Raising two girls, one who is already into the phase where media influences her behavior, the issue of the modern pop novel for teen girls has re-entered my radar screen. As Naomi Wolf suggests in a recent New York Times Book Review article, there are some unsettling new trends in fiction for teen girls. Precociousness is taken to new extremes, featuring 12 and 13 year olds characters in books “saturated with sex.” The star girls in the books tend to have a kind of social-status-driven arrogance that makes the movie Heathers look tame. They are nasty cool girls, elevated as heroines primarily by virtue of their material wealth.
Flash back to the 1950’s via Lenora Mattingly Weber: girls are not sluts, but some are shunned for getting reputations as “cuddle-uppers” with the college boys. Girls exclaim, “Glory Be!” and Beany Malone, the heroine, is triumphant not because she is the richest or most popular girl, but because she is fiercely independent and relentlessly caring.
I was not a big reader as a teen, but when I had my first daughter, a friend gave me a copy of Beany Malone (pictured above), one of a series of books by Lenora Mattingly Weber, written in the 50’s and featuring Beany Malone as the central character. I found the book remarkably well-written and thoroughly enjoyable, stimulating enough and yet not overly stimulating or difficult for the sleep-deprived new mother I had become.
Recently, having renewed my vows to sleep-deprivation by producing a second child, I read a second Beany Malone book — Happy Birthday, Dear Beanie. In this novel, Beany is a bit older and wiser, already having cast off the troublesome Norbett Rhodes, the tempestuous boyfriend of a year earlier, already understanding that she is better off without him, or at least without him as a boyfriend. However, she faces other, larger issues in this novel — unexpectedly large, including grappling with the identity of her journalist father and how this affects her social status, bringing her access to higher social stratospheres as well as scorn and rebuke. This book contains a rather unsettling episode of what is now called “dating violence,” but which in the book is not recognized as such. Beany struggles with this, as any young woman would, but in the end she seems willing to forgive.
The friend who initially gave me the Beany book, Laura Cherry, recently conducted an interview with Joy Canfield, the publisher who returned the Beany Malone books to circulation, as well as other teen novels from the ’40’s and ’50’s, via her publishing company, Image Cascade Publishing.
Laura Cherry: Can you tell me about the history of Image Cascade and your involvement with it? How did the company come to republish books for young adults of an earlier era?
Joy Canfield: As my business partner and I are both in psychology, we began publishing academic books in about 1993, primarily psychological manuals and self-help literature. (Psychologists tend to have a book on the back burner, therefore, there’s always material available to publish!) In 1998, I began looking for favorite books from my youth, namely, the Beany Malone series. When we encountered the exorbitant prices attached to these books we realized that perhaps I wasn’t the only one craving them. Could it be that a few other people would like to see the books back in print? Would the author’s family be interested in republishing? The answer to both questions was a resounding “Yes!” It was through the magnificent assistance of the Lenora Mattingly Weber Internet Discussion Group and another book group, The Phantom Friends, that we located the Weber family. The “finding the author’s family” process is often quite lengthy — it has taken us as much as a year to locate heirs. However, Rosemary Parker led us to Mrs. Weber’s son within a couple of days! Another Weber group member, a gentleman by the name of Kevin Killian, pointed us into the direction of Janet Lambert’s daughter. Without question, bibliophiles are a strong and fervent group!
Laura Cherry: Is there a strong interest in the books you offer? Can you characterize your readers/customers in any way? For example, are they mostly women who originally read the books in their first incarnation?
Joy Canfield: Yes, we have had an overwhelming response from women who read the books in their original time or a few years after publication. Yet we are hearing from hundreds of parents of young readers who are seeking quality literature for their children. The emphasis of many parents’ comments is on the wholesome nature of the stories and characters. As well, parents report that their children are growing tired of “problem fiction” and are interested in reading material that is entertaining and uplifting. We are also hearing similar comments from schools, school libraries, and public libraries.
Laura Cherry: Have there been any surprises in the responses you’ve received from readers, or has the response been what you expected?
Joy Canfield: This was one endeavor in which our dreams were, indeed, realized. I recall a few colleagues raising eyebrows when I mentioned the prospect of republishing girls’ fiction from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. However, we knew that the material was good, timeless, and would speak for itself. The authors did our marketing long ago. Our only mission was to place the books into the hands of interested readers — the characters and storylines took over from there.
