My Life With Gracie…Saturday Surprises!

Saturday Surprises

Here again is something a little different, and “Saturday Surprises!” seems to be the most appropriate name for this type of post. It’s just a glimpse into life here with my chickens. I knew this book was somewhere in my garage and had been meaning to find it for months and months. I finally went looking on New Year’s Day.

This book is so special to me because it is one that I had checked out of my elementary school library when I was perhaps in the fourth or fifth grade. This was around the time when the original 1967 “Dr. Dolittle” movie with Rex Harrison was released. Unlike most of my classmates, I never saw the movie, but I read the books, all that our school library had. The Dr. Dolittle from Puddlby-on-the-Marsh who lived in my imagination was much more vividly real than any on the movie screen.

When they were closing the school several decades later, they gave everyone a chance to walk through one last time. I found this copy in a box of books to be discarded and picked it up as a remembrance.

I loved the illustrations in the books as well. Their simple hand-drawn lines were appealing and still have an “honest” feeling to me. They helped me to believe Dr. Dolittle was a real man and these adventures with animals were real. After all, the books were the genuine account written and illustrated by someone who knew all about Dr. Dolittle and his animals, Hugh Lofting.

Lately on sunny winter afternoons, I’ve been reading “Doctor Dolittle and the Green Canary” to my chickens. We are taking our time with this book because it is a treasure, just as a real green canary would be a treasure.

It will likely not appear on any of Gracie’s reading lists, but that’s not because it’s an unworthy book. It’s because you can’t buy this book any more, at least not the copyrighted in 1924 and printed in 1950 version with the reinforced library tape and the loose falling out pages and chocolate milk stains on the cover. Pre-read and pre-loved books are becoming harder to come by these days.

All of my chickens were ambivalent at first when we started reading this book because there are no chicken characters. Of course, they liked hearing about Pippinella, the green canary, Too-Too, the owl, and Dab-Dab, the duck, but they all felt the story would have been better with a chicken or two.

“Mr. Lofting should not have left out chickens,” protested Bessie. She is the one who most often speaks up when things appear to be unfair.

“Maybe there is a chicken who will appear in the end of the story and solve all of the problems,” suggested Gracie.

So we skimmed through the pictures in the remaining portion of the book. There were no pictures of chickens. Everyone was hugely disappointed.

“There can be a duck in the story but no chicken,” someone softly grumbled to herself. I think it was likely Bessie.

“Quite honestly, I’m glad Mr. Lofting did not write about or draw any chicken characters,” I said.

Everyone looked stunned, almost hurt.

“It’s like Mr. Lofting left all of the writing about chickens for me to do, actually for us to do. And for that, I am very grateful.”

Every head tilted to the side at exactly the same time. This was not something they had considered.

“Anyone reading our stories would think we were just rehashing what had already been written. It would be like if we had a pushmi-pullyu living with us here in the backyard. Everyone would say I was just copying Mr. Lofting and they wouldn’t believe anything I wrote about having a pushmi-pullyu in our backyard or any of you.”

“It definitely would be awful if people didn’t believe we were real,” said Emily.

“Or didn’t believe we could dance ballet,” added Gracie.

“All of that is beside the point,” said Amelia. “Tell us about this pushmi-pullyu animal. I want to know more about that. Can you find a book with a picture of it?”

Everyone agreed with Amelia. Finding out more about the pushmi-pullyu was much more important.

And so we spent the rest of that evening discussing the remarkable pushmi-pullyu and some of the other characters not found in “Dr Dolittle and the Green Canary.” By bedtime, the pushmi-pullyu was just as real in their imaginations as it had been in my own elementary school imagination.

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated! 

The Most Perfect Plan Ever!

The Most Perfect Plan Ever

This is an excerpt from “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens.” In this chapter, Pearl believes she had found the explanation that will help her understand Christmas and will also help her get what her heart wants most.

Pearl had been studying the decorations at The Bottle Cap Lady’s House without her knowing it. She did not want to be in a Christmas Chicken Freak Show. It was difficult to know when she could trust The Bottle Cap Lady and when she would be unpredictable and maybe even dangerous.

Early one morning Pearl listened as The Big Boy from the end of the street explained Christmas to The Little Boy from the end of the street. The Big Boy’s front yard was the one with The Big Blue Hippopotamus in it, so he must know a good deal about Christmas.

“Don’t be stupid. There are three more days to Christmas. Three more nights and Santa Claus will bring my new go-cart and fill my stocking with candy.

“If you haven’t made your list, you’d better do it now, right now. If you don’t have a list, you get leftovers nobody else wants. If you’re not in bed and if you’re not asleep, you get nothing.”

“So what do I put on my list?” asked The Little Boy.

