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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | Maine

Following The Ducklings

We have just returned from a trip to the Boston/Concord area and Maine. It was a bit of a lit­er­ary trip. Three days in Con­cord, Mass­a­chu­setts set the stage as we toured Louisa May Alcott’s house and Ralph Wal­do Emerson’s, too. We fol­lowed The Amble, which became more of A Ram­ble, between Emerson’s home and Thoreau’s cot­tage at Walden Pond. We vis­it­ed muse­ums and archives, book­shops and the library. It all made this Eng­lish major very happy—I’ve want­ed to vis­it Con­cord since my Walden obses­sion in high school.

We made sure to see The Duck­lings in Boston Pub­lic Gar­den, of course. #1 Son had refused to pose with them, as oth­er small chil­dren do, when he was four. He loved Make Way for Duck­lings, how­ev­er, and insist­ed we buy it in Boston since “we only have the library book.” So, of course, we did. (Side Note: If you don’t know the sto­ry about Robert McCloskey’s atten­tion to his art with regard to this book, check out Ani­ta Silvey’s telling of it on Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac.) Dar­ling Daugh­ter was game to pose with The Duck­lings on this trip, but she didn’t want to get in the way of the lit­tle ones who climbed all over them, so we have no pic­tures of either child with this mon­u­ment. But the mere thought of those bronze ducks makes me smile.

What I didn’t real­ize as we stood watch­ing the kids on the ducks, is that we were mere­ly start­ing our Robert McCloskey tour. Our next stop after Boston was Deer Isle, Maine, an island in Penob­scot Bay reached by a stun­ning sus­pen­sion bridge from the main­land. Deer Isle was home to Robert McCloskey, who moved to the idyl­lic island in search of peace after World War II. I had no idea, though I knew he was a Main­er, of course. (So many of my favorite writ­ers are.) Turns out, The McCloskeys raised a fam­i­ly on Deer Isle and we rec­og­nized the place from Blue­ber­ries for Sal, Time of Won­der, and One Morn­ing in Maine.

We had a love­ly stay and enjoyed perus­ing Maine authors in every library, book­store, antique store, and even one gas sta­tion. The McCloskey sec­tions were espe­cial­ly large. It was in an antique store in Ston­ing­ton that I had the delight­ful sur­prise of com­ing across the Hen­ry Reed books in the McCloskey sec­tion. I reached for Hen­ry Reed’s Babysit­ting Ser­vice as if in a dream—it was like time slowed…the sounds around me became distorted…and the movie of my life rewound itself to Parson’s Ele­men­tary school. There was the Hen­ry Reed sec­tion, right in the cor­ner where the shelves came togeth­er in our school’s library….. Hen­ry Reed, Inc., Hen­ry Reed’s Jour­ney, Hen­ry Reed’s Babysit­ting Ser­vice, Hen­ry Reed’s Big Show, Hen­ry Reed’s Think Tank—we had them all! I read them all—many times!

I’d wager I haven’t thought about Hen­ry Reed in near­ly 40 years, how­ev­er. I know I didn’t read these delight­ful books by Kei­th Robert­son with our kids—how could I not have read these with them?! Oh, how I loved Hen­ry and his friend Midge! I can’t remem­ber much about the plots of the books—I paged through Hen­ry Reed’s Babysit­ting Ser­vice stand­ing there in the store and remem­bered it vis­cer­al­ly but with almost no detail. Robert McCloskey illus­trat­ed them—and you can rec­og­nize his style imme­di­ate­ly. I have the Hen­ry Reed books all mixed in with the Ramona Quim­by books—same look and feel (dif­fer­ent illus­tra­tors, as well as authors) and sim­i­lar sto­ries about won­der­ful­ly ordi­nary kids. These books were my child­hood.

