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Little Machinery

A Critical Facsimile Edition

By Mary Liddell
Foreword by John Stilgoe
Critical Essay by Nathalie op de Beeck

Children's Literature, Cultural Studies, Literary Criticism and Theory

Landscapes of Childhood Series

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Published: May 2009
ISBN: 9780814332665
Pages: 120 Size: 8.125x9.375
Illustrations: 68

Brilliantly analyzed and contextualized by noted scholar Nathalie op de Beeck, Mary Liddell's stunning picture book still inspires and unsettles readers.

— Beverly Lyon Clark

When it was published in 1926, Mary Liddell’s picture book Little Machinery was both favorably reviewed and well advertised, but it faded quickly from store shelves. Yet the book’s constructivism-inspired illustrations and strange cast of characters—centered around an uncanny robot boy who benefits and exploits his woodland home—were ahead of their time. Little Machinery has become a landmark text for scholars of children’s studies because it demonstrates how twentieth-century writers and artists addressed child readers and distilled their era’s technological hopes and fears for a young audience.

The critical facsimile edition of Little Machinery presents a full-color reproduction of Liddell’s original text along with expert commentary on the social and historical contexts for Liddell’s work. A foreword by John Stilgoe begins the volume by commenting on 1920s engineering and the gender dynamics at work in Little Machinery. In a revised version of her award-winning critical essay, Nathalie op de Beeck examines Liddell’s pictorial storytelling, provides biographical information on Liddell and her editor May Massee, and connects Liddell’s work to popular literary and artistic conventions of the 1920s. Op de Beeck discusses early twentieth century developments in technology and media, cultural attitudes toward the environment and natural resources, and Little Machinery’s status as a quintessential modernist text that one one reviewer called "the first picture book for modern children."

The complete text and supplementary essays in this critical edition of Little Machinery will allow readers to enjoy Liddell’s illustrations, calligraphy, and storytelling within its full social and historical setting. This volume will appeal to scholars of twentieth-century American cultural studies, visual culture, art history, and literature, including enthusiasts of modernism and graphic narrative.

Nathalie op de Beeck is associate professor of English at Illinois State University.

While situating this extraordinary work within the modern aesthetics of Surrealism, Russian constructivism, early cinema and the British Vorticists, op de Beeck also lets us breathe in the dreams and drama of our carbon-intensive forebears. Having lived all my life in the shadow of this drama, I find op de Beeck's commentary simply breathtaking."

– William Moebius, professor of comparative literature at the University of Massachusetts Amherst

Is it a fairy tale of modernity? A fable of the machine in the garden? Brilliantly analyzed and contextualized by noted scholar Nathalie op de Beeck, Mary Liddell's stunning picture book still inspires and unsettles readers."

– Beverly Lyon Clark, professor of English at Wheaton College and author of Kiddie Lit: The Cultural Construction of Children’s Literature in America

This enhanced facsimile edition of Liddell's classic work (first published in 1926) provides a delightful trip to the early days of 20th-century literature. The story itself, presented with copies of Liddell's original full-color illustrations, is a combination of information and fantasy."

– Choice

The modern, playful artwork and some whimsical asides (He isn't making anything but noise in this picture," writes Liddell as Little Machinery gleefully operates a jackhammer) will delight the design minded. In looking at how technology was depicted early in the assembly line-era, readers can see a clear conduit to children's ongoing fascination with trucks, tools, and other mechanisms."

– Publisher?s Weekly