Thursday, May 17, 2012

Country School, by Jerrold Beim (ill. Louis Darling) (1955)

Jerrold Beim's 1955 book Country School is more interesting from a sociological perspective than it is, say, a ripping good tale with amazing illustrations. In fact, the story doesn't really make sense unless you consider its apparent intent: to make rural children caught in the world of rampant suburban development in the 1950s comfortable with the idea of going to new modern (and huge) schools. In that sense, I really love this book as a relic from a time when the American way of life was changing in a way that still has great significance: when rural communities consolidated their schools as development from nearby cities encroached, bringing greater populations and the amenities they required.

Our protagonist, "Tony," is a country kid not quite old enough for school who walks with his brother and sister to the two-room country schoolhouse every day:

I guess it's not clear whether Tony is a country kid or a town kid, but that house looks like it was built before the post-war suburban housing boom. Their living room is a 1950s typical scene we recognize from any number of old sit coms:

I love this next page:

I'm with Tony.

"Nothing stopped the building of the new school. . ." So ominous. 

 So far, the author is doing a pretty lousy job of making the new school appealing.

The new school is so big, little girls get lost there. Just like they do at the nearby shopping mall that sucked all the stores out of the village's downtown! 

 Seriously, that is terrifying. It's like the elevator is about to open with a torrent of blood rushing out.

Well, at least good ol' Miss Nelson didn't get fired when they closed her school. 

I am so going to use that image for my son's first rap album. Check it:

I don't get it. Because some Ward Cleaver dude with a microphone let him interrupt the education of hundreds of students with a P.A. query about a missing girl's mother, who never would have been missing if the school hadn't been so large and imposing and busy in the first place, Tony guesses that "the new country school is nice"? No, Tony, you were right the first time, the old school probably was better even if it only had an outhouse. Seriously, Jerrold Beim's book would have been much more effective if he had just focused on the bathrooms.