Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Our children are a parent's return ticket to a fresh world in which much is experienced and little is understood. It is one of nature's most intriguing feats, that a human child should be able to absorb such a torrent of information and begin to make some sort of sense of it in what is really just a brief few months.

Recognizing faces, shapes, sounds, voices, words and then beginning to parrot those things back to the outside world - beginning to find their own voice and eventually their own selves. There are miracles in legions if we simply consider them.

Helping your children learn to read, usually principally by spending much time reading to and then with them, brings back to mind that first time when your own eye stopped spending all its time decoding the squiggles on the page and you suddenly found yourself having been swept along a stream of consciousness powered by your imagination and steered by an author's words. That first magical journey of reading when you are encompassed by an incorporeal world of the mind.

What is this ethereal thing, imagination and how does it relate to reading? Imagination, n. - 1: the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality. It is a mysterious beast and not completely understood yet by our scientists and psychologists.

There is a relatively common phenomenon that illustrates the issue of imagination. Many people, at some point in their lives, dream of flying. I can vividly recall a handful of such dreams to this day, all the sensations of lifting off and flying, even though these dreams were years ago. The mystery is, how can you experience the sensation of flying, when you cannot actually fly and have not experienced the sensation of flying. I have read a number of articles over the years trying to unlock this conundrum with more or less plausible theories advanced but no received answer having been arrived at.

This ability to project one's mind into other experiences and circumstances is a powerful tool and is part of the magic of reading. I have never climbed the Matterhorn or Mount Everest but I have done so vicariously through the writings of others. Reading is no substitute for reality and for living in the real world itself but it certainly is a life multiplier. Just as a soldier with a revolver has a force multiplier when faced with adversaries armed with knives, the child with a book has a life force multiplier at hand. They have experienced, not completely and fully, but to a greater extent than might otherwise be possible, a world beyond that constrained by their family and income and educational circumstances. This is why reading is truly a magic door through which children can enter into a better world, and having entered, begin to change the circumstances in which they live.

Every act of reading is in itself and act of imagination, a shifting from a world of paper and scratchings on the paper to a fully formed mental world conjured by the imagination. This, regardless of the nature of the reading - it matters not whether it is fantasy, adventure, history, biography, instructions for assembly, etc. All depend on the child's ability to conjure.

So just the act of reading and being read to is a first step towards exercising the imagination. At its core, the exercise of imagination is not just the ability to conjure something from nothing. As often as not, it is the effort of viewing something familiar from an entirely new perspective. In this regard, there are some books that take a kind of mechanistic approach towards imagination; picture books where you have to find images hidden within pictures, books of acrostics, cross-word puzzles, etc. These appeal to some children and not others.

A much larger category of books that build the imagination by forcing the child to understand things from two (or more) different perspectives are all those involving word play of some sort; joke books, books of riddles, nonsense verse, and poetry.

Books of riddles are very much an exercise in imagination and have been around for centuries. The Exeter Book, a very early collection of riddles, is from the tenth century.

Per Wikipedia:

The riddles in this book vary in significance from childish rhymes and ribald innuendo, to some particularly interesting insights into the preChristian thought world of our archaic linguistic ancestors, such as the following (Riddle 47 from the Exeter Book):

Moððe word fræt. Me þæt þuhte
wrætlicu wyrd, þa ic þæt wundor gefrægn,
þæt se wyrm forswealg wera gied sumes,
þeof in þystro, þrymfæstne cwide
ond þæs strangan staþol. Stælgiest ne wæs
wihte þy gleawra, þe he þam wordum swealg.

A moth ate words. I thought that was a marvelous fate, that the worm, a thief in the dark, should eat a man's words, his brilliant language and its sturdy foundation. Not a whit the wiser was he for having fattened himself on those words.

