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November 11, 2006 5:02 PM   Subscribe

The Google Book By V.C. Vickers, 1913. FAR! FAR away, the Google lives, in a land which only children can go to. It is a wonderful land of funny flowers, and birds, and hills of pure white heather.
posted by caddis (38 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
That guy in the last panel looks like one of the monsters from "Where the Wild Things Are."
posted by caddis at 5:03 PM on November 11, 2006


Wow, The Google would scare the crap out of me if I was a little kid.
posted by blacklite at 5:37 PM on November 11, 2006


The Google is an imaginary beast illustrated by V.C. Vickers, my grandfather, published by J & E Bumpus Ltd London in 1913, again in 1931 and again by Oxford University Press in 1979. I'm sure this Google googled, and has been googling for nearly 100 years!

From TalkBack to the article Google wants people to stop googling
posted by spock at 5:54 PM on November 11, 2006


Awe. Some.

Back in the days when children's books were full of language and wordplay and jokes and words with more than three syllables and illustrations that were wonderful and strange. *sighs curmudgeonly*
posted by jokeefe at 5:56 PM on November 11, 2006


With YouTube already captured, I wonder who else will soon be chanting this dark, cautionary, prophetic verse:

The sun is setting –
Can't you hear
A something in the distance howl!!?
I wonder if it's –
Yes!! it is
That horrid Google
On the prowl!!!

posted by Milkman Dan at 6:01 PM on November 11, 2006


is a wonderful land of funny flowers, and birds, and hills of pure white heather.

And basket weavers who sit and smile and twiddle their thumbs and toes and they're coming to take me away, ha-haa!!!
posted by evilcolonel at 6:04 PM on November 11, 2006


The Swank is quick and full of vice,
He tortures beetles also mice.
He bites their legs off and he beats them
Into a pulp, and then he eats them.


The funny thing is, kids eat this stuff up.
posted by caddis at 6:11 PM on November 11, 2006


I still eat this stuff up. The best children's stories are the ones that don't worry that they might offend or scare children or somehow prevent them from growing up normal.
posted by Citizen Premier at 6:34 PM on November 11, 2006


Is this The Google that George looks at his ranch with?

/obvious
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:40 PM on November 11, 2006


THE Google.
posted by WaterSprite at 7:32 PM on November 11, 2006


TEH Google.
posted by WaterSprite at 7:33 PM on November 11, 2006


It never stops still and it makes people ill
With its nerve-racking ear-splitting cry,
Which it utters they say both by night and by day,
And really I cannot think why!
No more can you!


Emphasis: mine. Awesome: the book's.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:35 PM on November 11, 2006


Google anticipated by Raymond Chandler in 1953
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:40 PM on November 11, 2006


...and now suddenly that page isn't responding. Here, appropriately enough, is Google's cache of it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:25 PM on November 11, 2006


I love old children's books. The new stuff is shite.
posted by The God Complex at 11:18 PM on November 11, 2006


The best children's stories are the ones that don't worry that they might offend or scare children

The section on fear and scary stories found about halfway through "Notes on Camp" (This American Life) brings out this profound part of human experience and childhood.
posted by honest knave at 12:38 AM on November 12, 2006


The Story About Ping, 1933.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 12:41 AM on November 12, 2006


Umm. Let's try that again: The Story About Ping, 1933
posted by IshmaelGraves at 12:42 AM on November 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


Utter filth!
posted by popcassady at 3:53 AM on November 12, 2006


huh-huh, huh-huh "Lemonsqueezer..."
posted by I, Credulous at 4:27 AM on November 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


I love old children's books. The new stuff is shite.

Here, let's rewrite that so it fits reality:

I love the old children's books that have stood the test of time because they're among the small minority of good ones. Most of the new stuff is shite because most of everything is shite (Sturgeon's Law), and I can't be bothered to sort out the minority of good stuff, so I'll just make lazy generalizations about how much better things were in the past.
posted by languagehat at 6:30 AM on November 12, 2006 [2 favorites]


I can't wait for the quiz.. What kind of Google Bird are you?
posted by hypersloth at 7:39 AM on November 12, 2006


Well done, languagehat.
posted by spock at 8:30 AM on November 12, 2006


Well done, languagehat.

Seconded.

