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Enchanted Points of Entry

Only House, Margaret Wise Brown

Little Island by Margaret Wise BrownMy first glimpse of Mar­garet Wise Brown’s house on Vinal­haven Island, Maine, was from a boat. It topped a gran­ite slope, clap­board sid­ing paint­ed the same gray-blue as the sparkling Hur­ri­cane Sound. I was so excit­ed I near­ly fell over­board. We’d just passed the Lit­tle Island that Mar­garet had made famous in her Calde­cott-win­ning book and I’d spot­ted a seal doz­ing on the rocks.

Margaret’s Only House was not the only house on that end of the island, but it was to me. I’d been work­ing on a biog­ra­phy of Brown and was look­ing for the real Mar­garet. My pil­grim­age to Only House was pro­fes­sion­al, pri­ma­ry research. I came to Margaret’s work as an adult and placed her in her house, not myself as a child in the fic­tion­al site of one of her books.

I was not a Pot­ter fan clam­or­ing to find Plat­form 9 ¾ at King’s Cross sta­tion, or some­one with fond mem­o­ries of Eloise scop­ing out the lob­by of the Plaza. As a kid, I longed to see Sleep­y­side-on-the-Hud­son, the fic­tion­al set­ting of my beloved Trix­ie Belden mys­ter­ies, because I believed it was real. Recent­ly I learned the vil­lage was real, based on Ossin­ing, New York, where the author had lived.

Each year, thou­sands tour lit­er­ary hous­es such as the Bronte Par­son­age in York­shire or Hemingway’s home in Key West. When I went to Con­cord, Mass­a­chu­setts, I wad­ed in Walden Pond in hon­or of Thore­au, an author I admire as an adult. I think it requires a dif­fer­ent mind-set to vis­it the fic­tion­al sites of favorite children’s books and come away sat­is­fied.

If you loved the Anne of Green Gables books, a trip to Prince Edward Island may dis­ap­point with its bus­loads of tourists and mod­ern inter­pre­tive exhibits. How­ev­er, chil­dren still read­ing those books might eager­ly embrace fic­tion and real­i­ty in that lim­i­nal space, thrilled to see Anne’s tiny bed­room with her stock­ings draped over the bed­stead. Schol­ars main­tain that when chil­dren vis­it lit­er­ary sites, the expe­ri­ence enhances re-read­ings of those books.

The Wilder LifeBut how do adults fare on these jour­neys? I loved Wendy McClure’s The Wilder Life: My Adven­tures in the Lost World of Lit­tle House on the Prairie. The Lit­tle House books McClure devoured as a child car­ried her to new places, new sights, new adven­tures. She found in those land­scapes “enchant­ed points of entry into a fan­ta­sy world,” as Nico­la Wat­son writes in The Lit­er­ary Tourist.

McClure craved to churn but­ter and play with a corn­cob doll. She imag­ined help­ing Laura—magically trans­port­ed to the 1970s—on the esca­la­tors of North River­side Mall. Then, like so many of us, she grew up and left her child­hood book friend behind. After the death of her moth­er, McClure re-read the books and decid­ed to trace Laura’s path, home­stead by home­stead.

The Wilder Life con­cludes with McClure remem­ber­ing the dif­fer­ent hous­es her moth­er, who grew up in a move-every-few-years-mil­i­tary fam­i­ly, tracked down on sum­mer vaca­tions. “I … thought of Lau­ra, too, of one lit­tle house after anoth­er form­ing the sto­ry of a life.” At last she declared to her patient hus­band that they were done Lau­ra-jaunt­ing. Home was with him, she real­ized. Time to re-enter the sto­ry of their life togeth­er.

Misty of ChincoteagueSarah Maslin Nir recounts a dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ence in her New York Times arti­cle, “All the Pret­ty Ponies.” Grow­ing up “most­ly horse­less” in New York City, she trav­eled to Chin­coteague Island, Vir­ginia, on the trail of Mar­guerite Henry’s Misty of Chin­coteague. Misty had “stoked [her] eques­tri­an fan­tasies as a girl. Maslin Nir arrived dur­ing Pony-Pen­ning Days, when the wild hors­es swim from Assateague Island to Chin­coteague to be auc­tioned, a tra­di­tion dat­ing from 1925 to thin the herd and raise funds for the fire depart­ment.

