Thursday, December 29, 2016

Fire Engines by Tibor Gergely (1950)

Are Little Golden Books still ubiquitous?  They were always around in the 1970s.  I don't remember ever actually owning one though.  My grandma had some (The Poky Little Puppy and Howdy Doody's Circus); doctor's offices always seemed to have a few.  My other grandma had The Monster at the End of This Book.  I know that children's librarians of yore hated them, which makes no sense to me  - but I know a children's librarian who wouldn't collect Disney or popular television stuff - to which I say, fuck that.  As I wrote about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe a few days ago, it was a television movie that brought me to that series.  The Hobbit was the same way.

The Fire Engine Book is a classic from the 1950s; Tibor Gergely's illustrations have all the style and charm of midcentury modern everything.  Of course, all the fire fighters are white and male:  Golden Books aren't revolutionary screeds.  What's sort of funny and weird is that all the fire fighters - fire men all - look exactly alike.  (unfortunately, if you walk into a modern fire house, they sometimes still do).  The trucks haven't changed all that much since 1950, which I found kind of interesting.  Future fire fighters will still enjoy this book, but modern parents may want to remind little tykes that people in 1950 weren't all white, and that anyone can be a fire fighter.

Fire EnginesFire Engines by Tibor Gergely
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This one is all about the illustrations, which are classic mid-century modern children's picture book pictures. The Fire Engine Book isn't going to change anyone's life, but future fire fighters will probably enjoy it (what do I mean probably: I know they will; I was a children's librarian for nearly 15 years, and boys, and some girls, LOVE firetrucks and fire fighters). Modern parents will probably want to remind their tykes that 1. In 1950, not everyone was white and 2. Anyone can be a fire fighter, not just boys. Guess what though - Little Golden Books were never revolutionary screeds, or even vaguely progressive; the most out there Little Golden Book was probably The Monster at the End of this Book, and that was published 20 years after this one (and it's not even that far out, other than it's wild and weird meta-ness that changed children's literature FOREVER; yeah, a Little Golden Book did THAT; in your face Anne Carroll Moore). Garth Williams had trouble with putting black and white rabbits together, let alone people - so I'm going to cut Tibor Gergely a little slack.

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Tibor Gergely was a Hungarian Jew who moved from Vienna and New York City in 1939 - I bet he knew a little something about discrimination; but hey, a guy's gotta eat.  So no black people in his book.

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