It's an argument I have to have with people with a depressing amount of regularity, and languagehat put it nicely. When I do it, it tends to come out, "No, video games weren't magically better when you were a child! No, cartoons weren't either! No, music isn't (significantly) better or worse now than it was then! Sturgeon's Law, plus the fact that the shit gets forgotten over time!"
posted by sparkletone at 10:49 AM on November 12, 2006


I love the old children's books that have stood the test of time because they're among the small minority of good ones. Most of the new stuff is shite because most of everything is shite (Sturgeon's Law), and I can't be bothered to sort out the minority of good stuff, so I'll just make lazy generalizations about how much better things were in the past.

Not really, no. On the whole, the older stuff is far weirder, stranger, and even darker than the new kids stuff. A lot of the old children's stuff I've seen hasn't really "stood the test of time". They're just old, unheard of things I happen upon in used bookstores in the like, often things I'll never hear of again, whereas stuff today works very hard not to subvert our youth in some strange quest not to subvert our youth.

When I do it, it tends to come out, "No, video games weren't magically better when you were a child! No, cartoons weren't either! No, music isn't (significantly) better or worse now than it was then! Sturgeon's Law, plus the fact that the shit gets forgotten over time!"

So your ridiculous suggestion is that the quality of different mediums does not change over time, that it always stays the same, and people who suggest otherwise are suggesting something depressing?

Uhhh, okay.
posted by The God Complex at 11:40 AM on November 12, 2006


(Messed up the editing on the last bit of the first bit there, actually. Read it without the first "subvert our youth")
posted by The God Complex at 11:41 AM on November 12, 2006


On the whole, the older stuff is far weirder, stranger, and even darker than the new kids stuff.

I gather you haven't looked at many kids' books recently. Far too many of them are far too dark, if you ask me—not in the "scary monster" or "wicked witch" sense, which is fun, but in the "daddy's a drunk and your brother beats you up and you run away and terrible things happen" sense, which is just depressing. But there are great kids' books out there, too. I do understand the ineffable appeal of musty old books, though, so carry on.

So your ridiculous suggestion is that the quality of different mediums does not change over time

Doesn't sound so ridiculous to me. It's certainly a better default assumption than "things were better in the old days."
posted by languagehat at 12:37 PM on November 12, 2006


On the whole, the older stuff is far weirder, stranger, and even darker than the new kids stuff.

Like Dick and Jane? I think that is a more typical example than the story of the Google.

So your ridiculous suggestion is that the quality of different mediums does not change over time

No. It's that it will always seem that an earlier era produced better stuff (because much of the bad stuff is forgotten) regardless of whether or not that is actually the case
posted by winston at 1:44 PM on November 12, 2006


Like Dick and Jane? I think that is a more typical example than the story of the Google.

You should read some fairy tales, particularly Russian fairy tales. Quite grisly.
posted by caddis at 2:56 PM on November 12, 2006


For the record, please keep in mind that I'm twenty-four and not harkening back to some days of yore from my childhood.

not in the "scary monster" or "wicked witch" sense, which is fun, but in the "daddy's a drunk and your brother beats you up and you run away and terrible things happen" sense

You're right. I should have been more specific. I mean dark in a imaginative, fantastical sort of way, rather than in a real-world sense, which seems far less important to me.

Doesn't sound so ridiculous to me. It's certainly a better default assumption than "things were better in the old days."

Oh, I agree. There's not much more annoying than the golden age fallacy (actually all fallacies are equally annoying, but I digress). What I mean, however, is that sparkletone also hedges his bets by suggesting that music wasn't better then (or now), meaning there's some weird middle territory and all music stays at the same level of quality from here to eternity.

You'll just have to take my word for it when I tell you I'm not a Golden Ager. I'm an English graduate (and soon-to-be graduate student, if all goes well) that primarily concerns himself with contemporary literary texts, so the label surely only fits me loosely at best ;)

I also wasn't suggesting that there aren't good kids books today, only that there seems to be over-saturation of terrible stuff. On the other hand, some of the young adult literature (Harry Potter being the obvious example) is fantastic and something I would have loved when I was a bit younger. Similarly, all of the new animated stuff being put out by Pixar, Dreamwork, et al makes me extremely jealous of my young nieces.

