Sometimes an unlikely book catches my attention more for its appearance and design than its contents. Mara Kalman’s illustration of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style was such a book
Another such book is Advice to Little Girls by Mark Twain (Enchanted Lion Press) about which illustrator Vladimir Radunsky writes
It is difficult for us to imagine what a strange impression Advice to Little Girls, a children’s story by Mark Twain, must have had on its audience when it was written in 1865 and eventually published as part of The 30,000 Dollar Bequest and Other Stories.
American children’s literature in those days was mostly didactic, addressed to some imaginary reader—an ideal girl or boy, upon reading the story, would immediately adopt its heroes as role models. Twain did not squat down to be heard and understood by children, but asked them to stand on their tiptoes—to absorb the kind of language and humor suitable for adults.
The unexpected idea to illustrate Twain’s text came from the editor Bianca Lazzaro of Donzelli Editore in Rome, who also translated the text in to Italian. I still feel envious that she originated it because I’m always trying to find unusual or provocative subjects for my children’s books.
Trying to follow Twain’s style, I wanted to make something along the lines of a scrap-book or an album that you could buy in any paper-goods store at the time. Children used these small albums to paste in various curious objects, or for drawing, or just for doodling.
The only missing elements in the design of the book are stains and dog-ears, but I hope those will come with time.
Here’s the text for Advice to Little Girls:
Good little girls ought not to make mouths at their teachers for every trifling offense. This retaliation should only be resorted to under peculiarly aggravated circumstances.
If you have nothing but a rag-doll stuffed with sawdust, while one of your more fortunate little playmates has a costly China one, you should treat her with a show of kindness nevertheless. And you ought not to attempt to make a forcible swap with her unless your conscience would justify you in it, and you know you are able to do it.
You ought never to take your little brother’s “chewing-gum” away from him by main force; it is better to rope him in with the promise of the first two dollars and a half you find floating down the river on a grindstone. In the artless simplicity natural to this time of life, he will regard it as a perfectly fair transaction. In all ages of the world this eminently plausible fiction has lured the obtuse infant to financial ruin and disaster.
If at any time you find it necessary to correct your brother, do not correct him with mud–never, on any account, throw mud at him, because it will spoil his clothes. It is better to scald him a little, for then you obtain desirable results. You secure his immediate attention to the lessons you are inculcating, and at the same time your hot water will have a tendency to move impurities from his person, and possibly the skin, in spots.
If your mother tells you to do a thing, it is wrong to reply that you won’t. It is better and more becoming to intimate that you will do as she bids you, and then afterward act quietly in the matter according to the dictates of your best judgment.
You should ever bear in mind that it is to your kind parents that you are indebted for your food, and for the privilege of staying home from school when you let on that you are sick. Therefore you ought to respect their little prejudices, and humor their little whims, and put up with their little foibles until they get to crowding you too much.
Good little girls always show marked deference for the aged. You ought never to “sass” old people unless they “sass” you first.
Currently reading Mary Coin by Marisa Silver (Blue Rider Press)