Friday, April 30, 2010

The Day

What a day that must have been and what wouldn't I give to have been there - wait - what would I give to have been there, in New York City, on the 30th of April, 1789, when General George Washington took his oath of office and became the first President of a nation he and countless others had brought into being. Man oh man oh man, just think about what he and the everyone in the crowd there that day must have been thinking. Think what all they'd been through and how that tall Virginian embodied it all. Gives me the shivers.
No time for reflecting & dillydallying. Off I go to Jefferson City to meet with a whole bunch of Daughters of the American Revolution. I'll bet they'd like to buy a ticket for a time machine.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


So, it was in the earliest 1990s when I began work on my first of a long string of historical picture books, Three Young Pilgrims. Only today, as I found out by way of my encyclopedia that today's the anniversary of the birth of that egomaniacal, remarkable William Randolph Hearst (1863, just for you to know) that he once said this: “Try to be conspicuously accurate in everything, pictures as well as text. Truth is not only stranger than fiction, it is more interesting.” I don't know that Mr. Hearst was consistently consistent in the telling of truth - I mean have we not seen Citizen Kane? But that long-gone newspaper hound, millionaire/compulsive collector & power monger who used to reign over San Simeon surely summed up what I've been trying to do all these years. He gave me, for his birthday, some words to keep on living and working by. Thanks a bunch, no foolin'.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


So, I don't know, but maybe, once upon a time, the kid who grew up to be the fifth president of the United States [with a Doctrine named after him] was just Jimmy Monroe. If he hadn't kicked the bucket on the Fourth of July, 1831, Jim would be a seriously decrepit 252 years old today. And too, if she hadn't been murdered, gosh, years ago, my long-gone friend Phyllis Dove, the fierce and generous, once glamorous and hard-headed Phyllis Dove, would be celebrating her birthday today. All of this and all manner of earthly knowledge would be new information, untrodden ground to Jaylin, a baby girl I know of who was born this very day: the grandchild of my brother's significantly dear one. Happy, bittersweet day.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


So, the Erie Canal was still being dug; I'm thinking that James Monroe was the U.S. President. Artist and inventor Samuel F. B. Morse was celebrating his 31st birthday and Abraham Lincoln was a gangly 13-year-old when, on an April 27th 178 years ago, Ulysses S. Grant was born. Ulysses is and was a mighty heavy name to carry so just about everybody called him Sam. Hardly anyone who knew him would have imagined that soft-spoken, stubborn Sam would wind up being the 18th President of the United States. In his 63 years of life, not so much went well for him except for love (in the person of his steadfast wife Julia) and war. He had a rough start at that, but before the Civil War was over, "Unconditional Surrender" Grant was a dusty, ruthless success, so much so that the public saw to it that he got elected to the White House. Some have done a lot worse at the job than General Grant, but quite a few have done better. Still, in the end, when friends had betrayed and disgraced him, stole money from him and his family; what did he do? Wrote a book - not an easy thing for anyone to do at any time. But, for the sake of his family and though he was suffering from the cancer that was killing him, brave, stubborn Sam wrote a splendid book about his improbable life which began on this day in history, 1822.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ella & Maud

So, two ladies, high in the ranks of the dear departed, share this day, a birthday. Maud Hart Lovelace was born on the 25th of April, in 1892, in Blue Earth County, Minnesota. Sure, the official name of her town, the one on the maps, is Mankato, but it's not, not really. To me and to the multitudes who delighted in the adventures of Betsy Ray (Maudie Hart), and her best friend, Tacy Kelly (Bickie Kinney), the town is and always will be Deep Valley. Maud H.L. somewhat fictionalized her growing up there in her series of "Betsy-Tacy" books. Lovely autonomous girl characters. Good-hearted families. They and Mrs. Wilder's books were the sustaining joy of my crabby, goofball childhood. Do, I hope you will, check out Unlike Laura's and Mary's frontier tales (1872-1885), Betsy's and Tacy's small town adventures take place in the years between 1897 and 1917.
It was on this day in 1917 (eleven days after President Woodrow Wilson declared war on the Germans, plunging the U.S. into the Great War), that Ella Fitzgerald was born in Newport News, Virginia. That's just for you to know and oh, how Ella would sing! "The only thing better than singing," Ella would say, "is more singing."
Happy Birthday, dear Maud and Ella up in the Blue Beyond, to the joy of my childhood eyes and to the joy of my grown-up ears.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

