Tuesday, September 05, 2006

From the San Diego Union Tribune -- see what I mean about the molasses story?

“The American Story: 100 True Tales from American History” (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $34.95) is quite an achievement by author Jennifer Armstrong and illustrator Roger Roth. The book, covering the years 1565 to 2000, makes history come alive for young children as it tells story after story of how the nation came to be. In addition to all the momentous events are little stories, such as the Great Molasses flood of 1919 and the appearance of the banana in the United States. Ages 6 and older."

As I said before, people seem to fixate on this story. What do they do, read through the table of contents and say, "Hmm, I wonder what THAT one is about?" and then go read it? I don't think it's by any means the most interesting story in the collection, or the most obscure, or the most bizarre. Why so many critics are mentioning it is beyond me.

Personally, I think the most delightful story (or one of them, anyway) is the one about P.T. Barnum marching his circus parade, headed by the famous Jumbo, over the Brooklyn Bridge to demonstrate its safety. Talk about a fantastic publicity stunt! I can picture it so clearly -- little girls in their shirtwaists and ribboned hats, boys in their knickers and suspenders, gulls soaring over the East River, Brooklyn merchants sweeping up at the end of the day, horse-drawn buses clop-clopping along the avenues and the growing skyline of Manhattan bristling all the way up past Union Square... And then out onto the new suspension bridge steps the mighty Jumbo, his big feet planted squarely with each stride. Ears flapping, tail swishing, trunk swinging from side to side, and stretching out behind is the long parade of zebras and trick ponies and camels and acrobats and cages of lions and seals! What a sight it must have been! Best Blogger Tips
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fusenumber8 said...

Ah, but the molasses flood is just so child-friendly though (and only made into one picture book, as opposed to the Barnum-walking-across-the-Brooklyn Bridge story). Actually, I had a dinner party not that long ago with a fellow who used to lead a tour of Boston with special attention paid to the flood itself. He claimed that on really hot days you could still smell the faintest whiff of molasses. This was told to me during that time when New York City kept getting bombarded by a bizarre burnt sugar smell.

Jennifer Armstrong said...

Maybe so, but there are tons of delightful child-friendly stories in the book. The Great Moon Hoax, for example, or Thaddeus Lowe spying on the Confederate Army from a hot air balloon, or the story of Henry "Box" Brown, the slave who mailed himself to freedom. And besides, it's not children who are writing the reviews or the articles. So why is the molasses story the one singled out so often? Now that I think of it, maybe it's because the title of the story says it all. "Molasses Flood" makes for good copy in a newspaper, probably, as it is entirely comprehensible with just two words.

Nancy said...

The Molasses Flood is one of my favorites too! (Though I love all the disaster stories--what a ghoul!) I think it's a favorite because it's so unexpected. A flood of molasses just sounds crazy and kind of comical, until you realize people died...not so funny. But still--it's more like something you'd dream than something that would really happen. And then there was this flood of chocolate syrup and I was paddling through it with a banana...!