Thursday, April 30, 2015

Sand hill Plums Again

Webs on Sand Hill Plums
The popularity of my past sand hill plum blog posts has verified my feeling that sand hill plum jelly is as popular as it was in Isaac Werner's day!  (See "Plum Harvest," 6-14-2912; "Sand Hill Plums," 3-1-2012 in the Blog Archives.) Last year a frost damaged the sand hill plum blooms, but this year the blooms were abundant and beautiful.  I intended to take some photographs at the peak of the blooming season, but they had already begun to fade when I stopped to photograph what I spied from my car...web worms!  At least, that is what I thought they were.

I was fascinated by the webs, but I was on my way to a program in town, so I snapped several pictures and hurried along.  However, I was curious to research what the webs contained.

I found a post in the Back to the Past Archives written by Lois Guffy in 2004.  She wrote:  "We also had to fight the webworms that came early and formed a web on the branches waiting until the plums were large enough to enter."  She added:  "How sad it was, to see a thicket loaded with luscious plums and find them full of wormholes.  The worms were usually found embedded inside of the seed."

Since my photographs on this page were taken April 11, 2015 and it would be several weeks before there were plums, I wondered if Lois Guffy could be talking about the same webs I had seem.  I continued my research.

Caterpillars beginning to emerge
According to the Kansas State University website, it is the Eastern Tent Caterpillar that likes the native sandhill plum and choke-cherry.  They only produce one generation a year, depositing egg masses on the host plant to spend the winter.  The larvae emerge from the eggs in mid- to late-March and build their own 'nests', from which they emerge to eat the tender new leaves of the host plant.  Eventually they become moths that spend months laying the eggs on twigs and branches for the next spring's larvae.  While they may defoliate the bushes, they are not the culprits responsible for laying eggs in the fruit.

On April 2, 1889, Isaac Werner wrote in his journal:  "Catepillars webbing and hatching out with the advent of plum leaves ready to devour as fast as growing.  I went over my plum bushes about yard and cleaned them off."  Whether Isaac simply wanted to keep his plum bushes attractive or he, like Lois Guffy, also blamed them for damaging the fruit, he definitely didn't want them on his plants!

Life stages of the Plum curculio
The pest more likely to have spoiled Lois Guffy's plums is the Plum curculio.  The females are partial to plums, peaches, apples, pears, and other pome and stone fruits as hosts for their eggs.  They are a weevil native to Kansas and other regions east of the Rocky Mountains.  With their ugly snout and the ridges on their wings, they are a creature hard to love, and the fact that they are as wicked about destroying fruits as their appearance suggests makes it easy to find them despicable.

As long as the Tent Caterpillars only eat a few leaves, which should stop by mid-May in time for the foliage to return and keep the bushes healthy, I believe I will ignore the silky webs and hope the birds and wasps keep the caterpillars under control.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Poetry of the Prairie

William Cullen Bryant
It has been my habit during April Poetry Month to devote a blog to poetry.  You may visit the blog archives for past years in April to read those posts.  This year I will share poetry of the Prairie, beginning with the opening of William Cullen Bryant's long poem, "The Prairie."

These are the gardens of the Desert, these/ The unshorn fields, boundless and beautiful,/ For which the speech of England has no name--/The Prairies.  I behold them for the first,/ And my heart swells, while the dilated sight/ Takes in the encircling vastness.  Lo! they stretch,/ In airy undulations, far away,/ As if the ocean, in his gentlest swell,/ Stood still, with all his rounded billows fixed,/ And motionless forever. --Motionless?--/ No--they are all unchained again.  The clouds/ Sweep over with their shadows, and, beneath,/ The surface rolls and fluctuates to the eye;/ Dark hollows seem to glide along and chase/ The sunny ridges.  Breezes of the South!/ Who toss the golden and the flame-like flowers,/ And pass the prairie-hawk that, poised on high,/ Flaps his broad wings, yet moves not--ye have played/ Among the palms of Mexico and vines/ Of Texas, and have crisped the limpid brooks/ That from the fountains of Sonora glide/ Into the calm Pacific--have ye fanned/ A nobler or a lovelier scene than this? 