Our kids are twen­ty and almost fif­teen now. I won­der if I could con­vince them the Hen­ry Reed series would make for great porch read­ing this sum­mer…? We used to drink lemon­ade and eat pop­corn while we read books on the porch in the hot after­noons of sum­mer wait­ing for Dad to come home from work. I miss this. Maybe they do, too? I feel like I’ve left a ter­ri­ble hole in their read­ing lives by inad­ver­tant­ly skip­ping Hen­ry Reed! I shall pro­cure the books and then sug­gest it. Maybe some­one will join me out on the swing…..

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Coming Home to Safe Harbor

Lake Superior

Phyl­lis: This sum­mer I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to sail for a week in Lake Supe­ri­or, so we are turn­ing our thoughts to books about the sea (includ­ing the great inland sea that bor­ders Min­neso­ta, so vast it makes its own weath­er).  If we can’t go sail­ing right now, we can at least read about it in a fleet of good pic­ture books.

Jack­ie:  And I am a self-con­fessed water gaz­er. I’m not a boater of any kind but I can’t get enough of being next to water, watch­ing and lis­ten­ing.

The Mousehole Cat

Phyl­lis: I can­not tell you how much I love The Mouse­hole Cat by Anto­nia Bar­ber with lumi­nous art by Nico­la Bay­ley.  As many times as I’ve read it, the sto­ry still gives me shiv­ers and makes me want to cry. Mouse­hole (pro­nounced Mowzel by the Cor­nish peo­ple who live there) is a small town where the peo­ple go out every day through the nar­row break­wa­ter open­ing into the ocean to fish for their liv­ing. Old Tom and his cat Mowz­er fish as well, for Mowz­er in par­tic­u­lar is par­tial to a plate of fresh fish. 

One day a ter­ri­ble win­ter storm blows in. “’The Great Storm-Cat is stir­ring,’ thinks Mowz­er,” and although the Great Storm–Cat flings the sea against the break­wa­ter and claws at the har­bor gap, the boats are safe “as mice in their own mouse­hole,” but the peo­ple are hun­gry because no one can go out into the ocean to fish.

Final­ly, on Christ­mas Eve, Old Tom decides he should go out to try to fish, for he can­not stand to see the chil­dren starv­ing at Christ­mas. Mowz­er goes with him, “for he was only a man, she thought, and men were like mice in the paws of the Great Storm-Cat.”

The Mousehole Cat

illus­tra­tion copy­right Nico­la Bay­ley

And it is Mowzer’s singing that dis­tracts the Great Storm-Cat long enough for the boat to escape the har­bor and play out the nets in the ocean. All day Mowz­er sings to the Great Storm-Cat, but she knows he will strike when they run for the har­bor and safe­ty.  As she thinks of the food they might make with the catch they have hauled in, Mowz­er begins to purr, a sound the Great Storm-Cat has not heard since he was a Storm-Kit­ten. They purr togeth­er, the seas calm, and Old Tom and Mowz­er come into the har­bor on the “small­est, tamest Storm-Kit­ten of a wind” where the whole town is wait­ing with lit can­dles to guide them home.  (Even writ­ing this gives me shiv­ers of delight.) 

Every year since then the vil­lage of Mouse­hole is lit with a thou­sand lights at Christ­mas time, “a mes­sage of hope and a safe haven to all those who pass in per­il of the sea.”

Jack­ie: The lit can­dles that guide them home after the adven­ture is such a won­der­ful touch. Don’t we all want to be guid­ed home after a great strug­gle? The plot is so sat­is­fy­ing as well. It’s the small cat that saves them because she begins to purr.  As I was think­ing about Mowzer’s purr I real­ized how calm­ing a cat’s purr is.  I think we all become more relaxed if we have a purring cat on our lap. Same for the Great Storm Cat.

This is a love­ly illus­trat­ed short sto­ry that I think would charm mid­dle graders, as well as pri­ma­ry graders.

