Every generation of children has its favorite books. My childhood reading was very eclectic. On Saturdays when we went to town to shop, a trip to the library was always included, and I think I was left alone to wander the book shelves and select whatever caught my eye. The method employed by my parents taught me to be a life-long reader. On the other hand, I missed many childhood classics that a little guidance might have helped me find.
One book I do remember is The Little Squeegy Bug, which was owned by my family. It was published in 1945 and is the first book by Bill Martin, Jr., with the delightful illustrations by his brother, William Ivan Martin.
Although this book, and its wonderful illustrations, are lodged firmly in my memory, I was unaware of the importance of its author until recently. Bill Martin, Jr. taught in St. John, after having been raised in Hiawatha, KS and educated at the Kansas State Teacher's College in Emporia.
|Bill Martin, Jr. (1916-2004)|
He served in the Army Air Corps during W.W. II as a newspaper editor, and it was during that time that he published The Little Squeegy Bug (1945). The simple little book I remember from childhood was actually a popular success, selling more than a million copies and getting praise from Eleanor Roosevelt in her syndicated newspaper column, "My Day."
While that alone is impressive, it was only the beginning. During his lifetime he wrote more than 300 books for children. Younger readers would probably remember him for Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? which was illustrated by his friend, famous children's illustrator Eric Carle.
The last decade of his life he lived in Commerce, Texas, and this native-born and educated Kansan is memorialized in Texas. The library on the campus of Texas A&M University-Commerce is named in his honor and contains a collection of all of his books and many artifacts connected with Martin.
However, Kansas remembers him in a wonderful way too. The Bill Martin, Jr. Picture Book Award was established in 1996 by the Kansas Reading Association for the purpose of promoting quality literature for young people. Teachers, parents, communities, and librarians can nominate titles, from which a committee of KRA members compiles a list voted upon by KRA members who determine the year's award winner based on the book receiving the most votes. You may go to http://www.kansasread.org/bmjaward.html to read more.
It is unlikely that Isaac B. Werner had much opportunity to read books published specifically for children when he was young. Until the mid-1800s, most children's books were intended to teach religion or manners, with hardly the slightest intention of being entertaining. There was a far earlier oral history of myths and fairy tales shared by children and adults, but the book generally regarded as the first modern children's book is A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, written and published by John Newbery in 1744.
|An interior page of Squeegy|
In the early 19th Century traditional oral fairy tales were collected and written down in several countries, including those collected by Danish author and poet Hans Christian Andersen, the German Brothers Grimm, and Norwegian Folktales collected by Peter Christen Asbjornsen and Jorgen Moe.
Recently, the British Library has facilitated the opportunity for everyone to access images from books published in the 17th-19th centuries which are contained in their library. If you are curious, you can see what children's books looked like in the 1800s at http://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary.
I don't know what Isaac B. Werner read as a child nor why he developed such a passion for books. I can only be certain that his library was impressive and that he believed reading was essential throughout a person's life.