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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Finding More Color in Winter

There is a little color in this cool-toned scene, but you have to look for it. Inside the bookstore, on the other hand, there is color everywhere, and today I want to feature a new book especially lively in that regard.

The Woodscrit Chronicles: A Story for Children from Six to Ninety-Six, written by grown-up child Thomas M. Shoaff of Fort Wayne, Indiana, and East Leland, illustrated by his son Matthew-John Shoaff, tells the story of summer people from the point of view of the wild animals who live around them. What do furry year-round residents make of those who come to play on the lakes when days are long and nights are warm? Author Shoaff imagines the “critters” spying (benevolently) on human activities and keeping written records “in giant tomes for future reference,” and thus a central character in this fanciful tale is an old box elder tree, named (according to the story) for the ancestral record boxes kept in its generous heart. One night, however, the revered tree is felled by a storm—and thereby hangs the tale!

David and I were fortunate enough to read this book in manuscript and to see first-hand Matthew’s vivid and magical paintings. There are photographs in the book, too—of the original tree that inspired the story, of the young humans spied upon by the “critters,” and of the little red house to which the old tree finally came home to rest. This is a story to warm hearts and delight eyes on cold winter days! The images I’ve included here give the merest taste of what you will find inside the covers.

Now for a little change of pace: It’s been a while since I’ve reported on what David’s reading. To say he’s reading Thoreau would not be news, because he’s never not reading Thoreau. “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes” is one of his favorite quotations. (Our lives are cluttered with books, not new clothes.) At home or on the road, Thoreau is always near at hand. This past week, however, an unusual book has been claiming my husband’s attention. The book is Sheep: Life on the South Dakota Range, by Archer B. Gilfillan. Gilfillan lived from 1886 to 1955, and Sheep was first published in 1929 by Little, Brown. Illustrations are by Kurt Wiese. There’s a lot about dogs, which we enjoy, of course (he’s been reading bits aloud to me from time to time), but it’s more the quality of the writing than the subject matter that has David enthralled. The author is a wonderful writer, with an unusual sense of humor and a gift for turning a colorful turn of phrase.

We are very lucky to spend our days surrounded by delights and treasures and to be able to welcome new and old friends in to share them with us.


Anonymous said...

Ah, tell David that I too am never not reading Thoreau. The days would be bleak indeed without that warm, wise, and gently scolding voice. But I'm intrigued by the Gilfillan sheep memoir. Wouldn't it be remarkable if the author was ancestor to the under-appreciated poet/essayist/story writer, Merrill Gilfillan (Magpie Rising, Sworn Before Cranes, etc)? Merrill's dad, Merrill Sr., was a writer, also, in Ohio, where Merrill Jr. grew up. After college (U of Mich) he moved to Colorado, where he caught his stride and in book after book has made the Great Plains his great subject. I don't recall any mention of shepherding in his work, but maybe it's in his blood.

P. J. Grath said...

Always new threads to follow in the world of books and writings. At what stage is your latest work, Jerry?

Anonymous said...

Nearing midpoint, as close as I can tell, though it keeps running ahead of me...

Glad to read that you're devoting the mid-winter months to your novel. Best of luck to you. Many of the most intense creative periods of my life have occurred Jan-Mar. I'm still mining riches from the 300 pages that poured out in a fever during those months in 2005. I thought they were the start of one book but they turned out to be several.

P. J. Grath said...

Funny, with writing, how you don't always know at the time when you're being productive. Sometimes what feels like goofing around yields a rich harvest. Then there are the days and nights when you just slip on the harness and keep going around the field.