I dug out our copy of Journey Cake, Ho! by Ruth Sawyer to read to the DLM after finishing one of our Thanksgiving reads entitled Eating the Plates, a book which gives some of the details of the Pilgrims’ lives in Plymouth. In the book, there was a discussion of the term johnny cake and how it probably came from the term journey cake, etc., and of course, my mind made the connection. Journey Cake, Ho! is not a Thanksgiving story, exactly, but in the end, maybe it is. It’s the story of Johnny, a boy bound out to work for an elderly couple, Merry and Grumble. Their names are apropos, as Merry finds a lot to be happy about and Grumble finds nothing. This is one of those books that requires the reader to be willing to improvise a tune, as the characters are known for their workaday songs. Grumble’s goes like this:
“A bother, a pest!
All work and no rest!
Come winter, come spring,
Life’s a nettlesome thing.”
It turns out that maybe Grumble’s right–life is a nettlesome thing, at least for them after a series of events leaves them with no food to share with Johnny. As Merry says, “‘What will feed two will not feed three.'” Merry makes Johnny a journey cake and sends him on his way. However, the story goes a bit awry when the journey cake escapes from the pack on Johnny’s back and begins to sing, Gingerbread Man-like, its own tune:
“Journey Cake, ho!
Journey Cake, hi!
Catch me and eat me
As I roll by!”
Johnny chases after the journey cake and passes a whole passel of animals, each of which also begins to chase the journey cake. The tale ends up back at the home of Grumble and Merry, only this time they have more than enough to eat, thanks to Johnny and his journey cake. This is definitely a story that bears a second or third or fourth reading. The DLM and I enjoyed it a lot, and Louise even drifted over our way from where she and Lulu were making Thanksgiving placards at the computer to listen in.
Journey Cake, Ho! was a 1954 Caldecott honor book, certainly a deserved honor with its trademark illustrations by none other than Robert McCloskey. The illustrations are lively and humorous, as we expect from McCloskey. I’ve briefly attempted to learn what medium McCloskey used, and I’ve been unable to figure it out. The drawings are all green and brown and white, which makes me think it’s not so much the medium he used as the printing process. At any rate, it’s definitely “old school” but still very effective. I love the expressions on the faces of the characters, from merry old Merry to the can’t-be-pleased Grumble to the devil-may-care Johnny. The author-illustrator team of Sawyer and McCloskey have created a very entertaining and complex story and one which I give a Highly Recommended. (Viking, 1953)