We are cultural diggers. Some of our greatest political and moral challenges have been taken up by voices long lost in history. We will unearth neglected authors and books from the twentieth century, before we are buried. – Extract from the Little Mole & Honey Bear Press mission statement
Jack Zipes took me back to my past before talking about the two new books he published in his Little Mole & Honey Bear Press.
Dedicated to “digging up the dead”, as he puts it, his press resuscitates important children’s books translated from foreign languages unknown in English-speaking countries. Some are retranslations or adaptations made by Zipes, a world-renowned authority on fairy tales and popular legends who believes these old stories are as relevant today as they were when they were told and written.
About this blast from the past. When my brother was little he loved a horrible 19th century storybook about what happened to bad children. Among them was Suck-A-Thumb, visited by a tailor with huge sharp scissors with which he “cuts their thumbs clean.” It was meant to be an uplifting tale, but my brother enjoyed the illustrations of the bad boy (much like him) standing there, thumbs missing, blood dripping onto the floor.
I didn’t know anything about this creepy collection, but Zipes did.
“This famous German book is ‘Der Struwwelpeter’ or ‘Shock Head Stone’, written by Henrich Hoffmann in 1845,” Zipes explains. “It is considered to be one of the most important books for children in the world.”
Zipes, 84, is Professor Emeritus of German and Comparative Literature at the University of Minnesota. During his career he has held faculty positions at New York University, University of Munich, University of Wisconsin, and University of Florida.
During his classroom years, Zipes also wrote scholarly books, some of which were published by academic presses including Princeton University Press and University of Minnesota Press. Among his books are “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: An Anthology of Magical Tales” and “Tales of Wonder: Reading Fairy Tales Through Picture Postcards”, both published in 2017.
Zipes, who must have inexhaustible energy, also wrote fairy tales for children and adults and is an active storyteller in public schools. In 1997, he founded a storytelling and creative theater program, Neighborhood Bridges, in conjunction with the Children’s Theater Company of Minneapolis.
Which brings us to 2008, the year he retired from teaching. He and his wife, the fiction writer and poet Carol Dines, lived in Italy, Germany and France for a time, where Zipes continued his lifelong hobby of haunting flea markets, bookstores and second hand and antique bookstores looking for books for his personal collection, which ranges from the 19th century to the early 20th century.
“I’m a little crazy,” he admits. “Whenever I can sniff out old and important books, I want to reintroduce them to people today because they are still relevant today.”
Zipes admits he had so many books that his wife finally persuaded him to part with them during the downsizing in Minneapolis. He auctioned off some 8,000 books and kept 2,000 of them, which eventually went to the University of Minnesota.
“When I retired I wondered what I was going to do to help children critically by reading books that are not pedantic (about) the conflicts we continue to have across the world. He remembers. “I have found books that are a bit out of the ordinary – original, unique, provocative stories that allow children to tell stories from their own lives.”
He approached college presses to publish “spectacular” books, but they told him they could only publish one book a year, not two or three as he wanted.
“I said, ‘I’m not getting any younger,’” he laughed. “So I decided to start my own small press in 2018, working with a small group from Wise Ink Creative Publishing. “
Little Mole and Honey Bear Press publishes quality children’s books that have been forgotten or never translated into English. His most recent are “Teddy, The Little Refugee Mouse” and “The Magic Herb”, both written and illustrated by Dorothy Burroughes and edited by Zipes.
Zipes has published seven books since the start of his press, two set during World War II – “Keedle the Great”, originally written by Deirdre and William Conselman Jr., illustrated by Fred L. Fox in 1940, and “Yussuf the Ostrich”, written and illustrated by Emery Kelen, one of the great political cartoonists of the 20th century, released in 1943.
Keedle is a kid who looks like Adolph Hitler and hurts animals. The more he imitates Hitler, the more he is mocked and mocked until he disappears. “Yussuf” is an Allied messenger in the 1940s in the desert. He is captured, hears the secrets of the enemy, and escapes to help the Americans defeat the Nazis.
Zipes’ short stories, “Teddy, The Little Refugee Mouse” and “The Magic Herb,” were written and illustrated by Dorothy Burroughes, a Brit who wrote in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s.
“Teddy” is relevant today, Zipes believes, because it is a London flute-playing mouse who is due to leave when the Germans start bombarding the city and is greeted warmly by a family of field mice. He even goes so far as to conquer and befriends the once evil cat, Spitfire.
“This story is about immigration and people who want to immigrate and escape danger,” Zipes explains. “It’s so imaginative, so magical in a loving story.”
“The Magic Herb” tells the story of three brothers who go in search of a magic herb to cure their little brother of whooping cough. No one who looked for the magic herb ever returned. But that doesn’t stop the brothers from facing their fears and doing the right thing as they overcome the resistance of a beautiful unicorn and a watchful Dodo bird and get the magical herb with the help of Saint Francis.
“These books are brilliantly illustrated,” says Zipes. “The name of Burroughes is not even known to great scholars in England. It is shameful.”
Burroughes, one of the first at the turn of the 20th century to write stories about animals in which there were no humans, began her career in the 1920s drawing animals at Regent’s Park Zoo in London to put up posters in the subways. Although she won awards, she felt so sorry for the sad, dead-eyed animals that she stopped going to the zoo and started writing animal-focused stories.
“She was popular in the 1930s and 40s and then she disappeared, I don’t know why,” Zipes said. “I am the first to discover her and I want to promote her work. She has a very smooth and gentle manner in writing and pictures.
One of Zipes’ future books is “The Original Bambi: Story of a Life in the Forest” by Felix Salten, which Zipes edited and translated from German. (January 1, Princeton University Press).
“People are going to be surprised at how all the deer are being killed. It could ruin their nostalgia for Bambi, ”he says. “In the original, Bambi is deserted at the end.”
This tale, so far removed from the Disney film, did not surprise Zipes. After all, he translated and edited “The First Edition: The Original Folk & Fantasy Tales of the Brothers Grimm” (Princeton University Press, 2012), and he knows how early versions of some of Grimm’s tales were subsequently edited and edited. by Wilhelm Grimm. which, Zipes says, “cleaned up some atrocities and softened some things” so that middle-class Victorian readers weren’t offended.
For example, in a tale, a mother wants her son to be murdered, but the woman has been changed to a stepmother in later editions. Rapunzel left the tower because the prince made her pregnant, and in “Cinderella,” the stepsisters cut off parts of their feet to make the glass slipper fit. Then, they are punished for being mean to Cinderella when the birds peck at their eyes.
“I followed my own credo to be honest and publish what they (the Grimm’s) actually published during their time,” Zipes explains. “People can take their pick.
If you are going to
- What: Jack Zipes presents Rediscover Children’s Books from Little Mole & Honey Bear Press.
- When or: 7 p.m. Tuesday, October 5, virtually presented by Magers & Quinn.
- Information / Registration required: magersandquinn.com/event