Newspaper for the Home. Magazines don’t normally publish summery stories in winter, but it makes more sense to know this magazine was aimed at British citizens living in the colonies.

This story was later published in The Garden Party And Other Stories.

Love letters are a risky business. Revealing yourself to another person opens the risk of rejection, but if you had to do it onstage? What if the recipient of your ardour and your expression of vulnerability thought it was funny, and shared your most private, loving self with others for jokes?

Have you ever sent a love letter? What about a revealing email? A selfie? A naked selfie? This story is 100 years old, but we are still sharing ourselves with others in ways that leaves footprints. In fact, we now do this in a variety of uber-revealing ways. People we trust still betray us by sharing our secrets more widely, without our permission. With the Internet, the size of the audience, and the size of possible shame, has grown many times over. The point of shame in this story is probably even more relatable to a contemporary audience.

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Stephen King’s The Mist

When you encounter mist in real life, what do you recall? Stephen King’s novella? Frank Darabont’s 2007 adaptation of Stephen King’s novella? The 2017 TV series adaptation of Stephen King’s novella?

You may have even studied “The Mist” in literature class — the tertiary level equivalent of Lord of the Flies. This popular science fiction horror contains plenty for discussion and analysis.

Or maybe you’ve never encountered Stephen King’s Mist story before in your entire life, and you don’t scream to family members, “SOMETHING IN THE MIST TOOK JOHN LEE!” whenever fog descends.

I’ve seen the 2007 film numerous times but only just read the novella. There will inevitably be some conflation of those two slightly different stories below, so I’m going to talk about both without worrying about mixing them up.

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Symmetry In Art and Storytelling

Symmetry is one of those words whose everyday usage is a little different from the scientific meaning.

Everyday usage

a sense of harmonious and most appealing proportion and balance

Scientific meaning

In biology, the repetition of the parts in an animal or plant in an orderly fashion. Specifically, symmetry refers to a correspondence of body parts, in size, shape, and relative position, on opposite sides of a dividing line or distributed around a central point or axis.

SYMMETRY IN PROSE

The collection of images below are examples of symmetry and off-kilter symmetry. Images which are almost symmetrical — but not quite — can take readers into the realm of the uncanny. A standout text example comes from Shirley Jackson’s novel The Sundial.

The Halloran estate’s plans and set up are meant to be symmetrical, but the badly placed sundial disrupts this sense of stability. Like the door symbol in Hangsaman, the sundial is an inescapable presence: “Intruding purposefully upon the entire scene, an inevitable focus, was the sundial, set badly off center and reading “WHAT IS THIS WORLD?”

“Homespun” Horror: Shirley Jackson’s Domestic Doubling by Hannah Phillips
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Red and Blue Palette in Illustration

Below are examples of blue and red in art and illustration. I call this the Phantom Tollbooth palette because the blue of the original Phantom Tollbooth cover is distinctive. When the cover was modernised, a beautiful red was added. This teal blue plus red works especially well, I think.

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Stone Mattress Short Story by Margaret Atwood

1949 March, cover by Arthur Lidov ship

“Stone Mattress” is a masterful short story written by Margaret Atwood, published in The New Yorker in 2011. You’ll also find this story in the Nine Wicked Tales collection.

Some years later, in 2018, author A.M. Homes discussed this story with Deborah Treisman via the New Yorker Fiction podcast, noting that this is (unfortunately) a timeless story.

How many rapists must we kill until men stop raping us?

Mona Eltahawy (and implied by Margaret Atwood)
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