Berta and Elmer Hader dominated the Children’s Book market in the 1940’s winning the Caldecott Award in 1949 as well as receiving praise for two previous Caldecott Honor Books. All three exemplary titles are included in the currently released The Big Snow and Other Stories: A Treasury of Caldecott Award Winning Tales.
Berta, who was a roommate with Rose Wilder Lane, daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, met Elmer at an art studio in San Francisco, but they both relocated to NYC where they married and bought (and built) a house along the Hudson River. The abounding wildlife surrounding their home surely inspired the three stories included in this book.
The husband and wife team passed their art work back and forth, between them creating a true collaboration. Both the Haders were interested in conservation, animal protection, and pacifism, which is reflected in the content of their books (a total of 34). Their pen and ink and color drawings are detailed and captivating with vibrant, eye catching colors rarely found in today’s children’s literature. Each page is a work of art which could easily be framed and hung on the walls of any home. It isn’t a surprise that Berta was famous for her miniatures and Elmer was known for his portraits and landscapes. Together they were a true dynamic duo.
The Big Snow, originally published in 1948 by Macmillan, is a simple tale full of the woodland wildlife who are getting ready for the winter months. While the geese fly south for the Winter, other animals collect a store of food or prepare to hibernate until Spring. Unfortunately, a large snowfall covers their stash of sustenance, so the poor animals are doomed to go hungry. Luckily a kindly couple regularly feeds not only the birds, but the other critters as well. If you are familiar with the self caricatures that the Haders regularly drew on their homemade Christmas Cards, the reader won’t be surprised to discover that the drawings of these benevolent souls are really representations of the authors outside their own cozy house. While this story is a little “wordier” than many picture books, the soothing words and illustrations provide a proper backdrop for parents to explain the wonders of nature to their little ones. There is even a ground hog who pops out of his hole on February 2nd, sees his shadow, and returns to sleep for another six weeks until Spring. It is easy to see why the committee choose this book for a Caldecott Award (given each year for America’s most distinguished children’s literature – with an emphasis on the illustrations).
Cock-a-Doodle Doo: The Story of a Little Red Rooster, originally published in 1939, is about a little red chick who finds himself out of place amongst his adopted family of ducklings. One morning when he hears a roosters, he recognizes the call and decides to follow the sound, despite a warning of the dangers he is sure to encounter in the tall grasses of the Meadow. Dodging the threat of being eaten by other wildlife, the little chick eventually finds his way and happily connects with his true kin, growing up to become the rooster for which he was destined. A simple tale perfect to tell at bedtime to little ones.
The third story is 1943’s The Mighty Hunter featuring a cherubic Native American boy ( in those days referred to as an Indian) . His parents want him to attend school, but he has a different plan in mind. Taking his boy and arrow, Little Brave Heart goes on a hunt, but each animal he finds refers him to a bigger and/or better target (reminiscent of the three Billy Goats Gruff – “Not me, eat my brother. He’s much bigger.”). Finally the boy is chastised by a big grizzly bear for hunting simply for fun. Now she, on the other hand, hunts for food, and at the moment her stomach is growling. The Mighty Hunter hightails it out of there, and ends up where he should have gone in the first place – school. Written during a time when education wasn’t a given, but a luxury, it is sure to appeal to it’s intended audience.
These stories, despite the seventy plus years since their inception, have stood the test of time and, with the lush illustrations, should still appeal to both parent and child. A treasure to keep on the shelf for kids and grand kids.
A thank you to Netgalley and Dover books for sending me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.