@caddis: Yes! I've seen a few. Any specific recommendations that you have? I'd love to look into it further, especially because it may end up being somewhat relevant to my grad school work.
posted by The God Complex at 7:52 PM on November 12, 2006


Chiming in here late, but I can't help but think that the whole genre of children's literature has in fact changed over the last hundred and fifty years or so as ideas of pedagogy and moral instruction have changed... I know it sounds all rocking-chair-on-the-front-porch of me, but I am willing to bet that your average Victorian children's book contained far more multiply claused sentences, a greater range of vocabulary, and a reliance on basic literary constructions such as simile and metaphor in a way that is just not current fashion (find me an original or interesting simile in Harry Potter and I'll happily rethink this, but I bet you can't). And I think this movement in literature also has to do with how we conceptualize childhood today as compared to a hundred years ago. Or even forty years ago... I'm kind of glad, actually, that I'm just a little bit too old to have been affected by the wave of realism that came into children's literature in the mid seventies. [/rambles]
posted by jokeefe at 8:18 PM on November 12, 2006


Just to add: yes, the dross washes away in time, but the gold that may remain in the future from current work intended for children may be less literary pieces than animated films like Totoro. I just don't think that current writing for children, even clever stuff like Lemony Snicket, is all that well done. I mean, look at Beatrix Potter's sentence construction, which is idiosyncratic and, as AS Byatt wrote in one of her novels, "sensuously exciting" as writing. And it's aimed at four and five year olds. Books directed at the equivalent group today tend to be utterly simplistic in comparison.

And, you know, harrumph harrumph.
posted by jokeefe at 8:29 PM on November 12, 2006


I mean, look at Beatrix Potter's sentence construction .. Books directed at the equivalent group today tend to be utterly simplistic in comparison.

I beg to differ. Beatrix Potter's sentence construction is beautifully clear and direct:

Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter.

Johnny Town-Mouse was born in a cupboard. Timmy Willie was born in a garden. Timmy Willie was a little country mouse who went to town by mistake in a hamper.

What a funny sight it is to see a brood of ducklings with a hen! Listen to the story of Jemina Puddle-Duck, who was annoyed because the farmer's wife would not let her hatch her own eggs.

The 'difficult' bits that people remember -- which aren't difficult in terms of sentence construction, only in terms of vocabulary -- nearly always occur in the dialogue. ('I fear that we shall be obliged to leave this pudding.' 'But I am persuaded that the knots would have proved indigestible, whatever you may urge to the contrary.') In my experience, children will accept this -- just as they accept a lot of adult diction that passes over their head in everyday conversation -- as long as they can follow the story.

The Beatrix Potter stories are clearly designed to be read aloud, and the author has clearly read them aloud herself, over and over, to get the rhythm of the sentences exactly right. This makes them wonderfully accessible, both for the adult reader and the child listener. By contrast, there are a lot of children's books written today where it's obvious that the author has never bothered to read the text aloud, and has just slapped the words down onto the page. This creates all sorts of syntactical errors and ambiguities, making them far more 'difficult' than anything Beatrix Potter ever wrote.

But to get back to the point at issue. Overall, I don't think the children's books of today are necessarily any better or worse than the children's books of yesteryear; but I would make two observations about them.

(1) At the bottom end of the market, there are a lot of children's books being published today that fall well below any conceivable quality threshold -- feeble story, shoddy production, minimal educational value. (I'm thinking particularly of 'girly' books with titles like Princess Stephanie Goes Shopping -- take my word for it: unless you have a small daughter, you have no idea how much of this stuff there is, and how relentlessly it is marketed.) In this respect I am quite sure things have got worse in the last 20-30 years.

(2) Standards of book illustration have definitely sunk. A generation ago, there were dozens of professional artists who had had an art-school training and gone on to make a living illustrating book-jackets, magazine stories, etc. Where are they now? The illustrators I remember from my childhood (Quentin Blake, Shirley Hughes, Graham Oakley, Helen Oxenbury) are growing old, and I don't see many talented younger artists emerging to replace them.

Don't get me wrong -- there are a lot of fantastic children's books still being produced. But it seems to me that the gap between the best and the worst is wider than it's ever been.
posted by verstegan at 4:10 AM on November 13, 2006


"No, video games weren't magically better when you were a child!

