The Very Well-Traveled Caterpillar

We all remember great children’s books from when we were kids or parents of kids. I recently thought of one — The Very Hungry Caterpillar — when my family had a real-life experience with a fennel-consuming cousin of Eric Carle’s fictional character.

I’m going to recount that experience (straying from this literature blog’s usual approach) before ending with a list of several of my favorite children’s books and a request to name some of yours. It’s a true-life children’s story I’ll call…The Very Well-Traveled Caterpillar.

One afternoon last month, my younger daughter stepped off her school bus with a paper cup full of fresh fennel. On one of the stalks was a tiny black caterpillar Maria had named Spike — though she didn’t know if it was male or female. The bus ride was Spike’s first trip.

My wife Laurel ordered one of those soft caterpillar/butterfly cages online, but Spike’s “house” took more than a week to get delivered. Fortunately, Spike stayed on fennel stalks in that paper cup for several days, eating so much that Maria had to bring home new fennel from her school garden several times. Spike, who turned mostly green, grew so much that he (?) was soon perhaps 10 times his (?) original size.

But one day, Spike crawled off the fennel and paper cup and was nowhere to be found. We walked VERY carefully in the living room as we searched for about a half hour — finally spotting Spike on the floor atop one of Maria’s sandals. That was his (?) second trip, and a potentially dangerous one.

So as we continued to wait for delivery of the cloth-and-net cage, we found a large box to put the fennel and cup in. The next day, a certain mailing finally arrived, and we transported Spike from box to cage.

Spike — fortified by his (?) prodigious eating binge — attached himself to a stick we put in the cage and was encased in a chrysalis by June 22. But we were leaving June 24 for a trip to Indiana, with a return planned for June 29. The chrysalis stage was supposed to be 7-10 days, but what if Spike emerged earlier? Obviously, he (?) had to travel with us in the car.

Passenger Spike spent the first day cruising west from New Jersey through Pennsylvania — carried into rest stops, the inside of a fast-food restaurant, and then a hotel room in eastern Ohio. The next day, it was more of the same until we arrived in Indianapolis — where the National Society of Newspaper Columnists was meeting.

But there was more travel to come. As I attended the great NSNC conference, Spike joined Laurel and Maria in visiting a former Indiana State University work colleague of my wife’s in Terre Haute. So the car-cruising/cage-and-chrysalis-covered caterpillar almost made it to Illinois.

Then came a return to Indianapolis, where Spike accompanied us and friends from Bloomington to a restaurant lunch before we headed back east. More rest stops, more fast-food eateries, and another hotel stay before Spike found himself (?) in New Jersey again on June 29. Still in the chrysalis.

Several days later, Spike finally emerged as a large butterfly — mostly black, with some brilliant coloring. According to Maria, his (?) coloring indicated he (?) was…female.

Spike couldn’t immediately fly — her wings needed to dry. But when she began flapping frantically around the cage an hour later, we knew it was time. We walked to the patio area of our garden-apartment complex, slowly unzipped the cage, and Spike soared high into the air. Not west or east, but south, before disappearing above the treetops.

Believe it or not, Spike’s freedom came on July 4 — Independence Day.

So that’s the story of The Very Well-Traveled Caterpillar. My favorite children’s books? Several by Dr. Seuss, of course; Susan Meddaugh’s Martha Speaks series (talking dog!); Eric Litwin’s Pete the Cat books; Faith Ringgold’s Tar Beach; Bernard Waber’s Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile; Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline; Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever; Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon; and various others. (I’m talking fictional “picture books” aimed at younger kids. 🙂 )

What are your favorite children’s books? And what are some books — kid or adult, with or without caterpillars — that you connect with real-life experiences you’ve had?

One more question: Why didn’t I discuss Go Set a Watchman in this column? Well, Harper Lee’s eagerly awaited novel won’t be released until July 14, and I’m not sure when I’ll read it. It was dismaying to see, in an advance New York Times review, that the beloved Atticus Finch is depicted as a racist in the book — and there are of course questions about whether Ms. Lee truly consented to the financially lucrative publication of this To Kill a Mockingbird “sequel” (set in the 1950s) written before TKAM (set in the 1930s). But feel free to discuss Go Set a Watchman here!

The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.

Note: My next column will post Monday, July 20, rather than the evening of Sunday, July 19 — when I’ll be seeing a U2 concert at Madison Square Garden with my adult daughter. I’m sure the band will do better in MSG than pro basketball’s Knicks! 🙂

For three years of my Huffington Post literature blog, click here.

I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

197 thoughts on “The Very Well-Traveled Caterpillar

    • Thank you, Shehanne! Glad you enjoyed the post! I did consider trying to turn this real-life 2015 story into a children’s book, but was working on my 2017-published literary-trivia book at the time and let it slide. Maybe in the future… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

          • Dave, reading you vast knowledge and experience THAT is more than kind of you but honestly, as you relate this tale here, I can see it and I am thinking now as a ‘Nena’ to a 6 year old and 18 month year old, (believe me, anyone ever calls me anything other and they will have their guts to play with) THIS has huge possibilities. I am coming at this as a reader. The kind where , when the 6 year old is staying, the Mr comes in to the spare bedroom and asks why is said grandie bouncing on the bed on his knees to the tune of Bonanza in the middle of the Highway Rat ( another animal book) at midnight, and I say, cos this story lends itself, and sometimes that is a rare thing. I feel your story is in that class, so go for it. .

            Liked by 1 person

    • Donny, this is a REALLY interesting article. Thanks for linking to it!

      I was particularly struck by the writer’s briefly stated theory that Harper Lee may have revised “Go Set a Watchman” AFTER writing “To Kill a Mockingbird” — which you allude to with your brilliant (and relevant to my column) line about how “GSAW” might be “in no way the caterpillar to the Mockingbird Butterfly that allegedly followed.”

      The writer makes a good point that much of “GSAW” apparently can’t be truly understood without having read “TKAM,” yet “GSAW” was (supposedly) written before “TKAM.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • This is a fascinating article that touches on many relevant aspects of Southern culture in the mid-20th century and the literary movements spawned from it. Also I concur with what Dave says. As I was reading it I thought, ‘everything about this novel makes sense only if one has read ‘TKAM’. There are so many passages that allude to the experiences of ‘TKAM’ and presuppose a familiarity with the characters from that novel. I had an odd sense of deja vu/time warping as I read it. I do wonder if, after ‘TKAM’ and the huge impact it had, perhaps within the next two or three years after the movie became such a big hit, that she may have dug up a draft of ‘GSAW’ and touched it up. She got asked many times in the 60’s if she would write another novel and she said she was working on something. Perhaps this was what she did to assuage any guilt she might have felt for not having a fresh, new novel percolating and ready to come out soon? I know that when I would grope about for something to write next I would sometimes dig up a draft of something I had written earlier, thinking, ‘well, maybe if I just take a fresh stab at THIS book I could improve it and it might finally be the one that I can look at with unqualified pride’. Of course, if such were the case with ‘GSAW’ she failed to revise certain things to make them fall in line with ‘TKAM’ such as the trial from the 30’s where Atticus defended a black man. The defendant was acquitted in the version referred to in ‘GSAW’ whereas the injustice of that GUILTY verdict in ‘TKAM’ is what added to its moral power for Atticus and what Scout and Jem came to realize about their father. Perhaps she didn’t go through it with a fine tooth comb very thoroughly? All of this is pure speculation on my part; it’s just a possibly plausible scenario of what MIGHT have happened that added to the ‘sequel’-ish quality of ‘GSAW’.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks, bobess48, for all the interesting points you eloquently made. From what you, Donny, The New Yorker writer, and others (?) have said, it does seem possible that Harper Lee worked on “Go Set a Watchman” after “To Kill a Mockingbird” was published.

          Here I am discussing “Go Set a Watchman” and I haven’t read it yet. Am now considering buying the dang thing this week and devoting a column to it after I finish it. It’s not really characteristic of my blog for a column to review/discuss just one book, but this is sort of a special case… Will see. 🙂


  1. Re “Go Set a Watchman”.

    A TV show / Book club here in Australia is reviewing GSAW early next month, and so I decided to pre-order it. Apparently a book hasn’t been so pre-ordered since the final Harry Potter. Funnily enough, they’re the only books I’ve ever pre-ordered.

