Today was a red letter day for children who love to read and want their reading sparked with fascinating characters and vivid imagination. Two major authors who spent their lifetimes entertaining the younger set were born on January 14, 12 years and an ocean apart.
Born in Sandwich, MA in 1874, Thornton Burgess was a conservationist and prolific writer of children’s books, producing 170 books between 1910 and 1965 – several titles every year (with an amazing 19 in 1914 alone). His books celebrated nature, featuring the many animals that lived in the Green Meadow and Green Forest.
Mother West Wind “How” Stories an early collection of 16 stories that told how Lightfoot the Deer learned to jump, how the eyes of Old Mr. Owl became fixed, how Drummer the Woodpecker came by his red cap and so on. Other collections told when, where and why various animal things happened – Wild Kingdom without Marlin Perkins or TV commercials The various forest and meadow creatures that had their own adventure books included Peter Rabbit, Jimmy Skunk, Grandfather Frog, Little Joe Otter, Granny Fox, Jerry Muskrat and Digger the Badger to name just a few.
Burgess published his last book, an autobiography, in 1960. That same year he published his 15,000th story. He died on June 5, 1965, at the age of 91.
Hugh Lofting, on the other hand, wrote only a dozen books. Born in 1886 in Maidenhead, England, his books featured the amazing Doctor Doolittle from Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, a character he first created in letters to his children during his World War I service in the Irish Guards. The Story of Doctor Dolittle: Being the History of His Peculiar Life at Home and Astonishing Adventures in Foreign Parts Never Before Printed began the series in 1920 and was followed two years later by The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle.
Yes, Doctor Doolittle could talk to the animals and so much more. He ran a post office, a circus and a zoo, took voyages to exotic places around the world, went to the moon. According to the neighborhood mussel-man, he was a nacheralist – “a man who knows all about animals and butterflies and plants and rocks an’ all.” Not only could he talk to and understand animals, he had written history books in monkey-talk, poetry in canary language and songs for magpies to sing. And his books teem with animals too – not just pigs, rats, owls, seals and badgers but pushmi-pullyus and wiff-waffs as well.