The answer called for by the poem is 'bookworm'. The meaning is metaphoric - the riddle expressing the skepticism of an oral culture in the face of a literacy revolution. The general technique of the riddle form is to refer obliquely to the subject by kenning and other sorts of figurative language; since kennings formed such an important element of alliterative verse forms in the Germanic languages, the riddles served the dual empirical purpose of puzzling the poet's audience and teaching the lore needed to successfully use or understand the poetic language. But riddles also served a more abstract role in Anglo-Saxon education, for they taught their listeners how to track two (or more) meanings at once in a single semantic situation, and a fortiori their very existence demonstrates that the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxons were not inhabiting a thought-world lacking in subtlety and complexity. There are at least eighteen distinct Anglo-Saxon words describing aspects of cognitive skill [frod, ferð, onhæle, degol, cunnan, dyrne, hyge, hygecraft, hylest, heort, þencan, gleaw, sceolon, giedd, mod, sawol, heofodgimme, wis, snot(t)or, wat, swican - the list could be extended], a fact which attests to a culture valuing cognitive skills, albeit in an oral and not literate context. The god Odin was a master of riddle lore, and sparred with several of his foes using contests of riddles.

Of course the telling of riddles goes back even further, the most famous example being perhaps Oedipus's slaying of the Sphinx by answering the classic riddle of what walks on four legs in the morning, two at noon and three in the evening.

Poetry is in a class of its own for its ability to help children with word play, pattern recognition, imagination and storytelling. See Thing Finder on this site for many narrative poems that grab the attention of children and are great for reading to your child. There is nothing quite as rewarding as reading poems to young children for, with their native skill of mimicry, it is often not long before they are in turn reciting it back to you verbatim.

Beyond these classes of books that help foster imagination are those books which are in themselves either innovative and/or by their nature foster an active imagination. One of the founding fathers of this category would be Lewis Carroll's Alices Adventures in Wonderland in which all the ordinary day-to-day things in a child's life are turned topsy-tury; still recognizable but seen in a way never before considered.

We have left out poetry, riddles, etc. for separate lists but have included not only classics that were innovative in their time and spawned many derivative books but also contemporary books that cause you to look at things differently than you have before, while at the same time telling a gripping tale.

Picture Books

Grandfather Twilight by Barbara Helen Berger Highly Recommended

Bently & Egg by William Joyce Recommended

So Much Nonsense by Edward Lear Recommended

I Spy by Jean Marzollo and illustrated by Walter Wick Recommended

Look-Alikes by Joan Steiner and illustrated by Thomas Lindley Recommended

Bad Day at Riverbend by Chris Van Allsburg Recommended

Walter Wick's Optical Tricks by Walter Wick Recommended

Hey, Al! by Arthur Yorinks and illustrated by Richard Egielski Recommended

Independent Reader

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt Recommendation

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum and illustrated by W. W. Denslow and William Stout Highly Recommended

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs Recommended

The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs and illustrated by J. Allen St. John Recommended

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and illustrated by John Tenniel Highly Recommended

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe Highly Recommended

Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling and illustrated by Robert R. Ingpen Highly Recommended

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle Highly Recommended

The Borrowers by Mary Norton and illustrated by Beth and Joe Krush Recommended

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift Highly Recommended

The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells and illustrated by Tom Kidd Highly Recommended

Young Adult

Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach Recommended

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan Recommendation

Escher on Escher by M. C. Escher and illustrated by J. W. Vermeulen Suggested

Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Recommended

A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain Recommended

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells Recommended

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Marjorie Flack

Born October 23, 1897 in Greenport, New York
Died August 29, 1958

Marjorie Flack, was a trifecta author/illustrator - she wrote or illustrated three classic children's books under three different scenarios. All three remain well-known and well-loved today. She was both the author and illustrator of the Angus books, the author of The Story About Ping which was illustrated by Kurt Weise; and the illustrator of DubOse Heyward's classic tale, The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes as told to Jenifer. Her life story was not particularly out of the ordinary, but the stories she wrote were.