Amos and BorisPhyl­lis:  Anoth­er favorite is William Steig’s Amos and Boris, the sto­ry of a mouse who builds a boat, chris­tens it the Rodent, pro­vi­sions it with a delight­ful list of items, and sets sail on the ocean. Amos is less lucky than Old Tom and Mowz­er; one night, gaz­ing at the vast and star­ry sky while lying on his boat, he rolls over­board, and the Rodent in full sail bowls along with­out him. Amos man­ages to stay afloat through the night, lead­ing to one of my favorite com­fort­ing lines in all of pic­ture books: “Morn­ing came, as it always does.” And with morn­ing comes Boris the whale, just as Amos’s strength is fail­ing. Boris gives Amos a ride home by whale­back, and on the week­long jour­ney they become “the clos­est pos­si­ble friends.”

Jack­ie: I just love that!

Phyl­lis:  When they near shore, Amos thanks Boris and offers his help if Boris ever needs it, which amus­es Boris. He can’t imag­ine how a lit­tle mouse could ever help him.

Amos and Boris by William Steig

illus­tra­tion copy­right William Steig

Years pass. Hur­ri­cane Yet­ta flings Boris ashore right by Amos’s house. Boris will die unless he gets back in the water, and Amos runs off to get help: two ele­phants who roll the whale back into the ocean while Amos stands on one of their heads, yelling instruc­tions that no one can hear. Soon Boris is afloat again, whale tears rolling down his cheeks. Know­ing they might nev­er meet again, the friends say a tear­ful good-bye, know­ing, too, that they will always remem­ber each oth­er.

In anoth­er writer’s hands, I might make some com­ment about the con­ve­nient “ele­phants ex machi­na” that Amos finds, but I accept it com­plete­ly here, because Steig makes me believe. And cry, again.

Jack­ie: There is so much to love in this sto­ry. First, the list of items: cheese, bis­cuits, acorns, hon­ey, wheat germ [Steig must have includ­ed wheat germ because he liked the sound. Wheat germ?] fresh water, a com­pass, a sex­tant, a tele­scope, a saw, a ham­mer and nails and some wood, … a nee­dle and thread for the mend­ing of torn sails and var­i­ous oth­er neces­si­ties such as ban­dages and iodine, a yo-yo and play­ing cards.” I just love the notion of a mouse on a boat prac­tic­ing his yo-yo tricks. And I think read­ers will be called to ask them­selves what they might find essen­tial for a sea jour­ney.

And I’m admir­ing of the nuanced way Steig moves the plot along. Amos doesn’t roll off the boat because he falls asleep, or because a high wind blows him off. He falls off because he is “over­whelmed by the beau­ty and mys­tery of every­thing.” His own capac­i­ty for awe is what caus­es the prob­lem.

You have talked about the won­der­ful back and forth of help­ing between Amos and Boris. I want to men­tion, too, Boris’s won­der­ful voice. When the mouse meets the whale, he says. “’I’m a mouse, which is a mam­mal, the high­est form of life. I live on land.’

Holy clam and cut­tle­fish!’ said the whale. I’m a mam­mal myself, though I live in the sea. Call me Boris,’ he added.” [A lit­tle nod to “Call me Ish­mael?”]

Some­times good luck hap­pens. When the worst looks inevitable, fate inter­venes. And some­times fate gives us life-sav­ing ele­phants. They are such a relief. And so out­landish. It’s as if Steig is say­ing, “I’m the author. I can do this.”

Little Tim and the Brave Sea CaptainPhyl­lis:  Edward Ardiz­zone wrote and illus­trat­ed a series of eleven books about Lit­tle Tim, who goes to sea, begin­ning with Lit­tle Tim and The Brave Sea Cap­tain and end­ing with Tim’s Last Voy­age. We loved these books when my chil­dren were grow­ing up, and we still do. Vis­it this site so you can hear a sam­ple of Lit­tle Tim and The Brave Sea Cap­tain read aloud and see Ardizzone’s won­der­ful art. 