    I’ve only ever read TKAM once, and while I thought it was great, I didn’t feel as if it was the Perfect Masterpiece that it’s commonly accepted to be. Obviously that’s a flaw within me, rather than with the book or Harper Lee. Anyway, I think that means that I don’t have quite the same high expectations as a lot of people do, and about a third of the way through GSAW, I am really enjoying it. It’s a little clunky in places, but the setting, and the characters (particularly Scout) are just so vivid. It’s been quite moving at times, and I reckon if a book can have me laughing and crying at the same time, then it’s doing something right.

    I understand why some people feel that maybe this never should have been published, and I understand why some people are refusing to read it. But some people are just taking it way too far. I almost felt guilty for ordering it. And the comment “it will ruin the original” is such a pet peeve of mine. As long as the original is still there, then it can’t be ruined, no matter how many prequels, or sequels, or movie adaptations there might be.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As you might have seen, Susan, you’re the second person in this comments area to have read a good amount or all of “Go Set a Watchman.” Like you, Brian Bess had positive feelings about much of the book. Thanks for giving your thoughts! If the book is making you laugh and cry, it’s “doing its job” as a novel.

      So many disparate reactions; I read a New Republic piece an hour or two ago that was quite critical of the novel.

      I also LOVE “To Kill a Mockingbird,” but, like you, I don’t feel it’s perfect. It’s in my top 20 of favorite novels, but not in my top 10.

      Thanks for your comment — all of it VERY well stated. 🙂


      • Thanks, Dave. I did see the earlier comments from bobess, but stopped reading at the mention of the last page. And I’ve skimmed through the other comments that have been added, however am avoiding commenting too much, until I’ve finished reading the “dang thing”  I must agree with bobess though about GSAW almost reading as if it were written after TKAM. I’m sure I’ve read that GSAW was in no way revised prior to publication, but I’m just not sure that I believe that. Harper Lee immediately transports Scout back to the time and place that she grew up in. It has such a reminiscent feel about it, and I’m just not sure Lee could do that unless SHE’D already been there. There are more things to say, but I will wait until your column. Until then, I hope you had a fantastic time seeing U2 

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ha! “Dang thing” indeed. 🙂 Susan, there’s so much that is unknown or has been hidden about “Go Set a Watchman” that I wouldn’t be surprised if it was revised after “To Kill a Mockingbird” — as in revised many years ago and/or recently. You make a great point.

          Just got back from the U2 concert, and it was amazing. SO good. Hope you’ve gotten a chance (during some past year) or will get a chance to see them in Australia.


    • I believe Atticus, as beloved character in TKAM, suffers by comparison from his characterization and actions in GSAW, since he is a more compromised and less noble fellow therein, who, like so many white Southerners and Americans all over, imagines civil rights for blacks as a gift whites might give or retract according to their judgment of the appreciation and uses of it by blacks. What blacks might see as rights won in struggle, such whites prefer to see as gifts conferred out of a sense of fair play and out of some notion that past grievances among blacks had substance– but gifts that can be taken back by their controlling givers.

      When, in the 1930’s, blacks were entirely under the guns and thrall of whites in AL, Finch gave one of the oppressed the gift of his compassion, devotion to the concept of justice and defense in court. In GSAW, he sees blacks as a group who want too much too fast, given, in his estimation, their capacities and development.

      Funny thing, to me, is that the GSAW Atticus is a more complicated and less heroic sort, but as such, is probably the more realistically conceived, given the times and the place. But being less heroic, he is less satisfying to readers who wish, as they consider race and justice and society in the process of reading Lee, to seize any patch of blue sky they might spy out of a sky roiled and covered by the unrelenting pall of race. In TKAM, that patch of blue is most of all that portion of the sky where there is Atticus– but it’s been perceived as a harbinger of a better time– now (or the 1960’s)– when we know and behave better.

      GSAW, being set closer to the time of publication, complicates the compliment that TKAM confers on its readers. It’s hard to imagine an America where the GSAW Atticus could have claimed the affections of the generations of readers that have pressed TKAM so close to their collective breast. That would require an inclination toward, if not a capacity for, reflection on our central social failing as a nation that I do not believe we generally possess– which is how GSAW hurts TKAM– it does not allow us to think so well of ourselves. That’s not the way best sellers are made.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Very eloquent and reflective comment, jhNY. Yes, the “Go Set a Watchman” Atticus is probably more realistic, but the less-realistic “To Kill a Mockingbird” Atticus is uplifting, inspiring, and wish-fulfilling. We need some of that latter kind of character in fiction to help avoid getting TOO depressed about the often-demoralizing real world.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Good morning Dave..hope you and your daughter had a great night !
          I looked in FB to see someone close went for Taylor Swift concert last night 🙄

          Okay…looked at our Public Library..and requested GSAW…I was after 743 of 300 copies. Also requested the large Print …have 200 copies. I`ll keep you posted how many months will go by for me to get a copy. I am not sure I am willing to read the whole book but might skim through it. It would have been interesting if they had Boo the mockingbird in the new book but the character in TKAM obviously was thought of later.

          Read several reviews posted in here and elsewhere and have a pretty good idea.
          BTW…TKAM is my number one classic.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Good morning, bebe!

            Thanks — the concert was FANTASTIC. Perhaps U2 is a bit past their prime as recording artists, but they’re still tremendous live.

            Taylor Swift isn’t bad. I must say some of her songs (“Blank Space,” “Shake It Off,” etc.) are catchy and kind of empowering in a way.

            Wow — those “Go Set a Watchman” waiting lists are LONG. I hadn’t thought of that — not having Boo in “GSAW” is a big loss.

            I can understand why “To Kill a Mockingbird” is your favorite novel. 🙂 That stellar book is just outside my top ten, which includes “Jane Eyre,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Possession” (A.S. Byatt), “The Blue Castle” (L.M. Montgomery), and a few others.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Good morning, Dave.

    What a beautiful story, and beautifully told, of course. Thanks so much for sharing 🙂

    The first books that I thought of were “”The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” and “The Phantom Tollbooth” which I know are for older kids than you’re talking about, but they’re the first books that I could remember enjoying. Until I read Pat’s comment about “The Monster at the End of This Book”. As a little, little kid, I had three or four Little Golden Books featuring different Sesame Street characters doing lots of fun things, but I think this one was my favourite. There was also a set of Sesame Street hardcover books of different colours. They didn’t survive my childhood, however I had such fond memories of them that I bought the set for myself only a few years ago.
    I would have thought that I was well into Primary School (or Grade School, if you prefer) when I started to take pleasure in reading, but thanks to your article, and the incredible comments, I realise that my love of reading literally goes back further than I can remember.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Susan! Glad you liked the Spike story! 🙂

      “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” and “The Phantom Tollbooth” are indeed great books for somewhat older children (and can of course also be enjoyed by adults; I didn’t read those C.S. Lewis and Norton Juster works until I was a “grown-up”).

      And “Sesame Street” in book form is always very fun and educational for kids.

      I know what you mean when you discussed when you remember becoming interested in reading. In my case, I’ve sometimes thought it was as a teen, but I did love children’s books and biographies written for kids — so, as it was with you, I loved reading earlier in life.


  3. As a teensy fellow, I recall liking a book about Mike the Steam Shovel, and another about a budding tuba player whose noises cause his neighbors to demand he practice out on the sea and away from town, from whence he became a sort of foghorn, guiding lost ships into harbor when visibility had dwindled to nil. Also, The Little Engine That Could.

    I was also, at a tender age, an owner of Struwwelpeter, or Slovenly Peter, though mine was in the original German (thanks, Nana!) — can’t say it was a favorite exactly, but it was a source of morbid fascination: A thumb-sucker has his thumbs removed by a man with a pair of shears; a boy who won’t eat his soup starves himself to a stick and blows away in the wind; a pair of boys who tease a black child are dipped into India ink by a giant. Formative, if twistingly so.

    Of course, I’ve got a few other books out of childhood I might recount, but mostly, they come later on– after I entered grade school. Here, I have restricted my reminiscences to the earliest years….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Excellent comment, jhNY!

      Some children’s literature is indeed quite upsetting, or even gruesome — and most kids can handle that. It certainly beats boring “Dick and Jane”-type stuff.

      “Morbid fascination” indeed re “Slovenly Peter”; I was morbidly fascinated just reading your low-key-yet-sort-of-astonished description of that book! 🙂


      • Dick and Jane came into school little later than I did. I cut my permanent teeth (or was it eye teeth?) on Alice and Jerry books, the illustrations of which, as I recall them, date the pair to the 1930’s.