She sat on her hands dur­ing the auc­tion to keep from bid­ding on adorable, shag­gy ponies. Then she vis­it­ed the Muse­um of Chin­coteague Island and saw taxi­der­mied Misty on dis­play. The expe­ri­ence was “crush­ing.” When she learned that Misty had nev­er been a wild pony, she knew “the crea­ture Hen­ry had con­jured on the page had nev­er real­ly lived.” She bought a copy of Misty of Chin­coteague as a sou­venir of her trip, pre­fer­ring her child­hood ver­sion to real­i­ty.

Diamond in the WindowWhen we as adults try to repos­sess a fic­tion­al land­scape that meant every­thing to us as chil­dren, we risk tram­pling the enchant­ed point of entry. On my trip to Con­cord, I was sore­ly tempt­ed. Not only is Con­cord the home of Emer­son, Thore­au, and the Alcotts, it was also the set­ting of my favorite child­hood book, The Dia­mond in the Win­dow, by Jane Lang­ton. The neo-Goth­ic house depict­ed on the cov­er was on 148 Walden Street. I could go there. I could take a pic­ture!

The lure was pow­er­ful. But I know that won­der­ful old hous­es were often parceled into apart­ments, added on to, changed. I didn’t couldn’t bear to see Eric Blegvad’s 1961 illus­tra­tion marred by the 21st cen­tu­ry.

In his 1935 trav­el mem­oir, In Search of Eng­land, H.V. Mor­ton climbed the rock steps to Tin­tagel, the rumored birth­place of King Arthur, even though he felt the cas­tle “was one of those places which no man should see.” Tin­tagel wasn’t the gaunt rocky ruins, but “a coun­try of dreams more real than real­i­ty.” Exact­ly so.

Not every­thing has to be seen, not every speck of curios­i­ty must be sat­is­fied, espe­cial­ly in a world where Google pro­vides the answer to any­thing. I remem­bered my first read­ing of Dia­mond, that sin­gu­lar moment when my imag­i­na­tion sprout­ed wings and I soared into the clouds. I didn’t go to 148 Walden Street. I would not ruin the mem­o­ry.

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Vera’s Story Garden

Ver­a’s Sto­ry Gar­den Estab­lished
as a Lit­er­ary Land­mark by Unit­ed for Libraries May 4, 2019

by Mary Paige Lang-Clouse, Direc­tor
Ethel­bert B. Craw­ford Pub­lic Library
Mon­ti­cel­lo NY

Vera B. Williams

Vera B. Williams

I met Vera B. Williams in the ear­ly 2000s while work­ing at the pub­lic library in Nar­rows­burg, N.Y. It should come as no sur­prise to any­one that knew her that Vera didn’t waste any time iden­ti­fy­ing and using her local pub­lic library. She offered sev­er­al pro­grams at that library for chil­dren as well as shar­ing her wis­dom about writ­ing and illus­trat­ing books for chil­dren with the youth ser­vices librar­i­ans of the Ramapo Catskill Library Sys­tem (RCLS), the pub­lic library sys­tem serv­ing all the Sul­li­van, Orange, and Rock­land Coun­ty pub­lic libraries as well as a few in Ulster Coun­ty. I think Vera was very gen­er­ous to the libraries in her com­mu­ni­ty large­ly because she rec­og­nized their val­ue and she chose to live hers.

Home at LastThe cre­ation of the Sto­ry Gar­den as a Lit­er­ary Land­mark along­side the Ethel­bert B. Craw­ford Pub­lic Library in Mon­ti­cel­lo, N.Y., will serve as a last­ing lega­cy to Vera B. Williams, her sto­ries and illus­tra­tions, and to the inspi­ra­tion she gave to the chil­dren she wrote them for. Unit­ed for Libraries, a divi­sion of the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion with a mis­sion to sup­port those who gov­ern, pro­mote, advo­cate, and fund raise for all types of libraries, accept­ed the appli­ca­tion of the library for its sto­ry gar­den to be des­ig­nat­ed as a Lit­er­ary Land­mark in hon­or of the con­tri­bu­tions to children’s lit­er­a­ture made by Vera B. Williams dur­ing her life­time and in Sul­li­van Coun­ty. Williams’ last book, Home at Last, was one she worked on col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly with Chris Rasch­ka from her home in Nar­rows­burg until her death in Octo­ber, 2015. It was our good for­tune that Vera B. Williams chose to live the last 15 years of her life in Sul­li­van Coun­ty and that she was no stranger to the pub­lic libraries in her com­mu­ni­ty.

