Monday is “Grab Bag” day here at Entertainment Legends Revealed, with each Monday featuring a different area of the world of arts and entertainment (that is not featured on the other four days of the week, that is). They’ll eventually repeat, but for now, we’re still on the initial installments of each of the various “Grab Bag” legends!
This is the first in a series of examinations of legends related to children’s literature and the people who write and draw them and whether they are true or false.
CHILDREN’S LITERATURE LEGEND: Where’s Waldo? was removed from a school due to an exposed breast inside the book.
When you take a look at “The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000″ (according to the American Library Association), you can certainly understand why most of them are on the list (you don’t have to AGREE, but you at least get why they’re there).
#1 on the list is Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories, which is an especially gruesome collection of scary stories that most parents feel is TOO gruesome for kids.
#2 is Daddy’s Roommate, and, well, we know how up in arms people get about homosexuality.
#3 is I Know Why the Caged Bird Sing, which is Maya Angelou’s rather frank look at her childhood. Certainly some parents feel that she is too graphic describing how she was raped when she was eight years old.
#4 is The Chocolate War, which, similar to, say, South Park, fairly accurately describes how young boys act, and as such, is far too vulgar and profane for many parents.
#5 is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and obviously people are upset over the fact that Mark Twain uses the n-word extensively in the book.
So whether you agree with the complaints over these books, they’re fairly straightforward.
But then you zoom down to #88 on the list and see that it is Where’s Waldo? and a big “Huh?” is elicited.
Where’s Waldo? was born in England in 1987, brainchild of British illustrator Martin Handford.
Handford was known for drawing detailed scenes for his clients, so someone came up with the idea of him doing a whole book of his detailed scenic drawings. In an attempt to give the scenes some sort of visual continuity, Handford and his editors came up with the idea of having a traveler be VISITING each of the scenes in question. And then the idea was developed of making finding said visitor in the extremely detailed scenic drawings be a little challenge/game and thus, the concept of Where’s Wally? began!
And yes, that’s right, originally, in England, the books were called (and are still called that in England) Where’s Wally?
However, it was when the books made the transition to the North American market (and had the name changed to Where’s Waldo? – which is weird, since Wally is a perfectly normal American name) that the book really became a sensation.
In the early 1990s, Waldo exploded on the American scene, with every tie-in you could think of, including a cheapie cartoon series! And, of course, multiple additions to the Waldo book franchise.
However, in 1993, people found a little bit more than just Waldo when they went looking into the book – they found some controversy!
In the first Where’s Waldo? book, there is a scene that takes place at a beach.
Well, one of characters is a woman who is sunbathing topless while laying on her stomach. No problem, right? Not even the biggest prude in the world would have a problem with someone topless laying on her stomach, right?
However, as part of the gag, a little kid drops his ice cream cone on her back, and as a result, the woman jumps up a bit and you basically see her left breast…
It’s practically microscopic, but it IS there, and a Long Island woman found it and had her local school pull the book from their library.
And that is why the book is ranked #88 on the most frequently challenged books list.
When the book wad re-issued recently, they actually corrected it – the woman now wears a bikini top (click on the image to enlarge it and find the woman)…
And heck, while you’re at it, you might as well find Waldo, too!
The beach scene is courtesy of Where’s Waldo.com
CHILDREN’S LITERATURE LEGEND: Where the Wild Things Are was originally Where the Wild Horses Are.
Maurice Sendak had an interesting journey to international stardom as a children’s author.
As an adolescent, he marveled at the Walt Disney film, Fantasia, and he aspired to become an artist from that point on.
Later on, while he was having some success as an illustrator, he and his brother began producing beautiful wooden toys. They attempted to sell them to FAO Schwartz, but were told that, while beautiful, the toys were a bit too pricey. However, they liked Sendak’s design sense so much that they hired him to decorate their windows. It was while decorating windows at FAO Schwartz in the late 1940s that Sendak was discovered by a children’s book editor (Ursula Nordstrom, who would become a major part of Sendak’s professional life) who saw that his style lent itself beautifully to illustrating children’s book.