“How should I know, you little goof!”

“I’d like a puppy. That’s what I’d really like.”

“You don’t want a puppy on your list. Put a new bicycle. You can always get a puppy. People are giving them away all the time. You don’t see anybody giving away free bicycles do you?”

“No. I guess you’re right.”

“I know I’m right.”

They went off to throw rocks in the little creek across from my house. Pearl saw The Big Boy pointing out all of the places he would be riding his new go-cart in the empty field there by the little creek.

Pearl had figured out this much about Christmas. You make a list of what you want most. Only special things. Not everyday free things. You must be home on Christmas Eve. You must be asleep when Santa Claus comes. When you wake up on Christmas morning, you have everything on your list.

This was perfect! This was the most perfect plan ever! Why hadn’t The Bottle Cap Lady explained all this to her? Did she just want Pearl to get leftovers nobody else wanted?

The next day, Pearl found a scrap of paper. She took some of the pomegranate pips from her food bowl and broke them open so that the bright red juice would make a puddle. This would be her ink. Then she took a feather and nibbled at the end until she had a point that would hold some of the pomegranate juice ink.

Then she made marks on her paper. She loved making marks. These marks would give her the wonderful new life she had wanted for so long.

Dear Santa

Please

Blanche

and Pumpkin Seeds

Love

Pearl

She wondered if it was acceptable to write “Love” to someone she didn’t even know and hadn’t ever met.

What if Santa thought she wrote “Love” only because she was trying to get gifts? But she would love Santa for sure after he brought Blanche back home, and so it wasn’t really a lie. She wasn’t really trying to take from Santa without loving him.

She rolled up the paper so it would fit through the fencing and called to one of the songbirds to come and get it for delivery. She was looking especially content when I sat down nearby to read the newspaper.

“What are you so happy about today, Pearl?”

“Secrets and presents.”

“I see. So you finally figured out what the big blue hippopotamus and the other decorations are all about.”

Pearl nodded happily.

“Well, listen. You don’t really need to give me anything for a gift. I will be plenty happy just watching you enjoy the special Christmas Day treats I have for you.”

Pearl looked at me questioningly. I thought it was because she was trying to figure out what treats I might be saving for them. I found out later that she was wondering about giving gifts. The Big Boy and The Little Boy from the end of the street had not said anything about giving gifts, only getting gifts.

Maybe every time somebody gets a gift there has to be a different somebody who gives a gift. That made sense.

Pearl decided she needed to give The Bottle Cap Lady a gift. She could not imagine anyone else giving her a gift. It would not be good if The Bottle Cap Lady had a gift for Pearl but Pearl had no gift for The Bottle Cap Lady. And even if she didn’t have a gift for Pearl, it was fine because Pearl’s best gift was coming from Santa Claus. He would be bringing Blanche back home along with piles of roasted pumpkin seeds.

But what should she give to The Bottle Cap Lady? Christmas had just gotten much more complicated again.

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated.

In real life, as in this book, Blanche died on Easter morning. Writing this chapter, I thought of all the children who are asking for something like what Pearl is asking for in her letter to Santa…an end to the hurting they feel in their hearts, hurting that can’t be easily fixed.

If only something as simple as writing a letter to Santa could heal those hurts, it would be such a perfect world, wouldn’t it? Instead it is up to us to heal the hurts when and where we can and to work towards a better world for everyone, including those with the gentlest and most trusting hearts, like Pearl.

Pearl’s Comedy Coop…There’s More Than One Kind Of Dancing In Paris!

More Than One Kind Of Dancing In Paris

As promised yesterday, this is a draft chapter from a new book. Just as a very brief background, Pearl does not feel as if she fits in and so decides to become a comedian to solve all of her problems. (As you can guess, there is much more needed than that!)

The background for today’s illustration is a lithograph poster of performer Jane Avril by French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Pearl seems quite at home on the stage, doesn’t she? And her banana hat matches the dancer’s dress and hair quite nicely too!

The evening for Pearl’s Comedy Coop stage debut finally arrived. Hanging over the nesting boxes was a picture of Pearl with one foot in the air. After her performance, this would be known as her “Trick Or Treat! Smell My Feet!” pose. Somehow Pearl had come up with “Admit One” tickets which she had passed out ahead of time.

After turning on the strings of lights draped above the seats and stage, I collected each ticket and helped everyone to their seats. Blanche had the best seat right in the middle so she would not miss anything. Gracie and Bessie were on her right. Emily and Amelia were on her left.

Then I laid out small, individual bowls.

“Would you care for complimentary roasted pumpkin seeds, madam?” I asked each of them, just as Pearl had coached me to say.

