Saturday, May 17, 2014

My mother's stories, for her birthday

For my mother Gilly (Helen Floy Glenn Burlingham, that is)'s birthday, I have been trying to list one book for each year of her life, books that she exposed me to. Didn't quite do it, and since I added some tv and other things, we'll call it "works", but here's the start I made.

Nancy Drew - I have her childhood collection from the 1930s. I have come around to the idea that the abridged ones from the 1970s not only cut fat, they cut outdated stereotypes. All I ask is that George stays George and that Nancy has a red roadster.

Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard - Mommy's favorite book which she read to us several times and which my sister Gillian's name is drawn from. Eleanor Farjeon wrote "Morning has Broken" and _The Little Bookroom_ and sequels to MPinAO, but this book is our joy, a bucolic semi-fantasy set in English dairy country, with stories taken from folklore and Farjeon's imagination. A treasure.

Mary Poppins - all of it. And in Latin. The books. If you think "Mary Poppins" means someone sweet and pretty, read the books, pronto. She ain't. She's better than that.

D'Aulaire's Norse Myths - those stories! Those illustrations!

Robin Hood - probably the Howard Pyle version. I distinctly remember noting, as she read to us, that the word "bosom" could be used of the "manly" variety. My first technicolor dream involved Robin Hood, Maid Marian, running in the woods, and my sister playing with their Violet dolls. Very vivid.

My Book House (1926) - people who know it, treasure it. A six-volume book set, which was expanded in many pater editions and for some lucky children came with its own wooden book house bookcase (I have seen one, at a NYC bookstore), where many stories are gathered into age-increasing volumes, stories from around the world, folktales, non-fiction, all with glorious decorative artwork from the 1920s. To my joy, a set figured in the climax of an academic mystery I once read. I collect sets to give to favorite children. Mommy's set includes her sister Terry's and her brother Grosvenor's names along with hers. (I am sworn not to reveal Aunt Terry's nickname. Uncle Grov was "Boo". Mommy is still Gilly.)

Cold Comfort Farm - possibly the first brand-new book she ever gave me, pressed into my teenage hands with high recommendations, met by author Stella Gibbon.

Peter Rabbit - oh, *all* Beatrix Potter's little books, to be sure.

Adventures of Remi - you're just too young. They were big in their day. You can look it up.
Story of Perrine - same. Oh, lining her shoes with the weeds of the ditch, so memorable, so touching.

Pinocchio - I'm pretty sure she read it to us.

Doctor Doolittle - those wonderful illustrations. Such odd travels.

Struwwelpeter - oh, "that explains a lot," people say. Bloody thumbs and dying children, cautionary tales for children with gory illustrations, who could want more in a German-origin 19th-century children's bestseller? I am so pleased someone else with German heritage came and bought copies for grandkids from me this month!

May I Bring a Friend? - just re-read this recently, and it holds up. Sweet and engaging picture book of weekdays, mealtimes, hospitality, and animals.

Richard Scarry - so Busy!

Nutshell Library: this was my sister Gillian's, but we all read it. We remember a lot of it, too. "I don't care," said Pierre!

Chicken Soup with Rice
Alligators All Around
One Was Johnny

Babar - I had a miniature trunk (geddit? geddit?) of Babar books.

Don Qixote - I swear, she read it to us.

Wizard of Oz - ALL OF IT. She was a Oz kid, through and through, racing to the store for the new Oz book as a kid (not Baum - he had died - but the Ruth Plumly Thompson continuations). She bought a facsimile set at a department store in Olean when we were kids, then doled out the books to us for birthdays and Christmas. Oz is a wonderful place. And girls are strong people there.

Goops/Purple Cow/Gelett Burgess Goops, and how to be them, and so much more. Again, marvelous line drawings, and a wonderful snarky sensibility one doesn't expect from early-20-century kids' books, but which existed.

Archy & Mehitabel - poetry! the mocking of poetry! reincarnation! the baddest joyous cat around! cockroach poet! and those George Herriman drawings. Oh, joy!

For the Leg of a Chicken - a picture book about a very poor and hungry boy, with drawings vivid in my memory.

Tinkie - a little girl looking for anyone with a name like hers, in glorious 1960s pink and green. I identified, probably because the author's name was Ann Kirn.

Little Monk and the Tiger - a picture book set in Thailand.

Secret Garden - well, actually, my godmother Big Ann gave this to me. But she was Mommy's best friend.
A Little Princess - and probably Little Lord Fauntleroy. What can I say?

Understood Betsy (or was that Daddy?) - I still press it on people. Small girl leaves aunts in the city, lives on farm, attends one-room schoolhouse, as my father did - all with Dorothy Canfield Fisher's good writing and underlying push for Montessori teaching.

Rebecca's War - by my godmother, Ann Finlayson. Revolutionary War historical novel set in Philadelphia, about a girl whose rebel family has British soldiers billeted in their house. Good reading; I wish Warne would reprint it. Used copies get pricey.

Redcoat in Boston - also Big Ann; just as the title says.
Greenhorn on the Frontier - the sequel, in which the redcoat of the first book homesteads in western Pennsylvania with his sister - this one's in print, happily.

Housecat - also Big Ann's - inspired by our housecat, Moustache. And by Mommy's asthma.

Krazy Kat - comics still full of surreal joy. Oh, the *best*.

Jean Shepherd - long before the made a movie of his stories in "A Christmas Story". Shepherd's childhood in his stories, in Hammond, Indiana? Essentially the same as my mother's in his native Chicago. Little Orphan Annie, ice boxes, Marshall Fields, and more. We watched his PBS show together ("Traffic Circles of New Jersey," anyone?), his books were on her humor bookcase, and she told stories of his radio show, where he read Bobbsey Twins chapters aloud to people of their ilk. A cool Midwestern cat.

A Spaniard in the Works - that humor bookcase was a good one. I read John Lennon perhaps before I knew I was hearing him.

The American Way of Death - another gift, a book she thought I ought to read, and one which we connected over, as well as the one that started me on my fandom of all things Mitford, especially the wonderful witty, incisive, self-described "yellow journalist", Jessica.

Tom Lehrer - One record. It was hers. Know it by heart. Passing the passion along to Henry and his cohort. One of the quickest ways to find My People: start in with a little "Lobachevsky" or "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park". Everyone has a favorite.

Star Trek - she was the one watching it on the little black and white tv in the kitchen. It all stems from there, the science fiction fandom, for me.

Osbert Lancaster - oh, the humorous architecture book! The reason I know things about architectural styles! The humor bookcase gives and gives.

Mapp & Lucia - via tv? - oh, god, arch and vicious about small-town life. Delectable.

Candide - watching the wonderful, unforgettable version on PBS in the 1970s meant getting to hear about my mother's seeing various Bernstein productions in New York in the 1950s, when she lived there and spent every dollar on Broadway.

Dr. Who - we watched it together. We loved it, together.

Herskovitz - okay, I haven't *read* him, but she took classes from him, so I am *aware* of him through her. Really sorry I missed that recent Frontline documentary on him and the beginning of Afro-centric studies. Her studies of anthropology had a huge effect on my childhood.

Well, gosh, I'm sure there's more, but it's half-way through her birthday, so let's go to press.

Happy birthday, Mommy, and thank you for all the ways you shaped my childhood and me!