        Did anyone else on site learn to read with the Alice and Jerry books?

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’m not familiar with the Alice and Jerry books, jhNY. Hope they were better than the Dick and Jane ones!

          “I cut my permanent teeth (or was it eye teeth?)” — nicely said. 🙂


  4. Re Go Set A Watchman:

    I used to work for a very successful singer-songwriter, who was asked to participate in one of the MTV shows in which a famous album’s multi-track recordings are played back a few tracks at a time, and the artist and techs discuss the making of the final mix, pitfalls, pratfalls and all. Sometimes, as was the case in Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors LP, the results are fascinating viewing.

    My employer, on the other hand, had no interest in participating. He said, more or less, that he had presented the public what he wanted them to see, and did not wish to expose the backstage area and its occupants to public view. I am reminded of what Bismarck said about laws and sausages.

    I very highly doubt, no matter statements released that say otherwise, that Harper Lee, in command of all her senses and properties, would have allowed the publication of this preliminary stab at what became a better novel.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Great music vs. book analogy, jhNY, and VERY well said. What you related from your personal history with the singer-songwriter is quite relevant to Harper Lee’s “new” novel.

      I’m also suspicious about whether Ms. Lee really wanted “Go Set a Watchman” published, or whether this was mostly a money grab by her publisher and certain people.


      • Pertinent detail: it might not be accurate to the penny, but a little while ago I saw someplace on the internets that H. Lee’s worth was upward of $30 million– that one little book was and is a world-class earner. GSAW was a windfall waiting to happen– though it will harm the charm of TKAM, and its author’s standing– so happen it did. Pity.

        Liked by 1 person

        • “Go Set a Watchman” is indeed a windfall that the wealthy Harper Lee doesn’t need. But corporations (in this case a Rupert Murdoch-owned book publishing company) are amorally/immorally insatiable for profits.

          And the media is certainly helping to enable all this, though they are at least partly responding to public interest. I’ve lost count of the number of prominently placed “Go Set a Watchman” stories The New York Times has done. Overkill.

          Liked by 1 person

        • How can you say ‘Go Set a Watchman’ will harm Harper Lee’s standing? No one is holding a gun to anyone’s head forcing them to buy and read this novel. Ultimately, it’s a personal choice. Wayne Flynt, Alabama historian and friend of Harper Lee stated that she was amused by all the reactions and reviews of the book:

          Incidentally, I just finished the novel a few minutes ago and I think anyone who’s the least bit curious about another novel by Harper Lee should check it out. It’s not perfect by any means. It has a few rough edges but portions of it are brilliant and I’m impressed that Harper had the audacity to write this back in the repressive 50’s. I also think it’s quite timely that it’s appearing at this moment in time in view of the racist world we continue to live in. Jean Louise’s disillusionment is ultimately a positive thing as she begins to see her father as a man rather than as a god. How many of us have parents that we disagree vehemently with over politics, religion and just about any other hot button issue? Don’t we love. them anyway? I think that’s the ultimate conclusion is that you still love. Also, despite the labels that have been hurled at the Atticus of this novel, he is still the same great man who manages to live by his principles and the letter and spirit of the law as he sees it. He’s also remarkably patient and even tempered with Scout’s outburst… and there is an outburst.

          I have plenty more to say about it but will write and post my review tomorrow. It’s certainly worth reading and fascinating. Of course, it’s not the masterpiece that ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is but how many authors have written more than one masterpiece? The list is fairly short.

          Anyway, I’ve ranted enough about this topic for the moment. Everyone do what you will but decide for yourself over the novel, which I personally think one can do AFTER reading the novel. No one is taking away ‘TKAM’ so if the ‘GSAW’ experience leaves a bad taste in your mind just wash it out with another reading of ‘TKAM’, which I also plan to do tomorrow, with a fresh review of that.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Thanks, Brian, for your take on “Go Set a Watchman”! You’re probably the first commenter here who’s read it, and you obviously came away feeling positive about a lot of the novel. Will definitely keep that in mind when I decide whether to read the book.

            Still feeling 50/50 about that — partly because I continue to think there’s a major money grab aspect to “GSAW” (not on Harper Lee’s part). I guess I remain puzzled why Ms. Lee didn’t publish it earlier, when her health was better. Was the manuscript truly lost? When I did some fiction writing in the before-the-digital-age 1980s (a play and much of a novel, neither published), I made sure I had several duplicate copies of each. 🙂

            I look forward to seeing your full review of “GSAW”!

            Liked by 1 person

            • I just see a lot of people commenting about the quality of the novel without actually bothering to read it. And they rarely discuss the work on its own merits because they can’t get beyond 1) the circumstances of the publishing of it and the question of whether she wanted it to be published (she has said she did; if she didn’t earlier can’t she be allowed to change her mind?); 2) the worship of Atticus as a god, not a mere man (which, incidentally, is what the character Jean Louise has been doing for her entire life until the events of this first novel).


              • And if may say one more thing about the novel: I was almost moved to tears reading the last page of this novel, which is more than I ever did reading ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ as great as it was. Tomorrow I embark on the re-reading of it.


                • Well said, bobess48. Yes, there are a lot of emotional reactions (mine included) to the novel from people (myself included) who haven’t read it yet. After seeing what you said about it, I’m thinking I might want to read it — though I would prefer to do that via the library than by putting money into the publisher’s pocket. But of course I imagine the library waiting list is enormous. 🙂

                  The puncturing of Atticus Finch’s “sainthood” is indeed a fraught topic. It’s wonderful to have a few exceptionally moral heroes in literature, such as the “To Kill a Mockingbird” Atticus, but a flawed “Go Set a Watchman” Atticus is probably more realistic for that time and place.

                  Liked by 1 person

              • If Harper Lee changed her mind in her frail state of mind and health is debatable.
                Saying that…it was only a matter of time after a best seller in TKAM the current book would be published .

                Liked by 1 person

                • Yes, bebe, one wonders if changing her mind (if that indeed happened) in her condition is as credible as if she had changed her mind when she was younger and mentally healthier.

                  And just a matter of time indeed, when there’s tons of money to be made.

                  Liked by 1 person

          • Interesting review on the book. Scout`s observation of Atticus being a man not god would have been hard for her if she has seen this side of him growing up taking the role of both of her parents.
            There is another poster below..said in a couple of lines her dislike for the book as she read it.


            • Thanks, bebe! I guess children often look at their parents in a more idealized way when they (the children) are kids than when they are adults. Part of it could be that kids aren’t aware of everything in their parents’ lives, and part of it could be that kids deliberately try to think the best of their parents because they are so dependent on them.

              Liked by 1 person

          • I read the article — and again, another mouth makes Lee’s lips move. I’d love to hear her in person, not through persons. Wonder if that’s even possible… I’d like to think, when viewing a fistful of clips re my latest publication, I’d do more than ‘chortle’. I might even speak a few words.

            Is it, strictly speaking, ‘another novel by Harper Lee’? Or is it an earlier draft, subsequently improved? Are there not passages identical, or nearly, in TKAM and GSAW?

            I don’t doubt there are good things in and about GSAW– after all, Lee is a fine writer. But I also stand by my original comment.


            • jhNY, I’d also love to see a film clip of Harper Lee discussing “Go Set a Watchman” and her feelings about its publication. I know she’s a very private person, and not in the best of health, but seeing a clip like that would go a long way toward clarifying whether she fully consented or not for the novel to be published. Of course, a clip could be manipulated or taken out of context, but…


            • There is nothing in ‘GSAW’ that is directly reproduced in ‘TKAM’. Even the recollection of the famous trial from the other novel is different, and is summarized. The accused is even acquitted in this version and no character names from ‘TKAM’ associated with the trial are mentioned. She probably hadn’t created them yet.

              FYI: Here’s the link to my Amazon review:

              Mine is titled ‘Is the time right?’ My username is BOB (a cultural pilgrim)

              Liked by 1 person

              • First-rate review, bobess48! “Go Set a Watchman” does sound quite interesting (albeit with some flaws). And it’s interesting to hear that there is no direct overlap with “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

                The story line of a rurally raised person going to live in the big city and then coming home again to visit (or stay) can be a riveting one in various novels. Among the books with that scenario is “Desert” by Nobel Prize winner J.M.G. Le Clezio.


