by Carl Sandburg
Here are ten things everyone need to know about Carl Sandburg, who lived from 1878 to 1967.
1. He was one of the great all-American poets. His Complete Poems won the Pulitzer Prize in 1951. Here is a bit of a poem he wrote, titled Chicago
Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders...
2. Besides writing, he plied a number of trades, including boxer, soldier, fireman, and rail-riding hobo.
3. I forgot to mention that he also spent time as a salesman, an ice harvester, a milkman, a dishwasher, a bricklayer, a farm laborer, and a shoeshine.
4. The only thing missing from his résumé is a stint as a cowboy. This guy was as all-around, ruggedly American as they get.
5. And he was from Illinois. You know, the Land of Lincoln.
6. He was also a socialist. Dont say it! Not a word!!!
7. He didnt just write poetry. He won another Pulitzer Prize, in 1940, for his four-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln.
8. Sandburg was also a journalist, whose newspaper column sympathized with the plight of the American working class, and who wrote a book-length study of the 1919 race riots.
9. He also wrote a novel (Remembrance Rock), an autobiography (Always the Young Strangers), a couple volumes of folk songs, and, in 1922, two books of fanciful childrens stories: Rootabaga Stories and, well, More Rootabaga Stories.
10. He wrote them for his two young daughters, whom he apparently called Spink and Skabootch. Dont ask.
I bet you didnt know 9 or 10. I didnt until just recently. I havent run across a copy of More Rootabaga Stories yet, but I have enjoyed the first book so much that I wonder where its been hiding all my life!
Before you read this bookor perhaps, after youve tried to read it and stopped because its not what you expectedhere are 10 things you should know about Carl Sandburgs Rootabaga Stories.
1. They have a lot in common with Lewis Carrolls Alice storiesmainly in the playful nonsense line, and the way the author stretches and bends (but never quite breaks) the English language.
2. They have absolutely nothing in common with Lewis Carrolls Alice storiesfor in character and outlook, these fiercely western-American tales are a world apart from the quintessentially British pennings of a fussy Oxford maths tutor.
3. They have even more in common with L. Frank Baums Oz storiesparticularly in the way they nurture a distinctive breed of fairy tale, grown in American soil.
4. They have absolutely nothing in common with L. Frank Baums Oz storiesfor Baum transplanted a European form into American soil, or at most, spliced together a new tree out of different old ones. Sandburg, on the other hand, seems to have discovered a native plant, growing wild.
5. So unless you forget about fairy tales as you know them, you will NOT appreciate these only true American fairy tales (thats what the book jacket calls them). They are not what you expect.
6. Sandburgs writing has a strange, repetitive, almost ritualistic pattern to it. At first this will seem bizarre, and some people may even find it hypnotic. But remember, these stories were written to send Spink and Skabootch off to sleep at night.
7. At times, the weirdness of Sandburgs stories break through to the other side, to a mysterious world of beauty and mystery, and his not-quite-square way of expressing himself starts to sound like something you heard in a dream.
8. You also have to remember, sometimes, that when this book was written, many street corners had a traffic cop standing there, directing traffic with a whistle and a stick. And the traffic that went by was partly automobile traffic and partly horse-drawn carriages.
9. You might find it strange that the characters in the first story dont come back later in the book (with one brief exception). But this isnt a novel; its a book of stories. Only a few of them are really connected to each other--except for the magical land of Rootabaga Country where they all take place, and where ANYTHING can happen, especially when the Watermelon Moon is shining.
10. Im not exactly sure where Rootabaga Country is on the map, but apparently it stretches somewhere between Philadelphia (USA) and Medicine Hat (Canada). It may includebut this is only a possibility, because these states are mentioned in the bookthe states of Ohio, Texas, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota, besides points in between. I feel a strong suspicion that the Village of Liver and Onions was somewhere near Chicago.
And now, one final list, which is all that I am going to tell you about what happens in this book: the titles of A FEW of the 25 stories in this book.
1. Poker Face the Baboon and Hot Dog the Tiger
2. The Toboggan-to-the-Moon Dream of the Potato Face Blind Man
3. The Story of Jason Squiff and Why He Had a Popcorn Hat, Popcorn Mittens and Popcorn Shoes
4. The Wedding Procession of the Rag Doll and the Broom Handle and Who Was In It
5. Three Boys with Jugs of Molasses and Secret Ambitions
6. The Two Skyscrapers Who Decided to Have a Child
7. The Wooden Indian and the Shaghorn Buffalo
8. How Henry Hagglyhoagly Played the Guitar with His Mittens On
9. Never Kick a Slipper at the Moon
10. How to Tell Corn Fairies If You See Em
Recommended Age: 10+ (to read) or 7½ + (to have read to you)
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