Friday, December 4, 2015

Bertha who?

Today's book from the past is "The Triplets Go South" by Bertha B. Moore.

However this book could easily have been written by Betsy McCurry, or Bertha McCurry, or Brenda Cannon (2) .

All of these many pen names belong to the same writer, whose real name, as far as I could ascertain, was probably Bertha McCurry.

For simplicity's sake, I'll refer to her as "Bertha".

Bertha was a prolific writer who specialized in Evangelical story books for children.  By my count, based on several literary websites, she wrote more than 60 books (3,4) over a period of roughly 20 years, from 1939 to approximately 1955.

Bertha was born in 1890 in Rutherford, North Carolina (5) and died in 1976.

However, other than these details, I couldn't find much more information about Bertha, other than a strangely juxtaposed pair of photos.

I found this undated photo of Bertha from a historical website for Golden Valley, North Carolina (2).

Then I found a pair of photos of her gravesite (6).

This second photo presents a bit of a quandary as to the exact date of when she died.  Some websites say 1976.  However this gravesite--which is located in Rutherford, North Carolina (her home town) with the correct names of
both her and her husband (Mack), clearly indicates that
she died in 1965.

And this is all I could find out about Bertha in terms of her life.

The books she leaves behind, however, still circulate today, many of which are available on, vintage book sites and in used bookstores.

This particular book I read--"The Triplets Go South"--seems to be fairly representative of her work.

She wrote a series of "Triplets" books, all centering on the lives and times of the Baer family:  Mamma Baer, Daddy Baer, and the triplets-the boy Teddy and the girls Iva and Iona.

The Baer family are devout church goers--they read bible verses each night, never skip church on Sunday and the triplets send up prayers throughout each day.   The adventures in this book--as I suspect are similar in all her books--center on delivering a thoughtful,  spiritual, moral message.  Tucked in here and there are educational bits--in this book, for example, descriptions of historic places in St. Augustine, Florida.

However  this book is very much a product of its time.  The writing style, dialogue and details of daily life are markedly different from how children live today.   This book--and others in this series--also have less stellar elements that date it even further.    To a lesser extent in this book but very present in Bertha's other books are multiple references to African American cooks and housemaids who are given dialogue so stereotyped that it is actually painful to read.

There are also heavy references to World War II, which was being waged even as Bertha wrote these books.   Sprinkled throughout the book are comments made by the Triplets about European orphans, faraway battles and about how proud and happy they were to be American.

As a period piece this book was interesting to read.  However I feel that the same elements that relegated Bertha's many books to the "vintage" pile are also the same elements that consigned Bertha to the hazy mists of time.    It is a sad truth in the world of writing--especially in writing children's books--how rare it is for a book to stand the test of time, and for that book's author to become a household name. When we consider  the hundreds, perhaps thousands of children's book authors who are pumping out more new books each day, it seems miraculous when a book does rise to national or world-wide notice.

Seen in this light, perhaps Bertha's legacy isn't entirely lost.  As long as there are curious people with a passion for traveling back in time through an old book, authors like Bertha won't be entirely forgotten.

1. "The Triplets Go South".  Bertha B. Moore.  WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Comapny.  Grand Rapids, Michigan.  1944.