The Haps: Murder, slavery and high treason

The makings of a good children’s book

| Scene Reporter

If you’ve never been to Subterranean Books on the Delmar Loop, you should stop by. It’s the type of store with tall, wooden bookshelves that may not always have exactly what you are looking for but will always have something you want.

The small store and its owner, Kelly von Plonski, are very supportive of local artists and writers; Subterranean Books always has a local artist’s work on display in its gallery. Each exhibit usually runs for about two months and is free to view for the public, making it a quick and interesting study break. The store also normally hosts an opening event or a chance to meet the artist behind each exhibit.

Currently, the store’s gallery features various pages and developmental sketches of a new children’s book, “John Brown: His Fight for Freedom.” The Subterranean gallery will feature this book until Sept. 27 and include a book signing with the author and illustrator, John Hendrix, at 6 p.m. on Thursday.

John Brown, for those of us less knowledgeable about American history, was a white abolitionist from Ohio with a divisive legacy. In an attempt to open the country’s eyes to the truth about slavery, he led a raid on the Harper’s Ferry armory to help arm and free slaves. The plan did not end well: The raid resulted in mass violence, and Brown was hanged for high treason.

This isn’t exactly the stuff of a “Berenstain Bears” book, but Hendrix does a good job of balancing aspects of a kids’ book with the violent reality of a raid on government property. For instance, a graphic illustration of John Brown with a noose around his neck and uttering his last words is drawn in bright colors and a swirling font. Hendrix doesn’t lie to his audience by trying to hide the darker side of this controversial hero.

For many, Hendrix’s choice of subject is questionable for children.

“All [Hendrix] said is that some people think that John Brown shouldn’t be a children’s book,” Plonski said when asked if she knew why Hendrix chose to tell John Brown’s story.

The murder, for instance, does not make Brown an ideal role model. But obviously, for Hendrix, this is not what really matters. As he writes in the book, John Brown’s goals were “never mayhem, self-glorification or personal vendetta, but freedom for all who were persecuted.” This dedication to truth in children’s literature is a worthwhile reason to stop by Subterranean Books for Hendrix’s book signing.

Other happenings:

“The Big Lebowski” movie showing: Thursday at Third Degree Glass Factory, 5200 Delmar Blvd., 8 p.m. Free, uncut, outdoor showing of a cult classic.

“Pretty Things Peepshow”: Thursday at Off Broadway, 3509 Lemp Ave., 7:30 p.m. Vintage-style burlesque show. Tickets $8 in advance, $10 at the door.

Those ’70s Plants: Sept. 14-19 at Bowood Farms, 4605 Olive St., 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Ten percent discount all week for wearing ’70s style clothing to this gardening store in the Central West End.

St. Louis Art Fair: Friday through Sunday in downtown Clayton. Showcase of local artists, musicians and restaurants.

Blues Cruise: Sept. 10 on the Tom Sawyer Riverboat, leaving at Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard on the riverfront, 8 p.m. Ride down the Mississippi River to the sounds of a local blues band. Tickets $18.

Late Night Happy Hour: Every day at the Drunken Fish, 10 p.m.-close. Happy hour prices later into the night.

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