Did you know there’s going to be a lunar eclipse on the 4th of July?
To celebrate, I thought I would finally give this vintage children’s book of mine a read:
Vintage children’s books tell us a lot about societal values at the time of publication. This book, and others from the Miss Pickerell series, really underline the Atomic age and Cold War era of the US, making science an exciting adventure that helps society, while bringing individual glory to the scientist (specifically Miss Pickerell in this case).
Children’s books also have the ability to tell incredibly wild and outlandish stories. In this book, a mysterious blight has infected all the animals in the town (including Miss Pickerell’s beloved cow) and no known antibiotic is working. So Miss Pickerell comes up with the solution: as nothing on earth is helping, mold spores on the moon must be acquired, in order to grow antibiotics (early in the book the story about the discovery of penicillin on mold is recounted, so the space mold plan is outlandish, but not completely out of nowhere). Miss Pickerell hitches a ride to the moon on a cargo ship headed for the lunar space station, and while there collects moon dirt. The dirt is then taken to the labs on the lunar station, and lo and behold the antibiotic creates from the samples works! Back on Earth, Miss Pickerell receives accommodation from the governor, a crater in the moon is named after her, and her cow is saved.
This particular book was published posthumously (and co-written by Dora Pantell) in 1965, four years before man landed on the moon, and right in the middle of the Space Race. The urgency to get to the space to help her home reflects the US desires to rush to space, and beat the Soviet Union. The government at the time was funneling money into scientific laboratories as well as scientific education down to the grade school level during this time. National education changed, and the focus on science in K-12 education was a result of government programs geared towards inspiring a generation of future scientists.
Author of the Miss Pickerell series was moreover was working as a librarian at the Naval Operating Base in Key West, and organized and administered the library at the Naval Air Technical Training Center, and while she died in 1954, her children’s books exemplify the themes of personal glory and bettering society through scientific discovery. There is likewise an interesting type of utopia this book presents—one in which the juxtaposition of quaint, rural, mid-century life and values coincide harmoniously futuristic scientific technology.
As a last thought, the book made me think of what’s happening now, with Covid-19, and the potential for mobilization against this illness. In the mid-century, scientific discovery and experimentation was valued as a sort of patriotic duty. And while there are problems with blind patriotism, I think that the themes in Miss Pickerell on the Moon highlight how working together and investing in scientific discovery can benefit one’s own society.
So, I suppose I want to end this blog post (right before the 4th of July) considering what we can do to help those around us during this pandemic—what behaviors we can do, like mask wearing, social distancing, and supporting those in the medical field, in order to get through this together.