Johnny Town-Mouse

I recently came across my childhood  copy of Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse. This edition is from 1946. It’s as charming as ever!

The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse

Johnny Town-Mouse

Images of Renowned Authors as Children, Part Two

Everyone was a child once, even serious wordsmiths. Let’s get started:

A poised Gertrude Stein:

Gertrude Stein at Three

Gertrude Stein at three

An uncomfortable looking Franz Kafka:

Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka

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Toys Gone By

My mom has long been one of my heroes (heroines?) and a champion of my creative impulses and flights of imagination.  One of the earliest examples of her limitless support was the Fiddlesticks sets she bought me.

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Here it is. The Knickerbocker Fiddlesticks World of Mazu building set. Been looking for it for about five years now. This is one of the earliest toys I can ever remember having.

Gaze upon this image and appreciate it. You don’t know what I had to do to get it.  Well, okay, I actually just had to look it up on Google, but it was only after five years  of searching for the set, in addition to another couple of nights looking for it again  (due to the fact that, uh, I forgot what it was called).  But MAN, that second search was ridiculous; there were virtually no pictures of the set anywhere on the net, no matter how many search terms I submitted.  Eventually, I had to resort to looking in the one place I suddenly remembered the pic would be – on my Facebook page, where I posted it three years ago.

This is what happens when I put things away.  I can never find them again.

The Knickerbocker Fiddlesticks sets were comprised of a series of multi-colored tubes, about the thickness of a #2  pencil, which varied in length, along with  a variety of two-, three-, and four-pronged connectors for putting the tubes together.  Every unit was packaged with larger, plastic shell pieces that allowed the builder to make various objects, from vehicles, to buildings, to otherworldly Lovecraftian horrors of gargantuan proportions.  “Action” figures (they could bend over and sit down) were included with the sets.  The Knickerbocker company had a long tradition of making toys from licensed characters, and they continued in that vein with several popular Marvel and DC superheroes, including Spider-Man and Superman.  One side of the figures was decorated with decals, with the characters standing invariably with arms akimbo.

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Above:  A Batman set.  I had that one too.

 As my little brain grew more and more complex in its ability to comprehend and appreciate my toys, I began to realize that the Fiddlesticks World of Mazu set had a certain aspect to it that I hadn’t noticed in other building toys:  you could build stuff with Legos and Lincoln Logs, but this thing was candy-colored conflict and excitement in one large box.  On the one hand, you get two astronauts.  On the other, you’re presented with an absolutely massive alien, the dimensions of which you, the builder, could dictate.  Though it’s solid, intimidating face and clawed feet looked a bit incongruous when mounted on its skeletal rainbow body, for one of the first times in my young life I had been presented with a toy that contained both antagonist and protagonists (or vice-versa) in one package.

Being a child who enjoyed the simple narrative of good-vs.-evil, the two astronauts would always have to be on their guard from becoming a snack for the malignant Mazu (I don’t recall ever using that appellation, however.  Prolly just called it ‘the monster’).  For his part, Maz was no passive threat.  He was packaged with two huge pincers that the builder could operate manually, trapping the perpetually-in-profile explorers and dragging them off to their doom.  Sadly, it wasn’t in my nature at the time to spin an adventure wherein the obviously enraged Mazu was an innocent actor somehow being provoked by the astronauts, possibly bugged by their environmentally-destructive attempts to score some unobtanium or some such.

But it mattered little.  What I had was a toy that allowed me, though I was unaware at the time, to explore my ever-growing love of speculative fiction and storytelling.  This was a toy that I could build into almost literally anything I wanted (a spaceship could be constructed as well, as the packaging shows), with an obvious push towards the realm of the FAR OUT!  If I wanted to follow the included instructions and build Mazu, or a starship, or just a plastic thingamabob from Fancyville, I was free to do so.  It wasn’t the little white connectors that kept my creations together, it was my imagination.

And this was one of the many reasons why my mom was my hero.  No matter what my report card may have said, no matter how unprofitable a future in being a chronicler of the impossible may seem, she never stopped feeding my imagination, never stopped inspiring me, pushing me, challenging me to consider things from different angles in order to become a better storyteller.

Between that, those wonderful memories of her showing me how to put Mazu together, and the tireless work she did to keep Mike and me rolling in toys to begin with (obviously having dealt with proper food, housing, and healthcare first), my mom enriched my life in ways I can’t begin to thank her for.

Nevertheless:  Thanks, Mom.

