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Rootabaga Stories by Carl Sandburg

Rootabaga Stories (original 1922; edition 2003)

by Carl Sandburg (Author)

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332557,318 (3.75)1 / 11
A selection of tales from Rootabaga Country peopled with such characters as the Potato Face Blind Man, the Blue Wind Boy, and many others.
Title:Rootabaga Stories
Authors:Carl Sandburg (Author)
Info:HMH Books for Young Readers (2003), Edition: 1-Simul, 192 pages
Collections:Your library

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Rootabaga Stories by Carl Sandburg (1922)



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Showing 5 of 5
Note: This review is for the audiobook version.

This is a vintage collection of interconnected, whimsical short stories by famed poet, Carl Sandburg. His aim was to create a canon of Western American folk/fairy tales. The stories are fun, but don't have a particular relevance to our times. The narrator does a fine job of creating character voices and maintaining an upbeat tempo while highlighting the poetic nature of the prose. The story "The Two Skyscrapers Who Decided to Have a Child," is the best in the bunch...not whimsical, but thought-provoking and a bit haunting.

My complete review may be found at [https://www.audiofilemagazine.com/reviews/read/185024/rootabaga-stories-by-carl-sandburg-read-by-zura-johnson/]

My copy of Rootabaga Stories was provided by AudioFile Magazine. ( )
  shelf-employed | Nov 15, 2020 |
2 v. ( )
  ME_Dictionary | Mar 19, 2020 |
I tried to read this, thought it was boring, and couldn't finish it as a child. I might change my mind if I picked it up again now. ( )
  JG_IntrovertedReader | Apr 3, 2013 |
For several generations after the Declaration of Independence, USAmerican children had to content themselves with fantasies that were still decidedly European: Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, Andrew Lang; Alice’s Wonderland, Mr. Toad of Toad Hall, Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit and Mrs. E. Nesbit’s Phoenix and the Carpet. Even Howard Pyle and Padraic Colum and their compatriots still told stories about kings and knights, about King Arthur and Robin Hood, about Mt. Olympus and Valhalla.

Of course, all-American bad boys had made the scene with Thomas Bailey Aldrich’s Story of a Bad Boy and Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer. But even Tom Sawyer was determined to teach Huck Finn and his buddies how to be knights-in-shining-armor. Jo March, of Little Women, though not as mischievous as Tom and Huck, was still a very American girl as were her offspring Anne of Green Gables, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Pollyanna, and later Caddie Woodlawn. But, for a long time, fantasy worlds still gravitated around Robert Louis Stevenson’s Puck Hill and A. A. Milne at Pooh Corner.

But four USAmerican writers pioneered a genuine Yankee Doodle fancy, and suddenly children’s characters were speaking a different dialect. Joel Chandler Harris collected the stories of Uncle Remus, and Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Fox scampered into our parlors. L. Frank Baum found Dorothy and Toto out in Kansas and let them be swept up by tornado to the land of Oz with a very American scarecrow and a technocratic tin man. And eventually, of course, there would be Dr. Seuss with characters considerably less genteel than the Mad Hatter and less polite than Pooh and Christopher Robin. But making way for Theodore Giesel to transform himself into Dr. Seuss and come up with these madcap characters was maybe the most quintessentially American of them all.

Carl Sandburg, famous for his free verse (e.g., “Chicago,” “The People, Yes”) and a multi-volume Lincoln biography took time to share his stories about zigzag railroads and a village called Liver-and-Onions and the Potato Face Blind Man and Blixie Bimber and the corn fairies of Illinois and Iowa. His Rootabaga Stories, first published in 1922, celebrated a Midwest that would have been recognized by all the Dorothys and Caddie Woodlawns and naughty boys named Tom, Huck, or Hardy. In the edition I have before me now (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988, 2vols) illustrations by Michael Hague give a new dimension of color and cartoonish liveliness to the citizens of Sandburg’s Rootabaga Country, but you really have to hear the stories read aloud in a brassy midwestern twang and you have to conjure up the characters in your own imagination to fully appreciate what Sandburg has created.

You may as well start where Sandburg started. Gimme the Ax lives with his children in a house “where everything is the same as it always was.” But they’re too curious to stay there. So they sell everything and tell the ticket agent, “We wish a ticket to where the railroad tracks run off into the sky and never come back—send us far as the railroad rails go and then forty ways farther yet.” The railroad tracks begin to zig and zag like one Z piled up on another Z. Finally they arrive in Rootabaga Country, and soon the train zigzags into the Village of Liver-and-Onions.

The stories are silly and strange and surprising and sometimes sad, but it’s the people and places in Rootabaga Country that will amuse you, confuse you, and stick in your memory for a lifetime. Oh, they’re all new and different, but you recognize them. You’ve seen the Potato Face Blind Man playing his accordion lots of places; by the time you finish reading all his stories you realize he looks and sounds like—well, none other than Carl Sandburg himself. And Uncle Remus and L. Frank Baum and Dr. Seuss. USAmerican children had their USAmerican fancies tickled. There are three stories about a gold buckskin whincher. There’s a wedding procession for the Rag Doll and the Broom Handle. There are stories about “the ways the wind went winding.”

One of my favorites is from that last section: “The Two Skyscrapers Who Decided to Have a Child.” They stand across the street from one another in the Village of Liver-and-Onions.

“High on the roof of one of the skyscrapers was a tin brass goat looking out across the prairies, and silver blue lakes shining like blue porcelain breakfast plates, and out across silver snakes of winding rivers in the morning sun. And high on the roof of the other skyscraper was a tin brass goose looking out across prairies, and silver blue lakes shining like blue porcelain breakfast plates, and out across silver snakes of winding rivers in the morning sun.”

The Northwest Wind comes blowing across the prairies from the mountains and the sea where the railroads go on and on. The wind promises never to blow the tin brass goat or the tin brass goose from the skyscrapers unless the time shall come when “I am sorry for you because you are up against hard luck.” The skyscrapers decide to have a child, and they determine that their child shall be free, not forced to stand her whole life on the same street corner. When she is born, she is named the Golden Spike Limited, “the fastest long distance train in the Rootabaga Country.” What happens to their child? How do the skyscrapers hear about it? How does the Northwest Wind react?

If you are a USAmerican reader, you will feel right at home in the Rootabaga Country. Because you will feel silly and strange and surprised and sometimes sad. But children who have Rootabaga Stories read to them are NOT likely to end up like some of the people Potato Face Blind Man describes:

“Some of the people who pass by here going into the postoffice and coming out, they have eyes—but they see nothing with their eyes. They look where they are going and they get where they wish to get, but they forget why they came and they do not know how to come away.”

People who travel to Rootabaga County keep looking and listening. Like the Potato Face Blind Man, they see even what they do not see.
5 vote bfrank | Jul 16, 2007 |
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To Spink and Skabootch
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Gimme the Ax lived in a house where everything is the same as it always was.
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A selection of tales from Rootabaga Country peopled with such characters as the Potato Face Blind Man, the Blue Wind Boy, and many others.

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