In a previous post about The Merry Mad Bachelors, I revealed how my aging cerebellum had played a joke on me recently by making me think that was where I would find a particular quote that I wanted to use in my novel. I misremembered the book, but I remembered the quote, and thanks to Google's prodigious search capabilities, I was quickly able to retrieve the correct title: Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine.
Written in the late 1950s by Jay Williams and Raymond Abrashkin, and featuring delightfully detailed illustrations by Ezra Jack Keats, Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine is the eighth in a series of middle grade books featuring the escapades of one very bright adolescent boy growing up in the optimistic glow of post-war America. I enjoyed this book very much years ago, and something about it had remained with me even to this day.
Having located the correct source of what I hoped would be a suitably profound quote for my novel and borrowed it from some faraway library where such faded gems go to rest before they die, I got out the popcorn and settled down for a good read (no sex, no violence, no ambiguous pronouns). A good read, and all the gooder because, as I believed, reading it again for the first time in five decades would easily transport me back to my childhood, when characters in books written for children spoke in complete sentences, and the good guys always won, and stay-at-home mothers could be counted on to show up two-thirds of the way through with a plate of just-baked cookies.
You know. Fantasy.
True, Danny Dunn contains no vulgarity, no witches' covens, no unwed-teen pregnancies to explain. But it contains something even more sinister: a girl who uses her feminine wiles to trick a boy and then physically assault him for something he had done to her and her pals a few days before, after which he is roundly mocked and laughed at by the quote-unquote "good kids." No Christian message of loving your enemies here. Just good old 1950s knock 'em, sock 'em, and shove 'em-into-a-puddle revenge. And with it, the horribly wrong message that it's okay to make a boy think you like him in order to get what you want. Was this really how it was back then? Apparently so. Danny Dunn never got placed on any index of forbidden books as far as I am aware. No mothers storming the PTA meetings demanding that it be shelved to protect impressionable young minds.
Hindsight is 20-20, as they say, and a lot can change in fifty years. One thing, though, hasn't changed. More about that in Danny Dunn, Part Two.
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If I have erred in any statement, whether directly or by implication, in any matter pertaining to faith or morals, I humbly invite fraternal correction.