Recently, I was invited to a baby shower. I love shopping for baby showers, because I almost always give books and knit a wee little hat — two of my most favorite things. I had the hat all done except for the top little curly-cues, but I was fresh out of board books and so went on a happy little jaunt to one of my local bookstores.
And there — BE STILL MY HEART — was a book I’d not thought of in over forty years, but which had so captivated my imagination when I was early-elementary age that I’ve never forgotten it. The Giant Jam Sandwich, story and pictures by John Vernon Lord, with verses by Janet Burroway. I bought it immediately for the baby. And I bought myself a copy, too.
I never had this book as a child. My memory of it is entirely a television experience. We didn’t watch much television, so I was very curious as to where I might’ve seen it. I’m too old to have watched Reading Rainbow as a child, so I did a little digging, and found that it was read on Captain Kangaroo in 1977 (we did watch Captain Kangaroo). The book was read, perhaps by the Captain himself, and the camera zoomed in on the pages — very low-tech.
I didn’t read this book to my own kids — it wasn’t republished until 2012 — but you can bet I’ll be reading this story of the four million wasps that come into Itching Down one hot summer day to any kid who crosses the threshold from now on. Because, I am still utterly enthralled with this book! The detailed pictures, the effortless rhyme, Mayor Muddlenut and Bap the Baker…. So great!
I think it was the very idea of creating an enormous jam sandwich to trap those four million wasps that got me. The logistics are astounding. My mother made bread — I knew all about the kneading and the rising and the baking and I was floored by the efforts of the citizens of Itching Down. The bread dough filled an entire warehouse-like structure — the townspeople had to crawl all over it to knead it. They had to build an oven on a hill….
For hours and hours they let it cook.
It swelled inside till the windows shook.
It was piping hot when they took it out,
And the villagers raised a mighty shout.
“Isn’t it crusty! Aren’t we clever!”
But the wasps were just as bad as ever….
A giant saw is used to slice the loaf, eight fine horses pull the slice to the gigantic picnic cloth set out in a field. A truck dumps the butter and the people use spades and tractors to spread it out! Same with the jam!
Six flying machines ‘whirled and wheeled” in the sky waiting for the wasps, who came at last lured by the smell of the jam. They dived and struck…and they ate so much that they all got stuck!
Kersplat! The other slice came down and only three wasps got away. The rest were stuck in that giant jam sandwich….
I thought a lot about this book as a kid. (Rich Interior Life, they call this.) The improbable problem solving, the baking logistics, the sheer amounts of butter and jam….. An amazing effort.
[The wasps] never came back to Itching Down,
Which is not a waspish sort of town,
But a very nice place to dance and play,
And that’s what the villagers did that day.
What became of the sandwich, you ask? Well, you’ll just have to pick up a copy yourself. It’s a pretty perfect picture book, in my opinion. And interestingly enough, I count only a couple of kids in the illustrations…. Fascinating all the way around!