                • I stand corrected as you pointed out regarding the passages that are word for word identical. I’m re-reading ‘TKAM’ now for the first time in 18 years so I will undoubtedly come across these identical passages. However, if ‘GSAW’ cannot stand alone as an original work then likewise “TKAM’ cannot stand alone as an original work as it cannibalized passages that had already been written a few years before. I never said the novels were unrelated. There is an unmistakable link between them. However, they tell two entirely different stories 20 years apart from each other and so therefore they are distinct from one another.


                  • However, if ‘GSAW’ cannot stand alone as an original work then likewise “TKAM’ cannot stand alone as an original work as it cannibalized passages that had already been written a few years before.”

                    And used in the finished, published novel we all know– in other words, GSAW was an earlier attempt at making what became, after reconception and editing, TKAM. It’s telling, to me, anyway, that over the many decades when Lee had her wits about her and her feet under her, that she never attempted to publish GTAW. The pressure on her to produce another novel was intense; if anything GSAW shows how unlikely her writing a second novel, one with no identical passages and a wholly different set of characters and settings, was all along.

                    In the song writing business, sometimes, before the song is finished, there may be several sets of lyrics made, sometimes by different lyricists, sometimes by the same lyricist. SOme lines, in the latter case, might survive in both lyrics; sometimes each is independent of the other. Sometimes the person writing the melody changes it a little, or even a lot. Looking over the history of such a song, I am content to see a process in which one song, however long it took, however various the attempts at lyric and melody, was created. The final version is the song; the other versions are byproducts of the process of making the song. I see something similar here with GSAW and TKAM.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • I agree with that songwriting analogy. I’ve heard plenty of people over the years that have written portions of songs that were reworked into later, usually better songs. They may change some wording here and there or incorporate musical elements from the earlier attempt. With people I’m really big fans of (such as The Beatles, Jethro Tull, etc.), that’s a fascinating experience of musical archaeology. With regard to writing, when I still aspired to be a fiction writer myself I would do a bit of that. I mean, why reinvent the wheel? If there was a passage in an earlier, imperfect work that said exactly what you wanted to say, why not incorporate it into something that you hope will be an improvement? Nothing wrong with that. It’s done a lot. And, as far as I am aware, you can’t be sued for plagiarizing yourself.

                      Liked by 1 person

  5. Dave..what a heartwarming story of well traveled Spike from a paper cup then from New Jersey to the Writer`s conference Indiana and back. What a beautiful story ,nothing can top that.
    I think you should publish in NYT or other Journals.

    When I was four, I know because it was written “This book belongs name and ago 4. ” My cousin came back from England after completion of his doctorate degree and brought his book as a gift for me.

    ” The Brimful Book” Mother goose Animals ABC…I still have the book in it`s original cover and started looking for it in Amazon today. I was delightfully surprised to find it in there with the same cover and all.
    I remember spending so much time reading it looking at the pictures and so much more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, bebe, for your very kind words about the caterpillar story. 🙂

      I love that cover of “The Brimful Book”! Very glad you posted it here. And it’s wonderful that you still have the book, along with the associations of it being a cousin’s gift from England to you when you were very young.

      Liked by 1 person

          • Morning Dave..last night I answered in a wrong place..but you saw it !
            How awesome , the saga continues I am glad so many of your readers suggested more of the saga of “Spike” a book will be simply awesome. Unlike the follow up book of ” Harold Fry” after the shock of how it ended , or ” Set a watchman” for entirely different reasons.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Good morning, bebe — and thanks! 🙂

              You’re right — some sequels and prequels (and alternate versions of a similar story) are better than others.

              I just started reading a book that’s a sequel many times over — “Rilla of Ingleside,” the eighth of L.M. Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables” novels. It’s supposed to be pretty intense, with its World War I theme.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Back to all those Dr. Seuss`s now classics..I might fine one or two somewhere. Children in that time grew up with the cat .

                Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll was one of my favorite..not to long ago I purchased another copy of it..thinking of reading it now.

                Not too long ago was the movie by Tim Burton , i liked his version. Johonny Depp was the Mad Hatter.

                Liked by 1 person

                • “The Cat in the Hat” is so great, bebe. As is “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish” and a number of other Dr. Seuss books.

                  Lewis Carroll is VERY fun and inventive, too. I reread his two “Alice” books a few years ago after several decades, and enjoyed them again. I’ve never seen a movie version, though. 😦

                  Liked by 1 person

      • Found it. My copy of A Child’s Garden of Verses is not the best quality (sheesh, I can’t even tell which edition this is), but I browsed through it until I came across the illustrations that reminded of me bebe’s book cover.

        All of the ones that match are signed CM Burd. Just checked The Brimful Book on Amazon…one of the illustrators was CM Burd. That’s why bebe’s cover looked so familiar. CM Burd was one of several artists who contributed to the Stevenson book, and provided the drawings for The Brimful Book as well.

        Detective Ana has solved another case. I’m feeling like Encyclopedia Brown right now.

        Liked by 1 person

          • I opened my book…28th edigtion 1939 and the book selling at Amazon is the same. The Platt and Munc co. Made in USA.
            So saying that every top page has colored illustrations following the page before of the rhymes or other stories. The reason also I say this all the folks in the book are lily we could excuse that 😆

            Liked by 1 person

            • I figured it was published in the 30s. Illustrations from that era have a very distinctive look compared to those from, say, L.Frank Baum’s era.

              Someone was kind enough to scan a few pages of their copy of The Brimful Book. Not the entire book, but a few pages. I browsed through the Mother Goose Rhymes pages, and yes…there is an absence of….ummm… colour in the characters. But as you said, consider the time this book was published.

              Honestly though, I’m ok with early children’s literature excluding minorities in their characters. It’s better than authors and illustrators having minorities depicted as the negative racial stereotypes that were so common at that time. “Pinocchio in Africa” is a perfect example of how things went terribly wrong when minority characters were drawn with an early 20th century mindset.

              Have a good weekend, bebe:) Dave, have fun at the U2 concert. Don’t go thinking the East Coast is cool; remember the tour opened up here on the West Coast, so we got ’em first:)

              Liked by 1 person

    • When I was a boy, I had a wooden cracker box circa 1900 I used to store my toys. When I started grade school, in my newly-acquired exuberance for writing, I spent a minute of painstaking effort at penmanship to state in pencil on my toy box’s lid ‘I am Joe’.

      Last year, I found that cracker box in my parents’ attic. I flipped over the lid and there it was: ‘I am Joe.’ As I ever was, as I am– 58 years later.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wow, jhNY, what a nostalgic find! Glad your parents kept it; as you know, that’s not always the case. One of my big regrets was coming home (perhaps for a college vacation break?) and finding all my Beatles cards and Yankee Stadium “Bat Day” bats gone. 😦 I think I had more use for them than a landfill did!


        • When i was in my twenties, my parents moved to a new house without telling me first, and in the process, threw out ALL my Family Dog Posters (I had dozens) from the Haight-Ashbury rock scene of the late ’60’s– they’re now worth hundreds. Each. But that cracker box was something they’d given to me, so I think their own nostalgia saved it from the ash heap of history.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Ouch — so you’ve also experienced the totally unnecessary loss of loved (and later very valuable) stuff. Interesting their own nostalgia helping to save that box. It shouldn’t be difficult for parents to ask first before throwing out!

            Liked by 1 person

          • Ha ha…okay…I have three box full of baseball cards collected by my son an avid fan who at onetime knew all the statistics of every single players. Now married is more into basketball and football…suppose I`ll still hang on the them : ).

            Liked by 1 person

      • What a wonderful connection to your ” I am Joe” toy box jhNy so wonderful your parents saved it.
        I have always saved tiny mementos of no value to others but gifted to me by someone close to me. A small silk crochet bag onetime given by my aunt long deceased. A silver ring given by my uncle, and so much more.
        My aunts father I always called grandpa a renowned artist in his time still today curved a boal and a spoon from coconut shell so smooth. Later I heard my sister in law when young threw it out thinking was a junk.
        i still regret that perfectly curved coconut boal and spoon.

        Liked by 1 person

        • It’s so easy to lose something like that– a moment or two of someone in a mood to discard is all it takes. I am therefore amazed at what gets kept over the long years, and why. Chance seems to dictate outcome as much as anything. I am sorry to hear about the loss of your family heirloom.