L.O.C. – 210 Years & Counting

"The more Adams thought about the future of his country, the more convinced he became that it rested on education." David McCullough

So, 'twas on this day 210 years ago that the 2nd President signed off on a law that'd let the legislators order $5,000's worth of books from London. Thus, the U.S. Government acquired its first library: 740 books and three maps. (Do check out for this and voluminous lists, piles, and stacks of other information - you won't be sorry!) Thank you, John Adams, who once wrote that liberty could not "be preserved without a general knowledge among the people." Thank you, brilliant, book-loving John Adams, who advised his son, JQA, to keep a poet in his pocket so he'd "never be alone."
Of course, that first "Library of Congress" was caught up in the flames when British troops torched the Capitol in the summer of 1814. And of course, ex-President Thos. Jefferson offered to sell his personal collection of 6,487 volumes (!) in order that the nation might replace and recommence its library - and as a delightful bonus, the Bookaholic of Monticello could go buy more books. Yup. Understand that addiction. Still, must the tubby New Englander always languish in the shadow of the Virginian(s)?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Heaven's Door

So, the big wheel in the sky has come around, lining up once again with the slot marked April 20th. In through that door, 121 years ago, in the old empire of Austria-Hungary, baby Adolf Hitler was born. Ninety years ago, John Paul Stevens, Supreme Court Justice. So much for astrology, I say. Today turned out to be the deathday of a stubborn and gracious lady, Dorothy Irene Height. She spent many of her 98 years on earth campaigning and working for equality and fairness for African Americans, particularly women. When she was born, the great ship Titanic had yet to sail, Theodore Roosevelt was gearing up for another run at the Presidency, and the First World War was an impossible dream in an unimaginable future. And black folks were burdened down, put upon, even terrorized by their neighbors and the Jim Crow system. Congratulations, Miss Height, on your very first day in Heaven. A halo now? Rather than one of those glorious hats you wore here, among the living? I would reckon so.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Time & Space

This morning my task was presenting to a roomful of school librarians, gathered at their state conference. ( ) The topic? Historical Awareness. I was going to make something of its abbreviation, H.A. Never got around to it. Bit o' stage nerves, but it was lovely talking to & with some of the best and most congenial people I know, people who spend their working days connecting kids with books, giving them the keys to the kingdom of knowledge.
So, an awareness of history: what it has to give. why we need it, H.A.! I have at least ten good reasons. I'll list them here tomorrow. For now, I only note what I did long, long ago, it seems, at the beginning of this day, that this day commemorates a most thrilling, frightening, and fateful intersection of time, space, and power. Courage, blood, patriotism. Time: Early the morning of April 19th, 1775. Place: Lexington, Massachusetts.
What a moment! And think how much was at stake.

"Nevertheless, to the persecution and tyranny of his cruel ministry we will not tamely submit," wrote Dr. Joseph Warren (just weeks before he'd die in the fighting on Bunker Hill, in June, less than a week after his 34th birthday) "... appealing to Heaven for the justice of our cause, we determine to die or be free."