Story telling was part of her make-up from an early age. As she relates in Junior Book of Authors

Greenport was a beautiful place for a little girl to grow up in. There were beaches of white sand on the Bay and beaches with rock cliffs on the Sound and there was a stretch of woods to walk to where one could find wild flowers and tadpoles and things like that. But when I was very young I can remember being quite sad because as much as I looked I could never find an elf in any of these places.

As far back as I can remember pictures and stories were always an important part of my life. I can remember drawing pictures in the sand, pictures on the walls (and being punished for it) and pictures on every piece of paper I could find. For every picture there would be a story, even before I could write. Most of my pictures and stories were about beautiful princesses and queens and kings and fairies and elves. It was not until I was very much older that I began to notice that there were many things all about me to make drawings of, and that every day things were happening which were as exciting and as wonderful as in any fairy story.

Flack studied art at eighteen at the Art Students League in New York City. It was while studying art that she met the artist Karl Larsson whom she married in 1919 when she was twenty-two. Her first, and only child, a daughter, Hilma, was born the next year in 1920.

As I so often find when researching these Featured Author essays, the experience of parenthood was a major catalyst for Marjorie Flack, both in terms of the decision to write children's stories and the choice of what to write about. In Flack's case, she did not publish her first book until 1928. This book was a collaboration with her friend, Helen Lomen, who had been born and raised in Nome, Alaska. Taktuk; An Arctic Boy is the tale of a traditional Eskimo boy growing up and finding a balance between the modern and traditional worlds. This was one of the very first books about Eskimo children written (and illustrated) specifically for children.

She followed this with an equally well regarded story, All Around the Town: The Story of a Boy in New York, published in 1929. All Around Town is the tale of a boy's ordinary adventures in the extraordinary city of New York, featuring the many aspects of city living best loved by Flack and her daughter Hilma.

It was in 1930, with her third book, Angus and the Ducks, that Flack minted the first of four golden masterpieces. In continuous print for nearly eighty years, this is the tale of Angus, a Scottish terrier and the first in a series of three Angus books, Angus and the Ducks (1930), Angus and the Cat (1931), and Angus Lost (1932). The first tale was based on, as Flack said "a real dog and real ducks." The next two were fictional compilations based on actual events. Interestingly, in researching Angus and the Ducks, Flack became fascinated with the Peking Ducks she used as her subjects in her illustrations of the story and this fascination led to a further story, The Story About Ping, a couple of years later.

In the Angus books, Flack is both the author and illustrator. What has made them enduringly appealing to young children is that the illustrations are simple without being simplistic, the stories are very straightforward and concrete, and that the issues (encountering something new, accommodating others and making new friends in your life, and getting lost) are all very pertinent to young lives. In 1932, Flack also published another long time favorite among children, Ask Mr. Bear a story which she made up for her daughter and to which her daughter contributed over numerous retellings.

Perhaps Flack's most popular story of all, The Story About Ping, came out in 1933. The story relates the adventures of a punishment adverse duckling, Ping. Ping is a young Peking Duck, living with "his mother and his father and two sisters and three brothers and eleven aunts and seven uncles and forty-two cousins" on a "wise-eyed boat" on the Yangtze River. Each evening, the ducks are herded back on to the boat, the last duck receiving a whack on his rump. One evening, being somewhat tardy, Ping realizes that he will be the last on board and is entirely unwilling to be the recipient of said whack. He escapes onto the river where he encounters many unpleasant adventures such that when he finds the opportunity to return to his home boat he is relieved to do so and cares not a whit about being whacked for being the last duck back on the boat. The enduring popularity of this story probably can be traced to the simple but engaging story-telling of Flack, the beautiful watercolors of Kurt Weise, the glimpse into an alien land and culture (China) and resonant but unstated moral of the story; no matter how unfair you might think home life might be, it is better than the alternative. In this instance, Flack wrote the story, but asked Kurt Weise, who had lived in China for a number of years, to do the illustrations. With Ping, Flack concluded a remarkable string of five books in the space of four years that have been in almost continuous print since they were first published. But she was by no means done.

