Science Fiction, Children's Literature, and Popular Culture: Coming of Age in Fantasyland

By Gary Westfahl | Go to book overview

1
How Charlie Made Children Hate Him: Fantasy and Reality in Stories for Small Children

It is a matter of record in the Westfahl family that when I was very young, my very favorite story was "How Charlie Made Topsy Love Him," by Helen Hill and Violet Maxwell , featured in my cherished Better Homes and Gardens Story Book. I never forgot its simple narrative: a little boy named Charlie, who keeps picking up and holding his kitten, Topsy, despite its evident displeasure, learns to treat Topsy nicely after a giant girl picks him up and manhandles him for a while. As an adult years later, browsing through a used book store, I was happy to stumble upon a copy of a small book, Charlie and His Kitten Topsy, copyrighted 1922, which included my childhood favorite as the first of seven Charlie stories; and more recently, when I decided that Charlie might be an ideal focus for an exploration of the literature of small children, my research led to the discovery that this was only the first of five Charlie books, all published in the 1920s.

Since Charlie and His Kitten Topsy had spawned four sequels and remained in the marketplace for at least three decades--the Better Homes and Gardens Story Book including its first story was copyrighted 1950, and the used copy of Charlie and His Kitten Topsy I purchased was the twenty-first printing in 1952--one would expect to find some critical attention paid to the Charlie books. However, my searches through standard bibliographies, reference books, and the Internet tamed up absolutely nothing at all except the titles of the five Charlie books, stored in the Library of Congress. The only commentaries I could locate were a few quotations in Book Review Digest about the last two books suggesting that the Charlie books were in fact considered a popular and successful series in their day. So, while I waited for my university's Interlibrary Loan Department to deliver copies of the other four books, I had two mysteries to ponder: why the original Charlie story had been so appealing to me, and why this once-popular series had so utterly vanished from sight.

Part of the answer to the first question, no doubt, was simply that I enjoyed reading about a small boy who owned a kitten, because I had always wanted a cat

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