Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Learn something new ...

Library inventory has made its way, along with the technical services assistant responsible for completing the process, to the juvenile collection. Working through the collection triplicates are considered for removal (weeding), spine labels are replaced, missing items are sometimes located, and an occasional book catches her attention which she, in turn, often brings to my attention. For both of us, yesterday was an instance of the latter in the form of Bang, Bang You’re Dead (1969) by Louise Fitzhugh and Sandra Scoppettone (photo c. 1969).

In Bang, Bang, You’re Dead, James and his friends, dressed as Cowboys and Indians and outfitted with toy guys, decide to play war. In the gleeful manner of young boys, a fight to the death ensues and concludes in a celebratory manner with ice cream for everyone. One day a second group of children lays claim to their hill and an ownership fight ensues, only this time it is with fists and blood and injury. The ultimate question of winning is voiced and met with James realization that “Nobody won.” Fitzhugh’s pencil illustrations present an oddly multicultural group for the time period and she does not minimize the violence depicted by their war. In the end, a quiet and appropriate moral of getting along is addressed when the boys decide to play war together, tomorrow.

A bit disconcerted with the graphic violence and unseemly topic portrayed, further investigation was warranted and revealed both a copyright date of 1969 and a date due slip last used in 1986. Asked if it should be removed from our collection, I determined it had intrinsic value for studying social issues in children’s literature and said no. Why? Thirty-eight years ago children playing war was commonplace, as were toy guns and stereotypical instances of Cowboys and Indians. The underlying theme of peace and “playing together” during the Vietnam War makes it historically and culturally significant from a juvenile literature standpoint.

I did a bit of Internet research this morning on Louise Fitzhugh and while a children’s literature scholar would be shaking their head at my lack of knowledge and naiveté, I found what I was looking for – in spades. Amongst other things, Fitzhugh is the author of Harriet the Spy and well known for her social commentary, writing, and illustrations during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Among the interesting information I found is a review of Bang, Bang, You’re Dead, from Time Magazine, July 13, 1969 (scroll down), posted on the Time/CNN website:

“BANG BANG YOU'RE DEAD, by Louise Fitzhugh and Sandra Scoppettone, illustrated by Louise Fitzhugh (Harper & Row; $3.95). Four scruffy kids playing "army" on a hill learn more about war than they bargained for when the rules change and fighting becomes real. A cheerful book despite its moral.” (Time, 7/25/07)

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