Over the next several years, Flack published three or four children's books a year. Her next popular story was in Wait for William in 1935, no longer in print, but long a favorite and describing the predicaments arising from a boy and his struggles to tie his shoes. William is a little boy, left behind by the older children as he struggles to tie his shoes, but whose separation eventually allows him to have the best seat in the parade atop the leading elephant.

Walter the Lazy Mouse (1937) is unfortunately out of print but is frequently mentioned by people as a favorite of their childhood. Walter, based on a real mouse in Flack's studio, tells the story of the evolution of a chronic procrastinator into an attentive, prompt mouse.

In 1939, Flack collaborated with the famous lyricist/composer DuBose Heyward to produce The Country Bunny and the Little Golden Shoes, as told to Jenifer. Attending a conference, Flack one evening overheard Heyward relating a story that he had made up for his daughter, Jenifer. Enchanted, Flack suggested that he should write down the story and she would illustrate it. Heyward produced the text in two hours and Flack then illustrated the tale.

The Country Bunny is a variation of the Easter Bunny tale; however, in this version, Grandfather Easter Bunny needs to select a new rabbit to be one of his five Easter Bunnies who delivers eggs to children around the world and who wears the Little Golden Shoes. Despite the mockery of the more obvious contestants for the role, and despite being the mother of 21 little bunnies, the country bunny, wins the role through her own persistence and with the help and obedience of her well behaved children. This is a great story for reinforcing the importance of never letting go of a dream. Despite having many other stories that he told his young daughter, this was the only one Heyward set to paper and he died within a year of its publication.

Flack wrote nearly a dozen other books before her final one in 1948. The penultimate title, The Boats on the River, a 1947 Caldecott Honor Book, is another one that is unfortunately out of print but frequently mentioned among "Best of All Time . . . " lists.

Although Flack was a good story teller and a good artist, she was not an outstanding practitioner in either field. When she had a good story to tell, as with Angus, she told it well. Her enduring success must be laid in part at the door of superior collaboration. She married twice and across her many books, she authored, illustrated, or collaborated with both her first and then later her second husband, her daughter, her son-in-law and others such as DuBose Heyward.

All her books in print are well worth having in your library and are particularly appropriate as stories to read to your children.

Picture Books

Angus and the Cat by Marjorie Flack Recommended

Angus and the Ducks by Marjorie Flack Recommended

Angus Lost by Marjorie Flack Recommended

Ask Mr. Bear by Marjorie Flack Rcommended

The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes by Du Bose Heyward and illustrated by Marjorie Flack Highly Recommended

The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack and illutrated by Kurt Weise Highly Recommended


