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
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.
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
Something told the wild geese
It was time to go.
Though the fields lay golden
Leaves were green and stirring,
But beneath warm feathers
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.
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
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
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