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Cobblestone Lane by Bé van der Groen

Cobblestone Lane

by Bé van der Groen

Other authors: Nora van der Groen (Illustrator)

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Recently added bykubi60, AbigailAdams26



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In this holiday story from the Netherlands, Saint Nick - upon whom all the little Dutch children rely for gifts on St. Nicholas Day (December 6th) - becomes ill, and takes to his bed with a cold. Ignoring Little Chirpee, that persistent bird who lives in his cuckoo clock, and who attempts to waken him on the big day, the jolly saint sleeps on, never stirring from his house at Number Twelve, Cobblestone Lane. It falls to Saint Nick's black assistant Peter (Zwarte Piet) to come up with a solution, which he does with a vengeance. Soon there are many little Saint Nicks distributing gifts, and a delegation of children waiting upon the good old man himself, giving him gifts!

Published in 1947 by the Boston-based Pilgrim Press, Cobblestone Lane is long out-of-print, and seems, from the absence of any other online reviews or descriptions of it, to be largely forgotten. It isn't entirely clear to me, from reading the dust-jacket blurb, whether it was originally written as a Dutch children's book, that was then translated into English, or whether the Dutch author and artist, being familiar with the story, worked on this English edition independent of any Dutch predecessor. Bé van der Groen is described as a famous Dutch children's author, although I find no references to her (save as the author of this English-language book) online, nor any listings of any Dutch-language books of hers in Worldcat. Perhaps my Dutch friends are familiar with her name, and with that of her daughter, illustrator Nora van der Groen?

In any case, although I was very excited to find this vintage picture-book on a bargain cart outside one of Manhattan's used bookstores, a few months ago, as I am always interested in children's books from other countries, I cannot honestly say I enjoyed it that much. The poetic text felt more than a little strained to me, and although I liked the idea of children giving to Saint Nick, rather than the other way around, somehow the seasonal magic just wasn't there for me, with this one. The artwork, which uses either blue or yellow accents, depending, has some charm, but not enough to compensate for my lack of enthusiasm for the text. I was interested to see the depiction of Zwarte Piet, as I understand that this figure has caused some controversy, due to his race (and the fact that the Dutch use black-face when dressing up to play him), but I found him, as he is presented in the artwork here, quite lovely. He is also, contrary to the idea of him as a stupid slave/servant, described as "wise" in this story. Perhaps this is not the typical depiction of him? ( )
  AbigailAdams26 | Apr 22, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Groen, Bé van derprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Groen, Nora van derIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Cobblestone Lane features a lovely legend of St. Nicholas, one which has long been a perennial favorite of Dutch children. The setting of the tale is Holland, the birthplace of St. Nick. Mrs. Van der Groen and her daughter now give it to the boys and girls of America as a story-poem with pictures in two colors. It is a quaint story in which quaint people and animals bring their gifts to the jolly saint rather than expecting the saint to give to them. Accents the giving rather than the getting spirit of Christmas.
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