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Top 100 Picture Books #22: Corduroy by Donald Freeman

#22 Corduroy by Donald Freeman (1976)
64 points

A classic that never grows old. – Jennifer Wharton

The kids want a puppy this summer. Selected name is Corduroy. Enough said. – Angela Gillette

I have a theory regarding this bear.  Why do we all find him so cute?  One word: Overalls.  Overalls are adorable, and not just in a Dexy’s Midnight Runners kind of way.

The publisher’s description of the plot reads, “Corduroy has been on the department store shelf for a long time. Yet as soon as Lisa sees him, she knows that he’s the bear she’s always wanted. Her mother, though, thinks he’s a little shopworn-he’s even missing a button! Still, Corduroy knows that with a bit of work, he can tidy himself up and be just the bear for Lisa. And where better to start than with a quick search through the department store for a new button!”

If you want to know the background behind this story there’s a wonderful page on Freeman’s website.  Said Freeman himself of the book, “Of course I can’t remember exactly how it started, but I do recall wanting to do a story about a department store in which a character wanders around at night after the doors close. Then I also wanted the story to show the vast difference between the luxury of a department store [and] the simple life [most people live].”  I find that fascinating.  An examination of class in a subtle fashion within the pages of a seemingly simple book.

One of the other things I love about Corduroy’s creator is how he came to become an artist in the first place.  From the man’s biography on that same website: “Freeman supported himself by working as a dance band musician at night, playing the trumpet in nightclubs and at wedding receptions. One night, on his way home from work, Freeman lost his trumpet on the subway. After that incident he decided it was time to concentrate on making a living from his sketches.”  How does one lose a trumpet on the subway, exactly?  And is Freeman’s trumpet still squirreled away somewhere in the deep dark recesses of the New York Metro Transit’s lost and found?

By the way, remember our discussion of Kay Thompson who wrote the Eloise books?  Don did a sketch of her once.  Whoo boy.

One of the notable things about this book is that the little girl Corduroy ends up with isn’t white, a fact that doesn’t garner a lot of discussion.  Originally written in 1976, this wasn’t necessarily groundbreaking, but it was rare enough to stand out in the field.  It’s something I’ve always respected about this story, even if the both didn’t cross my path very often as a kid.

FYI, Don Freeman’s website?  Awesome.  Now there’s a site I wouldn’t mind emulating.  The man is dead and he STILL has a blog!  Okay, fine.  His son Roy runs it.  But it’s pretty darn amazing.  You can also follow this link to a podcast Roy gave to Susan Raab at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in March 2009 about Don, Corduroy, and various other Freeman-related matters.

Corduroy did get his own movie.  There’s an old filmstrip my library would show every once in a while that was a terribly frightening combination of puppet and full-sized dude in Corduroy costume on a set built to make him look small.  And yes, part of it at least is available on YouTube:

Was there an animated Saturday morning cartoon show?  In a word: Duh.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


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