Thursday, March 26, 2015

Your Favorite Children's Book?

Every generation of children has its favorite books.  My childhood reading was very eclectic.  On Saturdays when we went to town to shop, a trip to the library was always included, and I think I was left alone to wander the book shelves and select whatever caught my eye.  The method employed by my parents taught me to be a life-long reader.  On the other hand, I missed many childhood classics that a little guidance might have helped me find.

One book I do remember is The Little Squeegy Bug, which was owned by my family.  It was published in 1945 and is the first book by Bill Martin, Jr., with the delightful illustrations by his brother, William Ivan Martin.

Although this book, and its wonderful illustrations, are lodged firmly in my memory, I was unaware of the importance of its author until recently.  Bill Martin, Jr. taught in St. John, after having been raised in Hiawatha, KS and educated at the Kansas State Teacher's College in Emporia.    

Bill Martin, Jr.  (1916-2004)
He served in the Army Air Corps during W.W. II as a newspaper editor, and it was during that time that he published The Little Squeegy Bug (1945).  The simple little book I remember from childhood was actually a popular success, selling more than a million copies and getting praise from Eleanor Roosevelt in her syndicated newspaper column, "My Day."

While that alone is impressive, it was only the beginning. During his lifetime he wrote more than 300 books for children.  Younger readers would probably remember him for Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? which was illustrated by his friend, famous children's illustrator Eric Carle.

 The last decade of his life he lived in Commerce, Texas, and this native-born and educated Kansan is memorialized in Texas.  The library on the campus of Texas A&M University-Commerce is named in his honor and contains a collection of all of his books and many artifacts connected with Martin. 

However, Kansas remembers him in a wonderful way too.  The Bill Martin, Jr. Picture Book Award was established in 1996 by the Kansas Reading Association for the purpose of promoting quality literature for young people.  Teachers, parents, communities, and librarians can nominate titles, from which a committee of KRA members compiles a list voted upon by KRA members who determine the year's award winner based on the book receiving the most votes.  You may go to to read more.

It is unlikely that Isaac B. Werner had much opportunity to read books published specifically for children when he was young.  Until the mid-1800s, most children's books were intended to teach religion or manners, with hardly the slightest intention of being entertaining.  There was a far earlier oral history of myths and fairy tales shared by children and adults, but the book generally regarded as the first modern children's book is A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, written and published by John Newbery in 1744.
An interior page of Squeegy

In the early 19th Century traditional oral fairy tales were collected and written down  in several countries, including those collected by Danish author and poet Hans Christian Andersen, the German Brothers Grimm, and Norwegian Folktales collected by Peter Christen Asbjornsen and Jorgen Moe.  

Recently, the British Library has facilitated the opportunity for everyone to access images from books published in the 17th-19th centuries which are contained in their library.  If you are curious, you can see what children's books looked like in the 1800s at

I don't know what Isaac B. Werner read as a child nor why he developed such a passion for books.  I can only be certain that his library was impressive and that he believed reading was essential throughout a person's life.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Changing Landscape

Isaac's Pinnacle Hill
There was high ground on Isaac's homestead claim that he called "pinnacle hill."  Several years on the 4th of July, Isaac climbed his pinnacle hill to view the fireworks from towns as far away as Macksville, St. John, Iuka, and Stafford.

The photograph at right was taken of me standing on what I believe to be what is left of Isaac's pinnacle hill.  According to the current land owner, this was once the highest point on that quarter section of land, but over the years its elevation has been reduced, perhaps by as much as 40 feet.

It cannot be assumed that just because the land someone owned in the 1880s is still under cultivation, and has not been covered by buildings or roads, that it is still the same as it was more than a century ago.  The photograph at left shows the southeast corner of Isaac's homestead.  An older elevation can still be seen, but dirt removal has cut away around that elevation.  I avoid describing the higher elevation in the photograph as "original," since it is adjacent to the road and power line posts have been set, both of which might have altered the original terrain.

The photograph at right was taken from Isaac's pinnacle hill looking toward the north, and what is now an open field was in the late 1800s Isaac's timber claim.  His journal records how he planted thousands of trees from cuttings and seeds, growing not only cottonwoods but also catalpa, Osage orange, and maple trees.  (See "Isaac's Catalpa Trees," 5-30-2012; "Planting Osage orange Trees," 3-15-2012; and "Isaac Plants Cottonwood Trees," 12-2-2011, in the Blog Archives.

Generations come and go, and not even the land remains the same.  Very little undisturbed prairie remains in the community where Isaac homesteaded, and many acres are under circle irrigation.  The flat prairie land has been leveled even further, and the trees planted by homesteaders, and more planted in the "Dirty 30s" to reduce soil erosion, have died or been removed to enlarge the acreage devoted to crops.

Once Isaac knew the land so well that he could set out across the prairie on foot to walk to St. John.  Many of the landmarks he must have relied upon to find his way have changed.  I wonder if he would recognize his own claims today.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Wonderful Discovery

The enjoyment of a book is a wonderful thing in itself.  Beyond that, however, are the paths that lead away from every book you read.  If it is a book of fiction, it may lead to more books by that author or books from the same literary period or novels dealing with the same subject.  Fiction often leads me to nonfiction, exploring the setting or the event depicted in the novel.  Nonfiction often mentions other titles on the same subject.  The paths are endless, which explains why I can never catch up with all of the books I want to read!

