When it was published in 1926, Mary Liddell’s picture book Little Machinery was both favorably reviewed and well advertised, but it faded quickly from store shelves. Yet the book’s constructivism-inspired illustrations and strange cast of characters—centered around an uncanny robot boy who benefits and exploits his woodland home—were ahead of their time. Little Machinery has become a landmark text for scholars of children’s studies because it demonstrates how twentieth-century writers and artists addressed child readers and distilled their era’s technological hopes and fears for a young audience.
The critical facsimile edition of Little Machinery presents a full-color reproduction of Liddell’s original text along with expert commentary on the social and historical contexts for Liddell’s work. A foreword by John Stilgoe begins the volume by commenting on 1920s engineering and the gender dynamics at work in Little Machinery. In a revised version of her award-winning critical essay, Nathalie op de Beeck examines Liddell’s pictorial storytelling, provides biographical information on Liddell and her editor May Massee, and connects Liddell’s work to popular literary and artistic conventions of the 1920s. Op de Beeck discusses early twentieth century developments in technology and media, cultural attitudes toward the environment and natural resources, and Little Machinery’s status as a quintessential modernist text that one one reviewer called "the first picture book for modern children."
The complete text and supplementary essays in this critical edition of Little Machinery will allow readers to enjoy Liddell’s illustrations, calligraphy, and storytelling within its full social and historical setting. This volume will appeal to scholars of twentieth-century American cultural studies, visual culture, art history, and literature, including enthusiasts of modernism and graphic narrative.
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