Friday, April 8, 2011

Andrew Henry's Meadow

Andrew Henry's Meadow
Written and Illustrated by Doris Burn

My grandmother called yesterday.  If you will remember, my Grammy sort of commissioned me to write the book I'm supposed to be working on.  She asked if I had anything new to send to her.  I will always stand as a child before my grandmother, pining to please.  All I could do was hang my head as I explained that, no there is nothing new.  Ouch.

So I should be working on that now.  The kids are up early, snuggled on the couch watching Garfield.  And I have the itch to write . . . something.  But I am so hopelessly stuck on a point, and I can't seem to get around it.  So here I am.  Again.  With a book to share with you.

I found this at my favorite book haunt.  Although I was a bit dismayed to find that the hardcovers (at a thrift store mind you) had jumped from fifty cents to two dollars.  Rather than buying a neat little stack of books, I walked out with only one.  This one.  Sitting in my car, tapping my tacky flip-flopped foot against the floor board, I opened to the first page.

And I knew Andrew Henry was worth my whole pocket of spare change.   The illustrations immediately brought Robert Lawson to mind (Ferdinand, Wee Gillis).  But Doris Burn is no mere copycat.  Her art and her stories are distinctly her own. 

Meet Andrew Henry Thatcher,

an inventor, but unfortunately for him, still a child.  The middle child to be exact, neither small like his two brother tots, nor mature like his older sisters.  And Andrew Henry's talent is wholly unappreciated.  His mother is not amused when he constructs a helicopter and suspends it above the kitchen.

Neither are his brothers fond of the complex contraption Andrew rigs in the boys' bedroom.

My Pippi couldn't understand this.  What little boy (or girl) wouldn't idolize a sibling able to wrest common objects into such marvelous curiosities.  I tend to agree with her.  That is the part of me that fondly remembers childhood agrees with her.  My adult sensibilities would probably be offended if someone where to slap together an eagle's nest in my living room.

Which is Andrew Henry's problem.  In the grown up notion of what is proper, and neat, and orderly, there is no room for the budding inventor.  So he gathers his tools and leaves in search of a place of his own.

When he arrives at the meadow, he builds a home of "clay and rocks and poles" with a roof  "made of fir boughs." 

Solitude is short lived, for soon Alice Burdock emerges from the deep woods carrying her bird things.

She also is misunderstood.  Andrew Henry builds for her an airy haven.

Soon to join Andrew and Alice are George Turner, Joe Polasky, Jane O'Malley, Margot Laport, Sarah Lerner, Don Peterson, and Stanley Hayes.  Andrew Henry fashions for each of them an abode to accommodate each of their obsessions.

Can the children of Andrew Henry's meadow hack it without the parents?  Well now, it wouldn't be a proper Books For Breakfast review if I told, now would it? 

Stay tuned.  I hope to bring to you in the next few days, The Summerfolk, also by Doris Burn.  I'll also highlight a bit of her delightfully off beat biography. 

Until then, try to overlook the Lego cities and mountains of drawings, and the playdough ogre family.  At least it's not a helicopter in the kitchen.

1 comment:

  1. I think Doris Burn's illustrations in "Christina Katerina" and "The Summerfolk" were even better, stronger, than in "Andrew Henry"; but "Andrew Henry's Meadow" as a whole has a magic that is unparalleled. I just can't think of any book I love more. Andrew Henry is off in his own world, and it's the best world. As you were, when I first saw it I was transported - I had an almost eerie feeling of having read this book even before I was born (clearly impossible!)

    I have a copy of Burn's "Lazy Lizard Canyon", where she uses a looser, sketchier style. This book is aimed at a bit older age, and has lots of drinking and shooting and brawling, kind of like Turkle's strange "Fiddler of High Lonesome". But here all ends well in Hatfield and McCoy style :-)