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The 18th

So sure, it's the anniversary night of Paul Revere's [& Wm Dawes'] Big Night in the spring of 1775, when that silversmithing son of liberty rowed 'cross the Chas. River to go chasing out & about the landscape, letting the neighbors know that 'the regulars,' i.e. the British troops, were out, on the move, coming by sea... 'Listen my children and you shall hear' that you can find some nifty info about it all at this site:   And too, today marks 104 years since the primal forces of disaster shook up, shattered, & burned San Francisco.   I have to think how thankful I am for this lovely, halfway normal day here in the Ozarks, in this impossibly confusing lake resort full of school librarians from all over Missouri.  [ ] No troops on the march. No tectonic mayhem down below the floor, below the earth - at least I hope not.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

What I Wanna Know

"Genius without education is like silver in the mine," wrote Ben Franklin, whose soul kicked the bucket, got its [Oh how the Queen's English needs an androgynous pronoun!] – ticket punched, & turned in its dinner pail on its way back to the Blue Beyond whence it came, 220 earthly years ago today. So, what I want to know - don't you? and if not, why NOT? – is the soul/construct the world & his Philadelphia/London/Paris neighbors knew as Benjamin Franklin deader now? more advanced in Heaven? than he was on the 17th of April, 1790?
Guess I'll find out later. Guess we all will, huh?

Friday, April 16, 2010

T.G.I. the 16th

So, it appears to be the anniversary of the day that Orville's brother, bicycle man/aviation enthusiast Wilbur Wright, was born in the year 1867, when Laura Ingalls was two months old. President Lincoln had been in his grave for two years. 1867 was the year in which czarist Russia sold the territory of Alaska to the U.S. for a little over 7 million bucks and Giuseppi Garibaldi led a small army of volunteers, marching to Rome, hoping to wrest the ancient city-state out of the Pope's control and into a united, independent Italy. Louisa May Alcott was finishing up her novel, Little Women, too. The great Marie Sklodowska Curie, future physicist was born that year and the equally noteworthy scientist, Michael Faraday, passed away, never to see one of the Wright Brothers' machines fly overhead.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

What This Day Represents.

So, this being the 15th of April, may I point out that this is the 27th day of spring and the 106th day of the year, more or less.
On another April 15th, in 1542, Leonardo da Vinci was born. Charles Wilson Peale, another remarkable artist, naturalist, and observer of life was born on this day in 1741, almost exactly 200 years after Leo. d. V. entered life. On yet another, 15apr, this one in 1912, the glory of the White Star Line went down to the bottom of the North Atlantic, in the same week that the glamorous, ambitious, world-traveling Harriet Quimby became the very first woman to fly herself and her dragonfly contraption of an aircraft across the English Channel.
And, this being the 15th day of April, let me say that when it comes to taxes, the levying & the paying of them, I concede that I agree with Franklin D. Roosevelt: "Taxes, after all, are dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society." I'm just saying.

~Franklin D. Roosevelt

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Fateful Fourteenth

Hey there, Mr. President, way back there in time! Yes, you, sir! Listen, you don't know me, just a concerned citizen up here in your unimaginable future (omg, really, it's crazy-cool, wonderful-horrible), but take my word for it: You and Mrs. Lincoln skip the theater tonight, okay? Trust me, we'll all be the better for it if you'll just stay in and go to bed early tonight.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Felicitous Circle

March 4, 1801.
The 3rd chief executive is inaugurated: a noble indication that the wheels in the new republic are turning. The new guy, Thos. Jefferson, helped to bring about this revolutionary self-governing machine as did his political enemy/former friend John Adams, i.e. the old guy making his way home to Massachusetts. In his inaugural address, the new President wrote these words: "A wise and frugal government which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor and bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities."
I sat down to write this post, intending to note that today is Tom Jefferson's 267th birthday. If I hadn't done so, I'd never have come across this loveliest turn of phrase, 'the circle of our felicities.' I'll be thinking of these words all day. I hope so, anyway.

Monday, April 12, 2010

It's D.E.A.R. Day, M'dears

"Come, shut the door! And when thou hast done so, come weep with me!" Me, paraphrasing Wm. Shakespeare by way of Juliet Capulet, whose life would have been a helluva lot more tragic had she had to fool with computers. I'm just saying, as I retype this blog entry for today as the earlier effort got deleted somehow.