Vera gave back. She did a school vis­it at the Robert J. Kaiser Mid­dle School in Mon­ti­cel­lo, much like the many she’d done dur­ing her years liv­ing down in Brook­lyn. That vis­it made a last­ing impres­sion on both the stu­dents and teach­ers. She also gen­er­ous­ly donat­ed an antique library chair she designed for a fundrais­ing auc­tion the Friends of the Ethel­bert B. Craw­ford Pub­lic Library held back in 2011 dur­ing a cel­e­bra­tion of the library’s 75th Anniver­sary. I’m hap­py to report that that chair sits in the library of a pub­lic school in Orange Coun­ty, N.Y.

Vera's Story Garden

A Chair for My MotherWhen plans for the new library were get­ting under­way there was a desire to have a “big, fat, com­fort­able, won­der­ful chair”—like the one in Ms. Williams’ Calde­cott Hon­or book, A Chair for My Moth­er—in the new children’s room—for peo­ple to cozy up togeth­er in and read but there wasn’t room for a chair of such grandeur there. Instead one was built—outside—in what became Vera’s Sto­ry Gar­den. Our land­scap­er got cre­ative and, with the help of a local mosa­ic artist, our chair became a real­i­ty. The idea to estab­lish a Lit­er­ary Land­mark was put in my head by the youth ser­vices con­sul­tant at RCLS at that time, Ran­dall Enos. I am so glad he did—and how fit­ting that we were able to receive this won­der­ful des­ig­na­tion dur­ing the 100th Anniver­sary of Children’s Book Week. I think Vera would have been pleased.

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Skinny Dip with Eric Rohmann

 

Today we wel­come author, illus­tra­tor, and Calde­cott medal­ist Eric Rohmann to Bookol­o­gy. He agreed to give us the skin­ny on sev­er­al top­ics of vital impor­tance.

Which celebri­ty, liv­ing or not, do you wish would invite you to a cof­fee shop?

Dar­win, New­ton, William Blake … and so many oth­ers I’ll need a big cof­fee shop.

Which book do you find your­self rec­om­mend­ing pas­sion­ate­ly?

The Lost CarvingLate­ly, The Lost Carv­ing by David Ester­ly.

What’s your favorite late-night snack?

Pop­corn.

Favorite city to vis­it?

Vien­na, New York, Paris, Madrid, Sin­ga­pore … still gonna need a big cof­fee house in each one.

Most cher­ished child­hood mem­o­ry?

Trav­el­ing in the Amer­i­can west.

First date?

Some­time in the fog of High School.

Illustrator’s work you most admire?

Like a per­son could name just one!

red mug of coffeeTea? Cof­fee? Milk? Soda? What’s your favorite go-to drink?

Cof­fee.

Favorite sea­son of the year? Why?

Autumn. Clear, cool, and col­or­ful.

What’s your dream vaca­tion?

The next one I have planned … so many places to see!

What gives you shiv­ers?

Good shiv­ers: watch­ing dogs run, Bad shiv­ers: con­ser­v­a­tive talk radio.

Morn­ing per­son? Night per­son?

Morn­ing.

Paint­ing you could look at again and again.

Bosch’s Gar­den of Earth­ly Delights; any Rem­brandt self-por­trait; Cezanne’s apples; Delacroix’s The Death of Sar­danopo­lus … lots of wall space in the cof­fee shop!

gr_garden_of_earthly_delights

Hierony­mus Bosch, The Gar­den of Earth­ly Delights

What’s your hid­den tal­ent?

I can cook well, a lit­tle.

Milk DudsYour favorite can­dy as a kid …

Milk Duds.

Is Plu­to a plan­et?

Is Bron­tosaurus real­ly just a big Apatosaurus?

What’s the strangest tourist attrac­tion you’ve vis­it­ed?

Haw Par Vil­la in Sin­ga­pore.

Har Paw Villa

Har Paw Vil­la

Broth­er and sis­ters or an only child? How did that shape your life?

Broth­er and sis­ter. Good: I was nev­er alone. Bad: I was nev­er alone.

Best tip for liv­ing a con­tent­ed life?

Be curi­ous.

Your hope for the world?

Wish­ing for any­thing but peace would just be self­ish.

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Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming

There is a sil­ly debate tak­ing place about whether adults who read children’s books, includ­ing young adult books, are infan­tile and should have their driver’s licens­es revoked because they’re obvi­ous­ly not mature enough to play dodge ‘em cars on the free­way and text while their two thou­sand pound vehi­cle hur­tles down the road. Grown up, […]

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