Mother Earth’s Children- The Frolics of the Fruits and Vegetables

 

motherearthschildren

Mother Earth’s Children: The Frolics of the Fruits and Vegetables by Elizabeth Gordon (1866-1922), illustrated by M.T. Ross published 1914

Description

A picture book featuring plant, fruit and vegetables that exhibit characteristics associated with their features. For example, peppers are sassy and hot tempered, a cucumber is cool and collected. The characters interact with one another in short vignettes, descriptions are given of their temperaments and so on. Rhyming text,poems tell short stories.

 

Concepts and Features

Anthromorphization – Animals, Plants, Objects take on human characteristics

Anthropomophized objects, animals, and plants are common and frequently used storytelling devices and characters in popular modern picture books, such as Pete the Cat and the Nut Family series, by Eric Litwin. Timothy Young (a curator,writer , editor and writer for the Yale Review) asserts in “Grandad Coco Nut and the Golfball Kids” that their heyday began in the early twentieth century. Between 1910 and 1940 books for juveniles like this one by Gordon and others featuring “talking trees, golf balls, pianos, candies, and other unlikely characters were unleashed in the fast-growing genre of juvenile books.”This title by Gordon is a sequel to her works “Flower Children” and “Bird Children” and was followed by many other titles featuring butterfly baby characters, and flower children. According to Young, “objects lacking both motion and appetite (using the ordering principles of The Great Chain of Being) flourished as characters in storybooks.”

Moral and Social Lessons – Stories emphasized desired social skills, promote values adults wish to children to learn, reinforce, reflect and teach social mores.

Example:

Red Pepper said a biting Word

Which Miss Green Pepper overheard:

Said she: “Hot words you can’t recall;

Better not say such things at all.

 

Embedded Racism

Racist Associations/Negative Depictions of Non-White Characters, Non-Anglo Saxon figures. As Young notes, the philosophical concept of the “chain of being” orders the logic of the narratives of this era. This foundation of thought explains the racist thinking of the time that is taken for granted in the text. Racial and gendered hierarchies are implicit. In the medieval era, humans ranked in the middle, beneath God and above animals. During the Enlightenment, humans were placed at the pinnacle of being, with white Europeans at the top, and all other “races” ranked beneath in a particular order. Philosopher Francois Bernier (1625-1688) divided humanity into physical “types”. Linnaeus classified people as well, and explicitly assigned behavior and morals to the “races”.   In “Race, Racism, and Science: Social Impact and Interactions”,  John P. Jackson and Nadine M. Weidman discuss the origins and impact of scientific racism. The depictions of vegetables and fruit frolicking in Gordon and Ross’ 1914 reflect this racist  ideology.

About the Author

Elizabeth Gordon lived between 1866-1922. I was unable to uncover an biographical details about her life. Information on her other works can be found here.

About the Illustrator

M.T. Ross was successful illustrator and comic creator. He worked as a set designer for RKO studios and with Walt Disney. He co-created the Buster Brown series.

About the Publisher

According the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, Volland publishing, based in Illinois, thrived from the early twentieth century until the stock market crash of 1929, but struggled during the Great Depression, which impacted the previous high quality books produced for adults and children. The publishing house found its greatest success with the Raggedy Ann books, written by Johnny Gruelle. In addition to books, they published  greeting cards, valentines and calendars. Their products are noteworthy for their high quality materials and the art deco style of illustration, which “featured clean lines and shapes”.

 

motherearthschildren

motherearthcherubicveggies

Cherubic fruit and vegetable children. Miss Raisin and Little Onion are depicted positively, with friendly baby like open white faces.

motherearthillustration

Beautiful example of early twentieth century illustrations. Aethestics of the era are showcased.

motherearthsociallesson

A lesson in politeness. Each figure’s personality is illustrated by characteristics associated with the fruit or vegetable. Peppers are spicy and sassy, hot tempered red pepper offends cooler green pepper, cucumbers are calm and cool. This association becomes more problematic when racist attitude are embedded in the narrative in the text and illustrations and negative connotations are implied in depictions characters that are coded as non-white or “foreign”.

sterotypesmotherearth

Seemingly benign, the stereotypes referring to a “Scotch Oat” employed in this section appear less threatening. The Scottish oat has ruddy cheeks and red hair, commonly associated with the appearance of Scottish people.

motherearthantisemitism

Published in 1914, the mushroom character illustrations are classic examples of anti-semitism that might puzzle a 21st century reader. Mushrooms have been negatively associated with Jewish people since the middle ages (Joseph, 2011). When viewed in the context of Nazi propaganda book “The Poisonous Mushroom” this illustration becomes more sinister.

motherearthpotatoirish

Predictably, the potato is called “Pat” and the mother potato wears a shawl like an Irish peasant. These vegetables are less human than other characters, as are the mushrooms.

motherearthindianas

Native American stereotypes are deployed in this illustration, associating First People with positive but shallow characteristics like bravery and the text uses the now unacceptable term “squaw”. As in the “chain of being” ideology discussed earlier, Native Americans fair better than Irish people and Jews, but are definitely “othered”.

motherearthpopcornkids

The British aristocrat stereotype is less jarring than the more charged racist depictions of Jews, Irish, Japanese and Native Americans, but the popcorn children are confounding. Bizarre depictions of children in dangerous situations are not uncommon in children’s books from the past.

motherearthracistasiangreentea

Mr. Green Tea’s appearance and characterization would shock modern audiences as blatantly racist.

MotherEarthilustration
Interior book lining illustration