Photo by Lyn Fenwick
The style of this poem by Bryant, although rather archaic, captures the imagery of the prairie so beautifully that you may wish to read the full poem online.  It was written in 1832, as a result of his first visit to the prairies.  In a letter to his wife Bryant wrote:  "What I have thought and felt amid these boundless wastes and awful solitudes I shall reserve for the only form of expression in which it can be properly uttered."

Laurie Ricou opens her essay, Prairie Poetry And Metaphors of Plain/S Space with a quote from Stephen Scobie's McAlmon's Chinese Opera:  "Gertrude Stein says/ you have to have flown across the Mid-West/ seeing the patterns of the fields/ to understand modern painting./  What I say is/ you have to have walked that land/ a whole Dakota afternoon/ to understand modern writing."

Photo by Lyn Fenwick at Homestead Monument
Ricou's interesting essay examining the prairie influence and imagery can be read online, but I will share one more example.  I was particularly taken by Garry Raddysh's description of the wind, so familiar to all of us who live on or have visited the prairie:  "...the wind/ in agony/ as it struggles/ not to take root/ in the prairie."  I love the way he flips my normal way of thinking about the wind--as the thing that threatens to rip everything from its moorings on the ground--into something struggling against the power of the prairie.

It is the traditional power of wind that Myrae Roe depicts in her poem Udall, Kansas, May 25, 1955, about a powerful tornado.  "...homicidal winds bent on fostering hell./  Dawn covered the awful result with pale light./  Silence wandered like a ghost/ amid uprooted trees planted a hundred years ago... Reporters and cameramen hastened into the town/ to find their story.  Amid the ruins/ one of them wrote, 'The little town of Udall/ died in its sleep last night.'"    

Roe's poem was published at the poetry blog "Kansas Time + Place."  You can subscribe online to receive poems weekly by Kansas poets currently writing and publishing their poetry

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Your Favorite Childhood Books, Part 4

Some books read in the innocence of childhood raise complex issues today.  Helen Bortz remembers:  "There was a series of stories that appeared in issues of 'Good Housekeeping' magazine.  Little Brown Koko [was] authored by Blanche Seale Hunt and illustrated by Dorothy Wagstaff..."  The 'Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists,' compiled by Susan V. Craig, Art & Architecture Librarian at the University of Kansas, includes Dorothy Wagstaff Arens among Kansas artists active before 1945.  Using the professional name of Dorothy Wagstaff, she specilized in illustrating children's books, and the image at left from "Wee Wisdom" magazine is an example of her work.  She studied at Washburn College and taught at the Topeka School of Art.

She is best known, perhaps, for her illustrations for Little Brown Koko, and the image of a dust jacket cover of the book by that title appears below.

The online seller of the pictured book described the author, born in 1912 in Florida, as an author, teacher, and postmistress.  There were six Little Brown Koko books, which together sold 600,000 copies.

Obviously this was a popular book in its time, and children who loved it, as well as parents who bought the book for their children, almost certainly did not think of themselves as racists.  Nor do those who continue to remember the book from their childhoods fondly.

However, writer Stephanie Beecroft Moore, wife of a Black man and mother of two bi-racial children, points out the unintentional hurt these books and images can cause.  She acknowledges that her husband does not share her degree of sensitivity to what she describes in her essay, "The Accidental Racist."  While she believes "that most people are good, that they believe in equality and justice," she regards the oppression of people of color as "so deeply-embedded in our culture, it is impossible to remain uninfected."  As one example of unintentional hurt, she cites finding Little Brown Koko at her children's school book sale.

First Edition Cover
Rodney Smith remembers reading The Story of Little Black Sambo, written in 1899 by English author Helen Bannenman.  I believe my own family had that children's book, as I am sure many families did.  The book was a favorite well into the mid-20th century.  Today many people find the book offensive, and Sambo is regarded as a racial slur.

Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan is home to the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, "using objects of intolerance to teach tolerance and promote social justice."  Curator David Pilgrim has written about the fact that for many White Americans, stories like Little Brown Koko, Little Black Sambo, and Epaminondas and His Auntie are just 'cute stories.'  Pilgrim writes:  "I am ambivalent about removing books like Epaminondas and His Auntie from public libraries.  I find the book offensive.  ...However, I do not support top-down censorship.  I do see the value of having racially offensive objects in the public so the objects can be used as tools to facilitate healthy, sometimes painful, dialogue."

Although there was a community of Exodusters, former Southern slaves who had come to Kansas, living not far from Isaac, his journal mentions only a Black laborer who worked for a neighbor and a Black speaker from Topeka who spoke in St. John.  His journal entries about both men were as straight forward as any other comments about people he encountered, revealing no bias.  Yet, he did note their color in the journal entries. 

Perhaps the issue of racism is more apparent in these books from decades ago, but if we pause to reflect on other childhood books that we remember fondly--the depictions of Native Americans, roles for young girls, the 'perfect' mother or father, and stereotypes about other nationalities as examples--we would surely find offensive depictions.  Our continued affection for the books we read and loved in a different time does not necessarily reflect our attitudes today.

Unlike the limited number of comments about Blacks in Isaac's journal, there were several references to deaths of children.  Life on the prairie seemed particularly hard on very young children and women, whose deaths were often related to childbirth.  The early settlers of Isaac's time were not unfamiliar with the loss of family members.  Because death is a part of life, should it be a subject for children's literature?   

Gentleman Don
My older brother was given the book Gentleman Don: The life story of a good dog, and when I was old enough to read it, that book became a favorite.  When our childhood possessions were divided as adults, Gentleman Don naturally went to my brother.  I never forgot it, and a few years ago I found a copy online for my own book collection.  When I read it as an adult, I wondered why it had held such appeal for me.  Published in 1910, the book is very Victorian and deals with death, loss, and abuse in ways I did not remember.  Yet, I had loved it.

I thought of that recently when I visited one of my favorite websites, "" and found an article by Maria Popova titled "Consolation for Life's Darkest Hours:  7 Unusual and Wonderful Books that Help Children Grieve and Make Sense of Death." She began by quoting Neil Gaiman:  "If you are protected from dark things, then you have no protection of, knowledge of, or understanding of dark things when they show up."

Among the "unusual and wonderful books" described in the article is one titled The Flat Rabbit, in which a dog and a rat discover the flattened remains of their friend, a rabbit, which has been run over by a car.  The two friends develop what they see as a fitting memorial for their friend, and in the process reflect on life and death.

Another one of the books is We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy by Maurice Sendak, who is known for his unorthodox stories for children.  This story deals with poverty, sickness, homelessness, and kidnapping--obviously frightening subjects for children.
Not every parent might want to have their child reading books dealing so directly with difficult subjects, but if you are interested in reading more, you may visit, a weekly blog that offers interesting reviews of books for adults, and occasionally for children, dealing with a wide range of topics. 

I'm not sure whether my parents knew the contents of Gentleman Don.  Many parents today make an effort to be aware of what their children are reading.  Fairy tales were a popular choice among those who shared their favorite childhood books for this blog, and when you reflect on the kidnapping, imprisoning, injuries, poisonings, and other events in fairy tales and nursery rhymes, they are pretty gruesome.  Death may seem like an inappropriate subject for children's books; yet, not everyone would agree.  From the favorites mentioned by followers of my blog, they were not traumatized by the childhood books they mentioned, although their choices sometimes dealt with mature topics.

