Tidbit Histories – Anne of Green Gables Makes Her Debut.

Lucy Maud Montgomery was born in 1874 in the tiny village of Clifton, on Prince Edward Island. Her mother died when she was two and when her father remarried six years later, moving to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, the young Lucy was shipped off to live with her austere grandparents in Cavendish.

With few neighbors her age, she turned to reading. She remembered having “devoured” Pickwick Papers, Rob Roy, Pilgrim’s Progress, Little Women and other staples of the day. She also became an inveterate diarist and she commented in her journal; “I cannot remember when I was not writing, or when I did not mean to be an author.”

Ms Montgomery started her creative writing career in her teens with the sale of her poem “On Cape Leforce” to a local newspaper, This was followed by short stories submitted to American and Canadian periodicals. Again, in her journals, she wrote; “Elderly couple apply to orphan asylum for boy. By mistake girl is sent.” – this, the genesis of the book that would bring her both fame and fortune.

Ms Montgomery finished the manuscript for ANNE OF GREEN GABLES in 1905 and submitted it to five publishers and promptly received five rejections. She then tucked the manuscript away in a hat box until 1907 when she re-submitted a revised version to Boston publisher L. C. Page.

L.C. Page had clearly had a change of heart and enthusiastically accepted her manuscript. Young Anne Shirley made her debut in 1908.

ANNE OF GREEN GABLES was an immediate success, garnering nearly sixty favorable reviews and creating a royalty check of $1,730 the first year. On June 20, 1908, the day of publication, and exuberant L. M. Montgomery wrote in her journal; “Today has been, as Anne herself would say, ‘an epoch in my life.’…my first book. Not a great book, but mine, mine, mine, something which I created.”

In a congratulatory letter to Ms Montgomery, Mark Twain called the accidental adoptee, Anne Shirley – “the dearest and most moving child since the immortal Alice.”Anne1


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Tidbit Histories – Santa Claus Comes of Age

At 40, a teacher of classical studies named Moore had written little of value.  But, in 1823 he recited a poem as a Christmas gift for his children.

Unbeknownst to the author, the poem was transcribed by an enchanted house guest and sent off to a New York newspaper. On December 23, 1823, the Troy Sentinel published an anonymous poem which began: “Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.”

Almost immediately Clement Moore’s poem created an indelible image of a benevolent and jolly St. Nick, so very different from the stolid St. Nicholas of German tradition. And, he answered the perplexing question of how St. Nick covered so much ground.  Flying reindeer, of course! “Now Dasher! Now Dancer! Now Prancer and Vixen! On Comet! On Cupid! On Donner and Blitzen!Night Before Christmas3

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Tidbit Histories – Legendary Children’s Editor, May Massee, Discovers Kate Seredy.

Kate Seredy was born in Hungary in the late 19th century into a household filled with books and music. After high school she attended the Academy of Arts in Budapest and spent summers studying in Germany, Italy and France.

By her own account she caught the last train for Hungary out of Paris at the beginning of World War I. She spent the next two years as a front-line nurse, the effect of which was to make her a life-long pacifist.

Shortly after the war she illustrated two books which garnered high praise in Hungary but she felt that was due more to her father’s reputation than her skill. None-the-less, her career as an illustrator was off to an encouraging start.

In 1922, while traveling through the United States, she made the decision to stay. Unfortunately she spoke no English and had to learn her new language quickly so that she could read the books she wanted to illustrate. She supported herself by illustrating greeting cards, lamp shades and book covers. Aided by her fellow countryman, Willy Pogany, who gave her a letter of introduction to his publisher’s in 1926, she soon began illustrating textbooks and children’s trade books.

During the depression, facing financial difficulties, she drove to New York to present her work to famed children’s book editor for Viking, May Massee. Ms Massee had nothing for her to illustrate but suggested that Kate go home and write her own books based on her childhood in Hungary. After several months of constant writing, Ms Seredy mailed May Massee her manuscript which Ms Massee accepted. In 1935, just in time for Christmas, Viking published THE GOOD MASTER, written and lavishly illustrated by Kate Seredy.

THE GOOD MASTER foreshadowed a brilliant career as both writer and illustrator, which would include a Newbery Award (THE WHITE STAG), two Newbery Honor books (THE GOOD MASTER & THE SINGING TREE) and a Caldecott Honor (THE CHRISTMAS ANNA ANGEL by Ruth Sawyer). In 1935, the year THE GOOD MASTER was a Newbery Honor book, Kate Seredy illustrated CADDIE WOODLAWN by Carol Ryrie Brink, the book that edged out THE GOOD MASTER to win the Newbery Award.


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Tidbit Histories – Robert McCloskey: The Pied Piper of Hamilton, Ohio.

