Signs and Symbols Around the World, by Elizabeth S. Helfman

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Hieroglyphic writing included many signs that can be called pictographs. They are simplified pictures of things, some of them quite recognizable. But hieroglyphic writing was not picture writing in the same sense as American Indian picture writing. It was more than that, and it was much more complex.

Elizabeth S. Helfman (1911-2001) was my second cousin once removed. Her maiden name was Seaver and her father, my grandmother’s first cousin, was a well-known architect in western Massachusetts. She was trained as a teacher, and married an artist; she wrote a load of non-fiction books for younger readers, and also published one fantasy short story in 1987, which got a couple of best-of anthology reprints.

This is her top book on LibraryThing, due no doubt to a reprint in 2000, and was easy enough to get hold of. It’s a breezy account of how signs and symbols have been used from ancient times to the present day (ie 1973), going through hieroglyphs, pictograms, trademarks, alchemy, and her own particular enthusiasm, Blissymbolics, a writing system designed for people with communication difficulties (simple enough, but alas too advanced for my own daughters). The book is endorsed by Margaret Mead, yes, the real one. You can get it here.

Probably nobody else will do this, so here is her complete bibliography as far as I can establish it from the Library of Congress.

  • Trudy, the motherly hen; illustrated by Grace Paull (New York: J. Messner [1954])
  • Patsy Pat, a duck’s story. Photographed by Grete Mannheim (New York: Dutton, 1958)
  • Get ready to read (New York: Platt & Munk [1960])
  • Words, words, words; picture stories, rhymes and word games to build vocabulary in the early school years (New York: Platt & Munk [1960])
  • Water for the world, illustrated by James MacDonald (New York: Longmans, Green, 1960)
  • Land, people, and history (New York: D. McKay Co., 1962)
  • Milkman Freddy, illustrated by Zhenya Gay (Chicago: Melmont Publishers [1964])
  • Rivers and watersheds in America’s future (New York: D. McKay Co., 1965)
  • Strings on your fingers; how to make string figures, by Harry and Elizabeth Helfman, illustrated by William Meyerriecks (New York: William Morrow, 1965)
  • Signs and symbols around the world (New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co. [1967])
  • Wheels, scoops, and buckets; how people lift water for their fields, illustrated by Eva Cellini (New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard [1968])
  • Celebrating nature; rites and ceremonies around the world, with drawings by Carolyn Cather (New York: Seabury Press [1969])
  • This hungry world (New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard [1970])
  • The Bushmen and their stories, with drawings by Richard Cuffari (New York: Seabury Press [1971])
  • Our fragile earth (New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co. [1972])
  • Maypoles and wood demons; the meaning of trees, with drawings by Richard Cuffari (New York: Seabury Press [1972])
  • Signs and symbols of the sun (New York: Seabury Press [1974])
  • Apples, apples, apples (Nashville: T. Nelson, ?1977)
  • Blissymbolics, speaking without speech (New York: Elsevier/Nelson Books, ?1980)
  • Memories and shadows (South Thomaston, Maine: Produced in association with the Conservatory of American Letters and Northwoods Press, ?1990)
  • On being Sarah; illustrated by Lino Saffioti (Morton Grove, Ill.: A. Whitman, 1993)

And her one fantasy story, “Voices in the Wind”, which can be found in the following anthologies:

  • Spaceships and Spells, eds. Martin H. Greenberg, Charles G. Waugh, Jane Yolen (1987)
  • Demons and Dreams: The Best Fantasy and Horror 1 aka The Year’s Best Fantasy: First Annual Collection, eds. Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling (1988)
  • Visions of Fantasy: Tales from the Masters, eds. Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (1989)

I’m very grateful to her son Robert Helfman for pointing me to these.

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