I appreciate all of the comments and e-mails I received, and I think each one was valuable and of interest to those who have been following my blog series of favorite childhood books.  Several books were favorites of many, while other books were uniquely important to only one person who responded  The books were of wide variety, with a variety of themes.  Thanks to each of you who shared your favorite books and the stories about your childhood reading.  It has been a wonderful opportunity to reflect and remember!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Your Favorite Children's Books, Part 3

For all my love of books, I regret that I ignored a wonderful set available on the bookshelves of my home when I was a child.  My grandparents had the 1909 edition of Journeys Through Bookland, a collection in ten volumes of children's literature, poetry, and fables with black and white illustrated plates and pen and ink illustrations.  I believe I opened the books once or twice but was disappointed by the absence of color illustrations.  What a shame to have ignored these wonderful books.

Comments from readers of this blog continued to mention fairy tales.  Lynn Suiter wrote:  "Strangely, the Norwegian fairy tale, "Three Billy Goats Gruff" comes to mind as an early memory.  All I can remember is the goats need to cross a bridge to get to grass for eating.  Under the bridge is a mean troll who eats anyone passing.  I can't remember being scared of this plot but that it was so far fetched."  I, too, remember this tale.  It is one of the fairy tales collected by Asbjornsen and Moe.  The plot is similar to other fairy tales involving "eat-me-when-I'm-fatter," such as Hansel and Gretel.

Jill Bowden provided a special surprise by posting pictures of the covers of some of her childhood favorites--"Jack & Jill magazine, Nancy Drew, My Big Story Book, Read with Dick & Jane" and the cover pictured to the left, "The Red Fairy Book."  She added, "I also read Laura Ingalls Wilder and Louisa May Alcott."  We certainly would not want to forget learning to read with the "Dick and Jane" books.

Linda Koebrich spotted the image of "365 Bedtime stories" and wrote, "Loved that book."  Nancy Moore, who shared her favorites last week, added her children and grandchildren's favorites, admitting that it was "hard to get all the way through because we kept laughing so hard!"  Those books are "Berenstiens B Book," in which almost every word starts with B, and "Because a Little Bug Went Ca-Choo," in which one action creates a long list of reactions!"  Genile Allton Rawson chose "The Trixie Belden mystery series [which she] started reading at age 10 and couldn't put them down."

One of the first replies to my call for followers to share their favorites came from Wes Fisk, who even provided biographical information about his favorite author, Dr. Thomas Clark Hinkle.  Hinkle was born in Illinois but came to Kansas with his parents in a covered wagon when he was two.  First ordained as a minister, he then became a doctor.  However, he found time to write more than 24 books for children about horses and dogs.  Wes said, "I loved his books."

Allan Hingston included books about dogs among his favorites, but he regretted the disappearance of some old favorites.  "Books I don't see anymore are ones like [The Adventures of] Ol Mistah Buzzard."  Its author, Thornton W. Burgess was a naturalist and conservationist who wrote more than 100 books, as well as countless short stories. His books were filled with characters like Little Joe Otter, Grandfather Frog, and Buster Bear.  Fortunately, new editions are still available on Amazon.

Along with book titles, people shared wonderful stories.  Linda Nathan wrote:  "When I was a young child my family lived two blocks from the library in San Bernardino, California.  The children/young adults' library was located below street level with a separate street entrance down steps from the sidewalk.  It was a much safer time and at age five my parents began to allow me to make the two block walk by myself.  ...It was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with books and reading."  She admitted that some days she checked out the 3 book limit in the morning and returned those for 3 more in the afternoon.

After reading the stories in last week's blog, Linda added "They bring back many good memories--reading Zane Grey westerns aloud to my younger sister, hiding a book in the bathroom, and making my dad angry when the dishwater got cold while I was happily reading away.  Little Golden Books, Nancy Drew, Little House Books, Little Women.  Oh my!"

In my earlier blog about children's books I said I did not know what Isaac B. Werner read as a child.  I still do not know, but given his love of Shakespeare, I think it is reasonable to suggest that he may have begun reading Shakespeare when he was quite young.  While young people today may find Shakespeare heavy going, that was not necessarily true in the 1800s, and Isaac was certainly a great fan when he was in his twenties, already familiar with Shakespeare's plays.  I suspect he began reading Shakespeare very early.

