top ten tuesday: strange things found in vintage children's books

April 13, 2010

You know that I love picking up vintage children's books to read with Juliet. Mostly, they translate really well and are pretty timeless, but from time to time, we run into things that you just don't see anymore. 

I thought I would share ten of these "odd" illustrations that have led to some awkward pauses as Ben and I have read these books with our daughter. 

1. Kids with guns. 

This is from a book that I loved as a child Julius by Syd Hoff. A little boy named Davy goes into the jungle to catch a gorilla with his dad. He brings his own gun, of course. 

2. Bad guys with guns. 

This scene is from Robert the Rose Horse by Joan Heilbroner. These bank robbers flee the scene of the crime waving guns around and at one point, they even shoot them! So far, we haven't had to explain why this is scary. 

3. More kids with guns. 

This is from Simple Simon illustrated by Rodney Peppe. I love the illustrations, but have kept this one out of Juliet's hands so far because I just don't want to explain why he is shooting the duck. The gun appears to be a toy, but still. I can just hear the "Why is he shooting the duck?" 

4. Lovable monkeys locked up in jail cells. 

You've probably seen this page from Curious George by H.A. Rey. Surprisingly, we haven't gotten any why questions on this one yet. 

5. Spanking lines. 

This is from Eloise Wilkin's Mother Goose. The old woman who lives in a shoe is handing out the spankings and putting the kids to bed. 

6. A cat named "Gay". 

Juliet loves any books about firemen and/or their fire animals. Cats are especially exciting. I picked up The Brave Firemen and the Firehouse Cat by Bianca Bradbury without reading it first and when we sat down the first time, I paused long and hard before deciding to go ahead and just read it as is. We talk about Gay the cat all the time now. 

7. More antiquated uses of the word "gay". 

This is from my McCall's Golden Do-It Book from which I get a lot of crafting inspiration. 

8. Naked views of Adam and Eve. 

This one is from my husband's childhood Bible entitled "My First Bible". We only recently pulled it out and began reading it together because it is in delicate condition. Juliet is old enough to be careful with the pages now, so we enjoy it. The illustrations are really quite beautiful, but I can see this page getting some snickers when she gets to the "naked is funny" stage. 

9. Bearded men in pink leotards and tutus?

I don't know what to say about this's from a book called The Great Circus Parade by Evelyn Malone Curro. And while I understand that these are circus people, I still think it is a bit strange even for them. 

10. Dead children in the woods. 

What? Yes. Those kids are dead. They are NOT sleeping, they are the babes in the woods that got lost in the woods and "when it was night,/ so sad was their plight,/ The sun it went down,/ and the moon gave no light./ They sobbed and they sighed,/ and they bitterly cried,/ And the poor little things/ They lay down and died." 

I did NOT read this to Juliet. I either make up some other story about them going to sleep under a tree or we just skip this page!

(This gem is from Gyo Fujikowa's Oh What a Busy Day! which is an exceptionally beautiful book. Don't let this story scare you away from it--it's just one page in a very large collection of stories and poems. )

So those are my crazy book moments--the funny thing is that while all of them have given me pause as I read them, Juliet has simply taken them in and not seemed to notice that they are unusual. It will be interesting to hear what she has to say about them as she gets older. 

Do you have any unusual/odd scenes from children's books to share? 

For more top ten lists, check out Top Ten Tuesday at!


(V.Kerr) School Time Adventures said...

ok, this was sooo funny! I made my husband come look at it with me. I don't know which is funner, the pink bearded guys with tutus or the naked back shots of Adam and Eve! I love your love for antique and vintage books.
thanks for the great post!

-Vanessa (yep I am Vanessa too, Vanessa Renea)

Christianne @ Little Page Turners said...

lol - Dave and I couldn't believe the original Curious George when we first ready it. "You mean he tricks and traps the monkey, basically taking him as a slave from Africa on a boat to be confined in a zoo in America?!?" We were given all the old Disney books based on the movies and ended up throwing away Pinocchio. The part of the little lost boys had way too strong of pedophile undertones.

Always interesting looking at things through modern eyes. Great post!

Ticia said...

I think there's a lot of stuff that we pause at, that our kids just accept and move on.

Erika said...

What's funny is that some of those images seemed familiar to me. Isn't it interesting how things that we shield our children from didn't necessarily damage us. But it's a different world now.
Thanks for sharing!

jubilee said...

I was just thinking what Erika said. I remember my mom reading us Grimm Fairy Tales and doing a bit of editing too.

oh amanda said...

So great, Vanessa! I'll add my half-naked Bert from Sesame Street book and the "rope-hang the butcher poem", too.



Christine said...

Only in old books will you find such rich illustrations. bwahahaha!

Love it!


Leigh said...

Isn't that weird? I have a lot of old books that we don't read much just because of the pics...

Blondie said...

Oh, the joys of old books!

The men in pink tutus crack me up!

Jenny said...

Now that last one is scary! If my nephew read that he would probably need therapy.

artsy_momma said...

Funny list! I just don't understand the need to put guns in children's books/cartoons.

Allison said...

I always thought that Curious George book was strange. Glad I'm not the only one.

Janna said...

I know a song that goes with the dead children. My grandma used to sing it to my aunts and my aunt Kim and she cried b/c they died.

vanessa said...

Glad you all got some laughs out of this post! Thanks for all the great comments! I agree, I read some of these strange books as a child and was not damaged at all by them (I even owned Curious George and was still surprised when I reread it as an adult! I totally forgot the jail part!)

And Janna--I would love to hear that song!!

mrs. c said...

I am always so careful of the books I read to my pre-ker's, you never know what might be there! Sometimes I catch myself "making more out of a story" and i start to giggle! My co-teacher has put her head down on the desk many times to keep from laughing out loud!

mamathereader said...

This is such a great list. I love it! Thanks for stopping by; I'm so glad I found you. I'm a follower now. ;)

Katie's Nesting Spot said...

I totally know I should not be laughing, but for some reason I find this hysterical. Yes I know it's also disturbing in so many ways, but WOW have things changed. I know I've actually seen and been read some of those titles, I recognized the gun carrying ones and Curious George right away. You know, back in the day I never thought anything of it. Now the very last one, the dead children now that is very worrisome.

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