If you liked How To Tell the Birds From the Flowers, then you’ll love Animal Analogues. That’s what Paul Elder thought too, and so in 1908 he published Robert Williams Wood’s sequel to similar acclaim. As any author can tell you, sequels are notoriously difficult to write, but Wood pulled it off, with poetry and drawings to delight old and young alike.
The cover says “Denatured Series No. 24”, but the series began with How To Tell the Birds From the Flowers as #23, and Wood wrote no further books in this series.
As with animated cartoons, the best children’s books are ones that satisfy both the children and the adults. Paul Elder published a number of innovative children’s books, but perhaps the most delightful is How To Tell the Birds From the Flowers by Robert Williams Wood, which appeared in 1907.
There is no traditional typesetting in the book; everything was drawn and lettered by Wood. Each page contains drawings of a bird (for example, the catbird) and a flower (the catnip), plus an amusing poem on how to distinguish them. It’s a perfect bedtime storybook.
The California quail is said
To have a tail upon his head,
While contrary-wise we style the Kale,
A cabbage head upon a tail.
It is not hard to tell the two,
The Quail commences with a queue.
Robert Williams Wood (1868-1955) was a professor of physics at Johns Hopkins University from 1901 until his death. He specialized in optics and has been described as the “father of both infrared and ultraviolet photography”. In 1903, Wood invented an optical filter glass which allows ultraviolet and infrared light and pass through, but blocks most visible light. He used this special glass to make a device called a “Wood’s lamp,” for use in dermatology to diagnose certain skin conditions which fluoresce under ultraviolet light. Today we call these lamps “black lights,” though because of technology improvements black lights now use different filter materials in the glass.
Although the cover says “Denatured Series No. 23”, that name was concocted for this book and there are no earlier “denatured” titles. Wood continued the series in 1908 with Animal Analogues as Denatured Series No. 24, but he wrote no further books like it.
Instead, Wood co-wrote two prescient science fiction books with Arthur Cheney Train. The first, The Man Who Rocked the Earth (1915), is known for describing the effects of an atomic explosion thirty years before the first atomic bomb was created. Its sequel, The Moon Maker (1916), describes interplanetary space travel, including a plan to send a spaceship to destroy an asteroid that’s on a collision course with Earth.
Update, April 2017: In 1917, Dodd, Mead and Company copyrighted a new edition entitled “How To Tell The Birds From The Flowers, and Other Wood-cuts.” Your editor has seen a 19th edition of this title from 1939, so it was clearly a very popular title for Dodd Mead. Paul Elder was still publishing his own books in 1917, and it’s unclear how he lost the publishing rights.
In April 1903, Ralph Erwin Gibbs was at his desk in his study when he heard a loud crack: a tree was falling over in his yard. Knowing his pet dog was out in the yard, he rushed outside to save it, but was himself killed by the falling tree. He was just 27 years old.
Gibbs earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in science at the University of California, Berkeley but became more interested in literature and poetry, and soon turned to writing full-time. In 1900 he became an assistant at the University Library and in the English department, where he became a protege of Charles Mills Gayley (1858-1932), professor of Classics and English. After Gibbs’s death, Gayley received the family’s permission to gather up the manuscripts and publish them. He also wrote a moving introduction to both Gibbs and his poetry.
The book was republished in 1911 with the identical text but higher quality binding and imported laid paper.
In addition to books published under the Paul Elder imprint, the Tomoye Press also printed a number of vanity publications. Stray Leaves is a particularly handsome example. Author Mary Murphy has gathered poetry from various sources into this elegantly bound volume. I do not know the identity of the artist or bookbinder.
Paul Elder published this beautiful booklet during the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. It’s a real gem, with striking full-color drawings by Audley B. Wells and a matching envelope.
Perhaps only after admiring the booklet do we notice the poem it contains, California, by Fred Emerson Brooks (1850-1923). Though Brooks and his poetry have been forgotten, he was very popular a century ago as a writer and speaker. Modesty, it would seem, was not one of Brooks’s character flaws. Billed in a promotional flyer as “The Man Who Never Disappoints, Always Smiling, Always There,” his Chicago publisher gushes:
Fred Emerson Brooks is one of the great men in the lyceum world … Phenomenal health, a clean life and a sunny nature give him a remarkable record. Brooks has a marvelous breadth of thought and expression—there is no passion or feeling he does not portray. He is a gifted orator with a voice ranging from that of thunder to the softness of a summer zephyr.
The flyer also includes endorsements from Presidents McKinley, Roosevelt (“I’ve heard Brooks, and he’s bully!”) and Taft.