So, sure, it's FDR's deathday - what a remarkable life! The book I did about him & ER [Franklin & Eleanor, Dutton. out of print now, the world being rotten.] Check out this site for a bit of FDR bio:– the 149th anniversary of the big shots @ Ft. Sumter, SC [It's said that the Civil War began there, but it really began about 5 years earlier out here in western Missouri.] - & my Aunt Dee's birthday – I lack the will/skills/hardware/time to post her picture here, but trust me when I say that long-gone Dorothy Wolfe Holloway was a delicate red-haired beauty. – but today also marks the beginning of National Library Week. It, in turn, begins with today: Nat'l D.E.A.R. Day : Drop Everything And Read!

that's just what I'm going to go do. Go thou & do likewise. You won't be sorry!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Hunk o'Stuff

"The secret of good writing is to say an old thing in a new way or to say a new thing in an old way." So said Richard Harding Davis, who died on this day in 1916, in New York City, a week shy of his 53rd birthday. Back upstream, in pre-WWI America, this ace journalist/war-correspondent/adventure-writer covered the horrendous 1889 flood at Johnstown, PA, the Boer War in South Africa , and the Spanish American War down in the wilds of Cuba. He was a close comrade of Teddy Roosevelt, an honorary Rough Rider, and, incidentally, tops in the handsome department. When Charles Dana Gibson (one of my favorite artists) dipped his pen in a bottle of India ink and drew a gentleman to escort one of his regal young women (, who was Gibson's ideal dude, the model in his mind's eye? Dashing Dick Davis.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Sometime on this day, April 10, or the next, back in 1962, my 11-year-old self was given the privilege of naming my new sister. I'm pretty sure I let the folks know I wasn't too happy about the prospect of a brand new bawly baby around the place, as you know if you read my somewhat autobiographical novel Just for You to Know [HarperCollins, 2006, recently reprinted - by me, i.e. Time Pie Press - in paperback because it's really good & I couldn't let it just vanish like a snowball in July, could I? No! – see].
I'd been the only girl. In fact, despite my trio of little brothers, I did my best to be an only child. I comforted myself by reading about nice families, i.e. those to be found in books, particularly those written by the great Missouri author Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957). My cousin Myrna and I agreed that, for us (both daughters of sad, dysfunctional,who'd have been ever so much more cheerful and organized if they'd never procreated), our happy childhoods existed only in the adventures of the Ingalls and in Maud Hart Lovelace's book about Betsy Ray and Tacy Kelly.
So it is that my sister's name is Laura. She would have been Laura Ingalls Harness, my our folks insisted on Jeanne for her middle name. And Jeannie is how she was known, beautiful, rosy, girl-baby with a cloud of curly dark hair. So jealous I was, dishwater-blond dork that I was, that I could have spit and I did, but not on the baby.
She shares a birthday with old Commodore Matthew Perry (1794), Lew Wallace (1827; author of Ben-Hur), snarky-brilliant Clare Boothe Luce (1903), and dashing Omar Sharif (oohbaybee). And she goes by Laura these days, my sister does, my best friend. Amazing how the calendar fixes everything.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The 9th.

So, the damp, green world hereabouts is all a'bloom. According to, today is the anniversary of the birth of Tom Lehrer, author/performer of Poisoning Pigeons in the Park, The Masochism Tango, and other brilliant ditties. And the body/soul constructs known to the world as Lorenzo de Medici (Florentine statesman & patron of the arts), visionary architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and glorious actress of the British stage, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, died on the 9th of April in 1492, 1959, and 1940, respectively.
Above all, let it be remembered that on April 9, 1865, that Generals Robt. E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, as well as many a dusty, bone-weary soldier gathered in a Virginia courthouse-town, www.nps/apco, where a bit of paperwork would be discussed, written, signed, and witnessed, all to properly signify that at last, at last, at last, the terrible war was coming to an end.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


[About becoming First Lady at Nixon's resignation] I figured, okay, I'll move to the White House, do the best I can, and if they don't like it, they can kick me out. But they can't make me be somebody I'm not." Elizabeth Ann "Betty" Bloomer Ford