Taktuk: An Arctic Boy by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1928
All Around the Town: The Story of a Boy in New York by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1929
Angus and the Ducks by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1930
Knights, Goats, and Battleships: A Story from the Island of Malta by Terry Strickland Colt and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1930
Angus and the Cat by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1931
Angus Lost by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1932
Ask Mr. Bear by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1932
The Story about Ping by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Kurt Wiese 1933
Wag-Tail Bess by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1933
Humphrey: One Hundred Years along the Wayside with a Box Turtle by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1934
Tim Tadpole and the Great Bullfrog by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1934
Scamper: The Bunny Who Went to the White House by Anna Roosevelt Dall and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1934
Dall Scamper's Christmas: More about the White House Bunny by Anna Roosevelt Dall and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1934
Christopher by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1935
Topsy and Angus and the Cat by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1935
Topsy by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1935
Up in the Air by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Karl Larsson 1935
Wait for William by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Flack and Richard A. Holberg 1935
What to Do about Molly by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Flack and K. Larsson 1936
Willy Nilly by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1936
Here, There, and Everywhere by Dorothy Keeley Aldis and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1936
Lucky Little Lena by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1937
The Restless Robin by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1937
Walter, the Lazy Mouse by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1937
William and His Kitten by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1938
The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, as Told to Jenifer by DuBose Heyward and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1939
Marionettes: Easy to Make, Fun to Use by Edith F. Ackley and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1939
(With Karl Larsson) Pedro by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by K. Larsson 1940
A Black Velvet Story by Dee Smith and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1940
Olaf, Lofoten Fisherman by Constance Nygaard Schram and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1940
Adolphus; or The Adopted Dolphin and the Pirate's Daughter by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1941
I See a Kitty by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Hilma Larsson 1943
The New Pet by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Marjorie Flack 1943
Neighbors on the Hill by Marjorie Flack and With Mabel O'Donnell and illustrated by Florence and Margaret Hoopes 1943
Away Goes Jonathan Wheeler by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by H. Larsson 1944
The Boats on the River by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Jay Hyde Barnum 1946
Happy Birthday Letter by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Jay Hyde Barnum 1947

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Perhaps my favorite holy day in the Christian calendar, Easter is a curious combination of seasonal change, holy contemplation, and an amalgam of pagan symbols and rituals. As today is Easter I wish you all the best of this season and leave you with a couple of Easter poems.
Pippa's Song
Robert Browning

The year 's at the spring,
And day 's at the morn;
Morning 's at seven;
The hill-side 's dew-pearl'd;

The lark 's on the wing;
The snail 's on the thorn;
God 's in His heaven—
All 's right with the world!

Holy Thursday: 'Twas on a Holy Thursday, Their Innocent Faces Clean
William Blake

'Twas on a Holy Thursday, their innocent faces clean,
The children walking two and two, in red and blue and green,
Grey-headed beadles walk'd before, with wands as white as snow,
Till into the high dome of Paul's they like Thames' waters flow.

O what a multitude they seem'd, these flowers of London town!
Seated in companies they sit with radiance all their own.
The hum of multitudes was there, but multitudes of lambs,
Thousands of little boys and girls raising their innocent hands.

Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song,
Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of Heaven among.
Beneath them sit the aged men, wise guardians of the poor;
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.

William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills.
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a boy:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay
In such a jocund company;
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

A Prayer in Spring
Robert Frost

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.
Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid-air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfill.

Picture Books

The Golden Egg Book by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Leonard Weisgard Recommended

The Story of Easter by Aileen Lucia Fisher and illustrated by Stefano Vitale Recommended

The Easter Bunny That Overslept by Priscilla Friedrich and illustrated by Ott Friedrich and Donald Saaf Suggested

The Easter Story by Anita Ganeri and illustrated by Rachael Phillips Suggested

The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes by Du Bose Heyward and illustrated by Marjorie Flack Highly Recommended

Spot's First Easter by Eric Hill Suggested

Silly Tilly and the Easter Bunny by Lillian Hoban Suggested

The Bird's Gift by Eric A. Kimmel and illustrated by Katya Krenina Suggested

The Easter Rabbit's Parade by Lois Lenski Suggested

Rechenka's Eggs by Patricia Polacco Recommended

The Easter Story by Gennadii Spirin Suggested

Max's Chocolate Chicken by Rosemary Wells Suggested

The Easter Story by Brian Wildsmith Suggested

He Is Risen by Elizabeth Winthrop Recommended

The Bunny Who Found Easter by Charlotte Zolotow and illustrated by Helen Craig Recommended

Rachel Field

Born September 19, 1894 in New York City, New York
Died March 15, 1942 in Beverly Hills, California

Rachel Field was a wonderfully eclectic writer with an established record in several genres. While today she is remembered primarily for her children's books and her poetry, at the time of her death, one of her recently released novels for adults had sold several hundred thousand copies.

