The Quite Contrary Man: A True American Tale

Overview

In early-nineteenth-century New England, folks considered a clean chin a sign of godliness. Born into this buttoned-up, strict society, Joseph Palmer stood out from childhood as someone who liked to do things his own way. A friend to Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Alcotts, Palmer lived by his own code and grew a belly-flowing beard that made his neighbors so crazy that they tried forcibly to shave him. He fought back and ended up in prison for a year. His cause became a local sensation, and a few short decades later...
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Overview

In early-nineteenth-century New England, folks considered a clean chin a sign of godliness. Born into this buttoned-up, strict society, Joseph Palmer stood out from childhood as someone who liked to do things his own way. A friend to Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Alcotts, Palmer lived by his own code and grew a belly-flowing beard that made his neighbors so crazy that they tried forcibly to shave him. He fought back and ended up in prison for a year. His cause became a local sensation, and a few short decades later a president of the United States—Abraham Lincoln—would wear a beard. 

Narrated with the charm of a tall tale, this true story celebrates the long American history of nonconformity and encourages children to question social rules they may take for granted.

Praise for Quite Contrary Man
“She [Hyatt] cleanly lays out a morality tale that could prompt a healthy civics lesson. Brown's arch illustrations, in watercolor with pen and ink, nicely capture 19th-century New England.” 
Kirkus Reviews 

“Brown’s warmhued watercolors reiterate the folk yarn feel with rustic touches. A spirited introduction to an iconoclastic 19th-century activist.” –Publishers Weekly

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Hyatt (Coast to Coast with Alice) spotlights a little-known New England folk hero who ended up in jail because of his beard—and not just any old beard: "If Joseph Palmer faced the wind, his whopping whiskers swept over his shoulders and flapped down to his hip pockets." With this same tall-tale flair, the narrative maintains an alacritous tempo, beginning with the stubborn Palmer's babyhood (the opening vignette shows him ejecting blanket, bottle, and rattle from his cradle) and continuing through his day in court (after an altercation with townsmen who aimed to give him an unsolicited haircut), jail time, and eventual release. Brown's (Kisses on the Wind) warm-hued watercolors reiterate the folk yarn feel with rustic touches, such as the grapevine borders around the text. Even during Palmer's bleak imprisonment, his exaggerated mustache and beard flow prodigiously from behind bars, nearly touching the ground—a ready metaphor for freedom itself. An ending historical note provides background into the bald-faced fashion trend Palmer bucked, as well as the about-face that occurred soon after. A spirited introduction to an iconoclastic 19th-century activist. Ages 5–9. (May)
School Library Journal
K-Gr 4—Joseph Palmer made his rather unusual mark on history sometime during the 1830s. Supposedly unique since his infancy, preferring gravy on his popcorn and vinegar on his pancakes, he chose to grow a long flowing beard when such things were very much frowned upon. Castigated by the townspeople of his New England village, even chastised from the pulpit, Palmer refused to shave. Accosted by some townspeople armed with barber's shears and a razor, he fought hard enough to thwart their intent to shave him. However, the men reported that it was Palmer who had attacked. He refused to pay the fine and was jailed for an entire year. When the sentence was up, Palmer refused to pay for the food he'd eaten and the coal he'd used, and refused to leave the jail. The jailer and the sheriff eventually carried him outside. Hyatt tells the story well, with good pacing, and Brown's well-designed watercolor and colored-pencil illustrations capture both the time period and the spirit of the tale. Whether Palmer deserves the appellation of folk "hero" is open to debate. He was, after all, jailed for assault, not for sporting the whiskers, and his refusal to pay the fine left his wife, his mother, and two young children to fend for themselves for a year. Was his refusal to shave an act of courage or one of hubris? Hyatt supplies an extensive author's note detailing the history behind the objections to beards and the change in attitude toward them when Abraham Lincoln grew his famous one. An interesting read-aloud and good discussion starter.—Grace Oliff, Ann Blanche Smith School, Hillsdale, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
What shall we do with the contrary man? Joseph Palmer's long golden beard is the pride ofhis family and the bane of the small Massachusetts town where he lives. It flowsall the way down to his belly and "from elbow to elbow," earning him the nickname Beard. But people jeer, calling him "Un-American!"One day,four menwith scissors try to ambush Beard, but he fights them off. Then these men have the nerve to go to court and blame Beard for attackingthem. The judge issues a $10 fine, and, when Beard refuses to pay it, they put him in jail for a year. Beard's tearful family visits him every day, and he complains about the conditions in letters to the editor. When Beard's year in jail ends, he again refuses to pay his fine. The frustrated sheriff and jailer come up with a unique solution, one that's sure to surprise readers as much as Beard. It's based on a true story;Hyatt includes a generous historical note. The compression demanded by the picture-book form is felt in Hyatt's prose, but she cleanly lays out a morality tale that could prompt a healthy civics lesson. Brown's arch illustrations, in watercolor with pen and ink, nicely capture 19th-century New England. This will do until a full Beard Palmer YA novel comes along.(Picture book. 6-9)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780810940659
  • Publisher: Abrams, Harry N., Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/1/2011
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 1,393,499
  • Age range: 5 - 9 Years
  • Lexile: AD840L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 10.10 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Patricia Rusch Hyatt is the author of Coast to Coast with Alice, about the first woman to drive across the United States, in 1909. She lives in New Jersey. Kathryn Brown has written and illustrated several highly regarded children's books. She lives in Massachusetts.

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