Tootka, HUAC and Some Childhood Books

Kolya the engineer used the old carrot trick to befriend a cranky cow so Tootka the Little Russian Train could get its young passengers to a picnic. After getting the kids there and home again, Tootka made it to a July 21, 1953 House Committee on Un-American Activities hearing, in a list of exhibits as one of the “Recent Publications for Young People.” Published by the Amerloan Society for Russian Relief, Inc. in 1945, it was described as “An amusing tale about an engine on one of the children’s railroads of the Soviet Union.”

I still have my childhood copy of the book. I also have Wee Fishie Wun, which was another favorite. My copy still has most of the tiny plastic beads that give texture to some of the pictures of the fish swimming “deep in the depths of the blue China sea.” Two is a Team, Be My Friend, and other early childhood books also reflected my parents’ political views. Which, like those of so many of the other teachers caught up in the Board of Education investigations, were more like frustrated New Deal Democrats (and democrats) than those of the dangerous subversives the red hunters saw.

For that matter, as I outgrew Tootka, I grew into all sorts of books my parents likely never thought their kids would get into. And none of those books upset them. Given Tootka, I remember thinking as I sped through Albert Payson Terhune’s Lad, A Dog books whether my parents knew how racist they were. And, as I later learned, yes, they did know, and they trusted me to make my own judgments.

 Tootka the Little Russian Train, by the way, has made it to the Internet, with copies quoted as high as $89. So have several of my other childhood books. Things change. My own political views have shifted over the years. But my Tootka’s not for sale.


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