23 January 2018

Back to the Classics 2018: A children's classic

The Brownies: Their Book
Palmer Cox
Dover, 1964 reprint of the 1887 original

Brownies? Who doesn't love brownies? I was a Brownie, then a Girl Scout. I've made brownies for dessert. I used to take pictures with a Brownie camera. And I remember seeing drawings of little fairy-type creatures called Brownies many decades ago, but never a book about them. So it seemed like a great idea to read "The Brownies: Their Book" for the Back to the Classics Challenge.


Brownies are small creatures who hide in the woods by day and venture forth on adventures at night. Mostly they are out to have fun, but they occasionally do good deeds for humans. They try ice skating, canoeing, bicycling, singing, and visiting a circus. They harvest a sick farmer's crops, and spin an old woman's wool into yarn.

Each adventure runs about 4 or 5 pages with illustrations on nearly every page, sometimes taking up most of the page. The stories are all done in verse as rhyming couplets, which seems appropriate for reading to small children. But at 144 pages, it was very monotonous for me, reading silently to myself; best done in small doses.

For me the real charm of the Brownies lies in the illustrations, also created by Palmer Cox. I often spent more time studying them than reading the poems! He must have been a very patient man, as most illustrations depict in great detail dozens of little Brownies having fun. And I began to notice that while most of them are generic, I could spot 6 or 7 individual Brownies who show up again and again. I even have a favorite, with top hat, a monocle, and cane.

Although technically I did fulfill the challenge to read a children's book that was more than 50 years old, it seems like cheating because it was poetry and not prose. So, I'm going to read another children's book for good measure.

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