          Liked by 2 people

          • True..for me when I moved away I slowly took some personal objects with me which really small but so dear to me. The boal was thrown away but we were so young .
            There were two water colored paintings by my artist aunt gifted to my mom, another my mom`s only painting. My mom passed away when I was in my Dad one day opened this trunk in the attic..those three beautiful paintings..were taken out of their frames were in there like three pieces of paper.

            Now after decades those three paintings and some others large ones gifted by my aunt are in the living room telling me how I was loved .
            I also have a framed picture postcard by the famous artist I used to call my grandpa , had a second one which was either thrown out or was taken by someone when i was away.

            Liked by 1 person

  6. the miss nelson books by henry allard It’s about a teacher with two identities a mean one and a nice one who uses them to her advantage to get her students to mind.
    the Olivia books by Ian falconer It is about a very spirited feisty little girl pig that makes me laugh and laugh even now
    betsy byars …period

    Liked by 1 person

    • Those Miss Nelson books sound fascinating, Kristy. Thanks, also, for mentioning Ian Falconer and Betsy Byars. You are very knowledgeable about children’s authors!

      Re the Olivia books, children’s books have so many great animal characters. 🙂


    • That was hilarious, Bill!

      Spike (the caterpillar) and Scout (Finch) both begin with “S” and both have five letters. Coincidence? I think…well of course it’s a coincidence. 🙂


      • you are smart to stay away from go set a watchman. I went early this morning and read it. I was bored to tears. Literally. I don’t think harper lee wrote it, Everything about it screams amateur. I was bitterly disappointed.
        However your caterpillar has a fennel fetish is terrific. you should put that in your next books.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Thanks, Kristy, for your take on “Go Set a Watchman.” Sorry you didn’t enjoy it at all. Sounds like it was indeed a book by someone who hadn’t yet hit her writing stride. I’m still deciding whether or not to read it, and yours and others’ comments will influence that decision. 🙂

          I reread “To Kill a Mockingbird” a few months ago (after many years), and loved it all over again.

          I appreciate the kind words about my caterpillar story!


      • Thanks, bebe! 🙂 During the past few days, several people have suggested I try to turn that Spike story into a children’s book. I’ll think about it, but my two previous attempts at getting agents or publishers interested in a children’s book I wrote were not exactly happy experiences. Plus I need to finish my literature-related book. Still, I know a few cartoonists who have illustrated children’s books, so it might be worth me asking what they think.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. One more for the day.

    A few months ago, the poster Kat Lib (shout out to Kat Lib) recommended an Australian author to me named Liane Moriarty. I purchased some of her books from a used bookstore…been a major fan ever since.

    Liane Moriarty mainly writes adult fiction, but she also has a children’s series called The Space Brigade. This series features three books: Earthling Ambassador, The Shobble Secret, and War on Whimsy.

    Shobble Secret is very interesting. Based on the beautiful cover, one would assume the book is more of a fairytale with princesses, castles, and happily-ever-after, but it’s not. Shobble Secret actually deals with very adult-like themes (worker’s rights/better conditions/pay and benefits increases, labour movement, capitalism, censorship, exploitation of workers…topics you normally wouldn’t associate with children’s literature.) Now granted the setting takes place on another planet, Shobble Secret still manages to tackle serious subjects while being creative, imaginative, and whimsical for children.

    I am surprised this book hasn’t been placed on a banned list. There is a certain party in American politics that is known for removing books from school and public libraries that contain anything “objectionable” (and objectionable is code for pro-liberal).

    Liked by 1 person

    • “The Shobble Secret” sounds fantastic, Ana! Reminds me of how “Star Trek” dealt with all kinds of social and political issues and made them “palatable” because things happened in outer space (and in the future) rather than on current Planet Earth.

      Yes, many right-wing Republicans would undoubtedly want to ban a book like Liane Moriarty’s. 😦

      My local library, which usually stocks almost every author I want to read, does not have Moriarty. So I will eventually buy at least one of her books.


      • I’m not shocked that you haven’t had luck yet. Liane Moriarty is hard to track down in some libraries and bookstores. I managed to check-out War on Whimsy when I began searching for her titles a few months back. Her other titles? Forget it. They are always checked out.

        I haven’t come across a Liane Moriarty book since the ones I luckily found at the used bookstore. I’m also on the lookout for any books written by her sister Jaclyn. I hear she’s a pretty good author too.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks, Ana! I guess my local library unfortunately has some company as a Liane Moriarty-free zone.

          Her sister is a good author, too? Shades of the Brontes, A.S. Byatt and Margaret Drabble, etc.! 🙂


      • Hey bebe:)

        I’m on the right; my BFF is on the left. This is one of the many, many pictures I took with old friends and family during my East Coast, Nashville, and Mid-South trips. Not the best quality for this pic because my brother snapped it with his phone, but that’s ok.

        BTW, Nashville looks fantastic. Music Row is on point. Lots of new businesses in east Nashville and in the downtown area. New restaurants and retail stores, and of course Centennial Park is still beautiful as ever. I told jhNY about the Johnny Cash museum that recently opened (I think it just opened last year).

        Despite the weather in Nashville and Memphis, we really had a good time. That was also hubby’s first time eating Southern bbq. We both need to run around the Cascade mountains a few times to work off the food we ate.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Hey Ana, I haven’t been monitoring this site much this week because of some personal issues, but I’m happy to see that you are still talking about one of my favorite authors. A few weeks ago, I mentioned her novel, “What Alice Forgot” and went back to the novel to get some soundbites and found myself rereading the entire novel for the third time!

      Liked by 1 person

      • *waves at Kat* I’ve missed seeing your posts, and I hope your personal situations aren’t too serious.

        Perfectly acceptable to read Liane Moriarty multiple times. Talking about The Shobble Secret makes me want to slip that book into my shoulder bag and re-read it on the train this weekend.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I was fortunate to have sizable home libraries in Boston and Memphis, and Vancouver where I spent summers with my grandparents. Most of our books were written in English, but my mom gave us just as many books that were written in her native languages.

    Every now and then, they donated a box or two of books we outgrew to school libraries and local organisations. As their children moved on, got married, and started families of our own, my parents passed on the books they previously kept to their grandchildren, thus creating another generation of bilingual readers in my family. Here are a few books I remember from my childhood:

    1) Berenstain Bears
    2) Peter and Fudge series by Judy Blume
    3) Ethnic fairy and folk tales…Native American, Canadian, West African, Brasilian, Portuguese

    4) books by Frances Hodgson Burnett – I distinctly remember A Little Princess and The Secret Garden, but there were more because we had maybe 6-7 titles from this author.

    5) Amelia Bedelia
    6) Aesop’s Fables
    7) Mortal Engines and Murderous Maths series by Philip Reeve – not too many people I know are familiar with Philip Reeve. He is a very funny and talented British cartoonist/author. To this day, my younger brother still has the Mortal Engines series.

    8) Strawberry Shortcake and friends
    9) Sweet Valley High series – geared more towards tweens. I shared these books with my older sister. There may or may not be a title or two on my bookshelf; I will neither confirm nor deny that.

    10) a variety of animated pop-up books
    11) Of course, the adorable and charming Anne of Green Gables

    I’m sure there are more because our home libraries were quite big, but this is all I can remember right now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not sure if children’s comic books and magazines can be included in this topic, but I’ll include some even if those topics are not applicable here because I’m a renegade.

      I loved my Highlights magazines. My favourite features were Goofus and Gallant, the hidden pictures page, and of course those cool stickers. I don’t know if Highlights is still around these days.

      For comics, Archie, Archie’s Girls featuring Veronica and Betty, and Wonder Woman ruled my household.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ana, children’s comic books and magazines (and renegades 🙂 ) are welcome.

        I remember “Highlights” magazine, too! (So it must go back a long way.) Were Goofus and Gallant the one bad kid, one good kid? Ah, those moral lessons…

        I also enjoyed the Archie comic books, with its cartoon-y “love” triangle, when I wasn’t reading superhero ones such as Batman.


        • Hmmm. I thought Highlights was a late 80s/early 90s publication, but according to the interwebz here, it first hit the scene in 1946. So Highlights is cross-generational…pretty neat.

          G&G were not really good/bad. Their relationship had a responsible/irresponsible dynamic going on.

          Liked by 1 person

    • What a comprehensive list of excellent children’s literature, Ana! Thanks!

      The fairy tales from various countries sound particularly interesting. Reminds me of the illustrated “Tell Me a Story” books, by Amy Friedman and Jillian Gilliland, that include adapted folk tales. But of course the original ones are more authentic.

