Rereading: ROCK HOUNDS by Evelyn Sibley Lampman

Ed Herrick and his friend Duane have exciting plans for the summer. They’re rock collectors, and will be returning to a dedicated science camp in the Oregon desert to find more specimens for their collections, where they had a fine time last year. The arrival of Ed’s cousin Priscilla to stay with his family for the summer doesn’t bother him, even though they take an instant dislike to each other, because he’ll be leaving for camp soon. Then Ed’s mother finds out she has to go away herself to care for Ed’s grandmother, and the only place for Priscilla is at the same camp. Ed is disgusted, and Priscilla isn’t happy about this either. She puts on a brave front, but isn’t much interested in science or rocks. When they arrive at camp, though, Priscilla finds a new friend in Ginny, a girl her own age who is also a rock hound, and gradually Priscilla comes around, even through the anger and disdain of Ed, and begins to enjoy herself. Then things get more serious when Priscilla discovers a strange Indian boy hiding out in a nearby canyon with his horse, who demands she bring him food every day from the camp. Priscilla has to agree before he’ll let her go, and then her life becomes complicated. Meanwhile, Ed has his own problems, and is teased by the other campers until only Priscilla will be friendly to him. Does she dare reveal her secret?

A fun read. Ed’s dislike of girls is played up a bit much, but the story moves right along, and is subtly educational as well as entertaining. Recommended if you can find it.

Rock Hounds by Evelyn Sibley Lampman

Rereading: THE SHIP THAT FLEW by Hilda Lewis

The four Grant children: Peter, Sheila, Humphrey, and Sandy (Alexandra) live in an English town next to the ocean and near a seaside resort town, Radcliff, where they seldom go in the tourist season. But one day Peter, the oldest, has to go there on his own by bus for a dentist appointment, and afterwards he wanders into a dark, narrow street he’s never seen before and enters a little shop, where a model ship in the window has caught his eye. The proprietor, an old man with an eye patch, offers to sell the marvelous Viking-style carved wooden ship for “all the money you have and a bit over.” Peter gives the man every coin he has, which includes tuppence he owes his father, and the boat goes carefully into his pocket. Peter no longer has bus fare, so he decides to cut across the sandy bay to get home, but he’s caught by the tide, and wishes he could get home. He feels movement in his pocket, takes the ship out, and it grows large enough for him to step inside. Then it slowly and majestically flies out of the bay and brings Peter to his own lawn. Delighted, Peter steps out, and the ship shrinks back to pocket size. Soon all four children are having adventures on the ship, which can grow to any size needed and travel in time as well as space. It not only takes them to Egypt of their time, but to visit ancient Egypt, the Viking gods, and England’s own past.

I liked this book when I first read it, and it holds up pretty well, but is not as interesting as the best books of E. Nesbit, which were clearly the model, and the children are not as interesting as Nesbit’s children. For me the best part is when they bring a princess they meet in the time of William the Conqueror back to their present time in the ship, and see how she reacts to their own 1930s England (the book was first published in 1939). The illustrations by Nora Lavrin are somewhat like those of Pauline Baynes, but not as good. Still, an enjoyable story and available in a recent reprint.

The Ship That Flew by Hilda Lewis

Rereading: FREDDY THE DETECTIVE by Walter R. Brooks

Cover and illustrations by Kurt Wiese

From 1927 to 1958, Walter R. Brooks wrote a series of humorous adventure stories featuring the talking animals of the Bean Farm in upstate New York. This is the third one, and it set the format for most of the ones that followed, focusing on Freddy the Pig, a smart animal willing to take up any new plan or idea, a poet, a writer, and a natural leader. Jinx the cat is his frequent side-kick and protector, and his friends include Mrs. Wiggins the cow. Those three form a detective agency at the farm after Freddy reads some Sherlock Holmes stories. Before long they have real cases to work on, including the theft of a toy train from the Bean farmhouse, which they discover is being used by Simon the rat and his family to steal grain from the barn, as a sort of armored car where Jinx can’t get at them. Freddy also discovers some human robbers living in a remote house in the woods, but his biggest case is one where Jinx is accused of killing a crow. The book ends with a classic courtroom drama that’s both funny and clever.