I came across this quotation about a minute after I discovered that 92 years ago today, back in the spring of 1918, when soldiers were STILL suffering through the last campaigns of the First World War, Betty Ford was born in Chicago, Illinois. Be heartened - I'll try to be - by those words of hers. Do the best. Be authentic. Be like Betty.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bill, I Love You Still

"A multitude of causes unknown to former times are now acting with a combined force to blunt the discriminating powers of the mind, and unfitting it for all voluntary exertion to reduce it to a state of almost savage torpor."
Don't you suppose that any thoughtful person could have said/written these words just about any time here lately?
A multitude of causes: CHECK. Recession. Ongoing wars, distant & painful. Political BSification. Materialism. A cavalcade of fears.
Unknown to former times? Ha! 'Fraid not, seeing as the brauthor of these words left the world's stage right about the time that pioneers were rattling across the American frontier in their covered wagons. He made his entrance on the world's stage on this very day in 1770, the year of the Boston Massacre, the year in which English sea captain, James Cook, and his crew sailed into Australia's Botany Bay. And a teenaged Austrian princess got married off to the shy, tubby, future king of France.
So, yeah, it's the 240th anniversary of the birth of the man who "wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o'er vales and hills..." when all at once he saw "a crowd, a host of golden daffodils."

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Sky Train

What elements of this day were present, I wonder, on those earlier days in former springs, when the 6th of April clicked in on the Big Wheel? In 1483, in Italy, when the wife of a court painter gave birth to baby Raphael, was the sunrise pink & pearly, as it was this morning? Was the sky full of fast-moving clouds, as it is just now, their rain-filled comrades following in the big, eastbound, round-the-old-world sky train? Ever-changing, ever-young mural over our heads – man oh man, just think of that little boy growing up to grind and mix oils with pigments, ultramarine and cerulean and white lead, all the better to replicate that same, but not the same, sky in a painting of another heaven over the heads of painted prophets and angels.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Booker T & the Birthday Boys

Should you be of the inclination to have cake today, tell yourself that a bit of indulgence is in order for today is the anniversary of the birth of Booker Taliaferro Washington. His enslaved mother had her boy baby on this day in 1856, neither of them knowing, for one thing, that it was the birthday of English poet Algernon Swinburne (in 1837), or for another, that future film actor/dreamboat-of-handsomeness Gregory Peck would be born on April 5, 1916. Certainly everyone in baby Booker's world, including his white father, would have gotten a bang out of knowing that on another 5th of April (in 1937), Colin Powell would be born. He'd grow up to be America's first African American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then U.S. Secretary of State.
Meanwhile, back in the 19th century, Booker T. W. worked and sweated his way up from poverty to become an inspiring educator, a crackerjack of an orator, and the man who hired young Geo. Washington Carver to come teach agriculture down in Tuskegee, Alabama, at the school BTW had founded there. As the first African-American to dine at the White House as an Invited Guest, BTW (and President Theodore Roosevelt, who'd done the inviting), upset a whole lot of people who didn't like the way their world was changing, but that's what happens in the spring: The world changes. Green shoots of hope sprout out of the cold wet world.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


SO, a few days ago I wrote of my Advice-Quest into the West. Let me say that the issue in question was the unseemly, most necessary (in this busy world), but still uncomfortable business of promoting oneself. Ay-yi-yi. LOOK AT ME! NOTICE ME - no, wait: Not ME, (except when I want you to), but rather my BOOKS and once thou hast done so, dear PUBLIC, i.e. WORLD AT LARGE, those of you who are as yet with a few spare dollars, part with them on behalf of my lovely, educational, far-out, historical books. No foolin' - they really are neat, but is this ICKY or WHAT?! Yes, it's supremely icky to Always Be Marketing, an endeavor with which no lady should involve herself. Still, I concede that one must blow one's trumpet, but for now, for this Sunday morning in cruel, tender April, let me change the subject.
'Twas on this day in 1983 that Gloria Swanson (no stranger to the rewards of publicity and marketing), died. Left the building. Got her ticket punched. Kicked the bucket and turned in her dinner pail. Ended her earthly sojourn as screen diva. I'd post a picture here of her; she was lovely & all, but I don't know how & have no patience just now to learn how.
Dr. Martin Luther King, man of great heart and mind, was blasted out of this vale of tears and into the Blue Beyond, on this day in 1968.
And, on this day in 1841, only one month after his cold, blustery Inauguration Day, 68-year-old William Henry Harrison, 9th U.S. President, died of pneumonia. Sigh.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

They're Off!

