Help me in my quest for identification and understanding...
February 24, 2020 7:48 AM   Subscribe

My wife has this framed item up in our bathroom: I can't figure out where it's from and I can't figure out why she likes it. Can you help me on either front? Question 1: Google has failed me - any ideas where this is from? Is it actually page 86 of something? Question 2: Any idea why someone would find this amusing?

To be clear, I am fine with having this up. And there's nothing I mind about it, except that I don't understand it! I figure either seeing the whole work it's from, or getting folks' feedback on why it would appeal to someone, may quiet my questioning mind whenever I see it. I have of course asked my wife, and she struggles to explain why she likes it - she just does. Thanks in advance!
posted by slide to Human Relations (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I laughed at it. Sometimes things are so simplistic that they become ridiculous. It’s almost like Amelia Bedelia but without the twists of logic she makes, so it comes across as flatly stupid. Part of the humor of it is the kids seem almost alien—what kids would have that conversation? It’s an adult’s idea of a kid’s world, like “See Spot Run.” The “Tom laughs and laughs” is just weird! And look at the drawing—of course the mom isn’t in the bathtub, of course the daughter and son could both obviously see that. It’s dumb, weird, and antiquated, and to me that’s funny.
posted by sallybrown at 8:00 AM on February 24, 2020 [18 favorites]

I also can't explain, but I am chuckling audibly. I think maybe it has to do with the fact that there's so much information missing from that one page.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:01 AM on February 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

Do you have children? Because not getting to use the bathroom in private for years on end is a common joke/reality that mothers share. So it might just be the idea that mom is in the bathroom, and the kids have turned it into a missing-persons saga when SHE JUST WANTS TO PEE IN PEACE FOR ONCE, IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?

Alternately, it strikes me funny because they are in the bathroom wondering where their mother is, and the toilet is not included in the picture. Could she be peeing?

Sometimes a thing strikes you funny and you really don't know why—it's just odd or off-kilter in a way that pleases your brain. This may be something like that for your wife.

It definitely has the look of a real kids' book from a certain era—the 60s, maybe? The humor isn't quite pointed enough for a parody.
posted by Orlop at 8:02 AM on February 24, 2020 [10 favorites]

It looks like a page from one of those Dick-and-Jane early reading primers. It may be an actual page or just done in the style as a joke.

I'm not entirely sure why it's funny but I also find it amusing. Maybe because the children lack basic critical thinking skills, such that the presence of Mom's toothbrush without Mom is genuinely puzzling to them.
posted by biogeo at 8:02 AM on February 24, 2020 [7 favorites]

Agreed, my kids read a lot of Dick and Jane stories when they were learning to read, and if it’s not an actual Dick and Jane story, they’ve absolutely nailed the cadence and illustrations. I find it pretty funny.
posted by leahwrenn at 8:06 AM on February 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My interpretation of this is that mom is indeed taking a bath and is hiding under the water from her awful, awful children who won't leave her alone even for one gottdamn second. Maybe she'll just stay there under the water where it's quiet and peaceful.
posted by phunniemee at 8:07 AM on February 24, 2020 [64 favorites]

Response by poster: For what it's worth, we do have two young children and rarely get alone time in the bathroom these days. Marked as best answer one that really made me laugh though I hope my wife continues to come up for air...

Would still love to know if this is real if anyone has magical Dick and Jane book searching powers!
posted by slide at 8:13 AM on February 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

It reads, to me, as a funny send-up of the logic of children's books when taken out of context. It's also possible it's not from a book and is an individual piece of art meant to look like that type of book.

A lot of early reader books include these misunderstandings with amateur child sleuths. Kids will try to draw conclusions based on what they observe, but the ability to logically reason through everything isn't something small children have, and the formula for some books is meant to explain reasoning to kids. Books will walk through these misconceptions and have a reveal a few pages later explaining that just because mom's stuff is there, it doesn't mean she's there. It's funny when kids make nonsensical leaps of logical deduction but come to wrong conclusions.

The tl;dr version is: why the heck would kids assume their mom is there because her toothbrush and towel are? Kids are goofy.
posted by mikeh at 8:22 AM on February 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

i found some webster publishing company tom, jip and jane reading primers from the 1930's. the cadence of the text (from images) seems similar, but the illustrations strike my eye as different.
posted by 20 year lurk at 8:24 AM on February 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

I laughed because it is just silly and ridiculous. If it's from a book, then this chapter is likely teaching kids words for bathroom things.

BUT, I would like to know why their mom has her own identifiable towel and soap. And why do the children have their hats - are they looking for their mother because they are supposed to go somewhere? Why is it so funny that she is not in the bathroom?

I feel this image could be followed by any number of strange or unsettling events.
posted by Glinn at 8:40 AM on February 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

I can imagine this as a scene in a comedy:

"Gosh, where's Bob? His shoes are here, his hat is here, but he's not here."
"Yeah, I thought I heard his voice in here a second ago, too."