Born Rachel Lyman Field, in New York City, Field was raised in Stockbridge, and then later, Springfield Massachusetts. For any parent despairing of when their child will begin to demonstrate talent, Field's autobiographical entry in the The Junior Book of Authors should be reassuring.
It is humiliating to confess that I wasn't one of those children who are remembered by their old school teachers as clever and promising. I was notably lazy and behind others of my own age in everything except drawing pictures, acting in plays, and committing pieces of poetry to memory. I was more than ten years old before I could read, tho for some strange reason (that is perhaps significant now) I could write, after a fashion.

The first ten years of my life were uneventful, tho pleasant, and I spent them in the little town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where I learned to like below-zero weather and to find all sorts of growing wild things, such as arbutus in spring, wild strawberries in summer, and fringed gentians in the early fall. I didn't have many playmates my own age, but I managed to pick up a lot about trees and flowers and animals and outdoor things without the help of organized nature-walks and Girl Scout activities.

The little country school I went to, with about a dozen other pupils, was kept by two dear old ladies. I was a trial to the one who taught arithmetic, reading, spelling, and geography, but a favorite of the one who taught us poetry and planned plays for us to act. These were often quite ambitious, and the peak of my dramatic career was the year I was nine and played Shylock in The Merchant of Venice at Christmas and the leading role in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (dramatized by the same teacher) in June. I couldn't read then but the parts were read aloud to me and I knew all the other children's lines as well as my own long before the dress-rehearsals. Of course I decided then and there to become a great actress.

The next year my mother felt that something really had to be done about my education, for it certainly looked as if I were going to grow up illiterate. So we moved to Springfield, in another part of Massachusetts, and I was plunged into public school life. It was a good deal of a come-down after playing leading parts in theatricals, to discover that I was way behind my age in the more important branches of learning.

I never did catch up with my age in school work, and I never liked studying again till I got to college. I was still able to hold my own in drawing and in writing compositions, and I'm afraid I made use of this to get other scholars to trade arithmetic answers and grammatical parsings for compositions. It was always easy for me to write half a dozen papers, or poems when we began to have them for homework assignments later on. Sometimes it was a little trying when the teacher liked one I had written for some other pupil better than the one I had handed in for myself.

Despite her self-described atrocious academic career, Field did graduate high-school and then was accepted, supposedly as a special student, into Radcliff. It was while pursuing her English studies at Radcliff that she began writing children's plays, some of which were produced at that time and many of which were later collected and published in book form in 1918. In fact, her entire output, from her first publication in 1918, with one exception, until 1924, was completely made up of plays written for children to perform. These became standards in schools for many years and were in annual production in schools across the country through the twenties, thirties and forties.

The one exception was a book published in 1923, Punch and Robinetta by Ethel May Gate and illustrated by Rachel Field. Field was something of an anomaly among author/illustrators in that she was a writer first and foremost and only occasionally illustrated whereas most author/illustrators start from the illustration end of the spectrum first and then move into writing. She illustrated nearly a dozen of her own books as well as a handful for such authors as Eleanor Farjeon and Margery Williams Bianco. One of her preferred forms of illustration was black paper silhouette cut-outs.

It was for her writing, however, that she is principally remembered. Field is one of the more heavily anthologized authors of children's poetry. She published her first collection of poems, The Pointed People: Verses and Silhouettes, in 1924 and released new collections of poetry every two or three years up to the year before her death in 1942.

Her poetry, while thought of as poetry for children, is, I think, best thought of as good poetry suitable for everyone but especially accessible to children. Her poetry is usually only a few stanzas. It hangs on crystallizing observations that are often so characteristic of how children see the world. Many of her poems were set in New England, where she summered each year.
If Once You Have Slept On An Island
Rachel Field

If once you have slept on an island
You'll never be quite the same;
You may look as you looked the day before
And go by the same old name,
You may bustle about in street and shop
You may sit at home and sew,
But you'll see blue water and wheeling gulls
Wherever your feet may go.