For the next decade plus, Sendak became one of the leading children’s book illustrators.
Perhaps his most famous work as an illustrator was on Else Holmelund Minarik’s Little Bear series of books…
However popular he was as an illustrator, Sendak wanted to do his OWN ideas, as well.
So beginning in the mid-1950s, he started to develop some ideas for books written and drawn by himself.
His first idea was, amusingly enough, a tale called Where the Wild Horses Are, whose plot would be quite familiar to many of you out there (a little boy goes to his room angry and has a dream where he travels to the land of the wild horses and deals with his anger there). However, Sendak (and Nordstrom) felt that he was not particularly adept at drawing horses, so the project was abandoned, although Sendak began developing different characters for the book.
As time went on, Sendak eventually DID start writing his own books during the early 1960s, and had some success, particularly with his Nutshell Library books (which consisted of a variety of different styles of books – a book of rhymes, a counting book, etc.)…
Emboldened by his success (although irritated that his editor Nordstrom had actually approached another artist about continuing the Nutshell Library series of books once Sendak established that he wanted to move on to different projects), Sendak returned to his Where the Wild Horses Are idea, only he began to sketch out different ideas for who the characters in the book could be if they were not horses. He did this all in the Spring of 1963, and Nordstrom was worried, because she was hoping to have a book out by the Fall season (as children’s books, like films, liked to release their books at the end of the year, to be fresh in the memory of reviewers when the awards were voted upon and Top 10 lists were created).
First, Sendak considered making the characters monsters, in the tradition of myths (like griffins, etc.), but he slowly turned to the idea of creating his own monsters, based in part on his own relatives (aunts, uncles, etc.).
The book, Where the Wild Things Are, was released in the Fall of 1963 to great critical acclaim (but, of course, some controversy, as some wondered if the book was not too much for young children to handle).
And to think that it started becuase Maurice Sendak couldn’t draw horses!
Thanks to William Zinsser’s Worlds of Childhood: The Art and Craft of Writing for Children (which includes a piece written by Sendak about the origins of Where the Wild Things Are) and thanks to Leonard Marcus’ Minders of Make-Believe: Idealists, Entrepreneurs, and the Shaping of American Children’s Literature for further details about the background of the book.
CHILDREN’S LITERATURE LEGEND: Madeline was an orphan.
Madeline was a series of children’s books created by writer/artist Ludwig Bemelmans in 1939, starring a cute little girl named Madeline who lived in 1930s France.
In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines,
lived twelve little girls in two straight lines
They left the house, at half past nine…
The smallest one was Madeline.
There are many books in the series (here are the first four), and the series continues to this day, now written by Bemelmans’ grandson, John Bemelmans-Marciano.
The books were adapted into a live action film in 1998…
The books have also been adapted to a number of animated programs over the years. I can’t speak to all of the animated series, but I know that the live action film made a major change that I think is likely to be the cause for a notable misconception people have of the Madeline books.
To wit, Madeline in the films is an orphan who lives in a boarding school.
That’s basically what the books are about, but they are about a little girl at a boarding school, and that’s it.
For years, people have basically assumed that the books are about an orphanage, and that’s not so. Heck, in at least one of the books, Madeline specifically refers to her father sending her something in the mail.
The books were always meant to be just about a group of little girls living in a boarding school in France.
Yet just do a quick search for “Madeline Bemelmans (so you don’t get other Madelines) orphanage” and you’ll see a number of citations to the books being about girls in an orphanage.
It’s the darndest thing.
Here are some samples…
After Madeline’s rescuer, the stray dog Genevieve, is banished from the orphanage…
Madeline is one of twelve girls living in an orphanage in Paris
However, when the orphanage’s board of trustees discovers that a dog is living on the
In any event, no, it’s a boarding school, not an orphanage.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments, particularly other themes for future grab bag Mondays! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org