Tuesday, March 03, 2009

CPSIA and Vintage Books: Lotta on Troublemaker Street

This is my childhood copy of Lotta on Troublemaker Street by Astrid Lindgren (of Pippi Longstocking fame), translated from Swedish by Gerry Bothmer and sensitively illustrated by Ilon Wikland. 

It was published by Macmillan in 1963, putting it in the category of pre-1985 books made suspect by CPSIA. I found a number of used copies from online booksellers, ranging in price from $3.20 up to about $35, so it doesn't fall into the protected category of a book that's of sufficient "value and age [that it] wouldn't be expected to be used by children." (CPSIA guide pamphlet, p. 12) Given the SmartMama's experiences with testing the inks in older books, I wouldn't be surprised if the bright reds on the cover and in most of the interior illustrations would fail the 600 ppm lead limits now in effect (and the limit will drop to 300 ppm in August, and later to 100 ppm). All of this means that the book probably falls into the "hazardous waste - discard" category of CPSIA (if I were thinking of getting rid of it, which I'm not).

It was a gift from my grandmother for my 5th birthday, and it was the perfect choice for me, seeing as it was about a five year old girl remarkably like me. Not only did the Lotta of the illustrations look quite a bit like me, with blond hair flying every which way, but she had the same sense of being treated unfairly by her family that I was prone to at that age, as well as my fierce temper, independent streak - and loving heart. It's small wonder that I demanded that my parents read this short chapter book to me over and over until I learned to read myself and could satisfy my need to return to the familiar, comforting pages. I read it repeatedly to my own three kids, who also loved it (though only one shared my fierce temperament), and I've still not tired of reading about how everyone is so mean to Lotta and her beloved Bamsie, the piggly bear.

Lotta wakes up one day in a crabby mood after a bad dream, and the morning goes downhill from there. After Mother unreasonably insists that Lotta wear the sweater her grandmother made (which "tickles and scratches") rather than her Sunday best blue velvet dress (boy, were these familiar details in my world!), Lotta pouts in her room, forbidden to come to breakfast or join in the shopping trip until she gets dressed. After she cuts up the tickly, scratchy sweater, she's struck by remorse, blames it on a dog and decides to run away. Fortunately, Mrs. Berg next door has a nice little treehouse-like room above her shed, and it's available for Lotta to set up her own "househole." You'll have to get a copy of your own to read the rest of Lotta's adventures and the reassuring ending.

Ilon Wikland's illustrations so perfectly capture the mixture of anger, misery, regret, and inability to make things right that Lotta experiences as she digs herself into a deeper and deeper hole with her pouting and tantrum. And the details are wonderful, like Lotta's slipped down stocking and the grubby look of the well-loved Bamsie.

You can really feel Lotta's relief and Mother's love and understanding in this illustration near the end of the book. The lines and textures are lovely and so appealing to me.

This edition of Lotta was reprinted several times in the 1960s but then fell out of print. In the early 1980s, the story was republished by Simon and Schuster with illustrations by Julie Brinkloe. That edition is also out of print, suspect under CPSIA guidelines, and actually harder to find than the editions from the 1960s. More recently (2001), it was reissued as an Aladdin paperback, with illustrations this time by Robin Preiss Glasser, and it is still available from amazon.

But that is small comfort to me. A paperback is NOT the same reading experience as a hardcover (even the size and shape are different), and although I've not seen the whole book and I've nothing against Ms. Glasser as an illustrator in general, well, her cover illustration just does not capture the same feeling at all to me. 
This Lotta lacks the innocence of the Wikland's Lotta and she even looks older. She seems sassy, rather than spunky, an important distinction to my mind, and of course, she's just not the Lotta who's almost as familiar as a family member to me and my kids. I'd buy this if I had no other options, but I'd feel sad indeed.

Below is the inscription to me from my grandmother that's on the flyleaf of my copy.
I've stuck this in, because of course it's part of what makes this book so valuable to me. If CPSIA were to "recall" these older books and insist that they be discarded, or if they threatened caregivers with abuse charges for letting children handle them, well, I'd be forced to take a Charleton Heston stand, vowing to relinquish my book only when they pried it from my cold, dead hands.

And that's significant omission in regards to this law. Because every other time that CPSC has classified a children's product as dangerous, they've issued a recall, suggesting that parents return the product or discard it. Why haven't they done that with the millions of products now deemed so dangerous to children that they can't even be sold at a yard sale or given to the kid next door?

I suspect for several reasons. First, it simply wouldn't be practical. Landfills would be overrun, there'd be a tremendous public outrage, and it would kill the bookselling and publishing industries. But more importantly, I suspect it's because the risk from most of these suddenly illegal products is really quite small. And so it makes me extra, extra sad that so many of these books will likely be lost forever before long.

I had to buy an extra copy quickly before the CPSIA police catch up with the online sellers. Now I'm thinking I should buy a couple more, so each of my kids will have one to share with his/her kids.


Anonymous said...

Great to see that Ilon Wikland great pictures are easy to order from: www.wiklandart.com

Anonymous said...

I have a question! i love the Lotta books too; I remember in one of them there was a sweet sweet picture of Lotta in her father's arms, clutching her little pink pig with the row of stitches down its back. is this one in your version? if you know, i would love it if you could email me back: sertiahazzee@gmail.com. I once made a copy of the picture but i gave it to someone; i now want to copy it for someone else but i cannot find the original. thanks!

Elaine said...

Oh my God...I have been looking for this book all my life and have never seen it until now! I thought the Title was Little Lotta....these pictures bring back such great memories for me.

I've now searched for a vintage hardcover of the original but to no avail...if you should happen to hear of any for sale through your connections I would love to purchase this and would treasure it.

Thank you SO MUCH for posting this!!!
Elaine Kelly

Carol Baicker-McKee said...

Hi Elaine,
I will absolutely keep an eye open for a copy for you. I got my extra through amazon.com, but it was the only copy at the time. I check back periodically for certain favorite books. If you send me your contact information at baickermckee(at)gmail(dot)com, I'll let you know if/when I find one.

Carol Baicker-McKee said...

I just did a search and found this link - the picture is for the wrong book, but the description is right. You could contact the seller to see if it's right.

Elaine said...

I just ordered it...thank you!!!!!

Carol Baicker-McKee said...

So glad, Elaine! We should start a write-in campaign to get Lotta republished with the Wikland illustrations! I'd buy a dozen copies!

Elaine said...

I received my book in the mail today...what a thrill!
Thanks for your help...you rock.

Carol Baicker-McKee said...

So glad it worked out for you, Elaine! I'm going to get out my copy and reread it again too.

Anonymous said...

I have been looking everywhere for this book. I wondered why I could not find this version and with these illustrations I now know. Sigh....... It was probably removed from every library for it's lovely red cover. I shall keep searching for an old copy.