Become a Fan

A growing number of people who love children's stories, nature writing and Americana are turning to Holling as a timeless teacher of geography, culture, history, and adventure. Become a fan and continue sharing the excitement!



Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Painting Graffiti on Grandpa’s Wall


Children are prone to writing and painting on white walls, but rarely do the kids go on to become professional illustrators. Rarer still is having their youthful artwork saved for posterity.

Circumstances favored Holling’s early painting, but the story begins with the Leslie Area Historical Museum in Michigan. In Joan Hoffman’s words, it was begun by a director who had to leave for reasons of ill health.

Three people now work to inventory Holling-related artifacts, art and writing. Among the first acquisitions were these murals. But Joan Hoffman puts the story best in her own words:

“Holling painted these two murals on the upstairs closet walls in his grandparents' Leslie home when he was 16. Holling was living there while going to Leslie High School. Years later, when that house was sold, the new owners wanted to remodel the upstairs [and] cut the two murals out of the plastered walls. The larger of the two included not only a portion of the plastered wall with the painting but the lath and studs as well. The owners kept these murals. When their daughter grew up, she and her husband bought the house and they continued to save them. The daughter, Lynnette Roberts, became a secretary at the Leslie middle school.

“Steve Hainstock wanted to start a historical society and museum in Leslie. Somehow he knew about these murals and mentioned to Lynnette about my interest in Holling. Through Steve's efforts, in 2007, these murals were given as a gift to the Leslie Area Historical Society and became the center piece of our first display. They were displayed in a glass case in the town's dressmaker's shop.

“Many things have changed since then. The museum is in a different location and it contains many of the area's historical treasures in addition to Holling. but one of the first things seen when you come through the museum door is those two murals Holling painted in October, 97 years ago.

“’The Fatal March’ may have been painted from personal experience. Holling wrote in one of his letters that he once ran away from home and got a spanking. Holling loved rail fences and nature's beauty as painted in ‘Autumn's Return.’”

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Memories of Experience Form the Writing

Writers are regularly told to write what they know. This was a fundamental in Holling’s writing and illustration, which more often than not was built on the basis of personal experience.

I was struck by this again in reading Hazel Gibb Hinman’s thesis The Lives and Works of Holling Clancy Holling (1958).

As a boy, Holling Clancy (his surname at birth) was raised in Jackson County and Au Sable in northeastern part of Michigan. Au Sable was populated by French-Canadian, Scandinavian and native American lumberjacks. You’ll remember that Minn, the turtle in Minn of the Mississippi was caught and befriended by Au Sable Indian boy.

Hinman says it was from boyhood experiences like this that Holling learned “the difference between the cloven ox hoof and the solid hoof of the horse, much as in the marginal sketches in the Book of Cowboys.” That difference was why oxen were used for pulling tree stumps and wouldn’t get mired in the mud. This is the sort of natural history most children today would not know if it weren’t for Holling’s books.

For reasons of his father Bennett’s health, the family moved to the ancestral farm in Holling Corners. Summertime in Holing Corners allowed young Holling the chance to listen to his grandfather’s hired hand, Arza Earl. Arza appears in Tree in the Trail as “the owner of the leather shop from whose porch is viewed the main street of Independence, Missouri: ARZA EARL MAKES HARNESS YOUR WORST MULE CAN’T BUST” is the dark sign at the top of the full-page illustration (above) in chapter 12.

The farm life is immortalized time after time in Holling’s writing. Papa Bennett, as his father was known, had a giant iron kettle he used for cooking feed for the hogs. It was so big, Hinman reports, that three or four children could hide in it when playing hide-and-seek. Once, after cleaning the kettle, Holling curled up in it and took a nap, Hinman says. This experience appears in Seabird as an exhausted Ezra finished cleaning the kettle used for cooking down the whale oil and “slid headfirst into an empty try-pot. His polishing rag gave the iron a silver sheen. Then he flopped into the other kettle…. Ah! That try-pot felt so warm, so snug—.” (page 26)

When the Clancy family moved to Holing Corners, the household good were packed in finely made wooden crates. A cousin later used the boxes to construct a fishing shanty on nearby Pleasant Lake. This idea contributed to Paddle-to-the-Sea as the little canoe is trapped in the ice. Fishermen pulling their shanties on runners freed Paddle-to-the-Sea and sent it on its way.