Thank you to everyone who has shared their favorite childhood books and stories about their early love of reading.  Next week I will conclude this series on children's books with a special look at two specific types of books.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Your Favorite Children's Books, Part 2

What fun I am having!  Last week when I posted the blog about Bill Martin, Jr.'s children's books, I had no idea so many people would respond.  As I began receiving comments, I invited everyone to send me their favorite titles and stories, and the response has been terrific.  I think you will enjoy reading what people have shared.

Serendipitously, I discovered that April 2, 2015 is International Children's Book Day, an annual observance sponsored by IBBY since 1967, with the date selected on or around Hans Christian Andersen's birthday.  You may read more at  Reading the comments sent to me by followers of my blog and face book page is a great way to celebrate books!

Janis Moore wrote:  "I was also taken to Pratt each week for piano lessons, and I always went to the library.  The first book I remember reading for myself over and over again was The Boxcar Children.  I was in the second grade when I found that book.  A little later I read all the Nancy Drew books and many, many others.  My Mom did not like for me to read in the car (hard on the eyes, she said).  I tried to sit right behind her in the back seat coming home from Pratt, so she could not see I was reading."  Janis added:  "I read to my children from day one.  One of the great memories they tell me is of sitting in the living room before bedtime (away from the TV) reading all the Little House books."

The first 19 stories in the Boxcar series were written by a 1st grade teacher named Gertrude Chandler Warner. Publication began in 1924 and has continued with well over 100 books.  Four orphan children made a home in an abandoned boxcar in the forest, and when they are found by their grandfather, he moves their boxcar to his backyard to remain as a playhouse for the children.  In a 2007 online poll, the National Education Association named the original book one of its "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children."

On face book, Janis's daughter Kim Moore Fritzemeier wrote:  "As an elementary student, I loved the Encyclopedia Brown series.  And I still love mysteries today!  My mom read the Little House books to us, and I read them several more times myself."

The Little House series was loved by many blog followers.  Eileen Loomis wrote:  "I loved soooo many books and still do.  My favorite series was the Little House books.  I would read and reread them, and of course, I still love watching it on tv.  One of [my son] Kyle's first books that we received when he was a baby was Peek-A-Boo!  I See You!  Bruce and I read that one to him so many times we both have it memorized!  I have enjoyed reading it to our grandson, Lincoln."

The Little House series was originally published between 1932 - 1943 based on the memories of Laura Ingalls Wilder's childhood.  Her daughter Rose helped edit the books, and the series has remained in print to the present.  Most people remember the edition illustrated by Garth Williams, but the cover at right is from the first edition.

Face book followers often replied with the titles of their favorites.  Ellie Penka Doran named Maurice Sendack's Where the Wild Things Are.  Leslie Edwards Helwig, a teacher, chose "any and all Little Golden Books, as well as Pickle Books and books by Judy Blume.  Another teacher, Jana Salmon Lamb, chose The Mitten, by Alvin Tresselt, illustrated by Yarolava, and Tikki Tikki Tembo, by Arlene Mosel, illustrated by Blair Lent.  Referencing Brown Bear, Brown Bear mentioned in last week's blog, Brenda Minnis wrote "...a favorite that my kids knew cover to cover."  Ruth Ritchey remembered The Bobbsey Twins series.

The first of the 72 books in the Bobbsey Twins series was published in 1904 (the cover of which is pictured at left) and the last in 1979, although a separate series was published from 1987 to 1992.  The main characters are two sets of fraternal twins in the Bobbsey family, 12-year-olds Bert and Nan, and 6-year-olds Flossie and Freddie.

Nancy Moore included several children's classics among her favorite books.  "I loved the Little Women series, Brother Grimes Fairy Tales, Heide, Tom Sawyer, Huck Fin, My Bookhouse Books...and almost every book I read that I just don't remember now!  I discovered the bookmobile the summer I was 11 and rode my bike to it faithfully all summer.  Fifty-six years later I can still close my eyes and see it and smell it.  My family would get after me for taking my books and reading them at outdoor picnics instead of playing ball or whatever other activity.  I can remember family visits to my Great Aunt & Uncle's farm in Indiana and sitting under the huge lilac bush and reading.  Thanks for the opportunity to reflect on those golden times." 

