Book Review: How to Grow up in One Piece

Grandmothers are people
Who think Old Father and mother
Are raising you wrong.
They also bring candy.
Make sure they come
As often as possible.
Kiss them a good deal and maybe
Next time they come they will bring money
And you can buy the kind
of candy you like.

That’s the grandmothers page from How to Grow up in One Piece by Robert Paul Smith. He’s the author of the recently reviewed book Where did you go? Out. What did you do? Nothing. It turns out the man wrote 9 books between 1957 and 1973 about childhood and I’m guessing they’re filled with all kinds of awesome.

How to Grow Up in One Piece is a 40 page poetry book of sorts featuring brief and nearly always funny explanations of everyday things. Some subjects are appropriate — siblings, friends or pets — while others seem unusual at first — furniture, cars or garbage cans — until you read their context with regard to childhood. It’s a quick, but amusing read.

This is a baby sitter.
You are not a baby
And she does not sit.
She does her homework.
She watches the television set.
She eats up all the food in the ice box.
She talks to all her friends on the telephone.
All at the same time.
If you want her to do something for you
You will have to crawl out of the crib
And scream.
The best thing to do is to grow up fast
And be a baby sitter yourself.
It gets you out of the house
And pays about the same per hour
As brain surgery.

I’m slowly digesting another of Smith’s books, How to Do Nothing with Nobody All Alone by Yourself. It’s a companion to his “Where did you go?”, detailing how to make a variety of homemade gadgets fashioned from everyday objects.

It begins:

“If things were as they should be, another kid would be telling you how to do these things, or you’d be telling another kid. But since I’m the only kid left around who knows how to do these things — I’m forty-two-years-old, but about these things I’m still a kid — I guess it’s up to me.”

First up is a “spool tank” made from a spool, rubber band, 3 matches and a bar of soap or a candle. You get 7 hand-drawn diagrams and plenty of explanation showing how to make it, and then Smith moves right on into making a button buzz saw, handkerchief parachutes, and so on.

Structure is the author’s enemy so he doesn’t organize his books into chapters (as far as I’ve seen). But in this one you can at least browse around and locate gadgets using the diagrams as a guide.

Finding Robert Paul Smith’s books can be difficult. Search your library system and especially university libraries in your area. Failing that, try Abebooks which has a massive database from tens of thousands of independent book stores.

The books in chronological order:

  1. Where did you go?” “Out.” “What did you do?” “Nothing.” 1957.
  2. Translations from the English, 1958. A compilation of articles from Good Housekeeping magazine. The first article quotes children and then translates their words into adultspeak.
  3. How to do nothing with nobody, all alone by yourself, 1958. Instructions on making homemade gadgets and activities, a companion to Where did you go?
  4. Jack Mack, 1960. Judging by the cover art, it may be a children’s story book.
  5. Crank: a book of lamentations, exhortations, mixed memories and desires, all hard or chewy centers, no creams, 1962. (Subject matter unknown, might not be about childhood)
  6. How to grow up in one piece, 1963. The childhood poetry book mentioned above.
  7. When I am big, 1965. (Subject unknown, but I trust it’s childhood thoughts)
  8. Got to stop draggin’ that little red wagon around, 1969. Moments in a boy’s life that were important, as judged by the boy once he’s grown up.
  9. Lost & found: an illustrated compendium of things no longer in general use: the hatpin, the icebox, the carpet beater, and oven, household possessions they don’t make that way any more, 1973.


3 Responses to “Book Review: How to Grow up in One Piece”

  1. Merry says:

    These sound like really interesting books! Thanks for posting them.

    August 21st, 2009 at 6:07 am

  2. Phil says:

    Hey AJ – I bought, read, and loved “Where did you go? Out…” He mentions a few of these gadgets in there (like the buzzsaw and mumbelty peg) so I took notes, intending to go online and find how to make/do/play them. Good to know Smith did the work for me already…


    August 21st, 2009 at 7:04 am

  3. magpie says:

    I recently discovered How to Grow up in One Piece; based on your review, I may need some more of these!

    November 26th, 2010 at 5:38 pm

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