By Danielle Aloia, Special Projects Librarian
As children we learn the basics of hygiene, but as adults sometimes we forget how to keep our bodies strong and healthy. The 1922 children’s book The Land of Health teaches how to stay healthy and prevent the spread of disease through a series of stories, culminating in the tale of how children Tom and Sally become full citizens of the Land of Health. It’s one of a number of books for children in our collection.
This book is written as a fairy tale: Dame Nature takes the children on a journey with her five helpers, Mr. Wind, Madam Rain, my Lord Sun, Sir Food, and Lady Sleep. The Christmas Carol/Alice in Wonderland mash-up shrinks the children to a size that fits into Tom’s toy village, where Dame Nature’s helpers take the children on very detailed adventures in the Land of Health. In these chapters, children, and even adults, learn (among a lot of other things) the importance of keeping clothes clean, how waste matter comes out through the skin, and what carrots are made of.
This journey reinforces that by keeping your “body castle” and your surroundings clean you can help make the world a safer place. If a germ happens to finagle its way in, the Board of Health spends its “time guarding the health of the citizens.” At the end of the journey Tom and Sally are outside the village in “Dirtyville,” where the flies live that carry the germs to the Land of Health. They learn that the best way to control their population is to cover garbage cans and clear dirt and rubbish away so they cannot breed.
In each chapter, verses help us remember the lessons and a series of questions reinforce positive health behavior. In the end, the children must repeat these verses for Dame Nature to grant them citizenship into the Land of Health.
Some verses that stick in your head:
“I must always breathe fresh air
In rainy weather and in fair”
“Every day I must take pride
In cleaning out myself inside.”
“Coffee, alcohol, and tea,
I know are very bad for me.”
“The proper foods for me to eat
Are simple ones and clean.
A pint of milk each day I need
And vegetables green
The time to eat is during meals
And never in between.”
And questions that make you ponder:
“Make a list of the things you have eaten in the last day or two. Are you building your house of straw and sticks or of bricks?”
“Why should you wear loose clothes?”
“What does the skin do for the body?”
“Why should waste matter be cleared out of the body each morning?”
“How do your hair and fingernails show whether you take pride in your body castle?”
A child can become a full citizen of the Land of Health by following these basic tenets:
- Breathing fresh air
- Getting exercise
- Standing and sitting up straight
- Drinking four glasses of water a day
- Bathing at least twice a week and brushing teeth three times a day
- Eating proper foods (and never between meals)
- Getting plenty of sun (“If you want the germs to run, / Let them see my Lord the Sun!”)
- Wearing proper clothes
- Sleeping 11 hours each night
- And always being careful
Certainly, these are good rules to live by in the world today. If each of us follows these simple rules we can create a “Happy Village” in which everyone has a chance to thrive and be free from germs and disease. To do that, we need to avoid “Enemies’ Country” (which, sadly for us adults, is where all the coffee and tea lives. Maybe just adults can drink them and still live in the Land of Health?) .
One of the book’s poetic reminders of how to stay healthy is an excellent verse for the coming cold and flu season:
“Sickness germs I must defeat,
And so I wash before I eat;
I never touch my nose or lips
With pencils coins or finger-tips
I keep away from those who sneeze,
For they may have a germ disease;
And when I cough or sneeze or sniff,
I do it in a handkerchief.”
Interested in reading the whole book? It’s available online. Then take the pledge, like Tom, and become a citizen of the Land of Health yourself!