First Reviews

From School Library Journal:
HYATT, Patricia Rusch. The Quite Contrary Man: A True American Tale. illus. by Kathryn Brown. unpaged. photos. Abrams. May 2011. RTE $16.95. ISBN 978-0-8109-4065-9. LC number unavailable.

K-Gr 4–Joseph Palmer made his rather unusual mark on history sometime during the 1830s. Supposedly unique since his infancy, preferring gravy on his popcorn and vinegar on his pancakes, he chose to grow a long flowing beard when such things were very much frowned upon. Castigated by the townspeople of his New England village, even chastised from the pulpit, Palmer refused to shave. Accosted by some townspeople armed with barber’s shears and a razor, he fought hard enough to thwart their intent to shave him. However, the men reported that it was Palmer who had attacked. He refused to pay the fine and was jailed for an entire year. When the sentence was up, Palmer refused to pay for the food he’d eaten and the coal he’d used, and refused to leave the jail. The jailer and the sheriff eventually carried him outside. Hyatt tells the story well, with good pacing, and Brown’s well-designed watercolor and colored-pencil illustrations capture both the time period and the spirit of the tale. Whether Palmer deserves the appellation of folk “hero” is open to debate. He was, after all, jailed for assault, not for sporting the whiskers, and his refusal to pay the fine left his wife, his mother, and two young children to fend for themselves for a year. Was his refusal to shave an act of courage or one of hubris? Hyatt supplies an extensive author’s note detailing the history behind the objections to beards and the change in attitude toward them when Abraham Lincoln grew his famous one. An interesting read-aloud and good discussion starter.–Grace Oliff, Ann Blanche Smith School , Hillsdale , NJ

From Booklist:

Fictionalized from presumed actual events (there are no quotation citations, nor any source notes), this tells of Joseph Palmer, his beard, and the town that didn’t like it. Early-nineteenth-century New England is depicted as full of straitlaced, conservative people who are shocked by Palmer’s long-flowing whiskers, which they decry as “Un-American!” and sinful, and which, when he refuses to trim them, lead to his incarceration. Although Palmer’s community considered him contrary, Hyatt presents him as a happy and loving (if somewhat stubborn and eccentric) family man, and his story is one of individuality, freedom of
expression, and determination, not to mention fashion—the concluding historical note explains that within a few decades, President Lincoln made beards popular and widely accepted. Although these are serious themes, this picture book offers a positive story with a happy ending, and much of the tone is due to Brown’s pleasant and well-designed illustrations in pen and ink and watercolor, which set the scenes helpfully and support the folksy language. All in all, very agreeable.

— Andrew Medlar

From Publishers Weekly

Hyatt (Coast to Coast with Alice) spotlights a little-known New England folk hero who ended up in jail because of his beard–and not just any old beard: “If Joseph Palmer faced the wind, his whopping whiskers swept over his shoulders and flapped down to his hip pockets.” With this same tall-tale flair, the narrative maintains an alacritous tempo, beginning with the stubborn Palmer’s babyhood (the opening vignette shows him ejecting blanket, bottle, and rattle from his cradle) and continuing through his day in court (after an altercation with townsmen who aimed to give him an unsolicited haircut), jail time, and eventual release. Brown’s (Kisses on the Wind) warm-hued watercolors reiterate the folk yarn feel with rustic touches, such as the grapevine borders around the text. Even during Palmer’s bleak imprisonment, his exaggerated mustache and beard flow prodigiously from behind bars, nearly touching the ground–a ready metaphor for freedom itself. An ending historical note provides background into the bald-faced fashion trend Palmer bucked, as well as the about-face that occurred soon after. A spirited introduction to an iconoclastic 19th-century activist. Ages 5–9. (May)

From Kirkus Reviews

Seven Impossible Things: The Misfits
by Julie Danielson on May 27, 2011

Offbeat. Non-conformist. Never quite fit in as a child. These describe the subjects of three new picture book biographies for children. Let’s get right to it.

Read more Seven Impossible Things at Kirkus.

Patricia Rusch Hyatt’s The Quite Contrary Man (Abrams), illustrated by Kathryn Brown, tells the story of Joseph Palmer, a relatively unknown 19th-century American folk hero. Joseph, who had “grown up stubborn since the cradle,” sported a “mighty beard [which] broke all boundaries” and came to be known as “Beard Palmer.” This was shocking in the early 1800s, a time during which women wore “tightly twisted topknots” on their heads, men kept their faces clean-shaven, and folks never “dared to stand out from the neighbors.”

Palmer would have none of this, much to the dismay of his own elderly mother—“What would become of her pig-headed son?” is the book’s repeated refrain—and this made his neighbors see red: His preacher reprimanded him from the pulpit, four of his neighbors accosted him and tried to shave his beard, and eventually he was sent to jail. Refusing to shave while there and sneaking out (via his family) letters to the editor of the local newspaper about unfair treatment in prison, he was finally released, only to be told he owed a fine. After refusing to pay (did you expect any less?), two of the weary jailers—in a very funny illustration—carry him out seated in his chair and place him in the middle of the street. “The next morning, the chair was empty,” and we see Beard—in one of my favorite picture book spreads from 2011—marching home joyfully with his mother, children and wife, his long auburn beard flowing.

Hyatt lays out Palmer’s story with grace and spunk. Though she doesn’t include her sources, which would be good to see, she includes a fascinating Historical Note. With fluid lines and inviting earth-toned watercolors, Brown brings the New England of the 1800s and one of its most spirited activists to life with warmth and verve.

(See illustrations at the reviewer’s web page)

A letter from Junior Library Guild addressed to the author:

May 9, 2011 — “Congratulations! In keeping with our goal of providing extraordinary reading experiences for children and young adults, The Quite Contrary Man: A True American Tale has been awarded the designation, “A Junior Library Guild Selection” for Spring 2011.”

From the Bookworms column by Caroline Luzzatto in the Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, Va.

Going their own way
“The Quite Contrary Man” by Patricia Rusch Hyatt, illustrated by Kathryn Brown. Abrams Books for Young Readers. Ages 6-10. $16.95.

Ladies gasped when Joseph Palmer walked by. Men called him un-American. Vigilantes assaulted him. A judge jailed him for a year, and the jailer billed him for the cost of bread and water. His crime?

He had a beard.

In his Massachusetts town, in the early 1800s, it was simply not done. And the fact that “Beard” Palmer grew a flowing beard down to his belt is a testament to how deeply contrary he was.

In Patricia Rusch Hyatt’s hands, the true story of Beard Palmer is more than a historical oddity – it’s a subtle and funny rumination on individualism, freedom and, yes, even fashion. Complete with an afterword about history and facial hair, it’s a great discussion-starter for both young and old.


2 responses to “First Reviews

  1. J. Keenan

    March 30, 2011 at 11:10 pm

    I loved this quirky and well written book. The illustrations provide charming support for an imaginative folk tale based on well researched historical material.

  2. meg cox

    May 24, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    I can’t wait to read this book! I love that period and have been reading about Emerson and the Palmers. I have ordered the book from Amazon and will read it right away when it comes – and share it with all the children in my life!
    Excellent website too.


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