Let Us Do The Best That We Can, by Cawein and Heller

Let Us Do The Best That We Can
Written by Madison Cawein
Illustrated by Helen West Heller

I bought this book for $8 in an online auction, sight-unseen, because the pictures looked really cool. And then I saw it in person and it’s adorable! Physically, it’s 5”x6.5”x0.25” and in not great shape, but uses thick paper to make up for the fact that it’s only 10 pages long — 5 verses of a poem and 5 wood cut illustrations – plus a handful of opening and closing pages.

The illustrations are beautiful woodcuts. It’s going to join Gods’ Man in my small collection of beautiful old illustrated novels.

The poetry is… sweet. It feels like something out of one of the red bound Children’s Hour books. It’s lovely and motivational about doing the best one can and being happy regardless of the results because you did the best you can. The message is how everything will work out in the end if you just do your best. It strikes me as an excellent poem for children.

I just have to remember that it was written at the beginning of the first world war. This is the innocent version of Ayn Rand’s dream world: everyone does their individual best and it’s enough.

In today’s economic climate of corruption, stock prices before product quality, and massive corporations setting employees against one another, the impact of this poem feels more like propaganda against taking the larger view or addressing systemic inequalities and injustices. And, frankly, I suspect that there was both similar propaganda and the need for it in the early 1900s, as well.

But it still is a sweet poem about enjoying the pleasure and pride of a job well worked and I do appreciate that. Plus, just physically adorable as a book. This publisher was like: yes, I will publish a beautiful little book with ten pages!