I embrace the strange. I love the odd. I enjoy the bizarre. I seek out the weird, the wonky, the WTF.
If you follow my posts here, you know I also have an affinity for children’s books. Folk-tales of various flavors, fairy tales, morality lessons, old-school versions of familiar stories that involve much harsher imagery than is considered the norm today. I adore them.
So imagine my delight when I came across this gem within the Internet Archive:
Caw Caw; or, the Chronicle of Crows, a Tale of the Springtime is a beautifully illustrated book of poems written by R.M. and illustrated by J. B. Yes, initials only. The book itself is gorgeous, with hand-colored lithographs illustrating the verses. But the more I tried to research this book, the weirder things became…
The copy is from the University of California Libraries. (Leaf through their collection when you have some time; it’s a fun place to get lost.) The record of the book itself is scant, listing only the most basic of information (publisher, language, probable print date). A progressively more thorough web search turned up little more:
Wikipedia came up a blank, even on the publisher Grant & Griffith.
The Met Museum in New York has a copy (not currently on display). They had scarcely more info than UCal.
An article posted to The Public Domain Review notes that the illustrator J. B. was likely Jemima Blackburn, (AKA Jane Blackburn, AKA Mrs. Hugh Blackburn), who was an accomplished and popular illustrator in the mid 1800s. She certainly did use the initials J. B. for her book Scenes of Animal Life & Character of Nature & Recollection.
The Toronto Public Library has a copy available only for reference viewing, with no more information than I had yet discovered. (They also attribute illustration to Mrs. Blackburn.)
SPL Rare Books has a listing for a version which only contains the crow portions, attributing authorship to “ROMILY, Edith Blackburn”. The only other sale listings I have found are facsimile reprints.
So, the story-poems themselves:
The Chronicle of the Crows is told in several parts. The crows build nests, raise chicks, forage for food…in the fields of farmers who don’t like them and hunt them and shoot them. And then:
Yep. Eating crow. Not figuratively, literally. So don’t be a crow or you’ll get killed and eaten. Strangely specific moral, but I suppose it makes sense in an agrarian society.
There’s The Dreadful Story About Harriet and the Matches, featuring the titular girl as a firebug who inevitably ends up like this:
It reads in part:
And see! Oh! What a dreadful thing!
The fire has caught her apron-string;
Her apron burns, her arms, her hair;
She burns all over, every where!
So don’t play with matches, kids. Or you’ll catch fire and your kitty cats will cry a lake of tears.
There’s The Story of the Inky Boys, youths who mock a “woolly headed black-a-moor”. The giant Agrippa tells them to knock it off OR ELSE, but they don’t, so he chucks them into his giant inkwell:
Now they’re even blacker than the guy they were teasing. Moral: don’t tease people or a giant will dip you in ink.
There’s also The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb, about a kid who does just that after being admonished not to do so. Along comes the “long-legged scissor man”, and he cuts off his thumbs (note the blood spurting in the illustration):
I think the moral is obvious.
You can view all of this beautiful (if disturbing) book for FREE on the Internet Archive right over here.
If you want more strange tales, we have you covered:
See Havilah’s post on A Kidnapped Santa Claus and The Luckiest Christmas Tree Ever.
Or check out her thorough look at Grimm’s tales over here.