Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Wonderful Ice Cream Cart (1955)

The Wonderful Ice Cream Cart
Alice Rogers Hager, il. Mimi Korach
1955, The Macmillan Company

Jerry peered through the doorway and rubbed his eyes.  He had never seen anything like this in America.  Drawn up in grand style in front of the shop was a small, sturdy white horse with tassels on his feet and a coat which shone like satin.  Behind the horse was a cream-colored cart, with a cream-colored roof.  All over the car were paintings of fruit and flowers.  A gay, decorated panel ran around the lower edge of the roof and underneath, in the exact center of the ceiling, hung a crystal chandelier, its prisms chiming in the breeze.

I must say, I’ve never seen anything like this in America, either.  I’ve seen carriage horses wearing Phillies caps, and riding horses wearing fly masks, but never a horse pulling anything which featured a chandelier.

American kid Jerry Tuck meets Belgian kid Jean Pierre Auriol in Brussels, where the Tucks have relocated for a year in the 1950s.  Jerry knows little French, is financially secure and has a father; Jean Pierre knows little English, is struggling to help his mother make their shabby flower shop pay, and his father has been missing since the end of the war.  They get along beautifully, though, and Jerry agreeably falls in with Jean Pierre’s friendship with Papa Goncourt, an ice cream vendor, and his horse Bobo.  The two boys help Papa and Bobo find a new sales line for the winter months and a snug new home when he falls ill.  Their attentions are rewarded with a vacation in the Ardennes.  Bobo, of course, takes them there:

The church bells were ringing as they drove steadily out the long avenue and tiny, pale green leaves curled their fingers around the limbs of the chestnut trees.  The chandelier tinkled a faint, elfin tune in time to the click of Bobo’s heels, and Jerry suddenly knew he would rather be taking this trip than anything he had ever done in his life.

They visit Jean Pierre’s uncle, a monk working at a convalescent hospital for veterans of the war, and Jerry hears the very old legend of the magical horse Bayard for the first time.  The boys go riding in the woods –

… Jean Pierre guided Bobo through the gate and across the highway, turning him into a faint trail which wound upward into the forest.  The sun filtered through the pine trees, dappling the forest floor with golden pennies.  All around them was deep, fragrant silence.

- where they come across a mentally unbalanced resident of the hospital teetering on a cliff.  They rescue him, and return to Brussels as heroes.  But something nags at Jerry, and he eventually tells his parents he suspects that the man they rescued is Jean Pierre’s father.

There are more adventures, a contest, a parade, and a homecoming.  And the final line belongs to the little white carthorse, which seems fitting.

The primary attraction of the book, and its strongest point, is the uniqueness of the setting and background.  The boys’ adventures are rooted in the horrors of war, but while the effects of WWII are all around, there are few direct comments on it.  The emphasis is much more on the ancient past - the legend of Bayard, the walled farm in the Ardennes – and the present of two boys being pals.  The writing isn’t very interesting, and the action has a curious way of both lagging and leapfrogging.  A chapter will pass slowly, and then the next chapter is suddenly some unspecified time in the future.  You get the sense of an author not entirely in control of her plot, or not entirely convinced of its interest.

Author- Syracuse University Library – papers
Author - Notes about her aviation interest and work

The legend of Bayard at Wikipedia
TheFour Sons of Aymon at Wikipedia

About the Authors
The author and the illustrator for this book were restless women.  Professional career women – a journalist and a commercial artist – they both ended up chronicling the Second World War from Europe.

Hager lived and worked all over the world as a journalist who specialized in aviation news, a war correspondent during WWII, and an employee of the State Department in the 1950s. 

Other books (nonfiction)
Brazil, Giant To The South
Wings Of The Dragon: The Air War In Asia
Washington, City of Destiny
Wings Over The Americas
Frontier By Air (Brazil Takes The Sky Road)
Wings To Wear
Big Loop And Little: The Cowboy’s Story

Other books (fiction)
Janice, Air Line Hostess – YA, career romance
Washington Secretary - YA
Love’s Golden Circle - YA

Dateline: Paris – YA, career romance
The Canvas Castle - YA
Cathy Whitney, President’s Daughter - YA
So High The Hill

Of the lot, a few have minor equine relevance: Cathy Whitney has to leave her beloved horse behind when Daddy is elected president; the heroine of The Canvas Castle balks at moving yet again for her father’s job, in part because she’s acquired a horse; and Big Loop and Little is a nonfiction photo essay of the ranch life.

Kirkus, the fabulously acid review which has been around for quite a while, summed up Cathy Whitney, President’s Daughter in typical style:

Sic Transit--Margaret Truman, Caroline, Lynda Bird and Luci Baines. Well now it's Cathy Whitney, who has to leave her horse Sinbad behind, nickering, when her father is elected President. There's the absolutely ""terrific"" flight there and the first days are drenched in gala occasions from the inauguration on; but there are problems--she doesn't like her quarters and she is allowed to do ""her suite"" over--and she misses Sinbad and her best friend; she resents the disruption of family life. But Sinbad is sent for and Cathy inaugurates ""Ice Box suppers a la White House"" and she gets to have an hour a day with Daddy, and sister Ann gets married, and Cathy Whitney is going ""to be the girl with the lamp""--upholding the symbol of this family. About all that can be said for this is that it indulges girls with fifty stars in their eyes and not a scintilla of sense in their heads. There is a prefatory note, acknowledgements and foreword, along with the welcome reassurance that the ""White House is real.

Mimi Korach Lesser (1922-)
She went to Europe toward the end of WWII as part of a program for artists to sketch portraits of soldiers in evacuation hospitals, to send home to their families.  Her account of her experiences is something.

Korach’s narrative of her time in 1945 Europe
Brown University Library – an example of Lesser’s portraits