About Amphibians and Small People by
10
(13 Stories)

Prompted By Children's Books

Loading Share Buttons...

/ Stories

Two children’s books — one from the middle of the 19th Century, the other from the end of the 20th, have a special place in my heart, for different reasons. One was a gift to my grandmother from her mother; the other I read to my daughter almost a hundred years later.

My favorite children’s book is titled “Frog Medicine”, published in 1996 by Scholastic, and no doubt forgotten, judging by its four dollar price on EBay. Although beloved in our family, we have lost our copy. It tells the story of a ten-year old boy who keeps putting off writing a book report. His teacher selects “Frog Medicine” for him. He’s not impressed, and throws it in the closet. He awakens the day before it’s due to see that his feet have morphed into those of a frog, and his doctor recommends a visit to a practitioner of frog medicine.  Not surprisingly, this practitioner is a frog who takes our student on a ride through a non-threatening but Dante-esque Canto in a very wet underworld before it all ends happily ever after.

I remember little of the plot details, which ultimately don’t matter. The charm of the book, to me, is captured perfectly in the picture on the cover where the boy, his cat, and the frog doc are all captured perfectly, each with different expressions on their faces. To see all the art depicting this underworld, you’ll have to spring for the four dollars (free shipping!) and send it to EBay. This book is now enshrined in our family lore, although I cannot honestly say that our children were ever as captivated as their parents were, and still remain by this piece of children’s literature.

But I want to share another book which we all know to one degree or another. I have not read all of it, although I’ve seen a film version by Sacramento’s own Greta Gerwig.

I suspect that most women of our generation (my wife, certainly) spent hours reading and re-reading Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” in their childhood. I did not, (spending my time reading the Hardy Boys and other literary classics instead.)  I was entranced, however, when I saw Gerwig’s rendition when I watched it two years ago — entranced enough so that I went looking for an old copy that I knew was hidden somewhere in our house, its two volumes tied together with twine. And there in the top shelf of a secretary (with glass doors and books behind the glass) was the copy I was looking for. Its two green volumes were tied together. The first volume had glued to it a printed label with my great grandmother’s name, which continued, “from” and then in pencil, “Mama.” There’s also a penciled name on the next page that I don’t recognize, and glued to that page is a printed picture titled “Alcott House, Concord, Mass.” I got excited looking at the title page which at the bottom said, Boston Roberts Brothers 1869; and turning the page I saw a sentence attesting to the fact that it was “entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1868, by Louisa M Alcott.”

The second of the two books, also in a green cover, looked nearly identical, but the title page also says “Part Second” and a date, 1870, is at the bottom of the page.

Significantly, neither volume (or “Part”) says anything about what printing or “impression” I had in my hand. We have a few old books, but all say what edition they are, or list several copyright dates. First editions, I know, don’t always say so. Perhaps it’s tempting fate or exhibiting two much hubris for an author or publisher to label a book as a “first edition.” In any event, a non-exhaustive internet search showed other books that looked exactly like the one in our house, complete with the same “Alcott House” pictured glued inside, although the one I saw online looked in better shape. The conclusion I draw from this is that I was holding in my hand a genuine first edition of this American classic. In perfect shape, on sale for $25,000. In my case, no doubt worth far less. But a wonderful discovery nevertheless, and a cultural link to the woman in the wedding dress I have pictured from 1920 hanging on our bedroom wall as reported in my earlier story, “A Picture, a Mirror, and a Copper Plate.”

Having enjoyed Greta Gerwig’s film adaptation, maybe I’ll read the book. But in deference to the age of my copy, I think I’ll get a modern printing. Surely it must be out of copyright and not too expensive.

Profile photo of Mister Ed Mister Ed


Characterizations: well written

Comments

  1. Well, Mr. Ed., your description was so ribbiting–er, I mean riveting, that I had to do a little research and found this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hA_o6F95iHM. Now I see what you mean about those expressions! Great illustrations with sly references to warts and other froggy stuff.

    I love that you still have your great-grandmother’s copy of “Little Women,” and how you linked it to your earlier story. Very moving.