So, you all probably know that cheerful, far-traveling Washington Irving (future author of Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, future dancer with lovely Dolley Madison, future U.S. Ambassador > Spain, + subject of a swell book I wrote and illustrated, published by the Nat'l Geographic: The Literary Adventures of Washington Irving: American Storyteller. Join the tiny throng of those who bought a copy of it! You won't be sorry!)
And if you don't know, let me remind you that it was on this day in 1882 that the real-life-legendary outlaw Jesse James, 34, was killed on this day in 1882, snuck up upon from behind by glory- & bounty-seeking coward, Robt. Ford. This happened up in St. Joseph, Missouri, exactly 22 years after the first horse and rider galloped past a cheering crowd, down the path and onto the ferry that would carry them over the Missouri River to Kansas. Nearly 2,000 miles away, another pony, another rider, was doing the same, heading NE out of San Francisco. The Pony Express was off and running!
Here's my poem. You can sing it if you're a mind to (I surely hope you will!) to the tune of the old cowboy song: I Ride an Old Paint.

The Ballad of the Pony Express

Come eighteen and sixty
The country had a test:
How'll we get our letters
To folks from east to west?
Three Missouri fellers
Say try this on for size:
We'll get us some ponies
And some tough little guys.

From the edge of Missouri,
From the town of St. Joe
They galloped the prairies
Just as fast as they could go,
And over the mountains
Down to San Francisco Bay
Ten days of hard riding the lightning relay.

Think on those horsemen
With their bold, careless smiles...
One thousand, nine hundred
And sixty-six miles!
'Twixt Missouri and the ocean,
Far off in the West,
Went the horses and the riders
of the Pony Express.

Chorus: Ride on, ye young travelers!
Ye bravest and the best,
Go follow your fortunes
Out there in the West!

p.s. If your travels should take you to the Land of the Show-Me, do visit the swell Pony Express Museum in St. Joseph, MO. Big doings up there today!

Friday, April 2, 2010

On This Day

In the spring of 1805, Napoleon Bonaparte was busying himself in his duties as France's emperor/conqueror of Europe, President Thos. Jefferson was settling into his second term in office. Far away in the west, at Fort Mandan, in present-day North Dakota, Sacagawea, teenage mom/explorer-to-be, was looking after her newborn son, Jean-Baptiste. Little "Pompy" Charbonneau would grow up to be a fur trapper and frontier scout, a very different sort of life than that of the tender-hearted soul who made his entrance at this time/space intersection: April 2, 1805/Odense, Denmark.
Who'd have thought that homely, dyslexic Hans Christian Andersen would grow up to grace the world with Thumbelina, The Ugly Duckling, The Snow Queen, and The Little Mermaid. Hardly anyone.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

And So It's April

Some years back this time of year was designated National Poetry Month. It's fitting that April, such a lovely name, might have come from that of Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, as far as the Greeks were concerned, in ancient times. Breeding, as it does, lilacs out of the cold, dead land, T. S. (Thos. Stearns) Eliot called April "the cruelest month" in his poem The Waste Land (1922, the year my dad was born). This very day, marks the anniversaries of the births of "Iron Chancellor,"Otto von Bismark (1815) that wily Prussian statesman; and musician Sergei Rachmaninoff, born in czarist Russia, 1873. But for me, for now, it's the first day of Nat'l Poetry Month, a time for rhyme.

When daffodils blossom and robins hop
And forsythia punctuate the yard,
All chrome-y yellow and car radios be-bop,
From drivers' windows, every bard
Thinks of the word that rhymes with Sing
And you know it's well and truly Spring.