Robert McCloskey, like the characters in so many of his books, grew up in small town America. Born and raised in Hamilton, Ohio, the young McCloskey filled his days playing piano, harmonica, drums or oboe, or tinkering with found junk creating strange devices, or illustrating various high-school publications.

His various talents made it difficult for him to decide on a career. Luckily, when he received a full scholarship to the college of his choice, he chose to attend the Vesper George Art School which he attended from 1932-1936.

Post college, he went to see famed children’s book editor May Massee, to show her his art. What she saw was a hodge-podge of imitation Greek art, oriental dragons and Spanish galleons. She suggested that he re-focus his work on the real world. She also (luckily for us) suggested that he write stories as well as illustrate them.

In a very real sense, McCloskey went “back to the drawing board” and enrolled at the National Academy of Art, where he spent 1936-1938 revamping his style.

Upon graduation, he returned to May Massee with the draft of his first book, LENTIL, which Massee’s boss Viking published in 1940.

LENTIL, according to McCloskey was filled with “remembered pictures” of Hamilton, Ohio and contained all the hallmarks that would make McCloskey’s books some of the most read and beloved books of all time; humor, small town atmosphere, and illustrations that out-charm Norman Rockwell.

McCloskey’s hit parade continued with two Caldecott awards (one for his second book, MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS) and three runner up awards (one for JOURNEY CAKE, HO!, written by his mother-in-law, Ruth Sawyer).

It’s no wonder that many people came to think of Robert McCloskey as The Pied Piper of Hamilton.McCloskey6

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Tidbit Histories – Huck Finn Garners Caustic Reviews!

THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER, (See previous Post “Mark Twain Writes Children’s Book by Mistake), Twain’s work based on his own childhood memories, was published in 1876 to enthusiastic but cautious reviews. Sales were slow to pick up which perhaps contributed to Twain taking an additional ten years to complete its sequel.

If reviews of TOM SAWYER were cautious, reviews of THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN, published in early 1885 by Charles Webster, were downright caustic.

Life magazine attacked it for its ‘coarse and dreary fun’ claiming it was completely unsuitable for young people. Louisa May Alcott wrote ‘If Mr. Clemens cannot think of something better to tell our pure-minded lads and lasses, he had better stop writing for them.’ The Public Library of Concord Mass., banned it as ‘trash and only suitable for the slums.’

But, despite (or because of) these reviews, sales were high reaching 51,000 by May of 1885. Soon, the tone of the reviews began to change. Century Magazine called it ‘capital reading’ and dubbed Huck ‘immortal.’ Oh, if they only knew…Huckleberry Finn3


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Tidbit Histories – Mark Twain Writes Children’s Book by Mistake.

In the summer of 1874 S. L. Clemens began a book based largely on his own childhood in Hannibal, Missouri.

After a few weeks, he put the book aside and didn’t return to it until the following summer. He finished it in July of 1875 and only them, after getting friends to read it, did he realize that he had written a children’s book.

Although Mr. Clemens desperately needed money, his publisher, Elisha Bliss of The American Publishing Company, said they had too many books already in the making to bring it out immediately.

Despite Clemens’s fury, THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER, by Mark Twain, did not appear until December of 1876. TOM SAWYER was not particularly successful at first, receiving enthusiastic, if cautious reviews, with sales taking time to pick up.  But, unknown to both supporters and detractors, TOM SAWYER was only a prelude to it brilliant sequel, THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN. Stay tuned…Tom Sawyer4

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Tidbit Histories – Ruth Sawyer, Storyteller and Children’s Author Extraordinaire

Ruth Sawyer, the last of five children and the only girl, grew up in the late 19th century in a household where, in addition to her family, she had and Irish storytelling nanny who would prove to be strongest influence on her future career.

After secondary school, the young Ms Sawyer, enrolled in Garland Kindergarten Training school and after two years, she went to Cuba to teach storytelling to teachers organizing kindergartens for orphans. This led to a scholarship at Columbia where she majored in folklore and storytelling.

After graduation, her new employer, The New York Sun, sent her to Ireland on assignment. In her spare time she roamed the back country listening to “seanachies”, traditional Irish historian/storytellers. Upon her return she would share some of her Irish tales with children at the New York Public Library.

Ms Sawyer married in 1911 and throughout her children’s early years, she continued to tell, and  to collect new stories and folktales, many of which would make it into her own books. Her own son, David Durand became the main protagonist in her second book, a collection of Christmas tales, “This Way to Christmas”

Winner of the prestigious Newbery Medal and two Caldecott Honor medals, Ms Sawyer’s long and productive career will be best exemplified for a long time to come by her humorous tale, “Journey Cake, Ho!” made all the more luminous with illustrations by Robert McCloskey (Make Way for Ducklings), Ms Sawyer’s son-in-law.Ruth Sawyer6


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Tidbit Histories – Literature on the backs of children!?

