Thursday, January 16, 2014

"Homer Price" by Robert McCloskey (1948)

I was unaware of the wonderful, wacky world of Homer Price until Glen Slater, a fellow blogger from New York City, called my attention to his book “Homer Price” last week. What a break for me! This book, by author/illustrator Robert McCloskey is nothing less than Dr. Seuss on steroids.

Homer lives just outside the town of Centerburg, or as the author puts it, “where Route 56 meets 56A.” But most of his family and friends live in Centerburg itself, which gives the author plenty of room to work with as Homer gets involved in a myriad of adventures.

From his home bedroom “workshop”, where he builds radios, to the new suburban housing development being built, this book is representative of life in the late 1940’s, just after the Second World War and the beginning of the most prosperous time in American history.

Homer has a pet raccoon named Aroma, which reminded me of Sterling North’s award winning book “Rascal” which won the Newberry Award in 1963. I have no doubt that Mr. North read this book sometime previous to writing his. Together, Homer and Aroma are able to solve a robbery with Aroma using his most potent weapon to nab the culprits.

From his relatives to some of the town’s more odd denizens, Homer is always at the center of something in Centerburg. For instance, there is the tale of the Mystery Yarn, which has Homer helping his Uncle Telly create a huge ball of yarn. This in itself is of no particular interest until you involve the Sheriff; who is also a string saver like Uncle Telly; and then the Town Fair as the backdrop for a contest between the two. They are going to unwind their balls of string to settle; once and for all; which is the most tightly wound of the two. Not the Sheriff and Uncle Telly; but the ball of string.

Then there is the day that Homer goes to the movies to see the latest installment of the series about Super-Duper, a superhero drawn along the lines of Superman. Super Duper is even on hand to greet his fans. When asked to fly, he excuses himself by insisting that he doesn't have time. After the film is over Homer is on the way home with his friends when Super Duper comes up from behind and passes their horse drawn wagon with a SWOOSH. A few miles down the road the boys discover their super hero in a ditch, having driven his car off the road. After seeing that he cannot lift the car by himself,he boys use the horse to pull him back on the road.

Back in town, the grateful Super Duper gives the boys a complete set of his comic books as a reward. But, having seen that Super Duper is really just human after all, Homer decides that by trading those comics before word gets around about the all too human super hero, he may just be able to exact a bit of revenge on his friend Skinny for trading him a bicycle horn which didn't work, for a bugle.

The book also calls to mind the works of Booth Tarkington, specifically the Penrod series. Those books were a fairly accurate reflection of a boy’s life in the early years of the 20th century. This book does the same thing, only 40 years later.

From donut machines to the post war housing development, this book is a nostalgic look at a boy’s life in the late 1940’s. We had just won the biggest war in history, and life was continually getting better and better for the inhabitants of America. And Robert McCloskey’s  Centerburg is a slightly off kilter version of those times.

This was a delightful book to read. Thanks, Glen! You can follow Glen Slater on his blog, Stickball Hero, located  at;

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