The City Cat and the Country Cat
Miss Missy’s School Book I: A Pack of Farm Dogs Starts a School by Marica Bernstein.
Illustrated by Caroline Cooper. Old Schoolhouse Road Publishing.
From the Kid Blog at Miss Missy’s School where the author of this family-friendly middle-grade book talks with kids about reading and writing.
Dear Readers, or should I say, Dear Writers!
Have you noticed that each Kid Blog post starts with an example of something from Miss Missy’s School Book I: A Pack of Farm Dogs Starts a School? After that, the discussion segues (pronounced seg-ways; meaning, moves to) that same something from a classic children’s book.
All of the examples we’ve looked at when we talked about detailed descriptions, similes, and maps were from published children’s stories–books that were already finished. I thought it might be fun this week to look at something unfinished. And so, I present to you
Click the link and read the short, short story. There’s a picture of Snaps, the Country Cat, too!
The story is going to be a part of the fourth book, Miss Missy’s School’s Out for the Summer. In this book, Bobby (who is Marica and John’s grandson) and his cat, Rex, travel to Farther Along Farm in Mississippi for a visit. It will be Rex’s first time on the farm, so he’ll see, hear, and do all sorts of new things. A lot of those things may be pretty scary to him, but not to the Country Cat, Snaps.
Does this sound familiar? It’s not too different from Aesop’s Fable, The City Mouse and the Country Mouse. It’s not going to be exactly the same in the Miss Missy’s School book, though. But this little story and the relationship between Rex and Snaps was inspired by Aesop’s Fable.
Have you ever wanted to write a story but couldn’t come up with an idea? Did you feel as if you needed inspiration? Have you wondered what inspires writers? Naturally, each writer gets his or her inspiration from different people, places, or things. Beatrix Potter’s inspiration came from the creatures, woods, and pastures she and her brother came to know when they visited the country in the summertime. The first telling of Peter Rabbit was in a letter Beatrix wrote to a little boy who was sick. You may remember that E.B. White’s inspiration for Charlotte’s Web came from the critters in a barn. In a similar way, Hugh Lofting’s inspiration for the Dr. Doolittle Stories came from animals he observed.
Lofting was a soldier in the British Army during the Great War, which is what World War I (1914-1918) was called before there was a World War II. His children were safely at home in Britain, and they wanted him to write to them. But he didn’t want to write about the war, and everything else was boring. So he began to pay attention to the animals he encountered. He says it didn’t “seem quite fair” that the cats and horses and such in the cities and countrysides were experiencing the bombings and gun battles, and taking their chances just like the people. But they didn’t have doctors to take care of them if they were wounded. He thought there should be “a horse surgery” [hospital] for the animals, but that “would necessitate a knowledge of horse language.” He says,
“An eccentric country physician with a bent for natural history and a great love of pets, who finally decides to give up his human practice for the more difficult, more sincere, and, for him, more attractive therapy of the animal kingdom.”
This idea, a doctor who learns all the animal languages and psychologies, is the story he wrote about in letters to his children! After the war, he “put the letters in book form for other boys and girls.”
What do Potter’s, White’s, and Lofting’s sources of inspiration have in common? That’s right! They were all inspired by things happening right around them. And because they were careful observers of what was happening–they paid attention to details–they were able to let their imaginations create stories about those things that were part of their lives. In the case of Charlotte’s Web and Dr. Doolittle, White and Lofting were even able to give the animals happier endings than they had in real life.
Miss Missy’s School is inspired by things that happen on the farm. What are some things happening where you live that might inspire a story? When your dog is asleep, does he have muffled barks and flop his paws? Is he dreaming? What do you imagine he’s dreaming about?
Inspiration is everywhere if you’re on the lookout for it!
Lofting’s quotes are from The Junior Book of Authors, Stanley J. Kunitz and Howard Haycraft, The H.W. Wilson Company, New York, 1934.