Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Is It a Classic?

by Vic­ki Palmquist

Loretta Mason PottsWhen I was in my twen­ties, I worked at an archi­tec­ture firm. Sev­er­al of the archi­tects were fas­ci­nat­ed by my deep con­nec­tion to children’s books. One day, one of them asked me, “Which books, being pub­lished now, will become clas­sics?” That ques­tion has stuck with me, hold­ing up a sign­post every now and then. How does one pre­dict a clas­sic?

When­ev­er some­one asks which books were favorites from my own child­hood (#book­sthathooked), sev­er­al books push them­selves to the fore­front—A Wrin­kle in Time, Lord of the Rings, and Loret­ta Mason Potts. That last title always caus­es a “huh?” Peo­ple, gen­er­al­ly, are unfa­mil­iar with this book.

The next ques­tion is always, “what’s it about?” Here’s the thing: I couldn’t answer that ques­tion. I didn’t remem­ber a thing about the book except its title. What I remem­bered was the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the read­ing of that book, the way it made me feel.

In sixth grade, I had a teacher, Gor­don Rausch, who changed my life. He showed me pos­si­bil­i­ties. He believed in me. He made learn­ing and research fun. I was often bored in school, but nev­er in his class. Every day was a new adven­ture. What I remem­ber most is that he read books out loud to the whole class. I remem­ber Pip­pi Long­stock­ing. I remem­ber A Wrin­kle in Time. But he also read Loret­ta Mason Potts to us.

As far as I can recall, he was the only teacher I had who ever read books out loud. Our class had its share of bul­lies and atten­tion-get­ters. No one inter­rupt­ed his read­ing of a book. His choic­es were good, his read­ing skills were exem­plary, and he always knew where to end, leav­ing us crav­ing more.

Loret­ta Mason Potts was writ­ten by Mary Chase and pub­lished in 1958. Thanks to The New York Review Children’s Col­lec­tion, you can read this fine book, too. They reprint­ed it in 2014. I’ve just re-read it and once again I under­stand why it springs to mind as my favorite.

Mary Chase lived in Den­ver. She died in 1981. You may know her because of anoth­er one of her books, Har­vey, which won a Pulitzer Prize and became a movie star­ring Jim­my Stew­art. If you know Har­vey, you will under­stand that the writer has a fan­tas­ti­cal imag­i­na­tion and a good wit. Both of those are evi­dent in Loret­ta Mason Potts.

It’s a charm­ing mix­ture of a Tam Lin sto­ry and a Snow Queen sto­ry, cen­ter­ing on a fam­i­ly of chil­dren, their moth­er, and their long-lost eldest sis­ter, told in a way that will reach into the heart and mind of a child. It has naughty chil­dren, ensor­celled chil­dren, a car­ing but some­what clue­less moth­er, a mys­te­ri­ous bridge, and a cas­tle occu­pied by the bored Count­ess and Gen­er­al, who hov­er on the precipice of dan­ger.

I am so glad that this book is illus­trat­ed. It was the first book pub­lished with Harold Berson’s black-and-white line draw­ings. He would go on to illus­trate anoth­er 90 books.

There are a grow­ing num­ber of titles in the New York Review Children’s Col­lec­tion. I have sev­er­al of them and would put every one of them on my book­shelves if I could. The selec­tion of these books is enchant­i­ng. Do you remem­ber read­ing Esther Averill’s Jen­ny and the Cat Club? How about Dino Buzzati’s The Bears’ Famous Inva­sion of Sici­ly? Or Lucre­tia P. Hale’s The Peterkin Papers? (I had for­got­ten all about this book until I saw it on their booklist—I loved that book.) Or Wee Gillis by Munro Leaf and Robert Law­son?

New York Review of Books Children's Collection

Are these books clas­sics? This, I think, is the inter­est­ing ques­tion. What is a clas­sic? These books are being pub­lished once again … so they’ve with­stood the test of time. Although the writ­ing is some­what quaint, they still hold up as sto­ries that will inter­est a mod­ern read­er. Loret­ta Mason Potts is a book that has lived on in my mind for decades. I won­der if the oth­er stu­dents in my sixth grade class remem­ber it in the same way.

Which books pub­lished today will become clas­sics? It’s a ques­tion worth dis­cussing, isn’t it?

5 Responses to Is It a Classic?

  1. David LaRochelle November 6, 2015 at 4:35 pm #

    I’m glad that LORETTA MASON POTTS didn’t dis­ap­point you in your reread­ing. Some­times I’m afraid to revis­it a child­hood clas­sic for fear that it won’t live up to my fond mem­o­ries. And thank you for intro­duc­ing me to the word “ensor­celled” (my spellcheck doesn’t rec­og­nize it, but I found it in the online dic­tio­nary!).

    • Vicki Palmquist November 7, 2015 at 1:25 pm #

      I know what you mean about being afraid to re-read a book, David. I was so dis­ap­point­ed with The Five Lit­tle Pep­pers and How They Grew. I couldn’t, in good con­science, rec­om­mend that to a kid today. And yet I loved the big, hap­py fam­i­ly as a kid. And PHEW about find­ing “ensor­celled” in the dic­tio­nary. I con­fess that I some­times make up words.

  2. Lynne Jonell November 10, 2015 at 10:32 am #

    Loret­ta Mason Potts is now on my queue at the library… thanks for the rec­om­men­da­tion! An all time favorite of mine from child­hood, that has stood the test of re-read­ing as an adult, is North to Free­dom by Anne Holm (trans­lat­ed from the Dan­ish.) There was a hor­ri­ble movie ver­sion of it, called I Am David, which still annoys me– so don’t judge the book by the movie. The book is won­der­ful.

    • Vicki Palmquist November 10, 2015 at 11:46 am #

      I don’t know North to Free­dom, Lynne. I’ll go put it on MY queue at the library. Hope I find it there.

  3. Norma Gaffron January 15, 2016 at 9:20 am #

    To David,
    Me, too. I was tak­en with ensor­celled. It’s one of those words that you under­stand from the con­text, but look up any­way!
    Nor­ma Gaffron

    And Hi to Lynne, I enjoy hear­ing thoughts from writer friends by way of oth­er people’s blogs, etc.

    A pros­per­ous 2016 to all children’s writ­ers every­where…
    Nor­ma G.

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