Published as a companion to editor Terras’ monograph, Picture-Book Professors (2018), which analyzes depictions of professors in illustrated children’s books, this anthology introduces 21st-century readers to 26 professors from stories published between 1871 and 1933.
Most of these characters are likely to be new to even scholars of children’s literature; aside from Charles Kingsley, Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, E. Nesbit, and L. Frank Baum, authors included are almost certain to be obscure to most American lay readers. Befitting the collection’s role as adjunct to Terras’ scholarship, many selections are mere excerpts from longer works. Some are so targeted to the depictions of the professor highlighted that any sense of narrative is entirely lost, as in the bits and bobs from four separate Little Jack Rabbit tales by David Cory. In these, readers meet professor Jim Crow, who mostly appears to read snatches from his “little Black Book” or “little Wisdom Book” to the bunny protagonist before flying off. Some short stories are reprinted in full, offering both some narrative satisfaction and fascinating glimpses into bygone times and mores. Readers will be astonished, for instance, at the implied workings of primitive telephony in Frank R. Stockton’s “The Curious History of a Message,” published in St. Nicholas in 1888. Also lending insight is the frequently “colonialist, racist and sexist” language preserved in many of these tales, which occasions both a blanket warning in the book’s introduction and specific warnings where appropriate in the contextualizing note that precedes each piece. U.S. readers sensitized to the demeaning association of simians with black people will remark that no such gloss accompanies the excerpt from Barrington MacGregor’s King Longbeard, featuring the foolishly self-important professor Entellus Hanuman Semnopithicus A.P.E.; it is also silent on the appropriation of the Hindu deity Hanuman to name this object of ridicule. Children are not the target or the likely audience of this collection, but caregivers moved to share this open-access work should take note.
For children’s-literature researchers after the eclectic and esoteric, the price is right.