Book Notes: Thornton Burgess Animal Stories

Grandfather Frog

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.)

Reddy Fox

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.
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.
Happy Jack

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.
Red Squirrel

“Hop along, skip along,
The sun is shining bright;
Hum a song, sing a song,
My heart is always light.”

Danny Meadowmouse

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,
Kathryn xoxo

20 Responses to “Book Notes: Thornton Burgess Animal Stories”

  1. This post made me *smile* so big!!! Thanks, mom!!!
    Love you,

  2. Hi, Sweetheart. I actually just went and looked at some of your childhood books and found a hardcover version of Peter Cottontail among them. (It has a different cover.) That would explain why he was most familiar! When you come up I’ll share the rest with you. (Never too late!) Love, Mommie D.

  3. You have brought back some good memories with this posting. Thanks.

    Always Growing

  4. Hello,
    I was reminded of the “Mother West Wind Stories” from my childhood. I have a dear friend, who is in his 70’s. He wanted to read his grandchildren some books from his childhood and asked me if I remembered these. I wish that we had kept these books. My mother was never one to save things, so they must have been handed down to cousins.Thanks for reminding me.

  5. Welcome, Jan! I’m glad you enjoyed. I was hoping to kindle some fond nostalgia. ๐Ÿ™‚ Warmly, Kathryn

  6. Hello, Balisha! Thank you for visiting. You are in luck! It’s quite remarkable that Dover is making these books available for extremely reasonable prices. (I’m astounded, frankly.) I just looked. Amazon has the West Wind series from Dover for the same low prices. Such a deal! Enjoy! Kathryn

  7. Hmmm, Kathryn, I have to wonder if Thornton Burgess came from the highly artistic family that produced Tasha Tudor (born Starling Burgess), also in New England. It seems unlikely to be a coincidence! Maybe he was one of Tasha’s uncles. Thanks for sharing the delight with us!

  8. Hi, Our Friend Ben! Interesting observation! A Google search does not reveal any connection between Thornton and Tasha or Thornton and Starling Burgess, other than the likely literary association. I’d have to delve through the door to actually see, but it seems like it would show up in their histories, given the commonalities. I appreciate knowing Tasha’s birth name. Thanks for the visit! Kathryn xox

  9. Oh, the memories! I was introduced to the Burgess books as a toddler and read and re-read them as I learned to read for myself. Probably accounts for my surrounding myself with animals all of my life.

    Thanks for the walk down memory lane!

  10. Hi, Loma! I wonder how many children would say same? I guess Burgess sowed the seeds in his heart and many took root! Love, Kathryn xoxo

  11. Kathryn, I come here just to listen to you talk. It inspires the best in everyone. If I had a book, I’d want you to be promoting it. When God was handing out Grace, he gave you lots. Thanks for a good set of books I can put on my shelf for my furture grandchildren. I’m going to teach them the joy of reading.

  12. Oh, Anna, I’m almost speechless. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you for your kindest of comments. And it’s very dear of you to be setting aside books for your future grandchildren! Lucky children! Kathryn xox

  13. This post just placed me in a great mood. I am on vacation and am very relaxed, but this certainly added to it. Illustrations like these transport one to a magical world. I did not grow up with these, but I can see children(and adults) would treasure them.
    Best Regards,

  14. Hi, Philip! Happy vacation! Yes, these Harrison Cady drawings do kindle a gentle, safe time. It is my fondest wish that folks take note and find themselves reading these books to the children in their lives.
    I certainly enjoyed them! Kathryn xox

  15. Oh Kathryn, I hardly remember these books, yet they look so very, very familiar. My mom must have had them for my siblings and I. Those covers stirred very old memories for me. I’m going to have to ask her about them.

    I have a young grandson, and I’ll most definitely be looking for them to add to his bookshelf here. And there’s no doubt I’ll be reading them too.

  16. Hi, Linda, I hope you do. I hope she kept them for you. And I hope you pass them along. Kathryn xoxo

  17. Oh, you brought a smile to my face with this post. Chatterer the Red Squirrel!! How well I remember those books. I had at least a dozen of the Thorton W. Burgess books and they were passed along to my children, with dust covers still intact. Old Mother West Wind was a favorite. And Sammy Jay. So many!! Great memories. ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. Lucky you, Nancy, to have had all these books in your world as a child! I must now read Old Mother West Wind. I had been curious. Thanks for the recommendation! (and the visit!) Kathryn xox

  19. As a child I checked out all the Mother Westwind books our library had on it’s shelves. Many times. We had a field and woods and a pond behind our house and I always pretended that it was all the familar places in the books. What wonderful memories I have of growing up with Thornton Burgess’ books. I found my first copy to buy on a trip to New England in 1986. It was at an old farm in Maine where the owner had turned the barn into an antique shop. That seemed appropiate. I know these stories will live forever.

  20. Welcome, Bev, and thank you for sharing such a lovely childhood memory. It’s true these imaginative books that help us maintain our connection with nature are most endearing and enrich our entire lives.
    Finding that book in New England at an old farm was perfect! Kathryn xoxo

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