CUT to Bob crouched on top of the doorway, staring down at them desperately, visibly holding his breath.
posted by praemunire at 9:00 AM on February 24, 2020 [8 favorites]

slide, I have a gift suggestion for your wife and family: The Happy Hocky Family

It's sadly out of print but there are lots of used copies for sale for real cheap. Please get one. Trust me on this. It's in the style of these old Dick and Jane books and is absolute comedy gold.
posted by phunniemee at 9:15 AM on February 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

This is dark as dark.

"Mum's gone missing before. Last time she went missing without explanation or warning she took her toothbrush towel and soap with her. So where has she gone this time that she wouldn't need those things? Better check the bathtub! (And by implication other potential sites of disaster.)

I don't think it's funny but I do find the contrast between the 50s Dick and Jane innocence and the implied maternal depression/sadness kind of bone chillingly amusing.
posted by firstdrop at 9:20 AM on February 24, 2020 [13 favorites]

I think it's a meme done in the style of Dick and Jane, meant to look as if it was ripped from the pages of one of those primer readers. As others have said, mothers have no privacy in the bathroom, and it's riffing on that. Here's something similar.
posted by XtineHutch at 9:40 AM on February 24, 2020

The style is not '50s or '60s, it's much older. Could be '20s or '30s.
posted by Too-Ticky at 9:43 AM on February 24, 2020 [8 favorites]

I really want it to be Patricia Highsmith taking a stab at writing a primer, but maybe it's from this.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:07 AM on February 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

The style reminds me of Ameliaranne books, which were illustrated by Susan Beatrice Pearse. The books were published between 1920 and 1950.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 1:31 PM on February 24, 2020

Best answer: It looks like a page from a children's primer, circa between about 1920 to 1936 - it could be Elson Gray or the Citizenship series, but I doubt it would be a McGuffey.

It is quite possible that it is an authentic page from a damaged book that had the pages individually framed and sold to maximize the re-sale value. If the front cover and the first ten pages are pretty much destroyed, framing the individual pages is something a dealer in vintage goods will do. But it is also quite possible that your picture is not an original page and was reprinted from one.

This stuff is pleasing to people who like sentimental nostalgia and cute vintage pictures of kids. Readers and primers are collectors' items. A mint condition Dick and Jane from the fifties is going to run over a thousand dollars. This particular page is also a bit absurd which amuses many people and increases the number of people who might buy it.

The reason stories in those early readers are weird because it were written to use as many words as possible from a word list and to avoid using any words not on that list. In the back of the book they would have had a couple of pages showing the word lists that were used and an additional list showing any other words they had to introduce that were not from the word list in order to create a readable text. I'm guessing that this book was the primer or the first reader, not the pre-primer and would thus have shown the the pre-primer word list, the primer word list and the first reader word list at the end of the book after the stories.

The first common standard readers in the US were the McGuffey readers which provided the vocabulary need by rural children because there were far more of them than city children then. The vocabulary was chosen with those words that a kid growing up on a farm in 1890 or so would need: Cow, barn, milk, basket, pail, pump, pig, goat, fence, wagon and so on. As the decades went on and more children were growing up in cities the word lists began to drop the rural theme and substitute urban vocabulary, adding up to date vocabulary that reflected the changes in technology. However the original word list covered all the phonetic concepts they wanted to teach the children so it lingered a long while. It wasn't until the eighties that the primers moved away from the farm words but even then there was almost always chapter where the kids would visit Grandfather and Grandmother on the farm.

I'd make a wild guess and suggest that there is perhaps one page for each room in the house - If I am right the picture of the kitchen would be lovely with the square cornered enamel range and a mangle on the washtub. Another picture would have been the parlor. Of course, like many readers the book would depict a level of income that was like that of the catalogues and advertisements of the era, much higher than that of the ordinary children learning to read from the book. Quite likely over half the children from that time would not have had a bathroom indoors and would have actually used an outhouse and bathed in a galvanized tub. To use the required vocabulary, Tom and Jane would be looking for mother in each room of the house and describing the items in the room each time, oblivious to the fact that you could tell at a glance she wasn't there. It would have amused the children reading the book, hopefully.

There is nothing in the text or the picture to indicate to me that it is not authentically vintage but there are a lot of artists who draw in this style because they can sell to the nostalgia market. So it is also perfectly possible that your picture is only in the style of that era and not vintage at all. If you take the picture down you can check if you can open the frame and if you can you might be able to look at the print more closely - if there is another page of the story on the back of the page you will know it did come from a reader.
posted by Jane the Brown at 3:20 PM on February 24, 2020 [24 favorites]

I'm inclined to think that it is not a real primer, mostly because they use the word "laughs", which is a much harder word than the rest of the text. (This source lists it as a 4th grade word while the others are at much simpler level. (Not sure about "towel" which is another harder one.
posted by metahawk at 3:39 PM on February 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

The UK equivalent books - which it is also very reminiscent of, though they had smaller pages when I read them - would be the ladybird books. Weird as hell story in your case, but given 'This is Pat the dog' I wouldn't put anything past the authors.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 8:18 PM on February 24, 2020

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