A Year in Books/Day 224: Nancy Drew’s Guide to Life

  • Title: Nancy Drew’s Guide to Life
  • Author: Jennifer Worick
  • Year Published: 2001 (A Running Press Miniature Edition)
  • Year Purchased: December 2012
  • Source: Fred Flare
  • About: Nancy Drew’s best quotes, sorted into eight self-help type categories: Survival Strategies; Dating: A Primer; Sleuthing 101; The Delicate Art of Etiquette; Wilderness Tips; On Being a Lady; Powers of Observation; Accoutrements. Whatever your feelings about the Nancy Drew series are, you’ll think these out-of-context quotes are hilarious. If you don’t, well, that’s a bigger mystery than anything the girl detective ever solved.
  • Motivation: Tiny books practically scream, “I’m a stocking stuffer.” I bought two copies of this book for just that reason, plus a third to keep.
  • Times Read: 1
  • Random Excerpt/Pages 103 and 94: “Never lose your girlish glee when your dad buys you a ticket to Hong Kong.”/”If a bleeding, screaming man runs from shore and starts swimming frantically toward your boat, you should probably help him out. He might be escaping from cruel employers.”
  • Happiness Scale: 10

    Wacky advice that fits in the palm of your (husband's) hand.

    Wacky advice that fits in the palm of your (husband’s) hand. Instagram.

My Velveteen Chair, or: Why I’ve Given Up on the Idea of a Perfectly Curated Reading Nook

I’d like to think that I’m a relaxed, purposeful, and serene-looking reader,  a leisurely woman out of a nineteenth-century painting. Cushioned in velvet and satin, a pile of books, a pot of tea, and a vase of flowers artfully arranged on an elegantly draped table near-to-hand. Like this, more or less:

Louise Tiffany Reading by Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1888

Louise Tiffany Reading by Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1888

My delusions are so humble, aren’t they? The reality is a bit different. Okay, considerably different. For starters, it involves backaches and too much dog hair. I live in a sea of language, a blizzard of words. If I’m not writing, I’m reading. The former is done at the desk in my studio with neatness, solitude, and organization. The latter is a haphazard affair. I hunker down with a book or three in, on, or beside whatever can pass for a seat: my swinging sixties swivel chair; the bathtub; my too-lumpy bed; on the dining room floor; or, somewhat claustrophobically, on the couch crushed beneath a pile of scratchy dog paws and icy snouts. My solution? A dedicated reading space, of course!

We’ve been in our huge flat for 2 1/2 years, and my studio has been used as such from the get-go. Why am I so late to the party with this? I’ve always been a wallflower but this, this, is ridiculous. I spend far too much time on Pinterest to be ignorant of or  immune to the sweet siren call of The Perfectly Curated Reading Nook. The concept makes my heart sing with girlish enthusiasm. The effort required to make this over-the-top idea come true? Not so much. In fact, it makes me think of this:

John Everett Millais-Ophelia

My girl Ophelia knows how I feel.

What’s a writer-reader with bohemian taste, an absurd imagination, and lazy tendencies to do in lieu of actual work? Drag an old chair that has been in the family for 40+ years to the middle of her studio and call it a day.

Communing with the chair in the late 1970s.

Before: Communing with the chair in the late 1970s.

The Gold Chair is older than I am. It’s now missing a few buttons and is slightly threadbare in spots; it reminds me of a passage in The Velveteen Rabbit (or How Toys Become Real) by Margery Williams: Continue reading

A Year in Books/Day 205: Four Little Blossoms at Oak Hill School

  • Title: Four Little Blossoms at Oak Hill School
  • Author: “Mabel C. Hawley”
  • Year Published: 1920 (The Saalfield Publishing Company)
  • Year Purchased: Circa 1920
  • Source: My Grandma
  • About: When this book was published nearly a century ago, it wouldn’t have been considered naive or innocent, but a reflection of mainstream normalcy: what childhood was, or aspired to be. As such, the plot isn’t important. All you need to know is in the characters’ names: Bobby, Meg, Dot and….Twaddles. The Blossoms are siblings, and range in age from 7 to 4 (Dot and Twaddles, you see, are twins). Nothing much happens, just the usual sweet or sly childhood shenanigans one associates with a bygone era. The Four Little Blossoms’  benign adventures lasted for seven books. Published between 1920-1930, they were part of the Stratemeyer Syndicate assembly line. Other, more famous series from Stratemeyer include the Bobbsey Twins, Hardy Boys Mystery Stories, Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, and Dana Girls Mystery Stories.
  • Motivation: This unimportant little book has, by extreme happenstance, been in the family for over ninety years, having been owned or read by four generations. Who knew that it would hang around so long? I wonder if this is the orphan of a once complete set, or if this is the only Four Little Blossoms book my forebears bought?
  • Times Read: Dozens? As one of the first “real” chapter books I owned, at 3 or 4, I used it to move my skills beyond the Little Golden Books stage.
  • Random Excerpt/Pages 10 and 11: “The Blossoms lived in the pretty town of Oak Hill, and they knew nearly every one. Indeed the children had never been away from Oak Hill till the visit they had made to their Aunt Polly, about which you may have read in the book called “Four Little Blossoms at Brookside Farm.” They had spent the summer with Aunt Polly, and had made many new friends and learned a great deal about animals. Meg, especially, loved all dumb creatures. And now that you are acquainted with the four little Blossoms, we must get back to that chimney.”
  • Happiness Scale: 10, because it helped me become quite a fine reader