Suzuki Beane and Bang Bang You’re Dead

Fitzhugh got her first taste of publishing three years before Harriet the Spy, when she drew the black and white illustrations for Sandra Scoppettone’s Suzuki Beane (1961). This little story is a parody of Eloise in which the main character is the child of beatniks. Although it was published by Doubleday, it does not seem to have done any real business at the time. Copies of it now are hard to come by. (A scanned photocopy is available here; the cover can be viewed in this video). Although not generally considered successful from an artistic point of view, the book definitely has its charms, and its essential message is one familiar to Fitzhugh fans: the children at the story’s centre are able to discard prejudice, where their parents cannot. The book also allowed Scoppettone and Fitzhugh to lampoon their own artistic milieu, including, apparently, their friend the poet James Merrill, who served as the model for a character who declaims his work at a reading. (Cook)

A second collaboration with Scoppettone was, if anything, less commercially successful. Their anti-war book Bang Bang You’re Dead, a picture book illustrated with Fitzhugh’s disturbing line drawings, came in for so much criticism that Nordstrom found herself writing to angry parents and teachers:

We are distressed to see how deeply you feel that Bang Bang You’re Dead by Louise Fitzhugh [footnote] is an inappropriate book for children. We are very conscious here of our responsibility to our readers, and it is our hope that each book we publish reflects that concern.

The adult responses to Bang Bang You’re Dead have been varied, but we have had only favorable reports thus far from children. (282-3)

The critics were no kinder, calling it things like “a literary ABM that overshoots its mark” (quoted in Cook); others called it “chilling” and “shocking,” or noted its “ferocious figures” and “gushing blood” (all quoted in Wolf, 40-41). (footnote)

From the point of view of chronicling Fitzhugh’s life and creativity, the main value of these two books is that they allow  us to follow her development as a visual artist. The pictures in Bang Bang You’re Dead are particularly impressive, showing a variety of techniques while maintaining a unified style throughout. Highly detailed characters sit against sketchy settings: all the emphasis is on the humanity of the individuals, although they are always seen in groups. In Suzuki Beane, as in Harriet the Spy, most images are individual character sketches, with little or no background. These drawings rely heavily on Fitzhugh’s acute renderings of facial expressions: however, the drawings in Suzuki Beane have a scribbly style, in keeping with its “beat” setting. Only in Bang Bang You’re Dead do Fitzhugh’s characters have fully realized bodies as well as faces: they are physically more present, in order to allow their physical fighting to be fully rendered. Comparing these illustrations, it seems that Fitzhugh was closely attuned to the needs of the text in making her illustrations, making her work as an illustrator perhaps as accomplished as her writing.



Suzuki Beane at Scrib’d.

“One Minute Suzuki Beane.”

Cook, Karen. “Regarding Harriet: Louise Comes in From the Cold.” Village Voice April 11, 1995: 12ff.

Nordstrom, Ursula. Dear Genius: the Letters of Ursula Nordstrom. Collected and edited by Leonard S. Marcus. (New York: HarperCollins, 1998).

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