Books about Books
My Research Library
Life is funny sometimes, isn’t it? Looking back, it makes so much sense. How could it have been otherwise that Grandma Shilling’s sewing table would wind up on a farm in Mississippi, covered within an inch of its life with old books about books, half of which are old books about children’s books? But looking the other way, in April 2016 when I entered the bibliographic information for More Junior Authors (1963) into my card catalog, I had no idea that it (and three other editions) would be such a valuable resource for my as yet unconceived children’s books.
In the last (first) Grownup Blog post, I shared the Index of Miss Missy’s School Book I: A Pack of Farm Dogs Starts a School to give educators of all sorts an idea of the breadth of instructive materials in the book. By my count, there are 37 entries about books and authors. Of those, 25– two-thirds– are children’s books and authors. These are the books and writers found in the “As Someone Once Said” (quotations) callouts, and in longer “Epilogue: Old Things & Ways Explained” entries.
Writing some of these was challenging. Consider Charlotte and Wilbur, whose portraits hang on The Wall of Fame in the schoolhouse, and E.B. White. What to write in the “Epilogue” on these? Going out on a limb here, but I think it’s safe to say that every kid who reads Miss Missy’s School is familiar with Charlotte’s Web. What more is there to say about the book? About White a lot has been written, but though his years at The New Yorker with the likes of James Thurber, Harold Ross, et al. might fascinate me, that material was hardly kid-centric. I wanted also to find and share with readers some tidbit about the book or author that they didn’t already know or couldn’t easily discover on their own.
Let’s walk over to my Research Library and see if More Junior Authors has anything novel and interesting to say about White.
While White’s “close association with animals in a barn” is no secret (even to the internet), I thought his words conveyed better than any others’ his attachment to the barn. I hope children, especially those who’ve never been in an old-fashioned county barn, will get a better sense of it, and of White himself.
Books about books offer something else for me to share with readers of Miss Missy’s School— forgotten books and writers. Alice Crew Gall and her brother Fleming Gall wrote a series of Tail books, Flat Tail the beaver, Wagtail the polliwog, Ringtail the raccoon, and more. I discovered these in Children and Books (1947), a book written for librarians, teachers, and parents. Along with Anne Sewell (Black Beauty), Kipling (Jungle Books), Felix Salten (Bambi and Fifteen Rabbits), Gall and Crew are noted as having written exemplars of the paradox animal stories, those that depict animals as real animals– not just furry humans– but who have human qualities and abilities, too.
Somewhere else I came across another discussion of Crew and Gall that said their books were bound to become classic children’s stories along side Sewell’s, Kipling’s, and Salten’s. Sadly, this did not come to pass. Unless… Amazon has used hardcopies of a few of their books, but they are hideously priced. Bookfinder dot com has some reasonably priced. But as far as I can tell, there are no print-on-demand paperbacks available.
Hope all y’all are enjoying these behind the scenes posts. I’m going to try to get on a more regular posting schedule with both posts for the Grownup Blog and the Kids Blog going live first thing Saturday mornings so you and your kids have some weekend reading. I went down a few old books about old books rabbit holes this weekend!
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