Gingerbread was in its heyday in the Middle Ages where, in Nuremberg, Germany, the "gingerbread capitol of the world," gingerbread was elevated to an art form. Back then they actually had a Gingerbread Guild. Only those bakers who were members of the guild were allowed to produce gingerbread. Sweet job--except that the only way you could get into the guild was to marry a guild member's daughter. Hmm. Not fair. Well, at least you didn't need to be a guild member to eat the stuff, and that's the best part anyway. Just ask the fox at the end of the classic tale, "The Gingerbread Man." (Is that a spoiler, mentioning the fox? He eats the cookie at the end, you see.)
Anyway, what better way to talk about December, the holiday month, than by dissecting gingerbread man picture book covers?
I daresay some of you will remember this version of the little fellow, with his curiously rouged cheeks and that roguish tilt of the eyebrows, from the days of your youth. It's a Whitman Giant Tell-a-Tale Book by Bonnie and Bill Rutherford (1963). I like this one. The surprise and despair of the old woman and old man is evident. That hat! You can practically feel the breeze that whisked it off the old fellow's head. Also, the way the couple is set way back so that they appear proportionally smaller than G-bread Man himself really gives us the sense that they will never catch him. This cover promises a lively story inside.
Run, run, fast as you can! Can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man!With that in mind, this cover of a version by Eric Kimmel, illustrated by Megan Lloyd (Holiday House, 1993), seems less successful. No one is chasing him--he seems to be out for a jaunty stroll, or maybe a march, judging by the way his leg is raised so high. Also, what's with his head? No neck? No nose? (How does he smell? Terrible.) Frankly, if the little old woman and little old man had spent more time making him shapely and giving him a fancier wardrobe maybe he would have stuck around. Here, Fox, you can have this one.And away he ran!
I just love this Richard Egielski version (HarperCollins, 1997). I know the little fellow's not very realistic from a baked-good point of view, but the style! It's so Art Deco--s0 Chrysler Building. And the way his leg is bent, as if leaping. AND he's somehow suspended above the city (Yes, it's New York; he's being chased by hungry New Yorkers)--he's like, superhuman! Super-gingerbreadmanly! I'm wondering though. Is he a bit too light? Undercooked, as it were? And why is he a boy and not a man? I wish I had a copy here to check and see what happens to the rhyme when it's a gingerbread boy instead of man. Run, run, fast as a . . . goy, toy, hoi-polloi? Can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread boy.
Run, run, fast as you can! Can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man!This is the retelling by Jim Aylesworth in 1998 (Scholastic), illustrated by Barbara McClintock. It has an old fashioned feel, and a bit of a Nuremberg feel to it, too--the Gingerbread Guild Nuremberg stuff, I mean, not the trials, geez. So German! He's wearing lederhosen for goshsakes! There aren't any wildly upset oldies in the background chasing him, but this fellow does seem to be actually running away, and gleefully so.And away he ran!
Run, run, fast as you can! Can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man!And away he ran!
What kind of surprises me is the lack of recent versions out there--especially considering that the Gingerbread Boy story is in the public domain. There are, however, several more recent "fractured" versions, or take-offs on the idea of a runaway food product:
The Matzo Ball Boy by Lisa Shulman, illustrated by Rosanne Litzinger (Dutton, 2005), and Stop That Pickle! by Peter Armour, illustrator: Andrew Shachat (Houghton Mifflin, 1993, 2005) are shown here.
But, I ask you, during December, this wonderful month of guilty pleasures, who wants to catch a runaway rice cake?
Extra: I think those types of people with the odd trait of actually liking spending time in the kitchen would be expecting a recipe right now. This one looks good. Let me know how they turn out. As for me, I'll be buying mine at the bakery down on Elgin Street.