Laura Cherry: Why do you think these books are popular with your readers?
Joy Canfield: The characters are beautifully developed and are the heart and soul of the stories. The environments are filled with caring and warmth. You can practically smell the lovely cooking aromas as you read your way through the Malone kitchen. You can hear the pots and pans clanging and the phone ringing in the front hall. You become caught up in the day to day routine as though you were there. Most of us embrace these feelings of comfort, warmth, and security. And each time we read these books we feel those characters, their families, their friends, and their homes encircle us with welcoming arms.
Laura Cherry: Are there aspects of the characters, plots, settings that are more compelling than contemporary teen novels?
Joy Canfield: The stories have a wonderful emphasis on families pulling together through good and bad. The “good” is timeless fun and happiness, and the “bad” is not all so “bad” that it becomes problem fiction. However, the problems that the characters encounter are those that we have all experienced on some level regardless of the era in which we live. The characters are richly developed, their surroundings are beautifully imparted, and the tone is one of simplicity and solidarity that seems to appeal to the reader’s sense of rightness. All of these elements culminate into a reading experience that is difficult to find in contemporary teen novels.
Laura Cherry: Do you personally have favorite books or characters on your publication list?
Joy Canfield: Growing up with Beany, Mary Fred, and Johnny (of the Beany Malone series), I feel as though they are members of my family whom I have kept in my hip pocket for much of my life. But when I think about who my true favorite characters are, I find a pattern among them: Beany Malone, Tobey and Midge Heydon, Penny and Tippy Parrish…. each tends to wear her heart on her sleeve. Their emotions are on the surface. They tend to spew things that they later wish they would have censored, but their hearts and motives are genuine — not perfect, but most assuredly sincere and well meaning. The character who best exemplifies this warm and open heart simply has to be Beany Malone.
Laura Cherry: Any favorite quotes or moments from the books?
Joy Canfield: One of the most amazing aspects of these books is in the author’s ability to expose the reader to life lessons without “preaching.” As a young reader, I had no idea that I was developing a sense of values based on my readings, however, I can see now that many of my beliefs and values are grounded in the words of these authors. To this day as I view my own life or those I know and love, I think of the line from Happy Birthday, Dear Beany, “You turn into a different you as you go along.” And, of course, more concrete and fundamental lessons are addressed in the books such as Mary Fred’s telling Beany (regarding petty thievery), “I suppose it’s because Dad always dinged it into us so hard. Remember how he always said, ‘Swiping a spoon in a restaurant is just the same as taking money out of the cash register’? Or lessons in understanding the big picture of life as when Elizabeth tells Beany, “Grownups have to be churned up inside. There’s so much churning up along with growing up.” There’s a line I often think. It didn’t make sense to me when I read it a long time ago, but now it does. ‘It is a terrible thing not to become a woman when one ceases to be a girl.'” Each of these strikes a chord, sometimes at the time of reading, sometimes much later.
And how often I think of Mary Fred’s morning routine when I’m so typically running late in the morning:
The Sunday morning routine went something like this:
Mary Fred, it’s ten minutes to nine.
Okay, I’ll be right up.
Mary Fred, it’s nine o’clock! Get up!
I’m practically up. Don’t yell. I’m wide awake.
Mary Fred, you’re not up yet! It’s ten minutes after nine!
Oh gee, is it? Open the front door. I’m already there.
And that was not too much of an exaggeration. No one could move as fast as Mary Fred, once her feet touched the floor. She had an amazingly swift, no-waste synchronism of shoving feet into socks and shoes, stepping into a skirt, and simultaneously pulling a sweater on over her head. She could dry her face with a towel in one hand while she ran a comb through her hair with the other. She could come tripping down the stairs, bright-eyed and happy, and say to those waiting, “Let’s go! What’s holding up the procession?”
Laura Cherry: Are there any interesting ups and downs, triumphs or lessons learned in the publishing world that you’d like to share?
Joy Canfield: The essence of our publishing experience has been that it has been an utter labor of love. There is a great deal of labor, a harrowing moment or two, a couple of tears, but most importantly there is great joy in getting to know the authors’ families, meeting the wonderful readers, and in having a small part in sharing these terrific works with new and veteran readers. I know well the feeling of finding old cherished books, and can fully relate to the tears of happiness when readers stumble upon ImageCascade.com. It’s a tribute to our authors every time a customer buys a book.