You may chat with the neighbors of this and that
And close to your fire keep,
But you'll hear ship whistle and lighthouse bell
And tides beat through your sleep.
Oh! you won't know why and you can't say how
Such a change upon you came,
But once you have slept on an island,
You'll never be quite the same.

Sometimes, I am not especially wild about the poem as a whole but there are individual lines that are memorable and call up recollections of youth, as in the highlighted lines in this poem.
Barefoot Days
Rachel Field

In the morning, very early,
That's the time I love to go
Barefoot where the fern grows curly
And grass is cool between each toe,
On a summer morning-O!
On a summer morning!

That is when the birds go by
Up the sunny slopes of air,
And each rose has a butterfly
Or a golden bee to wear;
And I am glad in every toe--
Such a summer morning-O!
Such a summer morning!

As is obvious from these examples, she frequently based her poems in a country setting and around nature themes. Among my favorites is The Wild Geese.

Something Told the Wild Geese
Rachel Field

Something told the wild geese
It was time to go.
Though the fields lay golden
Something whispered,--"Snow."

Leaves were green and stirring,
Berries, luster-glossed,
But beneath warm feathers
Something cautioned,--"Frost."

All the sagging orchards
Steamed with amber spice,
But each wild breast stiffened
At remembered ice.

Something told the wild geese
It was time to fly,--
Summer sun was on their wings,
Winter in their cry.

Rachel Field, in both her children's and her adult writings, mined historical settings and tales, particularly those set in New England. The two children's stories for which she is principally known and which have entered the canon of children's literature are Hitty: Her First Hundred Years and Calico Bush.

Hitty is the story of a doll and her adventures and travels across a century. Rachel Field and the illustrator of the story, Dorothy P. Lathrop, discovered a wooden doll in an antique store and built up the story based on a speculative discussion about her the journeys that might have brought her to the New York antique store in which they found her. You can see how the marriage of travels and adventures attached to the framework of a child's favorite toy and answering the question of every child, "what happened before" would be a recipe of success. Indeed it was, winning Field the 1930 Newberry Medal.

Two years later, Field published Calico Bush, a story of the New England frontier, set in Maine in the 1740's. While a winner of a Newbery Honor for 1932 and more robustly praised by critics than Hitty, it is her first success - Hitty - which still attracts the larger readership.

Through the 1930's, Field published two or three works a year across the genres of children's plays, poetry, and children's stories. Time out of Mind, a novel for adults, was published in 1935 and she wrote a further three novels for adults in her remaining years.

Try Hitty and Calico Bush; I think you will enjoy them either as stories to read to your children or as books for them to read on their own. But don't forget her poetry which can be found in any of the significant anthologies of children's poetry.

Picture Books

Grace For An Island Meal by Rachel Field and illustrated by Cynthia Jabar Pedestrian

Prayer for a Child by Rachel Field and illustrated by Elizabeth Orton Jones Recommended

Intermediate Reader

Calico Bush by Rachel Field and illustrated by Allen Lewis Recommended

Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field and illustrated by Dorothy P. Lathrop Highly Recommended