      To comment on just a few titles you mentioned: The way instructions are taken literally in “Amelia Bedelia” is hilarious, “The Berenstain Bears” books can be sort of “vanilla” but are VERY well done, and Philip Reeve sounds great (I hadn’t heard of him either).

      In the YA area, “Anne of Green Gables” is my favorite novel (I think I’ve mentioned that in the past 🙂 ).

      Terrific comment!


      • Amelia’s boss: “Amelia, these sheets are wrinkled. Run an iron over them.”

        Amelia takes an iron in her hand, puts the sheets on the floor, and runs back and forth across the sheets until they are covered with her shoe prints. Then she puts the iron in her other hand and repeats her steps.

        Amelia’s other boss, the Mrs. of the house: “Amelia, ice down the fish until it’s ready to be cooked.”

        Amelia takes a can of cake icing from the cupboard, ices each piece of fish, and tells the cook the fish is ready.

        Seriously, what’s not to love about Amelia Bedelia?

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Dave, it seems as though I went from reading the Little Golden Books to the tween books such as Black Beauty, Little Women, etc, However, I spent many years of reading the series such as Nancy Drew, the Dana Sisters, Trixie Belden, etc, I don’t remember any special books other than perhaps Charlotte’s Web or the ones by Albert Payson Terhune.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Kat Lib, for naming all those books and authors that many young people love! It’s true that early readers often make leaps from picture books to more mature fare, as you did. And the literary categories for many young people flow into each other; for instance, lots of kids still read some picture books after starting to read chapter books.

      Albert Payson Terhune’s books featuring dogs — so wonderful.


  10. Dave, I agree on Margaret Wise Brown. I absolutely love “Goodnight Moon.” As for more modern books, “Where’s My Cow” by Terry Pratchet, “The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish” by Neil Gaiman, and “Weezer the Sneezer” by Rhonda Sarner Anderson.

    I recommend all three. Though if you go a bit older “Fortunately the Milk” by Neil Gaiman is very entertaining.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Goodnight Moon” is indeed wonderful, GL. In addition to the soothing language, the art is very striking. The huge room that’s pictured may be out of proportion, but it works!

      And thanks for mentioning those other books. Not every author who writes for adults can also write successfully for children. From your description, writers such as Neil Gaiman have done so.


      • Yes and others hire people to help. I can think of an author who has lots of others write YA books for him. A strange topic it is when you look at the famous authors who have an idea for a story but don’t want to write it or don’t have time.

        The thing about Pratchett is that he is a satirist in his book. Its a fun read and very silly for the kids, but there is that story just for the adults reading it to them also. Dr Seuss did this also in a couple of his books, other books the meaning changes as we change, which I would say is one of the best things about his writing.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I didn’t know about those hired hands, GL, but it makes sense. It happens a lot in the creative world. Heck, James Patterson has assistants helping with his “grown up” books. And as you know, some newspaper cartoonists have assistants or stables of assistants who write/draw much of the comics (“Garfield” being one example).

          It’s great when a specific book “speaks” to both kids and adults on different levels.

          And I love this line of yours: “…the meaning changes as we change, which I would say is one of the best things about his writing.”

          Liked by 1 person

          • I am always amazed by some of the comics, like “Blondie,” “Pop-eye,” “Flash Gordon” etc… that keep a consistent art style through numerous artists, yet comic books like “Batman,” and “X-Men” have different styles every three or four issues because the artist changed. I think it speak volumes of the skill of those artists, and the writers who help Patterson, that they can imitate the main style enough that most can’t tell the difference.

            Liked by 1 person

            • It IS striking how similar the comics look (with some minor variations) under different artists. It take a real “copy cat” skill, though I imagine some of the artists are frustrated that they can’t inject their own style into the strip.

              I remember when Jerry Scott took over the “Nancy” comic strip, and felt the creative need to make the drawing very different and edgier. I don’t think the syndicate liked that, and the syndicate and Scott parted ways. Worked out well for him, because he subsequently co-created two original comics: the popular “Baby Blues” and the even more popular “Zits.”

              Not sure why the “copy cat” thing doesn’t happen as much with comic books.


  11. What a sweet story about Spike the caterpillar and his adventures! I sang “inch worm,inch worm, measuring the marigolds” appropriately from Hans Christian Andersen which learned as a youngster at PS 186. Some favorite books from Dr Seuss were ” Green eggs and Ham” and “The Cat in the Hat.” Also Charles Dickens’ Twas the Night Before Christmas.” I remember the nervous excitement I felt when my dad read that story to me as a youngster. I had trouble sleeping and still love the imagery of this very special tale. Makes one not want to grow up,keep the innocence of youth.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Michele! Glad you liked the story, and that’s a nice association with the “Inch Worm” song!

      “The Cat in the Hat” is indeed a great/fun book, and it really helped change children’s literature by being so irreverent and cartoon-y and un-preachy. I was also a big fan of Dr. Seuss’ “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.”

      And “Twas the Night Before Christmas” is definitely a classic.

      Yes, children’s lit definitely makes one think about the innocence of youth, and whatever amount of that innocence we managed to retain into adulthood. 🙂


  12. Okay Dave, first off as charmed as everyone else by the story of Spike the Fourth of July Freedom Butterfly , and well told sir ! 🙂 As for the topic I presume we are discussing straight up kid’s lit and not young adult or the more literary stuff such as Alice , Wind in the Willows Etc
    A co worker brings in his 9 year old daughter on weekends who’s a great kid but seriously struggling in school even though she try’s her best. Hates reading and last winter was having a very hard time with a particular assigned work of fiction. Nobody in the family is a reader( yes I know that’s the root of the problem ) so I figured I could help by giving the thing a quick read and perhaps with a little humor and insight pique her interest. I figured how bad could it be as the thing was under 100 pages .. Picklemania by Jerry Spinelli . So imagine my surprise when the book turned out to be marvelous and upended every assumption I had going into. Expecting clichéd writing , PC moral tales , and characters pure black and white it was none of the above. I wont go into detail about the plot except to say it involves a semi degenerate bus driver with a brood of demon children , a trip to Valley Forge , a ” Pickleboggin” and four friends in sixth grade that are dealt with frankly and convincingly on the matter of both puberty ,oh and the beloved English teacher is having a torrid affair with the probably alcoholic bus driver.
    Here’s the thing though , after reading the book and enthusiastically discussing it with my friend”s daughter she still was totally unconvinced that reading could be fun and interesting. While it’s true that a great teacher can awaken a students intellectual interests and love of reading I believe there has to be an innate predisposition there in the first place.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, Donny! Happy you liked that caterpillar tale. “Spike the Fourth of July Freedom Butterfly” — nicely named! Almost sounds like a Republican presidential candidate. 🙂

        Yes, I was focusing on “picture books” for young kids, but, as always, the discussion parameters are flexible.

        Wow — that “Picklemania” book sounds amazing! Glad you at least got lots of enjoyment out of it even though the nine-year-old didn’t. Very nice of you to give piquing her literary interest a try. As you say, if reading is not a family thing, a kid might end up having the same disinterest.

        GREAT comment.


  13. My favorite picture book as a child was The Polite Elephant by Richard Scary. But reading to my own kids, we discovered and loved the Arthur books by Marc Brown, the Scaredy Squirrel series by Melanie Watt and board books by Leslie Patricelli (especially Binky). Thanks for sharing a great story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you liked the story, Betsy!

      I haven’t read “The Polite Elephant,” but I and my daughters have read several of that same author’s “Busytown” books. Great visuals, content, and characters — including Huckle Cat, Lowly Worm, etc.

      “Arthur” is excellent, too. There are SO many books in that series — sort of like “The Berenstain Bears.”

      Thanks for the comment! It’s nice to think of children’s books we read as kids vs. the ones our kids read. Sometimes, that intersects…


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  15. Howdy, Dave!

    — What are your favorite children’s books? —

    E.B. White was a genius, so, of course, “Charlotte’s Web,” “Stuart Little” and “The Trumpet of the Swan” all are among the near and dear in my bookcases.

    However, my all-time favorite book in this category would be Marshall Saunders’ “Beautiful Joe,” even though I have seen neither hide nor hair of the old mutt in about half a century.

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

    P.S.: I loved “The Very Well-Traveled Caterpillar”!

    P.P.S.: U2: Nice!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, J.J.! E.B. White definitely deserved a mention in my piece. I loved “Charlotte’s Web” and “Stuart Little,” but have unfortunately never read “The Trumpet of the Swan.”

