Thursday, March 11, 2010

Yankee Boy (1971)

Yankee Boy
Edmund O. Scholefield, il. Lewis W. Gordon
1971, The World Publishing Company

Ted wasn't exactly afraid of dogs, but neither was he exactly comfortable with them, either.

Ted Roche is a 14-year-old New Yorker when his widower dad remarries. Ted gets along fine with Loulou, a friendly artist who freelances for his dad's Madison Avenue advertising agency. But when her mother dies and Ted is taken to rural Alabama for her funeral, he enters a different world, one where he's unexpectedly stranded when his parents decide to leave him with his grandfather while they honeymoon.

Resentful and leery of the 'hillbillies' surrounding him, Ted quickly gets into one sticky situation after another with everyone from his grandfather to his new school's principal. His sole friend through this is the one he really didn't like at first, the pregnant hunting dog Sarah. And even as he begins to adjust to things, his reluctant fondness for Sarah - and then her puppies - remains. She has, after all, provided the catalyst for his changing view of his new environment.

The dog sat down beside him. Ted looked around him for a moment, and then, quite idly and without thinking about it, picked up a stick a foot and a half long, and then spun it through the air. Instantly, moving faster than he had ever seen her move before, Sarah took off in pursuit of the stick.

At some point in the 1960's, an older generation of children's writers attempted to adapt their style to a society that had changed enormously. In the earlier era, children were children up till about 18. They learned wise lessons from their elders; boys were physically punished if they misbehaved and not only accepted it but recognized it was just and right; girls realized that they could be bright and creative with their children when they married after college, and recognized that they had a duty to emotionally bolster all males that crossed their paths. In the later era, children became teens with Important Ideas and Thoughts to share; their elders learned from them, eventually. Both eras had some drawbacks, but at least books falling solidly on one side or the other had an internal consistency. Books like Yankee Boy straddle the line, uncomfortably.

There is a classic old-style plot of a boy learning to adapt to an unfamiliar place, learn humility, discover older values, and become a man. And then there is the window dressing of the later era - the mod clothes, the long hair, the kid's cool interior monologue. There are a couple of pointed shots at the culture wars raging around the late 1960s and early 1970s, namely the references to Ted's clothes and hair, the bits about black/white relations in the grandfather's household, and the total lack of reference to a certain military action. It's clear that Scholefield was old-school; his hip, urban teen is dragged out to the rural South to learn how to be a man, and leave behind the effete kid who doesn't like dogs and hates having his clothes mussed.

I grew up reading the old-school books, and I like them. But that style always had its ugly side - a smug, complacent attitude that what worked in 1842 will work today, that women and blacks and everyone else who isn't a white man with some money was better off back in the traditional world - and while you could just barely accept it as self-serving blindness in a book written in 1930 or 1950, there was no justification for one written in 1971. It was pure backlash, and pathetic.

Fun anachronisms: the reference to 'way out' clothes, which the author cagily never really describes, the father's crankiness about the son's long hair, the way the city boy's never heard of deer as a danger to cars, and, best of all, the reference to Beau Brummell.

Sarah - 6-year-old black Lab, champion field hunter
Horace - Golden Retriever
Blackie - Lab
Yankee Boy - Lab

Fantastic Fiction
Wikipedia on author
Beau Brummell at Wikipedia
Scout (the weird car the grandfather drives)

About the Author
Scholefield is a pseudonym for the author William E. Butterworth, who also used the pseudonyms Alex Baldwin, Webb Beech, Walter E. Blake, Jack Dugan, John Kevin Dugan, James W.E.B. McM Douglas, Allison Mitchell, Griffin, Eden Hughes, Blakely St. James, and Patrick J. Williams. As this implies, he wrote a lot of books, all under various names. His books for teens and children were under the name Scholefield.

Books as Scholefield
L'il Wildcat
Bryan's Dog
Maverick On The Mound
Tiger Rookie