Tidbit History – How St. Nicholas Became Santa

Legend holds that the 4th century Turkish bishop St. Nicholas secretly bestowed dowries on the three daughters of a poor citizen, saving them from a life of shame.

Considered the protector of children, his legend arrived in the American colonies with the Dutch who called him Sinter Klaas, which became Santa Claus in the mouths of the English Colonists.

Our modern image of a jolly, red suited, reindeer driving humanitarian gelled in 1823 in Clement Moore’s beloved poem the “Night Before Christmas.”

In 1939, children’s author Robert May was commissioned by Montgomery Ward to write a Christmas story. May’s story of an awkward, shy, young reindeer with a bulbous red nose brought to life the endearing Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Given away as a Christmas greeting by Montgomery Ward, Rudolph was the finishing touch to our thoroughly Americanized St. Nicholas.Rudolph5

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Tidbit History – The Map That Became a Book

In 1881, on a cold August day in the Scottish Highlands, a young author entertaining his stepson drew a map.

As the map became more elaborate, he started to invent the inhabitants of this new land.  Soon he was writing a chapter a day and reading each day’s installment to his wife and enthusiastic stepson. By October the book, now called THE SEA COOK, was set to appear in weekly installments in Young Folks Magazine.

When the serial was finished, the author contacted his friend William Henley at Cassell publishing. Luckily, Henley and the editor both liked the manuscript and in 1883 the world graciously received the gift of TREASURE ISLAND by Robert Louis Stevenson.

And, incidentally, while Robert Louis Stevenson was waiting for his future wife, Fanny Osbourne, to get a divorce, he spent time hiking in the Point Lobos area of California. Local lore claims that this bit of rugged coastline became Spyglass hill on the famed map that accompanies TREASURE  ISLAND.Stevenson6

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Tidbit History – Robert Lawson, Author & Illustrator

Robert Lawson, born in NYC in 1892, claimed no special talent for, or desire to be an artist. However, his early years were spent living in the house once owned by American landscape painter, George Innes.

Evidently he imbibed the spirit earning his first dollar as an artist in a high school poster contest. After graduation from the New York School of Fine Arts, he settled in Greenwich Village and began work as a commercial artist doing illustrations for, among others, Vogue, Harper’s Weekly and Century.

In 1922 he married fellow author/artist, Marie Abrams and together they each designed a greeting card per day for three years in order to afford their house in Westport, Ct.  The Depression years forced a move back to NYC where Lawson’s illustrations caught the eye of Doubleday’s brilliant editor May Massee. In 1930 Doubleday issued Lawson’s first children’s illustrations (if you ignore poorly reproduced illustrations for a serial story in The Delineator which Lawson never laid claim to) in THE WEE MEN OF BALLYWOODEN, by Arthur Mason.

But it was in 1936 that all eyes would turn toward Lawson when he illustrated a book penned in less than one hour by his close friend Munro Leaf, THE STORY OF FERDINAND. In 1939, at the suggestion of his editor, Lawson embarked on his writing career with BEN AND ME, a charming story told from the perspective of Ben Franklin’s mouse. In 1945, once again at the suggestion of May Massee, Lawson wrote and illustrated, RABBIT HILL, called by one critic the American WIND IN THE WILLOWS.

Lawson’s philosophy, that you should never talk down to a child, was evident throughout a prolific career and he remains the only children’s author to have received both the Caldecott Medal (THEY WERE STRONG AND GOOD, 1941) and the Newbery Medal (RABBIT HILL, 1945).lawson10

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In 1899 L. Frank Baum  collaborated with W. W. Denslow on their best-seller FATHER GOOSE, HIS BOOK. Its success encouraged Baum to write another book based on a bedtime story he had been telling his four sons.

Wishing to make the book as enjoyable to look at as to read, no expense was spared. In 1901 THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ was issued with 24 full page color plates, two-color text illustrations, and a color-stamped cloth binding in a decorative dust jacket. This was the beginning of what can only be considered a publishing phenomena.

Selling 38,000 copies in the first 15 months, Baum started to work on sequels. By the time WWI rolled around publishing costs forced a more conservative design and sales began to slump. In 1918, towards the end of the war, Baum’s health was failing. He had finished the manuscripts for two more Oz books. Unfortunately, Baum died one month before the 1919 publication of THE MAGIC OF OZ and never knew that sales had turned the corner and were booming.

Ruth Plumly Thompson, a family friend, published THE ROYAL BOOK OF OZ in 1921, the first of 18 sequels she would write. It didn’t seem to matter who wrote them, the country was Oz crazy.

Baum wrote 14 titles, Ruth Plumly Thompson wrote 18, John R. Neill, Baum’s long-time illustrator wrote 4, Jack Snow, Baum scholar and collector, wrote 3, Rachel Cosgrove Payes 2 and Eloise Jarvis McGraw, 3 with THE RUNDELSTONE OF OZ debuting in 2001 exactly 100 years after THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OZ.

Baum wrote non-Oz books under 8 pseudonyms but nothing even approached the adventures of Dorothy, Toto and friends. In 2002 Christies, New York estimated a first edition with a 4 line authorial inscription would bring between 60 – 80 thousand dollars. Final price? $150,000.000, a world record for an Oz book.Baum5



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