It was actually Frances of Faire Garden who brought Burgess to my attention when I wrote about my experiences with (what Southerners call) buzzards. It brought to Frances’s mind her deep enjoyment as a child of Thornton Burgess’s Ol’ Mistah Buzzard in his Animal Stories for children. I immediately bought a boxed set of six of his books, delivered handily by mail, and that evening began to delve into the world Burgess created first for his own son, as so often happens with writers, being inspired to write for their own children–and then discovering the Universe had a much larger plan for their creations than they had originally imagined. It happens.
Thornton Burgess (1874-1965) who lived his life in Cape Cod, had been brought up by a father who taught him a deep appreciation for nature. As an adult Burgess wrote over 170 books and 15,000 stories. (He would have made a great blogger!) Among his many books are these six I present you with today. I’m betting that many of you will have fond memories of having read these books when you were a child. For some strange reason, in spite of being introduced to many children’s book series as a child (Honeybunch series, all the Hardy Boy series, all the Nancy Drew series, etc.) Burgess was not in my home library. So it is with a new inspiration to have discovered him now, and surely there will be some among you who also did not read him. And others will be delighted to have their memories refreshed as they have children or grandchildren who will appreciate them, and gardening grandmothers or grandfathers will be particularly pleased as these books do kindle an appreciation for those critters who live out in Nature, though I must say they do spend an inordinate amount to time contemplating catching and devouring each other, so stand forewarned!
“He comes to grief, however fleet,
Who doesn’t watch his flying feet.”
Ultimately even the untrustworthy characters, such as Reddy Fox, find a place in the hearts of their woodland companions, so one not worry about frightening anyone. (Though after what our children are exposed to these days, I’m certain they will find these stories very tame.)
As with European fables, the characters live their lives in a moral spotlight, teaching our children to consider acts of cunning and acts of compassion; trickery and honesty; pride and humility–all worthy topics, offered in a most engaging, humorous and delightful style. I have thoroughly enjoyed each story, laughing out loud at some of the antics! Perhaps my favorite, and I suspect I am certainly in large, varied and wide company, is the beloved Peter Cottontail.
I can only imagine how absolutely pleased with himself Thornton Burgess must have been when he thought of this name! I bet he had a very big smile on his face all day. I would have!
“Peter Rabbit’s changed his name.
In the future without fail
You must call him, if you please,
Mr. Peter Cottontail.”
Peter is probably the best-known and loved of Burgess’s characters. (Maybe it’s because he’s a vegetarian and isn’t eating any of his friends??) The characters live their lives in the enchanting and approachable world of Green Meadows, the Old Briar-patch, Farmer Brown’s garden, the Green Forest, the Smiling Pool and the Purple Mountains. Here they learn the value of being true to themselves and each other. Here lives innocence, good storytelling and charm.
Accompanying Thorton Burgess’s lively-paced and lighthearted stories are the beautiful old illustrations of Harrison Cady, and the newer adaptations by New Yorker, Thea Kliros. Both artists capture the spirit of the books perfectly.
“Hop along, skip along,
The sun is shining bright;
Hum a song, sing a song,
My heart is always light.”
Not unlike the impulses of Celia Thaxter, the impact of Thornton Burgess lives on in Cape Cod at the Thornton W. Burgess Museum and Green Briar Nature Center. I was particularly charmed to see they lead visitors on wildflower garden walks to this day. Oh, gosh. Wouldn’t you just love to follow Dr. Shirley Cross through a wildflower field? I would.
It is a gift that we have such literature available to us to read to our children and grandchildren. Happy, healthy choices. Enjoy, dear readers.
Love and gardening blessings,
Posted on July 11th, 2008 by Kathryn
Filed under: Book Notes