Cruden's Concordance at Stafford Museum
Reading Isaac's journal also took me on many paths, researching people, places, and historic events.  Because Isaac was a reader and a book collector, he introduced me to many books and authors.  One of those books was Cruden's Concordance.  Isaac's penmanship was quite neat, ( See "Isaac's Penmanship," 5-2-2012 in blog archives), but because he was writing more for himself than for a stranger reading his journal more than a century later, not every word was legible.  Names especially gave me trouble, and I did not transcribe Cruden's Concordance accurately.  I did learn that the definition of "concordance" is "an alphabetical index of the principle words in a book," but I did not identify Cruden's name correctly.  From the context of the journal I understood that the book had something to do with the Bible, but it took me some time to appreciate what an incredible book Isaac had in his library.

Isaac was an autodidact (See "Isaac, the Autodidact," 11-13-2014 in blog archives), and he collected books from many fields of study.  (See "Isaac's Library," 2-2-2012 in blog archives.)  He wanted to do his own research rather than relying on the representations of those who might not be reliable scholars.  It is not surprising, then, that Cruden's Concordance to the Bible was one of the books in his library.
Cruden's Title Page

Some of the comments Isaac wrote in his journal about ministers and preachers were very critical and might be misunderstood as criticisms of religion; however, his own study of the Bible would indicate otherwise.  Isaac had little respect for anyone who did not study to become informed before speaking on a subject or whose elocution lacked the substance and style to keep listeners interested, and he made no exception for men of God in those regards.  It was to be expected that Isaac would have studied Cruden's Concordance and would have kept it close at hand as he read his Bible.

Without Isaac I might never have known about the Concordance and its author, Alexander Cruden. The Authorized King James Version of the Bible has about 774,746 words.  Cruden's Concordance has about 2,370,000 words!  Cruden not only indexes each word in the Bible but also provides some definitions.

Index for Anger
In 2004 author Julia Keay published a sort of mystery/biography of Alexander Cruden (1699-1770).  Relying on documents and the smallest of clues, she pieced together both the tragic and the triumphant life of the author of the Concordance.  Imagine Cruden's achievement, in a time before copy machines and computers, not only searching the Bible for words to index but also writing his findings down and organizing them.  Some suggest he used note cards; others believe he used long pieces of paper.  Whatever he did, it must have required painstaking research and countless copying again and again to complete the indexes.
Flyleaf  of copy in Stafford Museum

"[N]ouns such as honey (for which there are thirty-five references and an explanation of what honey is and where it comes from) or wine (for which there are ninety-four direct references, separate entries for wine-bibber, wine-bottle, wine-cellars, wine-fat, wine-press, wine-presses, and wines, as well as a long discussion on the origins, properties and Biblical significance of the useful and agreeable liquor offer examples of Cruden's monumental achievement."  (Quoted from Alexander the Corrector, The Tormented Genius Whose Cruden's Concordance Unwrote the Bible, by Julia Keay, Overlook Press, 2004)  Anyone seriously interested in Bible study would have wanted to own Cruden's index, and in the more than 250 years since its first publication there have been "Useful, Popular, Handy, Portable, Compact, Students, and Cleartype editions," as well as Complete editions, but it has never during that time been out of print!

Julia Keay's book
Therefore, perhaps I should not have been surprised to learn that the Stafford County Historical Museum has an early edition of  Cruden's Concordance in their library collection!  The flyleaf from the copy in the Stafford  Museum indicates purchase in Philadelphia in 1887.  Isaac's copy would have been an even older edition, for he documented the date of purchase in his journal on January 2, 1871 with a letter of reply from Schribner's:  "We can supply Youngman's Cruden's Concordance, 1 Vol. for $3.75 or by mail for $4.12." 
Visiting the museum to examine and photograph their volume, I mentioned what I was doing to a friend at the museum.  She replied, "I have my mother's father's copy of that book."  It would be interesting to learn if there are other copies of this book owned by followers of my blog.  If you have a copy, please leave a comment sharing the edition you own and how the book came into your hands.  It will make an interesting survey if followers of the blog share their stories.  Someone might even discover the signature of Isaac B. Werner on the flyleaf of their copy, if their ancestor bought it at Isaac's estate sale!

(By the way, the method for proving you are not a computer when you leave a comment has been changed, so for those of you who gave up on leaving comments because you could not decipher the 'mutilated' letters, please try again.  I believe you will find the new method easier to do.)

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Once there was a community...

Once there was a community called Livingston located in Richland Township southwest of St. John, KS.  Isaac Werner attended a Union Labor lecture at the school house there.  He met a couple by the last name of Cornett and stayed with them overnight, enjoying what he called 'some of the most interesting literary and political talk I had experienced in a while.' Now this community has nearly disappeared, except for old photographs and images in the memories of a few people.  
 In 2012 when my husband and I paused to take these photographs of the Livingston school house, all that remained were ruins.  The community that once had an active Farmer's Alliance has disappeared.  During the height of the progressive movement Isaac came to photograph the communities' group of wagons on their way to St. John to join other wagons from around Stafford County.  They met at the train depot to form a procession which paraded around the square in support of the progressive movement sweeping across Kansas.
 The country schools that were the center of their small communities have nearly all disappeared.  (See "Isaac Builds a School House," 10-11-12 in the Blog Archives.)  Most of them closed in the 1940s, a few remaining until the early 1950s.  People tried to preserve the schools as the center of their community for dances, reunions, and other social events.  For a time some of them were used as the voting place for their neighborhoods.
Eventually not enough people resided in the old communities to support these rarely used gathering places.  Some of the old schools were bulldozed.  Others were left empty to deteriorate, crumbling symbols of the communities established by the early settlers and the high value those settlers placed on educating their children.

A P.S.:  Diane Getty, who grew up in the Richland community, posted a comment that the Greensburg tornado was the cause of the severe damage to the Livingston School.