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Beverly Cleary's first novel, Henry Huggins, came out in 1950. Its sequel Henry and Beezus came out in 1952. I've started reading this series, because Cleary is awesome (Northwest Oregon represent!) and I hadn't read it before (I had read several of her Ramona Quimby books and her later work Dear Mr. Henshaw).

The illustrations for the editions I'm reading are modern, decades newer than the text. One obvious sign: kids riding bikes are wearing bike helmets. When, in the Fifties, maybe only bikers on motorcycles (and maybe not even them) would have been wearing helmets. And two particular illustrations from Henry and Beezus show that the different illustrations are trying to do different things, because on one page, Henry is wearing his Daniel Boone* coonskin cap, and on the next page, he's wearing a 21st-century helmet.

So there's a slight dissonance: on the one hand it's nice to have the illustrations be reasonably accurate to the period they're portraying, and on the other hand BICYCLE SAFETY IS REALLY IMPORTANT AND WE SHOULD TEACH THAT TO KIDS. Still, for me, it's the slightest bit jarring.

I am not saying "kids today are too coddled!" No. And I'm probably really lucky that in none of my bike accidents as a kid (or as a college student, the most recent time I had a bike) did I ever hurt my head badly. Once in Camarillo, California, probably in second grade, I was riding with my shoelaces too loose and they tangled in the bike chain, and FWIP I went off the bike and crashed to the asphalt. Had I gone head-first, um, maybe my word-making head would no longer make words good. Head injuries scare me. A lot. Anything to make them less likely or less injurious is a good idea.

We did things differently then. Many things. I do honestly believe we're slowly, sometimes frustratingly slowly, doing things better than before, and at times I'm reminded how we did things before (or how we thought before) and think "Yep. We could be better than that." Plenty of the past is in the past for a reason.

Now I wonder what my reaction would be to reading an illustrated Beverly Cleary book with the original illustrations...



* 1952 was a little before the Davy Crockett craze hit the United States. Also, I just learned that Boone personally disliked coonskin caps and wore felt hats instead.

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