    I also have a very old children’s book, “Katooticut, The Story of a Rooster,” copyright 1899, no edition listed. Can’t find any info online…seems there are no more copies. Antiques Roadshow anyone?

    • Mister Ed says:

      Thank you, Barbara — and thanks for the link to the reading! It was wonderful and I was mesmerized the entire time I watched. We’ve got a few older books on our shelves, too, but no more first editions.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Thank you, Ed and Barb, for telling us about Frog Medicine. What a charming book! (Love your ribbiting pun, Barb; thanks for the link.) The expressions on the cat’s face is priceless.

    How extraordinary that you have a first edition “Little Women”. I’ve been to the Alcott House (Old Orchard is its name) many times – a wonderful tourist destination in good weather, it is not open in the winter months. As you say, like other little women, I poured over the book as a girl (and have come back to it many times). Like Beth, I am really an Elizabeth, and so loved her character, that I went through a short phase of wanting to be called Beth.

    I have my mother’s copy which was a birthday present to her from her older brother when she was a girl and has her book plate in the front, but not nearly as old as yours. Yours is a true treasure! Mine was copyright in 1922, appears to be the 5th printing. It does state in the front that it was “entered according to Act of Congress, in the years 1868 and 1869, by Louisa May Alcott, In the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts, Copyright, 1896, 1910, 1911, By J.S.P. Alcott, Copyright, 1915, By Little, Brown, and Company. So this validates your thoughts about your rare and precious book. And your ties to your great-grandmother. How marvelous.

  3. Bravo Mr Ed, am so impressed by the old editions – of sentimental if not monetary value – that you have in your house.
    And thanx for the intro to Frog Medicine, a book I’d never hear of – and thanx to Barbara for the video clip!

    We actually have many book in the Hardy Boys series that were my husband’s when he was a kid and were saved by his mother. My husband read them all to our son,, from generation to generation, as Betsy would say!

    And thanx for the reminder of the refreshing and novel take on Little Women in the Greta Gerwig film, I loved it!

    (Amazing how well a horse can write about a frog.)

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    I’m in awe of your having your great grandmother’s version of Little Women. I have my mother’s, which was always too fragile to read. It’s held together by a pink ribbon and the print is minuscule. But I did read Little Women to my kids and have seen many filmed versions, including Gerwig’s (which was very good). Thanks to Barb for finding Frog Medicine on YouTube. Somehow, we missed that one.

  5. Marian says:

    All very cool, Mister Ed. I hadn’t heard of Frog Medicine and it seems delightful. I won’t forget taking Little Women out from the library and devouring it. I couldn’t have been older than nine at the time, and fell in love with all the girls, but particularly Jo, right away.

  6. Dave Ventre says:

    The “Frog Medicine” cover is indeed completely charming!

  7. Fun fact: The Hardy Boys, as well as the Bobbsey Twins and some other series, were written by “aggregates” of authors–mostly women–using the fake name (in the case of the Hardy Boys) Franklin W. Dixon. I learned this when I worked at Wellesley College, where one of the primary authors went to school.
    I enjoyed your reminiscences. Your opening paragraph captured me and your solid prose kept me reading.

    • Mister Ed says:

      Dale –thank you for reading and commenting on my prose keeping you from “swiping left.” Always nice when someone says nice things about how you write. (Now I’m wondering what you will think about my using “you” in the last sentence!)

      I knew Franklin W. Dixon was an collection of writers who might be named Franklin only coincidentally. I didn’t know about Nancy Drew. I wonder now about the early Tom Swift series. Somewhere we’ve got one or two of those books in the house.

  8. Khati Hendry says:

    You found treasure for sure, and a precious connection to your great-great grandmother. Makes me wonder about passing on these sorts of memories in our digital age.

    • Mister Ed says:

      Yes, I think we’re going to lose a lot of our history as digital storage changes. Cassettes? Floppy disks? CDs? DVDs? Thumb drives? The problems will be acute when we lack the technology to read what’s on the disk/drive/DVDs etc.

Leave a Reply