Sunday, May 29, 2011

from the BRG archives: fat

When I was a child and a teenager, I would read almost anything: just gulp it down and the fatter, the better (picture books were thin books, chapter books were fat books to us). Now I’m much pickier – but last week I had the flu for a few days and I read the way I read as a kid when I couldn’t go outside: I just put a big stack of fat books next to me and when I finished one, started the next. One of the books I read was Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright (Newbery winner, 1938). It opened to this:

--and my first thought was: the author must be the illustrator (she was). I kind of like the drawings in this book – they’re just so bizarre. And I also always liked Arthur Ransome’s drawings for Swallows and Amazons, which was published in the 1930s, too. They’re charming and suit the books.

I’m guessing that these authors weren’t ever professional illustrators (girls, what do you think?). And do you think authors this amateurish could get away with illustrating their own chapter books today? I hope it’s possible, even if the illustrations aren’t up to Grace’s charming drawings in the equally charming Year of the Dog, it’s just FUN to find colorful illustrations like these scattered throughout a book, especially when the author is the illustrator:

The girl on the left is described as fat -- I’ve never seen the word “fat” mentioned so often in a book as it was in Thimble Summer. People were also described as “fleshy,” as when someone says, “They are one fleshy family.” I didn’t know people were that preoccupied with weight in the 1930s – or was it just this author? Pigs were mentioned a lot, too – one is described as “unusually greedy and selfish, even for a pig.” This isn’t a criticism, I enjoyed the book; I just found this sort of thing unusual:
“Garnet watched Mrs. Hauser [the mother in the “fleshy family”] get into the car. Did she imagine it, or did she really see the Ford sink down a little on its springs, as if it sighed under a great weight.”

That made me laugh, though I was half-relieved and half-disappointed to see that this character’s daughter, also described as “fat,” was the perfectly normal-looking girl with a bob above. Fuse8 worried in her review that children, seeing this, would think that THEY were fat and be troubled; I am not. I weigh a lot more than I once did and already think I'm fat. When I saw this picture, I was reassured. I thought, "Oh, fat doesn't look so bad." Maybe it really doesn't!

Originally published November 1st, 2006

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