August 1, 2008

Greg Learns About Didactic Children's Book Publishing


In the 1960's, at the height of the Cold War, and just as their country needed them to fight the Communists in Southeast Asia, America's Youth were abandoning the ideals their parents had fought so hard for, turning into dirty, longhaired, peacenik free-love hippies who went around in jeans and vans, didn't have any respect for their elders or the institutions that made this country great, and who wouldn't amount to anything. Then the Russkies'd take over, and where would we be? Speaking Russkie and marching through Red Square. Somebody had to do something, if not to turn the 60's losers around, at least help the good kids coming up to understand.

And that somebody was Michael Braude, a publishing man, the founder of Quadrangle Books, a Chicago publishing outfit, which was later sold to the New York Times Company. Beyond his business acumen Braude was a poet, but he was dedicated to helping America's Young People develop an appreciation of Our Way Of Life and get on the right career path.

So in 1965, Braude wrote Shelby Goes to Wall Street, a story of a smart boy who nevertheless couldn't explain to his friends what his dad actually did. See, Douglas's dad runs his family's clothing store, and Jimmy's dad sells General Motors cars, but Shelby's dad is a stockbroker. What does he do?

Well, Shelby's dad flies him to New York on the spur of the moment to meet "Mr. M. Kensington Randall, a vice president" of Shelby's dad's brokerage, and to visit the Stock Exchange. Along the way, Shelby learns about capital, savings, The Wall Street Journal, a prospectus, commissions, and much, much more.

As we sat on the plane flying home, Dad finished my lesson by telling me that every country doesn't have a system like we had just seen. For instance, in Russia people cannot start businesses and buy and sell stock...
Either the book was a success or the hippies were still at it, because Braude followed with a whole string of books promoting law, order & The American Way. After publishing Danny Graham, Banker in 1966, Braude found his formula and hit his stride:

Bruce Learns about Life Insurance
Peter Enters the Jet Age
Andy Learns about Advertising


Jeff Learns about the F.B.I
Ronald Learns about College Teaching
Chad Learns about Naval Aviation
Ray Visits the Air Force Academy

Larry Learns about Computers
Richard Learns about Railroading
Tim Learns about Mutual Funds

Bruce Learns about Life Insurance is a favorite punchline of Roger Sutton, the editor of The Horn Book. When he mentioned it recently, I decided to look it up, and the only copy on AbeBooks turned out to be in used bookstore in Spanish Fork, Utah, which happens to be one town over from my grandmother's place in Mapleton. So I picked it up. [Shelby was a bonus.] It was just as awesome as I imagined:

On Wednesday night Bruce Shelton Jr. listened carefully as his father gave him some facts that would help him understand what he would see the next day.

He explained that "while many people think that a life insurance man's job is just selling policies to men to protect their families in case they die, really this is only a part of the job. A good life insurance man also sells policies that can do wonderful things for men while they themselves live."

You'll notice there's no Michael Learns about Editing, or Sally Learns about Anything At All. After his death in East Hampton in 1986, his wife Lillian established the Michael Braude Award for Light Verse at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which coincidentally, I'm sure, has been awarded to a woman exactly once in its twenty-year history.

You can search for Michael Braude books on Amazon, but only if you're serious about your child's career [amazon]

1 Comment

It's stuff like this that tempers my normally unbridled fascination with all things "mid-century modern".

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