A few weeks ago we were at the library and we had just returned Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, so we were in need of a new chapter book read aloud. Lulu and Louise are in that in-between stage when it comes to chapter books, I think. Of course, neither of them can read, but they both have rather long attention spans when it comes to listening to stories. However, I think I have tried their patience in the past with the likes of The Wind in the Willows, with its British and much-more-formal-than-we-speak-here-in-the-House-of-Hope-English and long, long chapters. For some reason, I’ve wanted to save such childhood classics as the Ramona books for when they can read them aloud to me, so I was fresh out of ideas for read-alouds. I approached our favorite children’s librarian and asked her for a recommendation. She paused for a moment and said, “How about Miss Hickory?” I had never read it, but I was game. She assured me that it had a few “slightly scary” parts (I would call them more intense than scary, but with small children, one never knows), but that it is a fun story. After finishing it today, I must concur with her appraisal.
Published in 1946, Miss Hickory is the Newbery Award winning story of a small twig doll named Miss Hickory because her head is made of a hickory nut. Miss Hickory lives in the New Hampshire countryside. In the book’s beginning, she lives in a small corncob house under a lilac bush on the windowsill of the Old Place. However, once her owners vacate the Old Place, she moves into an abandoned nest in the apple orchard. She gets to know many of her neighbors and has quite a few adventures. She even loses her head to a hungry squirrel near the end of the story! This part is actually a little weird to me, but it didn’t seem to bother my girls. (They did have an extreme and perhaps morbid interest in the illustration that accompanies this chapter, however.) The best part of this story, though, is the description of the countryside, nature, and animal life. There is a hidden gem in the middle of the story, too, in a short little Christmas sketch which recounts the legend of the appearance of a small, baby-sized hollow that appears in the grain that is in the manger of the old barn, which all the forest and farm creatures witness. I’m sure that this is a well-known legend, or at least the combination of a few legends (I’m thinking here of The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter, in which the animals can talk on Christmas Eve), but it was new to me and completely charming. There is a lovely, two-page spread illustration in the middle of this Christmas chapter which shows all manner of four legged beasts (including elephants, lions, and giraffes) streaming into the barn, the Christmas star shining brightly overhead.
The story ends rather oddly, I thought, and I know that it had an impression on my girls because Lulu has brought it up again. Miss Hickory, after losing her head, returns to the apple tree and grafts herself into it. She is referred to as a scion at this point in the story, so in addition to being entertained and charmed (and yes, even weirded-out at times) by this story, I also added a new word to my vocabulary. When I read the word scion, I immediately thought of a strange-looking little car (no offense to the Scion drivers or fans among my readership), but come to find out, it does indeed mean “a shoot or twig, especially one cut for grafting or planting.” Reading these vintage finds is enlightening in so many ways!
Miss Hickory was written by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey and was illustrated by Ruth Gannet, who illustrated the Elmer Elevator books.