November 30, 2004

Post #1792 – 20041130

I haven’t seen the new book (W & the W’s) you talked about on the Saturday NPR show, but I don’t see how it could be better than the one I grew up with. I don’t remember the illustrator’s name but the pix were wonderful-sweet but not sickening, beautiful, but not too precious). It made me sad that you only knew Disney as a child and didn’t discover the real thing until you were an adult because it’s one of those books that a child can get completely lost in. I remember as a child weeping for Mole (my favorite); I can’t remember exactly why, but Ratty had somehow inadvertently hurt his feelings. Everyone but me seems to like Toad the best, but he annoyed me to no end. Do you think he was manic-depressive? If Lithium had been around then, what would have happened to the gang? May I suggest some other books you may not know that were also magic for me as a child? There was a boy’s series called “Secretary Hawkins” about a group of boys, circa 1930, who had a clubhouse in an old houseboat on the Licking River in Northern Ky. The books are the notes of the secretary of the Club, a chubby boy named Hawkins, who is the wisest, kindest and most centered person in the world. One of the enduring themes is the ongoing battle with the Pelham gang across the River. Even as a girl growing up in the 1960’s, I could become completely immersed in this secret world where kids were left to their imaginations, where adults seldom intruded and they were free to have these wonderful adventures in which lives were regularly put in jeopardy. One of the details that intrigued me was that the club had a choir, a boy choirmaster with the voice of an angel and there was an organ on the house boat that he would play. I’m getting choked up just thinking about it as if I was one of them. OK, I’m getting carried away: the other ones (books) are “The Wooden Doll” one of those small books (like a Beatrix Potter) with more words than pictures, but what a sad, wonderful story about a little wooden doll who was loved and abandonned (kind of like Velveteen Rabbit) and who is refurbished and rehabilitated by some friends among whom are a spider and a moth. (This made me overcome my pathological fear of Miller moths).Another is the “Country Bunny and the Golden Shoes”, more of a picture book, but OH the pictures! Piles of painted eggs in a castle!. The most amazing shade of pink on the cover. Really, the pictures were printed in, I think, just four colors but the pictures were fantastical anyway. The basic story is that the Easter Bunny-a big white long-legged thing is getting too old to deliver eggs so the council of bunnies has to pick a new one and of course it’s always a guy. This little brown girl bunnie with 12 babies goes to audition and at first they all laugh at her–I won’t spoil it for you. but, anyway, my mother read this to us as kids and then I read it myself a million times. When I read it to my own kids, years later I realized what a feminist treatise it was and I’ll bet if it had been written in 1975 people would have rejected it as heavy handed propaganda. But it’s not;it’s magic and beautiful. And I think you’re Jewish so maybe the whole Easter bunny thing doesn’t resonate with you like it did with me because you didn’t have those memories of colored eggs and candy eggs and baskets, etc. but please give it a try. I’m babbling because I realized you were like me-probably the flashlight under the covers- reading kind of kid and I know so few. One of my boys is- he’s 23- and the other is dyslexic-and when I finally realized the implications for him, I wept. Those experiences of being utterly transported by a book are rare as an adult — the last time was with Bleak House and that’s probaby been almost 20 years (I’m 51). Why is that? I read so much non-fiction-but since the horrible election I’ve sworn off political books and I’m back into literature, but alas, unlike you I can’t get my real high from kids’books anymore. Sorry for the blathering, but I meet so few kindred spirits.If I write again I’ll be brief and just append a list, XXX to you, your wife and your dog.


Daniel replies:

The original E. H. Shepherd illustrations for Wind in the Willows set the tone for the very many subsequent sets of illustrations by lots of good illustrators. Inga Moore, who did the version we talked about on the radio did a really spectacular job. Of course, the publisher let the book go out of stock, even though they knew it was going to be featured on a radio program--but they claim they will reprint soon. It's worth looking for. Thanks for the lovely long post.