      “Beautiful Joe” sounds excellent, and historically very influential in raising awareness of animal cruelty (according to what I just read about it online).

      Glad you liked “The Very Well-Traveled Caterpillar,” and the U2 concert should be really nice. The only other time I saw them was at a stadium in 2009, so Madison Square Garden will seem almost intimate. 🙂


      • — I loved “Charlotte’s Web” and “Stuart Little,” but have unfortunately never read “The Trumpet of the Swan.” —

        E.B. White being E.B. White, all three are beautifully and clearly composed, and, as a result, they are readily accessible to comparatively young readers. However, “Swannie” is significantly longer than either of the other two, so one could consider it as being on the cusp between children’s literature and old children’s/young teens’ literature, assuming there are such categories.

        — “Beautiful Joe” sounds excellent, and historically very influential in raising awareness of animal cruelty (according to what I just read about it online). —

        I cannot say “Beautiful Joe’s” titular character alone made me the ovolactovegetarian I am today, but Joe is certainly a member of the Wholly Trinity that did so, along with Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Cesar Chavez, of course.

        — [T]he U2 concert should be really nice. The only other time I saw them was at a stadium in 2009, so Madison Square Garden will seem almost intimate. —

        Indeed. Just you and 18,000 of your closest friends!

        Liked by 1 person

        • “Indeed. Just you and 18,000 of your closest friends!” — LOL! When I saw U2 at the old Giants Stadium in ’09, there were reportedly 80,000 people there!

          Yes, certain books are in that “cusp” between “picture books” and YA lit. Not sure of that category name (or those category names) either.

          As a 100% vegetarian/90% vegan, I like your “Beautiful Joe” paragraph. 🙂

          Great comment, J.J. Thanks!


        • I’ve seen U2’s Live Aid performance on YouTube, and it was indeed incredible. Ha — Bono’s hair back then was not as becoming as some of his later styles. But tons of charisma despite the mullet.


  16. Hi Dave …

    Great topic!

    All three of my children loved “The Story of Ferdinand” by Munroe Leaf, and “The Monster at the End of This Book” by Jon Stone and Michael Smollin..

    As for “Go Set A Watchman”, I’m not going to read it. I’m just not interested. “To Kill a Mockingbird” is the masterpiece; it sounds as if “Go Set A Watchman” was the first efforts of a brilliant writer who had not yet found her footing. Even if I’m wrong about that, even if it’s the best thing ever written, I still have no interest in reading it. Maybe it’s simply a case of ignorance being bliss 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the kind words, Pat, and for mentioning two children’s books I’m not familiar with! As with “grown-up” fiction, there are so many great books out there that we miss out on because of lack of knowledge that the books exist — and/or lack of time.

      Also, thanks for your thoughts on “Go Set a Watchman”! It’s indeed a shame when “the first efforts of a brilliant writer who had not yet found her footing” (as you eloquently note) gets published after a later, more mature work got published. In this case, 55 years after. I still might read Harper Lee’s “new” novel, but my “compromise” might be to borrow it from the library rather than give money to the (Rupert Murdoch-owned) publishing company. If I do read it, hopefully the waiting list at the library won’t be 55 years. 🙂


  17. Dave, loved your story about the Very Well-Traveled Caterpillar! I envy you, having a young child and live through those adventures with her. The favorite books of my own childhood were somewhat off the beaten path: one on botany, a couple on astronomy, a large book of stories by Hans Christian Andersen, “Peter Pan” (which broke my heart and made me cry), a series of books about pirates busy stealing gold and jewels around the Island of Tortuga, and “Kidnapped” are the ones I remember. In time, there were two daughters – fans of Cinderella ans Bunny Rabbit stories, not so much Dr. Seuss – and one grandson with whom I dove into Dr. Seuss, “Goodnight Moon”, “Lyle Lyle Crocodile”, among many others; of course I added books on astronomy and science, to follow tradition, which helped him become a fan of Bill Nye the Science Guy. And, last but not least, we discovered together the marvelous Shel Silverstein and his “A light in the Attic”, “Where the Sidewalk Ends”, “The Giving Tree”, “Where the Wild Things Are”… My grandson’s kindergarten teacher called me one day all excited because my grandson had picked up one of Silverstein’s books and was reading it aloud to the class. He had learned to read while I read to him.
    I admit that I still love Silverstein’s books, and occasionally I reread them – they are for bright children and for child-at-heart bright adults. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Clairdelune, for your kind words about that caterpillar story!

      You mentioned some EXCELLENT children’s authors/literature I had not immediately thought of: Hans Christian Andersen, “Peter Pan,” the amazingly clever Shel Silverstein, etc.

      I thought Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl” was among his most memorable — and heartbreaking — stories.

      Loved your last paragraph about Silverstein, and your comment as a whole — including its multi-generational nature as well as the mentions of nonfiction aimed at younger readers.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I forgot to mention Hans Christian Andersen! I have a volume called “Anderson’s Fairy Tales” which my older sister gave to me for Christmas one year. Once read, “The Little Match Girl” never goes away does it?

        Liked by 1 person

          • Your mention of “The Little Match Girl” brought back a childhood memory: each spring, young flower vendors appeared on several street corners of my native city, selling small bouquets of sweet-scented violets and mimosa. I loved the scent that wafted through the streets, but after reading “The Little Match Girl”, I always asked my father to buy me some violets from at least a couple of the younger girls, convinced that was the only way to save them from dying that very night. They disappeared when the war was made too real by the German invasion; they reappeared a few years later when peace and normalcy had returned, but by then my father was dead. Over the years, with the increase in car traffic and other social changes, the flower vendors disappeared permanently from the street corners.

            Liked by 1 person

            • That’s a wonderful/sobering memory, Clairdelune. Very nice of you to want to buy some flowers from those girls. Even if they were not in as bad straits as “The Little Match Girl” protagonist, I’m sure their lives weren’t easy.

              Thanks for your very evocative comment.

              (Plus it’s another example of how certain things — like kids selling flowers on the street — disappear.)


              • I know now that those youngsters were not likely to die frozen in those wonderful spring days, and most likely they always had at least a bowl of pasta to eat at home… 😉 but my 4-to-6 year-old mind had a difficult time dealing with the book’s illustration of the dead flower girl with the flowers scattered around her. I confess to still being an easy mark for all the mail soliciting donations, with their images of suffering kids, woeful puppies, soulful-looking kittens… 😦

                Liked by 1 person

                • Ouch — an illustration, too. 😦 That had to be devastating to see, especially when you were so young. I read an unillustrated version of “The Little Match Girl.”

                  Yes, those mail solicitors (many legitimate, some not) know how to tug on one’s heartstrings.


            • LOL (or maybe Cry Out Loud)! That’s a tragedy hat trick if I ever saw one! What a clever comment, jhNY. 🙂

              I’m trying to think of the literary moments that get me crying every time. Among them would be Helen’s death and the Jane/Rochester reunion scene in “Jane Eyre,” Matthew’s death in “Anne of Green Gables,” the horse’s death in Emile Zola’s “Germinal,” the Gwendolen Harleth letter at the end of George Eliot’s “Daniel Deronda,” etc.


              • I’m with you on reacting to Gwendolyn’s letter at the end of ‘Daniel Deronda’. My heart broke for her and I really did feel that she and Daniel would have made a potentially more ‘sympatico’ relationship/marriage than Daniel/Mirah. She had learned and suffered a lot and deserved some good fortune.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Yes, that letter was really something, bobess48 — and suffering and experience did make Gwendolen a better, less spoiled person. She and Daniel might have indeed had a happy, compatible marriage. But given Daniel’s discovery of his heritage and his determination to leave England for his life’s work, the marriage to Mirah was probably more logical. Romantic in its way, too. But the very nice Mirah of course didn’t have Gwendolen’s charisma and intellect.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • Daniel and Mirah just seemed more like brother and sister than passionate lovers/soul mates. I don’t know to what extent George Eliot manipulated the match because I do recall that, although Daniel definitely cared for Gwendolyn and was attracted to her he wasn’t in love with her, whereas she obviously was in love with him. Reminds me of the Strether/Maria Gostrey relationship in ‘The Ambassadors’ to a certain extent. Some critics have said that Strether simply didn’t love Maria like she loved him. It could be a one-sided attachment. Besides, in that novel, Strether is far more enamoured in something resembling infatuation with Madame de Vionnet. These love matches don’t always go the way we, as readers, would wish them to.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • You’re right — Daniel and Mirah’s relationship did have a bit of a sibling vibe. Kind of like Jane Eyre and St. John Rivers if they had married (though of course Jane had a stronger personality than Mirah and Daniel was nicer than St. John). But a Daniel/Gwendolen marriage, while more exciting, might not have been as companionable as a Daniel/Mirah marriage.