A biographer could have a field day tracking all of the references in Holling’s life to see where they appear in his books — a puzzle that still invites the close reader.

The farm life is immortalized time after time in Holling’s writing. Papa Bennett, as his father was known, had a giant iron kettle he used for cooking feed for the hogs. It was so big, Hinman reports, that three or four children could hide in it when playing hide-and-seek. Once, after cleaning the kettle, Holling curled up in it and took a nap, Hinman says. This experience appears in Seabird as an exhausted Ezra finished cleaning the kettle used for cooking down the whale oil and “slid headfirst into an empty try-pot. His polishing rag gave the iron a silver sheen. Then he flopped into the other kettle…. Ah! That try-pot felt so warm, so snug—.” (page 26)

When the Clancy family moved to Holing Corners, the household good were packed in finely made wooden crates. A cousin later used the boxes to construct a fishing shanty on nearby Pleasant Lake. This idea contributed to Paddle-to-the-Sea as the little canoe is trapped in the ice. Fishermen pulling their shanties on runners freed Paddle-to-the-Sea and sent it on its way.

A biographer could have a field day tracking all of the references in Holling’s life to see where they appear in his books — a puzzle that still invites the close reader.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Lessons in Immortality

I believe Holling and Lucille have become immortal. That is, they’re people who live on long after their mortal remains are gone.

I received an e-mail this week from a woman who had read this blog and had some of the postcards illustrated by Lucille Webster Holling in 1941. Are they valuable as archival material? Perhaps not, but they complete the art and ephemera that the Hollings produced. More importantly, she asked me to put her in touch with Joan Hoffman at the museum so she could donate them to the museum. It might be helpful here to mention again that Joan Hoffman manages the wonderful little Leslie Area Historical Museum in Holling’s hometown at 107 E. Bellevue Rd., P.O. Box 275. Leslie, Mich., 49251; tel. 517-589-5220.

Another letter also arrived, reminding me of the fundamental value in their writing, illustration and love of the earth. The writer said, “I read Brad Fisher's article and the ending got me thinking more. I, too, have wondered about how the current generation is going to deal with the Holling's Houghton Mifflin series of books. I haven't been with enough young people to know. I see my five-year-old grandson looking at books. Many of them have sound and pages are turned with the movement of the child's finger. There are hundreds of children's books. Certainly it is a different time for children. Children also watch many fast-moving videos and shows.

“I would think that it probably depends on how the Holling books are presented and the child's experiences. Our grandson spends a lot of time outdoors when he is here. Many children don't that opportunity. We live on 43 acres with fields, pond, foot bridge over a creek, and woods. He watches wildlife, digs in the dirt and asks many questions. I think he will be able to relate to the Holling books when he is a little older. (I'll be very disappointed if he doesn't.)

“The Holling books have a beauty of their own in words and illustrations so I sure hope they don't get lost in today's technology, our hurried pace and lack of contact with nature.”

My thanks to these two benefactors who are keeping the Hollings alive in the face of a world that sometimes moves too fast and too impersonally.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Holling and the Caldecott at 75


The Caldecott Medal and Randolph Caldecott
 It can be intimidating to run your fingers over the spines of books on a bookstore shelf, trying to pick the most suitable purchase for a child. One seal of approval, however, is the gold foil medallion signifying a particular title is a winner of the Caldecott Award.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the prize created during the Great Depression. Like the Newbery Medal, created 15 years earlier and awarded by the American Library Association, the Caldecott is an indication of a “safe investment” for book buyers. The Caldecott is awarded by the Association of Library Service to Children to a winner and honorable mentions for the most distinguished contribution by an artist who is an American citizen or resident. The ALSC is a division of the ALA.

