Books / Scholarship

Suzi Wackerbarth’s “In a Nutshell: Bechtel Scholar Studies Chapbooks, Sendak”

Suzi Wackerbarth is a children’s librarian at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Downtown and Business. She was formerly a children’s librarian and cataloger at Northland Public Library in the North Hills of Pittsburgh. She participated in the Bechtel Fellowship in May 2013.

The following is an excerpt from her essay,  “In a Nutshell: Bechtel Scholar Studies Chapbooks, Sendak”:

“And they lived happily ever after.”

These are the words we sigh after, picturing the princess in the castle, the prince vanquishing the dragon, the child, quiet, sound asleep. Quiet seems to be a theme in books of manners for children, I’ve found. Chew your food with your mouth closed (quietly). Sit next to your sister (quietly) without biting her. Do not speak (be quiet) until spoken to, and when you do speak, speak quietly.

As I shared with people at my local diner (and writing spot) that the project I’m furiously working on, as I eat my wedding soup and garlic bread, downing glass upon glass of iced tea, is about really old books about children and manners, the waitresses say, “Well, maybe they got it right, way back when. Kids these days have no respect.”

I wonder. When I studied chapbooks with titles such as The School of Good Manners, A Book of Good Manners for Girls and Boys, and Lessons for Good Children in Easy Rhyme, it seems to me that children have probably always been too loud, too boisterous, and intent on biting their siblings. What does a baby do, after all, when she enters the world? She cries, bloody murder, so we know her lungs work, and that moment may be the last time we are glad to hear her cry.

When I started studying contemporary books on manners in preparation for my fellowship at the University of Florida’s Baldwin Historical Library, I pored over Sesyle Joslin’s twin books What Do You Say, Dear? and What Do You Do, Dear?, illustrated by Maurice Sendak. I read Horn Book’s “What Makes a Good Manners Book?” I fully intended to compare and contrast these titles with the books listed in the Baldwin’s online catalog.

But that is not the article you are about to read. No, this is the story of how one librarian thought she was going to explore all sorts of questions and answers about manners from the eighteenth century to the twenty-first century and ended up learning about chapbooks and focusing on a few books by Maurice Sendak.

To read more of Suzi Wackerbarth’s piece, download the PDF.

Untitled

“Boys Bullying a Boy,” from Lessons for Good Children, 1837.
Photo used with permission from the Baldwin Library of Historical
Children’s Literature, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of
Florida.

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