David Bruce: The Funniest People in Books — Children, Christmas

Children

• Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a poet so popular for such a long time that schoolchildren were made to memorize and recite such poems of his as “The Village Blacksmith” and “Paul Revere’s Ride.” In the old days, a schoolchild who heard a friend accidentally make a rhyme would say, “You’re a poet and don’t know it, but your big feet show it — they’re long fellows!”

• Oscar Wilde’s two boys, Cyril and Vyvyan, preferred to dress in sailor suits, but Mr. Wilde and his wife often dressed them in Little Lord Fauntleroy costumes, especially before showing them off to guests in the drawing room. The boys objected to this, so one day they stripped off the costumes and pranced stark naked into the drawing room.

• The Curious George children’s books about an inquisitive monkey are written and illustrated by H.A. Rey. Children got so involved with the main character of the book that they were sometimes disappointed when they met Mr. and Mrs. Rey. One small, disappointed boy told them, “I thought you were monkeys, too.”

• When she was very small, children’s book author Patricia McKissack toured the house of a former President during a field trip. Later, she was asked to describe what she had seen to a PTA group. Young Patricia reported that her personal guides for the tour had been a rabbit and a mouse.

• When F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby, was seven years old, he invited some children to come to his birthday party, and he was very disappointed when no one showed up for the party. To make up for his disappointment, his mother let him eat all of the birthday cake.

• When L. Frank Baum, author of the Oz books, was traveling in Egypt, he met a little Algerian girl who had traveled across the desert with her family on camel. Her family had allowed her to choose one book to bring with her, and she had chosen The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

• Some children are more precocious than others. When he was age 12, Edward Albee had already written his first three-act play, Aliqueen — it was a sex farce.

• Hilaire Belloc wrote quickly and published much. When asked why he wrote so quickly, he replied, “Because my children are howling for pearls and caviar.”

Christmas

• When nonconformist American poet Emily Dickinson was a teenager attending the Mount Holyoke Seminary in South Hadley, Massachusetts, the head of the school, Miss Mary Lyon, told the students that Christmas would be celebrated in a spiritual way. The students would fast in their rooms and pray all day without eating. Miss Lyon then asked the students to stand if they agreed with her plan. Ms. Dickinson remained seated. After the students had sat down again, Miss Lyon asked any students to stand if they disagreed with her plan. Ms. Dickinson was the only student who stood.

• The parents of Jerry Spinelli, author of the Newbery Medal-winning Maniac Magee, spent very little money on themselves, but out of love they made sure that their children enjoyed very nice Christmases. One Christmas, Jerry had unwrapped what he thought was his final present. His father told him, “Well, I guess that’s it. Looks like you did pretty good this year.” Later, Jerry was sent on an errand to the kitchen, and he found his real final present: a Roadmaster bicycle. Mr. Spinelli describes the gift in a memorable way: “Love leaning on a kickstand.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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