Thursday, February 4, 2010
"Wappie's Surprise Cake"
I picked up a copy of Volume 4 of the Childcraft books set today at Goodwill, entitled "Animal Friends and Adventures". This copy is from 1954, which is about ten years older than the set sitting on my grandmother's bookshelves right now. Wracked with the guilt of one who frequently buys things that have no future use, I thought I would share my thoughts on a little guy named Wappie. But first, preamble.
It seems strange to me that the Childscraft people, who I know are like high quality purveyors of children's reference books, would choose such terrible illustrators for this edition, but most of the animals look bizarre. Examine:
That lion looks insane. It's like a teddy bear with hell eyes. I kept flipping through the book seeing illustrations of owls in women's wear, and children getting into mischief, until I came across this:
Ladies and gentlemen, Wappie, of "Wappie's Surprise Cake", by Harriet Bunn. This story was originally published in a periodical called Child Life, but that's about as far as I could get as to the provenance. Mostly concerning the most endearing little bab of a monkey of all time, and a misadventure surrounding a coconut cake and the destruction of said coconut cake. Some of the writing was just sparkling, though-- by far the best in the book.
1) Wappy: re: being inside because of the snow and being ignored because of Christmas: "The week before Christmas he was so lonesome that if he'd known how he would have cried." --->?!?
2)Wappy: re: coconut baking scent pervading household: "'Coconut' and the tall palms with their rustling leaves seemed to rustle close to his ear...such pictures it brought him! He could see his brothers rolling the [coconuts] along the ground and knocking them together. When they cracked [them]apart, they flung back their heads to drain the sweet milk." ---> reminds me of that "The 'Teddy' Bears" short film from the Library of Congress dvd set, which melds the Teddy Roosevelt story with the "Three Little Bears" fairy tale for a decidedly macabre ending ("Oh, great President, thank you for responding to our home invasion by murdering both my parents and taking me into captivity.") This one's kind of like "Gee, guys, thanks for baking me a coconut cake. It reminds me of my home in Africa. WHERE I WAS HAPPY. WITH MY FAMILY. RIGHT. I FORGOT."
3)On being confused by the smell of the cake: "Could he, Wappie, who had smelled lions and snakes miles away, be mistaken about such a well known smell as that?" ---> the pride of this little monkey, his superior sense of smell. Cute. My boyfriend repeated it to me in a Clifton Webb voice and it was even funnier (Mr. Belvedere in this clip).
4)On being caught actually sitting on the cake, an event for which he is WHOLLY CULPABLE: "Wappie lost his temper as fast as he did everything else...if she [the cook, who is reasonably upset by this little demon] wanted that cake she could have it, and right in the eye, too. Wappie stood up and aimed the hunk in his fist. He spit the bite in his mouth onto the floor. He dug his long toes into the frosting and scuffed it out behind him..." Give 'em hell, Wappie. Little man, I suggest Clint Eastwood for your biopic.
5)He swings on the lamp back and forth and launches himself to safety via the open kitchen door. See remark #5.
6) He gets really cold outside in a snow covered tree up which he has clambered and is lured back in by his owner and a banana. None of us are without faults. "The warmth of the coat soothed him. Wappie snuggled close to Peggy's neck and laid a tired head against her shoulder." My little heart.
7)Wappie sees a Christmas tree for the first time, and thinks about how good the fruit on it must be (ie ornaments). He sees the star at the top, and we get this passage. " 'A star!' He had tried to reach stars through the green palms of the jungle, but they were always too high for him. Tonight he was satisfied. His stomach was full of cake, but the very next chance he got he was going to taste that star." He keeps thinking in his very active dream life of home. And touching stars. I am misting like the Niagara Falls.
8) Just to bring the point home, as Peggy reflects on how much Wappie likes the tree, and what a good monkey he is, he internally reiterates his plans for that tree: " 'Tomorrow,' thought Wappie. 'While they take their naps, I'll wriggle through the door and climb up and taste that star!' "
End story. [APPLAUSE, WAPPIE FOR LIFE, ETC, ETC]
I love how irrepressible the monkey is throughout the story. He really is a strong little character, and without trying to read too much into him (he's not exactly Jay Gatsby), there's plenty for the kid or the parent reading it to them to attach themselves to Wappie, he has moxie. The sweetheart sweetieness of the how cheeky he is just wins me over completely.
What I love about the Childcraft books are how they were written _for_ children-- the writers don't write down to children (instead assuming they or the people who read to them to be of average intelligence, not lobotomy patients), and the writers don't write up to their parents (as it seems every smarmy CGI animated thing that comes out nowadays is, riddled with body humor gags sandwiched in between classic tv references).
Couldn't find ANYTHING to link me to more Wappie-age, but here are some links to the Child Craft set. I wouldn't pay twenty bones a volume for them, but if you see them peeking out of somebody's attic, or a yard sale box, don't pass 'em up, they're treasureful.
A really kind of interesting blog that reviews children's texts from a current perspective. Why do I never think of anything first?