Jack­ie:  I love the lan­guage of this book: “’Some­times Tim would aston­ish his par­ents by say­ing, ’That’s a Cunarder’ or ‘Look at that bar­quen­tine on the port bow.’” [I want to say that again and again.] When his par­ents say he is much too young to go to sea, Tim is “so sad that he resolved, at the first oppor­tu­ni­ty, to run away to sea.”

Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain

illus­tra­tion copy­right Edward Ardiz­zone

But best of all, I had the sense through­out this sto­ry that the sto­ry­teller was going to give me a won­der­ful yarn and that, with or with­out ele­phants, Lit­tle Tim was going to get through this adven­ture safe­ly.

Keep the Lights Burning, AbbiePhyl­lis:  Keep the Lights Burn­ing, Abbie by Peter and Con­nie Roop is a book for those who pass in per­il of the sea. Based on the true sto­ry of 16-year old Abbie Burgess, whose father was the light­house keep­er on Matini­cus Rock off the coast of Maine, the book tells how Abbie’s father heads out one morn­ing to get much need­ed sup­plies from Matini­cus Island and is storm-bound there for weeks before he can return. Abbie takes care of her three younger sis­ters and her ail­ing moth­er and “keeps the lights burn­ing” so that ships can pass safe­ly by. She lights the lamps, scrapes ice off the win­dows so the lights can be seen, trims wicks, cleans lamps, fills them with oil, and saves her chick­ens when waves threat­en to wash them away, all until her father can safe­ly sail back to the light­house. A won­der­ful strong char­ac­ter for girls and boys to know about.

Jack­ie:  There is some­thing so allur­ing about light­hous­es and islands. I won­der how many kids have fan­tasies of liv­ing in a light­house on an island. I sure did. I real­ly enjoyed the mat­ter-of-fact tone of this sto­ry. As Abbie is first light­ing the lamps a match blows out, but the next one doesn’t, nor the next and she goes on to light them all, night after night for a month. No dra­ma, just a telling of what she did. No dra­ma but touch­ing emo­tion at the end when we learn that her father was watch­ing for those lights every night as evi­dence that his fam­i­ly was still there. That detail almost made me tear up.

In a Village by the SeaPhyl­lis:  We could sail on through sea sto­ry after sea sto­ry. A more recent book, In a Vil­lage by the Sea by Muon Van is a ele­gant­ly sim­ple and love­ly sto­ry that begins, “In a fish­ing vil­lage by the sea there is a small house.” Each page moves clos­er in, from the house to the kitchen to the fire to a pot of soup to a woman watch­ing the soup to a sleepy child to a dusty hole in the floor where a crick­et is hum­ming and paint­ing a pic­ture of a fish­er­man in his storm-tossed boat hop­ing for the storm to end so that he can return to his vil­lage by the sea where in a small house, his fam­i­ly waits for him to come home. April Chu’s beau­ti­ful art con­cludes the book with the crick­et paint­ing a pic­ture of that fish­er­man and his boat sail­ing home into a calm har­bor.

Jack­ie:  This book is so art­ful and so sat­is­fy­ing in the way we cir­cle in on the sto­ry and then cir­cle back out. And I agree about April Chu’s illus­tra­tions. They are won­der­ful­ly expres­sive. I almost expect the dog to talk.

In a Village by the Sea

illus­tra­tion copy­right April Chu

Thanks for choos­ing these books, Phyl­lis. I’m sit­ting at my desk on a qui­et, cloudy day but feel as if I have been on adven­tures. My head is stretched, and I look at my house and yard with new appre­ci­a­tion. The sea, or sto­ries about the sea, take us out of our lives, our kitchens, toss us around a bit, and with hope and help—and occa­sion­al elephants—bring us back home, where, as Lit­tle Tim might say, we are ever so glad for warmth and choco­late.

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Borrowed Magic”

Thir­teen years.  The project I began in 2003 has had that many birth­days.  It occu­pies two large crates in my office.  It has dom­i­nat­ed my life, involv­ing trav­el, research, read­ing.  It has spawned four ver­sions, each drag­ging mul­ti­ple drafts.  Rejec­tions span ten years.

