Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tribute to Florence Parry Heide

One of my all-time favorite children's book authors, Florence Parry Heide, died recently at age 92. Read her New York Times obit here.

Heide's most famous book, The Shrinking of Treehorn, is a well deserved classic, especially with the wonderfully understated illustrations by Edward Gorey. In an interview with Curious Pages, she shared that it had originally been titled, The Shrinking of Harold. More recently, she wrote the picture books Dillweed's Revenge, illustrated by Carson Ellis, and  Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of the Girl Who Floated," illustrated by Lane Smith.

In all her works, Heide was a champion for children, an advocate who presented kids as they really are and not how adults prefer to see them. And she did so with a large serving of humor.

My favorite Heide book is--surprise, surprise--ideal for beginning readers. Tales for the Perfect Child is a collection of seven short, easy-to-read stories featuring furry beasties drolly illustrated by Victoria Chess. Like all Heide's tales, the stories are subversive. In "Ruby" big sister Ruby wants to visit a friend. Her mother wants her to mind her little brother. Ruby does. She watches him take the clothes out of all the drawers. She watches him spill rice, flour, salt, and sugar on the kitchen floor. She watches him pull off the tablecloth, sending the bananas flying. Her mother, surveying the destruction, says, "I told you to watch Clyde." "I was watching him," said Ruby truthfully. "I was watching him the whole time."

The other story characters are similarly passive aggressive. In "Gertrude and Gloria" Gertrude is the careful sister. She carries the supper dishes without dropping them. She puts the dried ones back in their proper place. Gloria is not careful. She breaks dishes and put them back any old way. Their mother, seeing the results, won't let Gloria help any more. But Gertrude, because she did such a good job, gets to help with the dishes every day. As Heide ends her tale, "Good for Gertrude." Like Gorey, Chess is an excellent match for Heide's deadpan style. Her detailed pen and ink drawings capture each monster's smirk or gleeful look as they manage to get their way.


  1. I'm sorry I never read any of Heide's work. These sound right up my alley.

  2. I enjoyed your descriptions of these "subversive" tales. Even the title of the book is a wonderful twist!