 Little Women, pictured at right in a 2-volume printing from the early 1870s, is one of those classic children's books I did not read until a few years ago.  How I wish I had known the fictional Jo March when I was a girl!  Written by Louisa May Alcott, the story of the four March sisters--Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy--was first published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869.  It was loosely based on the author's own sisters.

Sometimes an author's success comes from sharing a family member's story more directly.  Steve Shively suggested I might find much in common with a Nebraska writer who told her father's life story in Old Jules.  Mari Sandoz had a difficult relationship with her father and was shocked to hear his dying request that she tell his story.  It was this true life story of a pioneer that reminded my friend of my efforts to publish the story of Isaac Werner.

Alice McMillian Lockridge chose 365 Bedtime Stories by Nan Gilbert as her favorite.  The image at left depicts "...Mrs. Apricot sitting on her front porch with the children of What-A-Jolly Street."  When I saw the cover image and title, I recognized the book as one in a box of books my mother-in-law saved from my husband's childhood, although his edition has a slightly different cover. 

Fairy tales were often mentioned as favorites.  Lillian Kateman wrote that " favorite books as a child  were Fairy Tales--especially The Dancing Princesses."   She added, "Truthfully, I did not like to read, but liked being read to.  I cannot imagine that now...My sister is five years older, so she read to me at times.  In Seventh grade I discovered mystery books.  Then, I enjoyed reading."  She also mentioned Eric Carle's Very Hungry Caterpillar as a favorite.

My request for people to share favorite books brought a very special message on face book.  When I was practicing law in Dallas, TX, I had a fabulous secretary.  She had been the firm's receptionist and had asked to interview as a secretary, although she had no experience.  I agreed to train her, and that decision was very lucky for me!  She was wonderful.  She loved her job, and I think only one thing would have caused her to leave her demanding job with its long hours--a new baby girl.  I was delighted to receive her face book comment:  "Speaking of childhood books, we were helping our daughter and son-in-law move last week and I came across a book of nursery rhymes that you gave her on her first birthday.  She is now 27."  (I'll refrain from sharing all the kind things we had to say about each other after all these years.)

Others shared favorites that spanned generations.  Katie Roenbaugh Schwalb wrote:  "I had no idea that Bill Martin, Jr. was from Kansas...Our family has Brown Bear, Brown Bear Memorized."  She added:  "Did you ever read Socks for Supper, by Jack Kent?  I loved that book as a kid.  I also loved I am a Bunny, by Ole Risom and illustrated by Richard Scarry.  Michah's Dad (Fred) and Micah [her husband] both loved Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina.  William [their son] loves it now too--he laughs every time we read it.  Isaiah [their older son] didn't like it much, and I agree with him.  It doesn't resonate with me, but I still love reading it to William because he loves it and I like the idea of Fred and Micah also enjoying it!"

If you have noticed the regular comments at the end of many of my blogs by someone who calls himself  "Blog Fodder," you may have noticed he left a comment last week identifying King and Princess as his favorite childhood book.  However, many months ago he shared a different title with me, and on his recommendation, I bought it and read it.  Farley Mowat, was a Canadian author and environmentalist, whose book Never Cry Wolf was made into a movie with the same name, released in 1983.  He is best known for writing about the Canadian north, but his delightful book about an unmanageable, beloved, climbing dog is the one Blog Fodder recommended to me!

I am not finished sharing stories and book titles, but the rest will be shared next week.  I'll end by saying that I too had many Golden Books, among which my favorite was The Color Kittens.  Walter Farley's books about horses, including The Black Stallion, were my favorite books by a single author.

I have more to share next week, and if you hurry, I'll try to make room for your favorites too!