Books

Growing Up Plain, Shirley Kurtz (Good Books, 1994). Hardcover, 6¼ x 6¼, 64 pages. An easy-to-read mini memoir. Learn about the parade queen, wiretapping Mary Hollenbaugh, a Kool-Aid flood. Even good baptized girls in Mennonite capes and coverings were capable of strategizing shamelessly to fit in.

You’ll have to understand this: my mother was doing her best. (And she didn’t have just me to contend with. There was my sister, too. And my brothers could be every bit as nasty as yours; they called me Fat Lips, and Hairy Kneecaps.) My mother wanted me to be happy. We’d pick out the prettiest materials we could find, and she sewed dress after dress for me. And she didn’t scold me about my waves.
I must have had at least as many waves in my hair as Jeanne Wert and the others. In the nighttime I’d set my waves with bobby pins and then put a hair net over top, to control the frizz. Also, for a while we all thought it was stylish to wear our hair pulled tight back over our ears. I got sores behind my ears, from them being jammed against my glasses.
Unfortunately, vanity couldn’t be too thwarted by rules and regulations. Being plain couldn’t make you not proud. That was the real problem, I guess.

Black-and-white photographs, supplied by the author, accompany the story.

© by Good Books (www.GoodBooks.com). Used by permission. All rights reserved.




The Boy and the Quilt, Shirley Kurtz (Good Books, 1991). Paperback, 8½ x 9½, 32 pages. Illustrated by Cheryl Benner. The first of a trilogy of picture books for primary-grade children. The boy’s mother puts him and his sister to stitching stacks of patches. Eventually the boy’s underwear recoups its drawer space. His imperiled frog survives. The book includes directions for making a quilt or comforter.



Applesauce, Shirley Kurtz (Good Books, 1992). Paperback, 8½ x 9½, 32 pages. Illustrated by Cheryl Benner. The father won’t ask about the neighbors’ unwanted apples up on Knobley Mountain, so the mother does. On applesauce-making day, the boy’s goggles help to ward off the steam and squirts. Notes on canning applesauce are provided.



Birthday Chickens, Shirley Kurtz (Good Books, 1994). Paperback, 8½ x 9½, 32 pages. Illustrated by Cheryl Benner. The birds don’t stay sweet fluffy peeps for long. They’re yakky, escapist, carnivorous. In the dead of night, an interloper at the chicken coop rousts the boy from his bed. The story is followed by a chicken cake recipe and instructions for cooking bonfire eggs and bacon in a paper bag.






Emily, Harper, and the Invalids. This tale, meant to be accompanied by a doll pattern, failed to swell the tally of bony-people picture books to four.

The sister played sanitarium only during naptime. She didn’t want everything getting wrecked.
With so many invalids to feed, she let the boy help out. Everybody needed stories, too. And holding. Babies could get sicker from just lying in their beds, from nobody ever picking them up. So it took a while to get around to everybody.
Downstairs, if she wasn’t making too much noise, the mother could hear the wheedling and coaxing. “Eat your oatmeal, Thomas Thompson.” “Peggy Sue honey, one more bite.” The mother could hear the rocker squeaks, the excitement. Journey Cake, Ho was a big favorite. Also, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

Small brother’s crib escapes and overzealous doting—the dolls stripped stark naked, their eyeballs yanked out, their scalps exposed—puts the father to rummaging through his garden bucket for a butternut squash. Allowed a baby of his own, the small brother lavishes it with love. Furthermore, the mother starts a new sewing project.

But by the time Harper gets her crinkly yarn locks, the other doll is looking ill. “A little shriveled,” the mother says. “Worse than shriveled,” says the father. Still, wouldn’t it be inhumane to relegate Emily to the cellar with the cabbages and potatoes, like she’s just a sordid old vegetable?  

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