This is both a Tidbit History and an hommage to one of my very favorite children’s authors. Laura E. Richards was one of three daughters born to Julia Ward Howe. Ms Howe is best known as the author of THE BATTLE HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC, but was also an accomplished singer and would sing to her daughters in five languages

All three daughters became singers, but it was Laura who discovered that she had a special talent for children’s rhymes. Laura had seven children of her own and would use the back of her current baby, as he or she lay across her knees, as a writing table turning out jingles, rhymes and stories.

Over time she came to think of the songs that bubbled up within her as her “hurdy-gurdy.” She died in 1943 at the ripe old age of 93, having written over ninety books including the Pulitzer Prize winning biography of her mother, JULIA WARD HOWE. But it was her charming, rhythmic, sometimes nonsensical poetry that endeared her to children around the world and which I still read to my classes every year.

At a cheerful 82, when a new edition of her verses was about to be published, Ms Richards wrote a dedication to her youngest grandchild and oldest great-grandchild, “Two Very Young Gentlemen.” As both a sample of her poetry and her spirit, I leave you with her dedication.

Tirra lirra, little John!

Tirra lirra, tiny Bill!

Take my hurdy-gurdy, boys;

Turn is with a will!

In the Sun and in the rain,

Sing and play and sing again;

Be you clown or be you king,

Still your singing is the thing.

But be sure, my little boys,

That you make a joyful noise!


Let us all make a joyful noise…always.Laure E. Richards3

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Tidbit Histories – The Curious Case of Curious George

A disappointed child, when meeting H. A. Rey and his wife, Margret, pouted, “I thought you were monkeys too.” To gain that much identification with his creation is even more impressive when you consider, Hans Augusto Rey didn’t even create his first Curious George book until he was over 40.

Born in Germany in 1898, Rey was raised near the Hagenbeck Zoo where he reportedly developed his lifelong love for animals. He studied natural sciences, philosophy and spoke four languages but never studied art, although he was later well known for his caricatures.

After serving in the German infantry and medical core during the First World War, he joined relatives in Brazil, selling bathtubs up and down the Amazon and eventually opening an advertising agency.  It was also in Brazil that he met his wife and collaborator, Margret Waldstein.

In 1936, the Reys returned to Europe, settled in Paris, and continued their work in advertising. An editor from Gallimard saw a drawing of a giraffe Rey had done for an ad and suggested that he try his hand at children’s books. Unfortunately the war intervened and, as the German occupation came nearer, the Reys fled on their bicycles with manuscripts in hand, eventually making their way to Greenwich Village where they spent the next twenty-three years.

Curious George first appeared as a young and very curious monkey named Zozo in Rey’s first book, “Raffy and the 9 Monkeys,” a story about a family of homeless monkeys who take up residence with a lonely giraffe.  But it didn’t take long for Zozo to break out on his own and become one of the most popular characters in children’s literature. With translations into a multitude of languages and sales in the millions, it is safe to say that children around the world will share George’s curiosity for generations to come.

“I don’t do any book that I, as a child, wouldn’t have liked. Maybe it’s a case of retarded development, not rare among artists. I sometimes feel I still have to grow up.”

Fortunately, he never did.Curious George7



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Tidbit Histories – Horton or Hitler; Which Will It Be?

New Year’s day in 1940 found Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) back as his desk overlooking Park Ave. THE KING’S STILTS had been published the previous year to luke-warm reviews and sluggish sales.

On his desk were two unrelated sketches on transparent paper, one of a rather friendly looking elephant and the other of a tree. Stumped for ideas, Dr. Seuss went out for his daily brisk walk and when he returned a serendipitous gust of wind had blown the two sketches together giving the impression of an elephant sitting in a tree.

Seuss asked himself why an elephant would be sitting in a tree…obviously, hatching an egg. Seuss would later joke, “I’ve left a window open by my desk ever since.” Seuss threw himself into his new book and was so pleased with it that he wrote a friend, “The new book is coming along with a rapidity that leaves me breathless. The funniest juvenile ever written. I mean, being written.”

His main characters went through multiple name changes and role reversals:  Osmer, then Bosco, then Humphrey finally became Horton; while Mayzie was first Bessie, then Saidie. As the book neared completion, Ted became distracted by Hitler’s antics, drawing biting political cartoons. When he was unable to write a satisfying conclusion, Helen, his wife and life-long editor, wrote the concluding lines:

“Then they cheered and they cheered and the CHEERED more and more.

They’d never seen anything like it before! ’My goodness! My gracious!’ they shouted.

‘MY WORD! It’s something brand new!


HORTON HATCHES THE EGG was published in the fall of 1940 and was an immediate success. At the age of 36, Ted Geisel finally knew what he wanted to do with his life.Horton3

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