Tis Pity He's a Writer

Richard Daybell – Novels, stories and short humor

Mother West Wind and Doctor Doolittle

Two of my favorite childhood writers share birthdays – same day, January 14, twelve years apart, and more than half a century before I entered the scene (not on January 14). Thornton Burgess was born in 1874 ; Hugh Lofting in 1886. My first encounter with the Mother West Windburgess and Doctor Doolittle books was during my weekly visits to the Children’s Room of the Salt Lake City Public Library.

I read them on my own, so I must have known how to read at the time. A miracle, I’d say, since our first readers were the endearing and always exhilarating Dick and Jane (See Spot. See Spot run. Spot bites Dick.) If this was what reading was all about, why bother? But I wander.

Thornton Burgess was a conservationist and prolific writer of children’s books, producing 170 books between 1910 and 1965 – several titles every year (with an amazing 19 in 1914 alone). His books celebrated nature, featuring the many animals that lived in the Green Meadow and Green Forest.

Mother West Wind “How” Stories was my first, a collection of 16 stories that told me how Lightfoot the Deer learned to jump, how the eyes of Old Mr. Owl became fixed, how Drummer the Woodpecker came by his red cap and so on. Other collections told when, where and why various animal things happened – Wild Kingdom without Marlin Perkins or TV commercials The various forest and meadow creatures that had their own adventure books included Peter Rabbit (borrowed from Beatrix Potter), Jimmy Skunk, Grandfather Frog, Little Joe Otter, Granny Fox, Jerry Muskrat and Digger the Badger(!) to name just a few.

doolittleHugh Lofting, on the other hand, wrote only a dozen books featuring the amazing Doctor Doolittle, a character he first created in letters to his children during his World War I service in the Irish Guards. Yes, Doctor Doolittle could talk to the animals and so much more. He ran a post office, a circus and a zoo, took voyages to exotic places around the world, went to the moon. According to the mussel-man, he was a nacheralist – “a man who knows all about animals and butterflies and plants and rocks an’ all.” Not only could he talk to and understand animals, he had written history books in monkey-talk, poetry in canary language and songs for magpies to sing. And his books teem with animals too – not just pigs, rats, owls, seals (performing) and badgers (again!) but wiff-waffs and pushmi-pullyus as well.

Yes, reading that was fun, books that made you want more. I’m sure Mother West Wind and Doctor Doolittle are not faring well in this age of men in black and avengers, nor I guess is the Children’s Room at the public library.

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10 comments on “Mother West Wind and Doctor Doolittle

  1. elroyjones
    January 14, 2013

    I loved the Children’s Room at the public library. I hope kids still go there. I think they must. Our library has a list of children’s books the library would like to add to its collection and patrons may purchase the books. I’d like to believe they’re for the kids but those librarians are prone to caper.

    Like

    • Richard Daybell
      January 14, 2013

      They certainly are. I worked for a library (SLC Public) and I can tell you we couldn’t be trusted around books.

      Like

      • elroyjones
        January 14, 2013

        Ah HA! I knew there was something beneath that mild mannered demeanor.

        Like

  2. Brenda Bergstrom
    January 14, 2013

    I have always loved the library wherever I have lived. Richard thanks for those childhood literary remembrances. Here in East Greenbush, NY there is a beautiful new library which is every well used. B. Bergstrom

    Like

    • Richard Daybell
      January 14, 2013

      I remember the old East Greenbush Library. In fact, I think I may still owe them a book. I’m happy to hear they were able to build a new library even without that book, and that you and many others are using it.

      Like

  3. Joel
    January 14, 2013

    The library has been surprisingly busy the last few times I stopped in to pick up recorded books (which I listen to on my long weekly drive to the airport). I do not remember, but I suspect that some in that crowd were actually children.

    Like

    • Richard Daybell
      January 14, 2013

      You’d know them if you saw them, Joel. They’re the short noisy ones.

      Like

      • Joel
        January 14, 2013

        Really?
        I guess I have lived in the DC area too long, because I thought those noisy short ones were politicians.
        Are you sure they are actually children???
        Then again, you might be right… they did seen to have a better grasp of viable governmental economic policies then those guys on the hill.

        Like

  4. Kenton Lewis
    January 15, 2013

    Thanks for sharing this snippet of your life. Those writers of old children’s books had a gift – a special gift. I sometimes muse at those so called celebs who try their hand at it. In no way do they come close to the old masters.

    Like

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