Hear, hear. As someone who played the hell out of games in 1983 and in 2006, I can say, unequivocally, that games are better now, by far. Games were simpler then and we were more excited by every minor advance made, but when I play Madden NFL 06 on my PSP and remember the Mattel handheld football game with the LED dashes, there's no comparison. Every once in a while, I try to go back to the old stuff and recapture some of that old fun, but I can only stand the old stuff for 15 minutes at a time -- it just isn't that good anymore. And it's not just about graphics, either. Storytelling is more advanced, gameplay is better, and the overall experience is more likely to be one I want to relive.

Same thing with children's books: I have a child now adn when I have read him stuff from my youth, only about 10% holds up under any critical scrutiny. Part of that is that only about 10% was that good to begin with, which is pretty much how it is all the time. We remember Dr Seuss as a classic (and especially for me, Fattypuffs and Thinifers :-) because it was that much better than the other stuff of its time.

Pop culture hasn't waned -- it's still as sick and peurile as ever. As long as people continue to produce this stuff, it always will be. That's what makes certain things "classic": they tend to transcend the times they were spawned from. To magically assign value to something because of its age... well, that's just naive and delusional.

So, yeah, I have my nostalgic side, just like anyone else, but to be trapped in the idea that somehow Older Is Better... well, that's just silly. Life is pretty good right now.

(Sorry about the off-topic rant. Just in a mood.)
posted by grubi at 7:02 AM on November 13, 2006


TGC, I have a book of these somewhere that I bought for our kids when they were very small. After reading several quite disturbing tales and scaring my children I put that book back on the shelf. I don't see that particular book at Amazon, but the there was this fellow Alexander Afanasyev who put together a collection in the 1800's along with illustrations by Ivan Bilibin. I would start there.
posted by caddis at 8:27 AM on November 13, 2006


Bilibin is the bestest illustrator ever.

The God Complex: Dammit, we're pretty much in agreement then. Another good flamewar dies aborning.
posted by languagehat at 10:01 AM on November 13, 2006


The 'difficult' bits that people remember -- which aren't difficult in terms of sentence construction, only in terms of vocabulary -- nearly always occur in the dialogue.

Welll.... I would submit that dialogue is sentences, if you know what I mean. And I went back to look at Potter's The Story of Two Bad Mice, which I remember as having a kind of Emily Dickinson quality about it, with dashes galore as punctuation. The construction wasn't quite as odd as I remembered it, but it's still... weird. The dolls scared me a little (I was five the last time I read this, or had it read to me, I think).
HUNCA MUNCA was
just returning with
another chair, when suddenly
there was a noise of talking
outside upon the landing. The
mice rushed back to their hole,
and the dolls came into the
nursery.

WHAT a sight met the
eyes of Jane and
Lucinda!

Lucinda sat upon the upset
kitchen stove and stared, and
Jane leaned against the kitchen
dresser and smiled; but neither
of them made any remark.
However, I think we're actually in agreement about the rest-- absolutely that the oral quality of children's books has been largely lost. Tangentially, I find it a bit distrurbing that I'm seeing advertising on television for teddy bears which "read" stories to children. I just find that odd. *examines gray hairs regretfully*
posted by jokeefe at 3:47 PM on November 14, 2006


Oh my, just relatedly, I was reading The Story of Ginger and Pickles-- I never realized what a sly wit Potter was! It's brilliant.
ONCE upon a time there was a
village shop. The name over
the window was "Ginger and
Pickles."

It was a little small shop just the
right size for Dolls--Lucinda and
Jane Doll-cook always bought their
groceries at Ginger and Pickles.

The counter inside was a convenient height for rabbits. Ginger and Pickles sold red spotty pocket- handkerchiefs at a penny three farthings.

They also sold sugar, and snuff
and galoshes.

In fact, although it was such a
small shop it sold nearly everything
--except a few things that you
want in a hurry--like bootlaces,
hair-pins and mutton chops.

Ginger and Pickles were the
people who kept the shop. Ginger
was a yellow tom-cat, and Pickles
was a terrier.

The rabbits were always a little
bit afraid of Pickles.

The shop was also patronized by
mice--only the mice were rather
afraid of Ginger.

Ginger usually requested Pickles
to serve them, because he said it
made his mouth water.

"I cannot bear," said he, "to see
them going out at the door carrying
their little parcels."

"I have the same feeling about
rats," replied Pickles, "but it
would never do to eat our own
customers; they would leave us and
go to Tabitha Twitchit's."

"On the contrary, they would go
nowhere," replied Ginger gloomily.
posted by jokeefe at 3:53 PM on November 14, 2006


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