In 1942, as America entered uncertain times and became embroiled in war, Holling Clancy Holling was honored for his Paddle-to-the-Sea, published by Houghton Mifflin. The winner that year was Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. Also receiving Honor prizes that year were An American ABC by Maud and Miska Petersham, In My Mother’s House by Ann Nolan Clark (author) and Velino Herrera (illustrator), and Nothing at All by Wanda Gág. (For older readers of this blog, let me ask how many of the 1942 Caldecott winners have you read?)

The medal is named for Randolph Caldecott, one of three influential children's illustrators working in England in the 19th century. The other two were Kate Greenaway and Walter Crane. The artwork is taken from Caldecott's illustrations for The Diverting Story of John Gilpin, which exemplifies his humor, vitality and sense of movement. The illustration shows John Gilpin astride a runaway horse, accompanied by squawking geese, braying dogs and startled onlookers.

Seventy-five years later, the Caldecott Medal is still an assurance of excellence in illustration.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Knives from Kansas Arrive in Michigan

Joan Hoffman, who curates the Holling museum in Leslie, Mich., reports a wonderful surprise to find the two Holling knives were sent to the museum from Ron VanLerberg in Shawnee Mission, Kans.


Ron had written to me, “As for the knives, get me the address for the Museum and I can send them to them. I do not think they are worth much to anyone other than someone interested in Hollings. Maybe I can talk them out of a couple of hardcover books in exchange.”

“Lucille’s knife,” Joan writes, “came in a sheath and the handles are made from deer antlers. On the front side of the knife with Holling’s name it says in Spanish, “In my hands I fear nothing but God.”

These will make a terrific addition to the Holling collection. I believe Joan is now looking at books she can send back to Ron in return for the gift and which he can share with his two-year-old grandson.



Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Mystery Rears Its Head -- Happily

Not all detective stories are solved, but we think one that just popped up is closed and may have a happy ending.


I received a Facebook note a few days ago from Ron VanLerberg in Shawnee Mission, Kans. Ron owns a pawn shop where a man brought in two knives with Lucille Holling’s name engraved. Ron wrote, “I Googled the names on the knives which brought up the Paddle-to-the-Sea book, which I remembered reading as a kid. My grandson's not quite two, but I think I'm going to order some of the Holling books for him to enjoy when get older.”

I wrote back that I was passing his note and the photos on to Joan Hoffman at the museum in Leslie, Mich. She responded quickly. “The top line gives the name of a company and ends with ‘and sons.’ The second and third lines tell the maker and address. The bottom line says, 'handmade’.”


She added, “According to one of Holling's letters, he bought a silver necklace for his sister in Taxco, Mexico while there on the Walt Disney trip in 1943. Taxco is near Mexico City. Oaxaca is southeast of Taxco. This seems to establish the date.”


So, there we have it. Mystery solved with a few magic clicks in this digital age of ours.

We’ll never catalogue all of the paintings the Hollings did and all the possessions that were theirs. But, like a sketch of a mountain man Glen Webster found, a copy of Sun and Smoke that turned up in a Montana thrift shop, and a military jacket Chris Martin came across in California, half the fun is chasing down details of the Hollings’ life. The other half lies in solving mysteries.









Wednesday, March 6, 2013

On the Road with the Hollings

Joan Hoffman passed along this copy of a photo that appeared in the Seattle Times Aug. 19, 1939. This picture and a short article noted that they were in town and nearing the end of their North America trip. (Nothing about the cat.)


Joan has been arduous in tracking down Hoffman memorabilia and ephemera. She wrote, “I liked the photo and didn't have many pictures of them at that age. They are a nice looking couple. The information on the back only confirmed that they were at Seattle in August of 1939.” She notes that this eBay purchase took seven weeks after “being lost in the archives.”

She mentions, “I guess the attraction was that Holling was an author and they were illustrators. Holling's books were for children, but they didn't have any children of their own. Travel with a trailer during the Depression was perhaps not all that common. They were in search of material and having a good time.”

Not the most exciting news break, but during the dog days of summer there's a dearth of news.

She continues, “One of the things said was that they had already traveled 31,000 miles. Hinman in her thesis said they traveled over 100,000 miles. From Seattle, they traveled to California and that was the end of the trip. It wouldn't have taken another 69,000 to get to Calif. That's quite a difference.”

None of Holling's books were mentioned in the article.