Friday, October 16, 2009

Holling Clancy Holling - a genius in children's literature

Earlier this week we were visiting another homeschooling family. Our host mom is one I've seen around for several years now, but we've never really had an opportunity to sit down and visit. This time, however, her daughter and mine were busy practicing their shared interests of drawing clothes and shoes and silly people, talking about books and playing in puddles, so we had a few minutes to chat.

Our conversation turned to literature, and our hostess asked if I'd ever heard of Holling Clancy Holling. Well, I should have known who she was talking about; we have one of his books on our shelves thanks to my third-grade teacher and lifelong friend. Still, on the fly, the name didn't ring a bell. She began describing one of his titles, explaining the wonderful artwork, the interesting story and the academic subject areas it covers ( ie. history, geography, biology, botany, zoology, not to mention literature). Finally, she excused herself to retrieve one of the titles from her library.

When she put Minn of the Mississippi on the table in front of me, it reminded me immediately of that book on our own shelves. I asked if she'd ever heard of Pagoo. Turns out not ONLY is Pagoo written by Holling Clancy Holling, too, but she had just ordered it. And WHAT should turn up in the mail AS WE SPOKE but her newly purchased Pagoo!

I begged to borrow Minn. It's not something we NORMALLY do, but we know we'll see them next week, and we're avid readers. I'm certainly not disappointed we've dedicated bedtime reading to this work that first hit the shelves in 1951. The history is intact, the science is still good, and the story holds as true to today's turtles (and children) as it did half a century ago.

Minn tells the tale of a snapping turtle from its nest at the headwaters of the Mississippi through its adventures down the waterway to its Gulf outlet. While weaving a story that's interesting enough to keep my daughters begging for more, HCH manages to work in the history of the river, from Ice Age through exploration and on to modern developments, with colorful descriptions of the route. Pagoo follows similar style while weaving the story and substance of the life of a hermit crab. Both books include intricate pencil drawings along the margins depicting interesting facts related to the story as well as colorful paintings throughout.

But what brought me to the keyboard to share his works, really, is the prose. Holling was clearly an artist in the true meaning of the word. Rather than simply tell the effect cold has on turtles and reptiles, Holling take every opportunity to SHOW the reader.

"Towns drifted to Minn. Still sleepy, dazed and stiff in the cold flood waters, she scarcely could see the strange clusters of buildings barging into her vision. Towns sat at old steamboat landings in prim dignity; or drew back frayed skirts from the old-fashioned waterway to stare at railroads; or strode up the bluffs to watch shiny cars whoosh by on a highway. Between towns, bare woodlands scrawled on the sky gray pencil scribblings. Meadows were smeared green crayon, plowed fields were brown chalk-rows, orchards were white-spattered bloom."

Check it out at your local library, or borrow a copy from a friend, or just grab a copy for your own library. You won't be sorry.

Photo courtesy Squidoo.

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