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The Hole Book | Peter Newell

Updated: Jan 28, 2021

This book floated around my childhood home without an origin story as to how it got there or who may have gifted it to us. It was one of my favorites and I still have it today. I only just discovered that it was published in 1908, and that Peter Newell has some other equally fascinating books: Topsy Turvys (1893), The Slant Book (1910) and The Rocket Book (1912).

As a child, you are not always aware if a book comes from another era of time or was written for another generation. Nor are you aware of the present-day trouble with following a bullet and its path of destruction in a children's story (including hitting a cat making an ill-timed jump).

Before making picture books, Newell shared his humorous outlook via drawings and poems featured in publications such as Harper's Bazaar and The Saturday Evening Post. That dark humor is what makes The Hole Book so original, and tickled me as a child and as an adult alike.

We witness this stray bullet (never seeing the bullet, but enjoying the fun of its aftermath expressed by a literal die-cut hole in each page), and the grotesque, exaggerated horror on the faces of each affected. I so enjoy this style of illustration and, while it is dated, it is also so stylized with Newell's hand that it easily could stand out as a fresh graphic homage today.

I appreciate the graphic designer's approach in Newell using the physical format of his books to help tell the story. The die-cut hole through the pages and the rhomboid shape of his subsequent work The Slant Book, which tells the story of a runaway baby carriage barrelling down a hill. Again, this morbid humor making light of a serious situation is a theme for me that I have come to value more and more. It plays an important role in allowing a child to be silly and laugh at inappropriate things - a welcomed outlet for when life gets too serious.

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