Nobody, it seems, wants this book.  “Kids won’t be inter­est­ed.”  The sub­ject, Mar­garet Wise Brown, would find this fun­ny.  I am not amused, espe­cial­ly since it was Mar­garet her­self who demand­ed (she’s not the ask­ing type) that I tell her sto­ry.

Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the MoonThe jour­ney began in 1992 when I read Leonard Mar­cus’ biog­ra­phy, Mar­garet Wise Brown: Awak­ened by the Moon.  I re-read that book every night for eight years.  Clear­ly some­thing was awak­en­ing in me: a fas­ci­na­tion with Margaret’s sto­ry and the desire to write for the very young.  In 2003, I gave in to Margaret’s insis­tence and start­ed research­ing.

Tan­gled up in Margaret’s sto­ry is my own, both writ­ers for chil­dren, though our back­grounds are vast­ly dif­fer­ent.  No mat­ter what genre I work in—picture books, mid­dle grade, nonfiction—I always draw upon my own life.  But because my youngest years were trau­mat­ic, I nev­er could reach my three-year-old self.  Writ­ing for the very young elud­ed me.  Mar­garet made it look so easy.  She wrote Good­night Moon in bed one morn­ing and lit­er­al­ly phoned it in to her edi­tor.

little island 1 webEar­li­er this year, I was asked to speak and give a work­shop on Vinal­haven Island, Maine, where Mar­garet had owned a sum­mer house, in August.  I accept­ed, but decid­ed my Mar­garet book would stay in the crates.  I would not res­ur­rect a failed project.

Days before my flight, Mar­garet beck­oned once more.  A whole week on Vinal­haven!  A rare chance to see Only House!  How could I pass up that oppor­tu­ni­ty?  I dug out the crates and pored over my notes and drafts, let­ting Mar­garet fill my soul again.

On the fer­ry to the Island, I prayed for a new way into my sto­ry.  Would I be able to bor­row some of Margaret’s mag­ic from her spe­cial place?

I vis­it­ed Only House.  I sat on Margaret’s dock.  I gazed at the lit­tle pine-topped island she made famous in The Lit­tle Island and wait­ed for light­ning to strike.

mwb house 1 webAt Only House, Mar­garet lived a “cat life,” just being.  I only had a week, not enough time to “be.”  But I fell in love with Vinal­haven, just as she had.  Wak­ing to the country’s first sun­ris­es.  Ospreys glid­ing over the rental house I stayed in.  But­ter­flies work­ing tan­sy and this­tle.  Lob­ster boats dot­ting the bay.  Once, the call of a late-night loon.

Dur­ing Margaret’s first sum­mer there, she wrote to a friend, “Life goes on in Tran­si­tion.  This sum­mer it is bet­ter than it has been in a long time, and still [things hang] in the bal­ance.”

One night, I watched a full moon climb over the cove.  I turned off the bed­room lamp and noticed glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceil­ing.  My effort to tell Margaret’s sto­ry one more time was fal­ter­ing.  She had been inspired by the real moon.  I only had past­ed-on stars that shined from bor­rowed light as my guide.

mwb gravestoneThe next day, I stood at Margaret’s grave site up the hill from Only House.  She had died sud­den­ly at the age of 42 and her fiancé had scat­tered her ash­es at the place she loved best. The gran­ite mark­er is inscribed with a quote from The Lit­tle Island.

Life is always in tran­si­tion. Any moment bal­ance can be tipped. Mar­garet may have found mag­ic here, but she still did the work in the short time allot­ted to her.

And so will I.


 
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Gifted: Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table

Farmer Will Allen and the Grow­ing Table writ­ten by Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin illus­trat­ed by Eric-Shabazz Larkin after­word by Will Allen Read­ers to Eaters, 2013 Intro­duc­tion My sec­ond pas­sion in life after books and read­ing is sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture and organ­ic farm­ing. There are a few good books for chil­dren on this top­ic, but I’m always delight­ed […]

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