Big Green Pocketbook
In which Candice F. Ransom takes a look at American children’s magazines from 1789 to today.
The title of this essay comes from a dream I had last night, its memory and meaning caught between mysterious dreamtime and awakening in this harsh end-of-summer world. I was never a wild pony.
I sat on a rusted swing hung from an I beam in our basement with a heavy book on my lap. I was ten and lonely because my only sister had left home a year earlier.
Long ago, on windy, wintry nights, I’d look out the window by my bed as trees shifted for a glimpse of a light deep in the woods. The yellow light — on and off as the wind tossed — kept me up late, wondering. We had no neighbors on the other side of our woods.
How long does it take to write and have a nonfiction picture book published? A few years? Five? How about nineteen?
Each morning, when I can, I walk two and a half miles. I walk for exercise because I write most of the day. But mainly I walk to listen for stories.
It had been years since I last visited the home of my heart, the only place where I can breathe freely. Conicville is in Shenandoah County in the Valley of Virginia, bordered by the Allegheny Mountains. It consists of a church, a cemetery, and a scattering of houses and farms. In 2012, I traveled to meet my 98-year-old cousin. His farm
Working on my magical realism middle-grade novel, I realized I couldn’t visualize where my story is located. I could describe immediate buildings, but the landscape was blank. If I couldn’t see it, neither could a reader.
When fairy tale characters step into the woods, they are beset by tests, yet are stronger by the time they find their way out. At the beginning of 2021, I wandered in a deep, dark woods because, as Bruno Bettelheim warns in The Uses of Enchantment, it’s where you go after losing the framework which gives structure to your life.
I hadn’t written in months. Yet each morning, during that misty period between sleep and wakefulness, ideas popped into my mind. In the cold winter light, though, those ideas were revealed as withered and drab. Covid stole more than concentration and motivation. It robbed me of wonder.
This year, Hal Borland’s Book of Days migrates upstairs with me to read during my afternoon rest and before bed. It’s a daily journal beginning January 1, written from his farm in rural Connecticut, meant to help him answer the questions: Who am I? Where am I? What time is it? At 68, I ask those questions, too. Borland’s entries mix mid-70s science with New England lore, his natural observations of the seasons with his own quiet musings.
January 6: Frost flowers fascinate me. They are related to frost ferns, those intricate patterns that formed on windowpanes before we slept in heated bedrooms. Frost ferns were indoor plants, created by the humidity in the room. Frost flowers are wildlings, outdoor grows created by humidity in the starlight.
When I was ten, I wanted to be a detective-veterinarian-artist-writer-ballet dancer. Never mind I couldn’t stay up late, stand the sight of blood, or ever had a single dance lesson. Ten-year-olds view the world as limitless. When I was a teenager, my dreams shifted to more specific: a writer of children’s books and an animator for Walt Disney Studios.
In Wildness is the preservation of the World. ~ Henry David Thoreau It’s rare a children’s book changes you when you’re an adult. I don’t mean fleeting Harry Potter/Team Edward crossover fandom, but genuine change (as with Watership Down). I was nearly 30 when Jane Langton’s book The Fledgling was published in 1980. At that stage of my
My first inkling there was a thing called children’s literature came at a yard sale. I picked up a thick green textbook, Children’s Literature in the Elementary School, by Charlotte S. Huck. I marveled at the idea that people discussed and studied the books I loved and planned to write, that children’s books were literature, like Moby Dick. I was eighteen, one
As a kid, I couldn’t wait until the first day of school — a fresh beginning, when the heat and green of summer make way for red plaid bookbags and corduroy jumpers.