Feminist Middle-Grade Novel with pictures by Beth and Joe Krush

Stand Up, Lucy – by Elizabeth Hall, illustrated by Beth and Joe Krush, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1971

Lucy cover

 

May 18 is the birthday of the beloved American illustrator, Joe Krush, who was born in 1918.  Readers of my blog (see here and here and here and here and here), and of The Horn Book, and the Jewish Book Council Paper Brigade Daily, know that I am a tremendous admirer of the unique contributions to children’s books, of Joe and his late wife, Beth (1918-2009).  They worked with a distinguished cast of authors, including Beverly Cleary and Virginia Sorensen, and their pictures always form an inseparable part of a story’s impact and beauty.  They illustrated teen novels, classics, dictionaries, and poetry collections.

 

In 1971, their distinctive black and white line drawings help tell the story of a young teenaged girl in 1904 who committed to the cause of woman suffrage.  When Lucy Snow (the same name as the heroine of Charlotte Brontë’s Villette; this connection is a story in itself), runs for class secretary, she encounters both sexism and socioeconomic prejudice. At the same time, her Aunt Letitia, an ardent supporter of women’s rights, comes to visit their family. Lucy learns that it isn’t easy to be a feminist, and that local male neighbors may throw rotten eggs at you if you persist.

Each chapter begins with a Krush illustration, in which characters’ personalities and dilemmas take indelible form in their delicately precise black lines against white backgrounds.  In one image, Lucy’s Aunt Letitia is busy knitting while her brother Will, Lucy’s father, angrily glances towards her as he reads The New York Times. His scowl is as emphatic a sign of male privilege as is his prominent handlebar mustache.  We know it is The Times because the author, Elizabeth Hall, refers to his attachment to that paper. In the picture, we see columns of closely spaced horizontal lines, and comical sketches of presumably important people.  Aunt Letitia is ignoring her insecure brother. She bends carefully over the knitting-needles, which Hall describes as clicking “like a train making up time.”  Her upswept hair, with tendrils at the back, is a mixture of black and white. Her wire-framed glasses imply intellect, and lack of concern with conventional beauty. Everywhere, the Krushes intricate pictures are shorthand for the novel’s world.

Then there is the scene juxtaposing Lucy with her opponent in the school election.  Mabel Smith is the daughter of the bank president, while Lucy is not.  Each girl stands to one side of the school’s door, which includes the inside staircase in vanishing point perspective. Mabel is the image of class superiority.  An oversized hair bow tops her elaborate curls, and her dress is a dizzying array of ribbons and puffed sleeves.  She is actually buying votes with pennies taped to little cards, which she has collected in a wicker basket which looks like the one in which Dorothy carried Toto. Meanwhile, Lucy is wearing a modest middy blouse, a tam o’ shanter, and easy to maintain braids.  Her taffy samples sit in a cigar box.  Lucy looks over at her rival in something like disbelief. How far will Mabel’s wealth and arrogance work in stealing votes?

The Krushes are terrific at drawing objects with a life of their own. After the elections, Lucy’s mother serves the family celebratory goblets of sparkling cider, drawn with tonal crosshatching in a carefully placed order against a tray decorated with swirls.  Father’s newspaper sits at the side because he really has to stay in the picture.  The election is over, but Lucy is just about to confront a nasty machine politician visiting the town to campaign for Theodore Roosevelt and condemn the movement for women’s equality as the product of “unnatural women,” who will “lead to a degenerate society.”  Lucy lets him have it and winds up in the local police precinct, and worse, ultimately in front of her outraged father.  The Krushes capture her humiliation as she sits with hands folded and face downcast, facing the reader, while we see her father’s back and her mother in half-profile, holding her husband’s arm as if to restrain him from doing something which he might, or might not, regret.  Mother is a picture of feminine self-control. She has a tiny waist and carefully combed hair. Throughout the book, she manages her husband through passive resistance and quiet obstruction of his will.

It is impossible to imagine the rousing message of this book, or its careful character development, without the Krush’s nuanced drawings.  If you have not read the books which they illustrated, or if you remember them only dimly, now is a good time to return to their irreplaceable legacy of art which furthers narrative. Happy birthday, Joe Krush!

krush

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