Written and Illustrated by S. Rosamond Praeger
Longmans, Green & Co, 1897
These are the Three Bold Babes setting out to seek their fortune.
The plot in a nutshell: Three brave babies have adventures.
The three babies (Hector, Honoria and Alisander) meet a dragon on their journey and at first, he’s afraid of them, but they put him at ease and they become friends. While riding the dragon, they are challenged by a knight who wants to put them in prison. They want to fight instead and knock the knight from his horse. He takes them to his castle, where his wife tells them the castle is theirs now. The dragon overhears the knight and his wife plotting against the children and he helps them escape. The dragon has to leave, so they all say a tearful farewell. Next, the children visit a kingdom ruled by a wicked king who insists that all his subjects have a long pointy nose like his own. When the children refuse to change their noses, the king summons the monster that he keeps to eat his prisoners. The monster turns out to be their friend, the dragon, and he attacks the king instead. The dragon apologizes to the children for eating people and plants a garden of cabbages, vowing to become a vegetarian.
A friend of mine introduced me to an online library of historical children’s literature and it’s a treasure trove of the weird and wonderful. Some of the books are ones anyone would recognize, such as Aesop’s Fables or Jack in the Beanstalk. But there are plenty of other obscure and bizarre books, with a few so racially insensitive that they make you wince just to read the titles. I could easily lose a few hours poking around this site and marveling at how the landscape of children’s literature has changed in the last 120 years. This was the first book I read through, chosen at random, and it did not disappoint. The story is odd, but entertaining, and is mostly told through sentences explaining what’s going on in the accompanying pictures.
Author/illustrator S. Rosamond Praeger was a talented artist whose primary medium was sculpture, although she did detailed illustrations for her brother’s books on botany as well as writing and illustrating picture books of her own. The illustrations are delightfully vintage, with thin lines and washed out colors. The artwork is comical, with some funny facial expressions and one really unusual image of the king with his nose broken off. A sequel was published the following year, with the excellent title, Further Doings of the Three Bold Babes.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is if you’re brave enough and surrounded by good friends, you can handle just about anything.