Monday, September 23, 2013

Eloise: A Book for Precocious Grown-Ups

Discovered at La Bonne Vie Designs
While browsing at the Country Living Fair a few weekends back, I unearthed a 1955 copy of Eloise: A Book for Precocious Grownups. I actually don't remember reading the Eloise books at all when I was growing up. My mom may not have liked the spitfire of a girl who misbehaved unrepentantly. She certainly was a stickler for good behavior, and Eloise is one of the most glorious bad girls of children's literature (or, as Ed Koch put it, so much better than I, "Eloise is one of the more delightfully fiendish literary heroines of our time.")

Here she is showing the lobby her gutchies. This is typically how she rolls. 
Eloise was the brainchild of Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight (you can read about this dynamic duo here). She evolved into a character who presses all of the buttons in the elevator (one of my favorite pages is a foldout that depicts her elevator shenanigans in all their circuitous glory), hangs with her chain-smoking, Pilsner-guzzling Nanny while the old broad watches the fights, autographs the walls, puts sneakers on her turtle - generally, she wreaks a delicious sort of havoc. Her misbehavior is revelatory, the book a release valve that allows pent-up aggressions (where is Eloise's mom, anyway??) to erupt into laughter.

It was impossible to get a good picture here. Sophie kept flipping the pages around. 
I love the rather stark, yet exuberantly drawn world of Eloise. Her world is both prim and impetuous; the black, pink, and white lines form a landscape that feels, at once, as staid as the lobby of the Plaza and as topsy-turvy as Eloise herself. Funny enough, I think I like these books more than my girls do (I know, for sure, my eldest daughter was never a fan). I think older books like Eloise don't read as well in the fast-paced world we live in today - she is "rawther" verbose. There is, nonetheless, something so tender about Eloise, in the end. A forgotten little girl, rich as all get out, who is supremely devoted to her Nanny, her turtle Skiperdee, and Weenie, her dog.

There she goes. ;)
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