Young Adult

All This and Heaven Too by Rachel Field Suggested

Rachel Field Bibliography

Rise up, Jennie Smith: A Play in One Act by Rachel Field 1918
Three Pills in a Bottle by Rachel Field 1918
Time Will Tell by Rachel Field 1920
The Fifteenth Candle by Rachel Field 1921
Cinderella Married by Rachel Field 1922
Punch and Robinetta by Ethel May Gate and illustrated by Rachel Field 1923
Columbine in Business by Rachel Field 1924
Theories and Thumbs by Rachel Field 1924
The Patchwork Quilt by Rachel Field 1924
Wisdom Teeth by Rachel Field 1924
Six Plays by Rachel Field 1924
The Pointed People: Verses and Silhouettes by Rachel Field and illustrated by Rachel Field 1924
An Alphabet for Boys and Girls by Rachel Field and illustrated by Rachel Field 1926
Eliza and the Elves by Rachel Field and illustrated by Elizabeth MacKinstry 1926
Taxis and Toadstools: Verses and Decorations by Rachel Field and illustrated by Rachel Field 1926
The Magic Pawnshop: A New Year's Eve Fantasy by Rachel Field and illustrated by Elizabeth MacKinstry 1927
The Cross-Stitch Heart and Other Plays by Rachel Field 1927
A Little Book of Days by Rachel Field and illustrated by Rachel Field 1927
The White Cat, and Other Old French Fairy Tales by Rachel Field and illustrated by Elizabeth MacKinstry 1928
Little Dog Toby by Rachel Field and illustrated by Rachel Field 1928
Polly Patchwork by Rachel Field and illustrated by Margaret Freeman 1928
Come Christmas by Eleanor Farjeon and illustrated by Rachel Field 1928
American Folk and Fairy Tales by Rachel Field and illustrated by Dorothy P. Lathrop 1929
Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field 1929
Pocket-Handkerchief Park by Rachel Field and illustrated by Rachel Field 1929
Patchwork Plays by Rachel Field and illustrated by Rachel Field 1930
A Circus Garland by Rachel Field 1930
Points East: Narratives of New England by Rachel Field 1930
Calico Bush by Rachel Field and illustrated by Allen Lewis 1931
The Yellow Shop by Rachel Field and illustrated by Rachel Field 1931
The House That Grew Smaller by Margery Williams Bianco and illustrated by Rachel Field 1931
The Bird Began to Sing by Rachel Field and illustrated by Ilse Bischoff 1932
Hepatica Hawks by Rachel Field and illustrated by Allen Lewis 1932
Just across the Street by Rachel Field and illustrated by Rachel Field 1933
Fortune's Caravan (adaptation of a work by Lily-Jean Javal from a translation by Marion Sanders) by Rachel Field and illustrated by Maggie Salcedo 1933
Branches Green by Rachel Field and illustrated by Dorothy P. Lathrop 1934
Susanna B. and William C. by Rachel Field and illustrated by Rachel Field 1934
God's Pocket: The Story of Captain Samuel Hadlock, Junior, of Cranberry Isles Maine (fictionalized biography) by Rachel Field 1934
Time out of Mind by Rachel Field 1935
People from Dickens: A Presentation of Leading Characters from the Books of Charles Dickens by Rachel Field and illustrated by Thomas Fogarty 1935
Fear Is the Thorn by Rachel Field 1936
First Class Matter: A Comedy in One Act by Rachel Field 1936
To See Ourselves by Rachel Field 1937
The Bad Penny by Rachel Field 1938
All This and Heaven Too by Rachel Field 1938
Ave Maria: An Interpretation from Walt Disney's "Fantasia" Inspired by the Music of Franz Schubert by Rachel Field 1940
All through the Night by Rachel Field and illustrated by Shirley Hughes 1940
Christmas Time: Verses and Illustrations by Rachel Field and illustrated by Rachel Field 1941
And Now Tomorrow by Rachel Field 1942
Prayer for a Child by Rachel Field and illustrated by Elizabeth Orton Jones 1944
Christmas in London by Rachel Field 1946
The Sentimental Scarecrow (one-act) by Rachel Field 1957
Poems by Rachel Field 1957
The Rachel Field Story Book by Rachel Field and illustrated by Adrienne Adams 1958
Poems for Children by Rachel Field and illustrated by Lynette Hemmant 1978
General Store by Rachel Field and illustrated by Giles Laroche 1988
A Road Might Lead to Anywhere by Rachel Field 1990
If Once You Have Slept on an Island by Rachel Field and illustrated by Iris Van Rynbach 1993
Grace for an Island Meal by Rachel Field and illustrated by Cynthia Jabar 2006