                      I guess all authors manipulate their characters and their characters’ relationships. George Eliot was writing, at least in part, a proto-Zionist novel — and a Gwendolen/Daniel marriage wouldn’t have fit into that theme. So it was convenient for Eliot to have Gwendolen love Daniel more than he loved her.

                      I definitely want to read “The Ambassadors” soon. If my library has it, I’ll get to it next month.

                      Liked by 1 person

      • Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book, a Silverstein creation, is one of the most perversely humorous takes on childhood I’ve ever read. Stumbled upon it at a friend’s house in the early ’60’s. There was nothing like it at the time. I especially liked the man who lived in kitchen ceiling, who was hungry and needed to eat the eggs in Mommy’s refrigerator, which he would catch when you threw them up to him. Also, in the back of the book there was a worn spot, under which Uncle Shelby had helpfully written, more or less: ‘Here’s shiny new quarter for you! (Unless your parents saw it first and took it.’)

        Liked by 1 person

        • That shiny new quarter thing — so funny, jhNY! Shel Silverstein’s books were indeed perversely (and brilliantly) clever and imaginative. Am I remembering correctly that you encountered him when you were both in musician mode?


          • Yes, he used to hang around the Exit/In in Nashville, at the time of his greatest songwriting success– Boy Named Sue, Cover of the Rolling Stone. I played there from time to time, but I don’t remember performing when he was in the audience; neither do I remember him performing. Didn’t really like Shel the Songwriter nearly so much as I liked Uncle Shelby, but de gustibus, etc.

            As you may not recall, since like me you only looked at it for the articles, he was a staff artist for Playboy for quite a while also.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Shel Silverstein was definitely a multitalented guy, jhNY, even if he was better at some things than others. “A Boy Named Sue” was quite clever, and Johnny Cash did a great job with it. Never could stand “Cover of the Rolling Stone.”

              “…since like me you only looked at it for the articles” — funny line about Playboy! Actually, I rarely read the articles, either, though I know some were excellent. My “intellectual journals” of choice included Mad magazine… 🙂


  18. I LOVE your traveling caterpillar story, Dave!

    I am woefully ignorant of young children’s literature except for Dr. Seuss. However, I have very fond memories of being read to when I was in grammar school. Grades 1 – 3 were in one classroom and grades 4 – 6 were in another classroom. Miss Tula Vaughn was the teacher for grades 1 – 3. She would gather us around in a circle and she would read to us. In the wintertime, she gathered us in a circle around the coal-burning stove. One of the books she read was called “The Whistling Mountain Mystery” by Dorothea Snow. She read the book in installments, presumably a chapter at a time, every day. I absolutely could not WAIT to hear what happened next! I am sure she read us several books during the 3 years we were in her classroom, but that’s the one that stuck in my memory. I still remember what made the mountain “whistle”. 🙂

    Sometimes, she would have each of us read a little bit from a story or book. She would sit beside us and encourage us. I still remember what that precious hand felt like on my forehead as she held my bangs out of my eyes as I read when it was my turn!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, lulabelle! Glad you liked that story. 🙂

      Dr. Seuss is definitely an icon. One of my favorite “factoids” about him is that the Uncle Sam he drew when he was a newspaper editorial cartoonist in the 1940s looked sort of like The Cat in the Hat character he would create in the 1950s!

      Wow — you had combined grades in elementary school! That must have been a very interesting experience, reading-wise and otherwise. What a great memory of your teacher reading “The Whistling Mountain Mystery” in installments. That teacher knew the power of the serial novel! Great memory, also, of you yourself reading. Eloquently and poignantly told.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Our little “two room schoolhouse with a path” closed at the end of the 1962-1963 school year. Going there was an unforgettable experience. I think we received a better education there than those who went to larger schools. There were only 29 of us – total – in grades 1 through 6 by the time the school closed. Consequently we received lots of individual attention.

        Liked by 1 person

  19. I don’t actually recall loving any particular children’s books when I was a child. Of course, I do recall watching ‘Captain Kangaroo’ in the mornings (do I need to explain to the young whippersnappers in the virtual audience who/what Captain Kangaroo is? If so, just speak up and I’ll provide an explanation. For the rest of you, read on). Among the many bizarre and goofy antics on the show from Dancing Bear, Bunny Rabbit, Mr. Moose, Grandfather Clock, Mr. Green Jeans (the captain’s only human companion) and those bizarre ‘disconnected’ glove-covered clapping hands in a spotlight in the dark, the captain would read a children’s story book (or ‘sturry’ as he would pronounce it). As he read, the illustrations of the book were displayed on the screen in closeup. One that he read was ‘Stone Soup’. I still don’t recall the entire plot of that ‘sturry’ but I was captivated by those black ink illustrations (no color–of course, I had a black and white TV set so who the hell would know if they were color?). And the idea of “STONE SOUP’–well, it was just SO bizarre that I couldn’t wrap my little brain around it. It stayed with me though. When not watching the Captain, I mostly read ‘Signature’ books, which was a series of biographies of historical people tailored for children. The covers would have the signature of the subject of that particular book in a small image centered in the middle of the cover. They all had titles like, ‘The Story of Benjamin Franklin,’ ‘The Story of Helen Keller’, ‘The Story of Mark Twain’ etc. About three fourths of the books covered the childhoods of the famous person. The last couple of chapters would summarize their adult lives and the deeds that made them famous. I recall that in Mark Twain’s case, they basically just injected elements of Tom and Huck and presented them as happening to the young Sam Clemens. I didn’t read ‘children’s books but I did read many of my older brothers’ ‘Classics Illustrated’s and I read some ‘Junior Classics Illustrated’s which was how I encountered many fairy tales, Grimm Brothers, Hans Christian Andersen, etc. I also read abridged Whitman Books, absorbed particularly with ‘Tom Sawyer’ and ‘Huck Finn’ although my mother did everything in her power to convert me into a Louisa May Alcott fan like she was. She read from ‘Little Women’ to me at bedtime. So I guess I missed out on the actual ‘Children’s Books’ for the most part but my interests were already veering elsewhere.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Children’s TV! That’s another interesting topic, bobess48. 🙂 I think I must have watched “Captain Kangaroo,” but I have no conscious memory of it. (Loved your parenthetical “do I need to explain…” riff, as well as your entire engaging/comprehensive comment!) “Captain Kangaroo” definitely had many elements, and it’s nice the way a book being read on that show became a memorable experience for you.

      Oddly, perhaps my favorite kids’ show was one I watched as an adult: “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.” So inventive, funny, etc. And — like certain literature (“Gulliver’s Travels,” et al) — it could be enjoyed by children or adults on different levels.

      Biographies aimed at kids — I also remember those well! Such a great way to learn some history.


    • bobess48, you made me smile with your memories of Captain Kangaroo – I raised two daughters with the aid of the Captain and Mr. Green Jeans, and I enjoyed watching him myself – I appreciated the gentle humor.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Oh nice. So many ideas here. Loved this article. Thanks, Dave!

    Favorite children’s books:
    Good Night Moon – Oh yes indeed
    Bunnicula The Celery Stalks at Midnight – likely my favorite since I read it to my son, using various voices like cookie monster and others from Sesame Street muppets. He laughed so hard he fell of his bed, all the way through. Naturally this would be my favorite!
    Where the Wild Things Are – always dear to my heart
    Rumpelstiltskin – heavily illustrated in an encyclopedia we had, when I was a child. I forced my mother to read it over and over and over. Nearly drove her crazy. LOL

    Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, HopeWFaith, for your great/engaging comment and your kind words! (Sorry your login didn’t take. 😦 )

        “Goodnight Moon” is an incredibly soothing book. Simple in a way, but so effective. “Bunnicula The Celery Stalks at Midnight” — I’ve never read it, but what a terrific title! Sounds like it was a real hit in your household! “Where the Wild Things Are” somehow slipped my mind when I wrote the column. A real classic.

        Yes, the repetition often involved in reading children’s books can be…interesting. 🙂


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