Don’t Count Your Chicks, by Ingri & Edgar Parin D’Aulaire

Review by Mack Hassler

A friend and colleague and a retired English professor from Kent State, David R. Ewbank, who is one of the editors of the works of Robert Browning, has published a small book titled Fairy Tales for Adults (2012).  In my own reading, the review I did of the thriller by Karen Dionne (posted here in December) featured her use of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale on “Marsh King’s Daughter.” So I begin here on this wonderful reprint of Don’t Count Your Chicks from 1943 not with “childish” literary reference although the writing team in their time won many awards in the field of Children’s literature, and that is deliberately my point.  The work we are looking for in a “new” literature, which I hope is our intention in these UP Reviews, is of a piece.

No one expects young consumers of books to read Moby Dick.  But we can anticipate that the audience of children is able and ready to deal a bit with “textual resonance.”  They hear nursery rhymes still like “Humpty Dumpty”; the d’Aulaires tell us at the start of this book that the European children have memorized the Hans Christian Andersen poem that they build their narrative and illustrations in such a compelling and beautiful way here.   The basic message of the book is the grim prose of the tough Old Testament: struggle and death and continual trouble, resolved at the end by some “compensation” (Emerson’s idea) as we wait for the New Testament “love” that is offered to us.  There is a lot of suffering and endurance to be gotten from Hans Christian Andersen, and the d’Aulaires present it to us very effectively in text and in pictures here — “all the King’s men and all the King’s horses could not put Humpty together again” along with echoes from Aesop’s “the boy who cried wolf.”  My Dad told me that story solemnly when I was a complaining child.

There may be, but I have not discovered it yet, some good biographical work on the epic artistic career and immigrant struggles of this marriage team of Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaire.  She was Norwegian.  He was Swiss.  They began work together in Europe, came to live at first in a cold-water flat in Brooklyn New York,  and then adopted some of the ideas and fairy tales of our country as they continued to present books like this on Hans Christian Andersen.  They also won awards for work on Abraham Lincoln and Buffalo Bill for children. A very productive and interesting couple.  I am delighted to see the University of Minnesota Press pick them up for our consumption. The literature of the UP often features immigrants with so much creativity.  Here is their fine prose of grim “compensation” to conclude this excellent tale for children who fret about Humpty Dumpty:

“But maybe it isn’t so bad after all… I have my good little house to live in, my dog and cat to keep me from being alone, my cock to wake me up in the morning, and my hen who is so good she lays an egg a day.  How lucky I am to have so good a hen.” p 20.

Don’t Count Your Chicks,
by Ingri & Edgar Parin D’Aulaire (University of Minnesota Press, 2023 –
originally published in 1943 by Doubleday, Doran and Company),
20 pages illustrated, hardcover, $17.95.

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