I was recently looking at a list of items that have not been checked out in the last few years, curious to see if they were missing, or had just fallen out of popularity. One of those items, I discovered, had been long “misshelved” under the name of the author listed in the book, Josephine Dodge Daskam, while our catalog indicated that the book could be found under the author’s married name, “Bacon.” Well, aside from the satisfaction of being able to get something into the right place, I discovered a wonderful treasure called The Madness of Philip and Other Tales of Childhood, published in 1902.
Looking at the cover, I thought, is this a children’s book? So I had to read a few pages, and while it is about children, it is definitely written for adults. The first tale is one of a kindergarten class, one that is having a rough day.
Maranatha’s desperation was dreadful to witness. She realized that her vocabulary was hopelessly inadequate to her situation: she knew herself unable to present her case effectively, but she felt that she was the victim of a glaring injustice.
This is after a teacher scolds her for putting a clothespin on her nose, even though she was only following Philip’s lead. Later on, during a game of follow the leader in which we learn that Maranatha was born for the ballet, she tries again.
Her eyes sought Philip’s, and with a coy little smile, she took his hand to lead him to the centre. Too many poets and novelists have analyzed the inevitable longing of woman to allure him who scorns her charms, the pathetic passion to attract where she has been brutally repulsed, to make it necessary for me to discuss her attempted endearments as Philip sulkily flung away her hand.
And that’s just the first story. The second, “A Study in Piracy,” traces the adventures of the Head Captain, the Lieutenant, and the Vicar on their search for treasure.
“My, but that was a close shave! I thought they’d got us sure!” breathed the Head Captain.
“Wh-who were they?” asked the Lieutenant, round-eyed.
“Who were they? Who were they?” the Head Captain repeated scornfully. “The idea! I guess you’d find out who they were if they caught you once!”
The Lieutenant shot a sly glance at the Vicar. Did she know?
The third story, “Bobbert’s Merry Christmas,” starts out with Bobbert telling his baby sister, “And that’s how I came to be born in a manger!” I haven’t gotten much further in the book yet, but I’m looking forward to “Edgar, the Choir Boy Uncelestial.”
Daskam/Bacon captures both the glories and frustrations of childhood, with the descriptive language of an adult. And while the children are having their turn-of-the-last-century experiences, you can delight in the hilarious consistency of human nature.