Someone ought to write about this

The New Yorker of 21 July features an article by Jill Lepore about ancient literary battles in the USA.

Anne Carroll Moore (1871–1961), first superintendent of the New York Public Library’s Department of Work with Children, wielded enormous power in children’s literature in the USA during the first half of the twentieth century: ‘Her verdict, not any editor’s, not any bookseller’s, sealed a book’s fate,’ Lepore writes. ‘She kept a rubber stamp at her desk that she used, liberally, while paging through publishers’ catalogues: “Not recommended for purchase by expert.” The end.’

The article tells how E B White’s first book for children, Stuart Little, brought an end to her influence. She hated the book, reportedly writing to White that it was ‘written by a sick mind’, and recommended against it. In 1945, an amazing first print run of 50 000 hit the bookshops, and though ACM’s hostility initially slowed sales down, she was helpless against the tide of its popularity. Behind these events lay a great shift in what was understood to be excellent in children’s literature. Anne Carroll Moore ‘loved what was precious, innocent, and sentimental. White [both EB and his critic–librarian wife, Katharine] found the same stuff mawkish, prudish, and daffy.’

I don’t know if the history of Australian children’s literature boasts any personalities of the magnitude of Anne Carroll Moore or E B White, but I’m feeling impelled to blog a little about some rough equivalents. The School Magazine, subtitled ‘A Magazine of Literature for our Boys and Girls’, was coming into existence at about the same time as Anne Carroll Moore was setting up the Children’s Room behind the lions at the New York Public Library and winning the right for children not only to enter the library but even to borrow books. But who remembers the name of the magazine’s first editor, Inspector Stephen Smith? Since Mr Smith kept fairly busy earning his place in history as an educational mover and shaker, setting up correspondence schools and the like, it probably makes sense to think of Doris Chadwick (1899–1979), generally acknowledged as occupying the chair from 1920 to 1960, as the real first editor.

As far as I know, no one has written much about Doris Chadwick. Yet she did wield significant influence over children’s literature in Australia during the period of Anne Carroll Moore’s dominance in the US. She decided what poems, short stories, songs would be encountered by generations of primary school students in New South Wales. She may not have made or broken careers, but she almost certainly gave thousands of people their first taste of C J Dennis, May Gibbs, Henry Lawson, Mary Gilmore, Wordsworth, Blake, Tolkien, Aesop, as well as stories with titles like ‘Fairy Twee Wee’s Adventure’ (by ‘Neelia’, 1916), which Katharine White may well have found mawkish, or ‘Two Days at a Shearing-Shed’ (W M Corrigan, 1920).

I know two artists who illustrated for Miss Chadwick’s magazine in the 1950s. By that time she was deaf, and very aware of her dignity. When the young Noela Young was ushered into her presence she was asked to wear gloves and instructed to curtsey, which she did to the best of her ability. ‘Ah, yes, I remember you,’ said Doris when introduced to a promising art student, Astra Lãcis. ‘I didn’t recognise you without your hat.’ Astra never wore hats, and this was their first meeting. By that time, without the benefit of a battle in the New York manner, the power was passing to a new generation: Noreen Shelley, assistant editor, was soon to be in charge. She published an excerpt from Stuart Little in 1961.

2 responses to “Someone ought to write about this

  1. Well, in 1961 I was in 1st Year at Tamworth HS. Therefore I never did read “Stuart Little” – extract or complete work! But Ann Carroll Moore – what a piece of work was she! Thanks for the insight – he writes – after a four-hour visit to the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Museum and the Basilica of St Peter’s led by the marvellous Filomena RICCI. Brava! She knows her stuff – and in English! (Morocco on the morrow!)

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  2. Hi Jim. I’ve never read Stuart Little either: the problem seems to be that a woman gives birth to a mouse. Quite a come down after the Creation of Adam I expect. Have fun in Morocco.

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