The Bean animals (and others they meet) can talk, and are essentially humans in animal form, though in the early books like this one, they don’t talk to humans, making Freddy’s detective work against the human criminals more difficult. The books are full of social commentary and wise insights into human nature disguised as animal behavior. I loved the entire series, and will gradually reread them all. My copy of this book is the Overlook Press facsimile edition from 1998, Overlook reprinted the full series. I recommend them highly.

Freddy the Detective by Walter R Brooks


From DETECTIVE COMICS #27, May 1939, this and all DETECTIVE images © DC Comics

There are many early comic books where the letterers are unknown. Credits for lettering were unheard of at the time. In many cases the artist did his own lettering, but if an artist was successful enough to hire someone else to do it, those names are often lost to comics history.

Bob Kane, 1940s, image found online

One exception is in artist studios where the assistants are partially or fully known, and that was true with Bob Kane’s studio in the early years of Batman. Some of Kane’s assistants had careers in comics long after they stopped working for him, and several were around long enough to supply information to comics historians about what they did. The Grand Comics Database has a lot of that data, where it’s known, and I’ve used it as a resource here. Robert Kahn was born October 24, 1915 in New York City. After high school he changed his name to Kane and studied art at Cooper Union before working at Fleischer Animation Studios in 1934. He began selling humorous and funny animal stories to comic book publishers in 1936, including National Allied Publications, the company that became DC Comics. With the success of Superman, DC was looking for more heroic adventure features, and in 1939 Bob Kane sold them Batman, which he co-created with writer Bill Finger.

From DETECTIVE COMICS #27, May 1939

Bob Kane is notorious for hiring other artists and writers to produce Batman work for him and taking all the credit, but at least in the first few years there’s now a pretty good record of who did what. I’m going to focus on DETECTIVE COMICS, for which Kane’s studio supplied Batman stories to National/DC Comics from 1939 to 1943, and possibly later. Stories done for BATMAN and WORLD’S FINEST COMICS follow a similar pattern. In the beginning, before Batman was a hit, it’s safe to assume that Kane did everything himself, including the lettering. Looking at the first page of the first Batman story, above, the lettering is uneven, but easy to read, and fairly typical for the time. Let’s compare it to other examples of early Kane comics work that came before Batman.

Continue reading

Rereading: IT’S LIKE THIS, CAT by Emily Neville

I first read this when it was published in 1963, or perhaps the year after when it won the Newbery Medal. I liked animal stories, and stories about New York City, and this covered both.

Dave Mitchell is fourteen and lives with his parents in Manhattan near Gramercy Park. His father is a lawyer, but they aren’t wealthy, and seem very middle class. Dave is always fighting with his dad, causing his mother to have asthma attacks, so when that happens, he goes out on the street, spending time with his school friend Nick, or an older woman, Kate, who keeps a number of cats in her apartment, considering them her family. Dave is taken with a young tom cat at Kate’s and agrees to take him home, even though his parents might not like it. He keeps Cat (as he names him) in his room when not outside, and while his father is against it, he doesn’t forbid it. Some of the book is about Dave and Cat, some is about Dave’s adventures in the city, like going to the Fulton Fish Market, and to Coney Island with Nick, where they meet some girls. Dave isn’t thrilled about that, but one of the girls, Mary, seems nice, and they meet again other times. Meanwhile, Dave tries to bring Cat on the family’s summer vacation, and he escapes from the car on the Long Island Expressway in a traffic jam. Despite his father’s scornful laughter, Dave jumps out too, and he and Cat make their way home. Then Cat is getting into fights, and has to be treated at the vet, who tells Dave the best way to keep Cat alive is to have him neutered. Dave isn’t sure he wants to do that.

This was just as interesting and fun to read as I remembered, a fine book, and worthy of the Newbery. Recommended.

It’s Like This Cat by Emily Neville