It is hard to imagine anyone reading Sunshine Sketches for the first time. When was it that the book unprinted itself, flew clean off the page, and somehow got lodged in the marrow of generations of Canadians yet unborn? I doubt if there is – or ever will be again – a three-year-old in all the land who does not look up with a start of recognition at the sound of the words “Mariposa Belle” – as at the echo of a half-recalled prenatal dream.
Who, then, in these latter days dares to “introduce” Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town? Not I. This is a preface, not an introduction, written in the belief that the editor’s job (and the publisher’s) is simply to keep the book going ad infinitum – for people who want to read it for the hundredth time, as well as for yesterday’s crop of three-year-olds who may want to read it as though for the first time.
My copy of Sunshine Sketches was published in 1960 and I think it is safe to assume Ross wrote the introduction around then. I wonder if Ross would be shocked at how little notice people are taking of his beloved book these days.
I can think of a lot of things my children knew about at the age of three:
- the words to Wild Pack of Family Dogs by Modest Mouse
- who P.J. Harvey is
- which Black Keys album & song is their favourite
- the complete soundtrack to the movie Frozen
- the belief that Rapunzel has magic hair, and that the Little Mermaid is actually named Ariel (she is never named in the fairy tale) and that she lives in the end (she doesn’t but you probably already knew that)
- The difference between Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny
- What a Gruffalo is
I can assure you that my children knew no more about Sunshine Sketches when they were three in the years 2011 and 2014 (someone just turned four last week) than I did in 1980. However, I did know all the words to Angel of the Morning by Juice Newton (and still do) even if I didn’t understand their meaning.
My point is that this novel is not as timeless as Ross thought. Perhaps to those who enjoy the tongue-in-cheek humour of Stephen Leacock this book has stood the test of time but I doubt it is that way to most people. The back proclaims that the collection of stories remains “curiously undated” but a lot has happened between when it was first published in 1912 and now. Maybe too much has happened?
In any case I read this book two years ago and didn’t get a chance to make notes on it and the thought of having to read it again right now doesn’t sit well with me. The characters are nostalgic for a time that was long past when Leacock wrote it and I feel so far removed from the content I had a hard time enjoying it. There were moments I enjoyed but not enough to read it again just for the sake of a review.
While children these days may be inundated with adult music of questionable content and the saccharinization (I made that word up) of fairy tales by Disney (and let’s not even talk about my ongoing battle against Dora the Explorer), I doubt any of them were having Sunshine Sketches read to them while in the womb.
Death Toll: My interest, once again.