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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Back to 1943

While the first graders have enjoyed One Morning in Maine this week (reaching up to wiggle any potential loose teeth when Sal wiggles hers), children in the other grades have loved stories from Robert McCloskey's Homer Price. First published in 1943, it contains six stories about Homer and his experiences in the town of Centerburg, each of which can be enjoyed on its own.

Since my childhood, I have been enamored with "The Doughnuts." Homer's Uncle Ulysses runs an "up and coming lunch room" and loves all the time-saving devices he can buy: automatic toasters, automatic coffee makers, automatic dish washers, and of course, the automatic doughnut maker. When Homer is left to supervise the lunch room, a kind, rich lady arrives and mixes up a batch of doughnuts using her favorite receipt. The batch is a bit too big, however, and thousands, instead of dozens, of doughnuts are cooked. To make matters worse - and more interesting - the lady's diamond bracelet is lost, presumably cooked in the doughnuts!

It has been 36 years since my teacher first read "The Doughnuts" aloud, and I am pleased to note the story still holds readers' attention and generates the same reactions I remember. That double-page spread with the illustration of piles and piles of doughnuts drew reactions ranging from "I wish I could have a doughnut" to "How could he draw all of that?" They loved the idea of Mr. Gabby, the sandwich advertiser, walking around between signs to sell the doughnuts at a 1943 prices of two for five cents. They loved how there were more doughnuts than there were people in Centerburg!

I love reading aloud something old to a new crowd. As they left the story steps, many asked, "Is this still in print?" Yes, I told them. "Good. I want to find it at the public library this summer!"


  1. Oh, I am so happy to hear that kids are still enjoying HOMER PRICE. It was a favorite of mine in the late 1960's, and when I was a fourth grade teacher in the 1980's, I used to read this book to my students. One year, after reading the donut story, I surprised the class by pulling out a big box of donuts to share, one for each student. Yummm, makes me hungry just thinking about it!
    When I was a child, the story about the ball of string contest inspired me to start collecting my own ball of yarn (which never grew bigger than a cantaloupe, and which I still have somewhere in an old trunk).
    I also loved the sequel, CENTERBERG TALES. And did you spot the glaring illustration mistake in the story about the robbers and Homer's pet skunk???
    Thank you for reminding me about this book friend of mine!

  2. I can't believe we've never talked about this book, David. I know the children would have loved doughnuts :) I read "Mystery Yarn" to several classes (and will now tell the kids you started saving string!) and also "The Case of the Sensational Scent." Now I have to go back and look at the illustration of the pajama-clad robbers with the skunk.

  3. Let me know if you find the illustration error in the "Sensational Scent" story. It's especially interesting to find the mistake since McCloskey was both author AND illustrator.
    And did you ever see the movie they made about "The Doughnuts"? I was able to show that to my students as well when I was a teacher, but I suppose a lot of those old reel to reel movies have been lost in this day of DVDs.

  4. I found the error. Then I read that story to another group, told them there was an error, and even showed the page with the error. I had to emphasize a word several times before they caught it. Vicki wondered is there was any press about this...perhaps it was intentional.

  5. Perhaps there was a change in the text after that particular illustration was made...or maybe it was just a slip on McCloskey's part. When my students looked at the illustration, very few of them spotted it.

    And now you can watch the old 1963 movie of "The Doughnut Machine" on YouTube! It looks like they were faithful to the way the characters looked in the book. When the credits rolled, one of the additional "extras" was Robert McCloskey himself! I wonder which doughnut eater he was!

    Here's the link that will take you to the movie:

    Or just go to YouTube and type in "Homer Price."