All of them chattered with excitement because this seemed like such a grand occasion. They didn’t get this particular treat every day. The strings of lights made all of us feel like anything could happen.

Blanche was the first to get to the bottom of her bowl, and she let out a cackle of delightful surprise when she saw Pearl’s face staring back at her from the bottom of the bowl. Everyone else hurried to see if theirs was the same, and they all were.

Pearl had been very resourceful and had planned extremely well. She had definitely fooled me with her comments about how she would “just be winging it” for her show.

There was no time to ask her about the tickets or snack bowls before she motioned for me to turn on the spotlight. As soon as it illuminated the brick wall backdrop, microphone, and stool, muffled clucks of excitement spread throughout the coop.

Pearl jumped and flapped to the top of the stool with confident precision. There were no fake falls or stumblings. She had definitely practiced this part well. Her audience sat waiting, quietly hushing each other.

Then everyone noticed her painted pink toenails. Low coos of amazement and approval could be heard here and there.

Then Pearl began.

“Trick Or Treat!” she called out to the audience as she held up her left foot with its bright pink toenail polish.

“Smell My Feet!” She called out as she switched to holding up her right foot.

“Trick Or Treat! Smell My Feet!”

All of the chickens were stunned and silent. They had never seen a chicken or any other animal look or do anything like this ever. I had a feeling this was not going to go as Pearl had thought it would go, and I was set to step in and rescue her.

“Why did the farmer cross the road?” she asked.

Then she paused, eyeing her audience from one end to the other.

“To feed the chickens!”

Much to my surprise, everyone thought this joke was funny. It made no sense to me, but to the chickens, it was hilarious.

Pearl was off to an excellent start. (I learned later this is a classic chicken retort to the old “Why did the chicken cross the road?” joke which absolutely no chicken ever finds amusing.)

Even more to my amazement, my chickens could hardly keep their seats they were laughing and cackling so hard. Pearl was an instant star as far as the other chickens were concerned.

“How many farmers does it take to change a lightbulb?” she called out.

“Who cares? As long as they feed the chickens!”

Again there was more uproarious laughter. Then they turned and looked at me as if to say, “Don’t you understand how funny she is?”

Pearl flipped over onto her back and pretended to be taking a dust bath while telling her next jokes. Each one appeared funnier than the last.

“Why couldn’t the farmer write with a broken pencil? Because it had no point, and…”

There was a long pause, and everyone held their breath even though we all knew what was coming.

“…He needed to feed the chickens!”

While everyone was laughing so hard they had tears coming from their eyes, I glanced up and saw a light flip on in one of the upstairs windows of The Bottle Cap Lady’s House. There seemed to be a shadow on the blinds as if someone was standing there, but it was hard to tell.

When my attention returned to the show, I noticed Pearl had pulled out a tall hat decorated with bananas. It looked like one Carmen Miranda would have worn.

Suddenly I couldn’t help from joining in the laughter. Before I knew it, she had the hat tied under her chin and had popped off a brown beak cover to reveal her matching hot pink “beak-stick” shaped like a heart.

“What did the farmer get when he crossed a refrigerator with a robot?” she asked her captivated audience.

“I don’t know!” they all called back.

“I don’t know either, but it keeps the lettuce nice and crisp while it goes outside to…”

The other chickens and I called out as loudly as we could, “…Feed the chickens!”

There was uproarious cackling and wing flapping throughout the coop. Everyone was laughing so hard, I seriously thought they would all lay eggs right then and there.

Pearl held up her left foot with its bright pink toenail polish, waggled it and called out, “Trick Or Treat! Smell My Feet!”

“Trick Or Treat! Smell Her Feet!” they called back to her.

Then she did it all again except she switched to holding up her right foot.

They repeated this call and response faster and faster until Pearl was beginning to do a wild and crazy kind of dance. Later she would name it “The Dipsy Doodle.”

“There’s more than one kind of dancing in Paris!” she announced. “And there’s more than one way of being a chicken!”

I glanced up at the second floor of The Bottle Cap Lady’s House. There was now clearly a dark silhouette standing out against the light in a bedroom window. Then as if someone realized I was looking their way, the light went out.

Pearl did her happiest jumping dance on top of the stool to signal the show was complete. She definitely left her audience wanting more.

It took quite a while to get everyone settled down enough to have their mealworm treats before bedtime. There were still more soft chuckles and cluckles of “To feed the chickens! To feed the chickens!” as everyone began drifting off to sleep.

As I headed for my own back door, I heard a sharp and raspy sound like laughter. It came from the far corner of my yard, behind the chicken coop.

“Hah! Hah! Hah! Hah!”

I paused before going inside. The light was back on upstairs at The Bottle Cap Lady’s House, but there was no silhouette at the window. Then the upstairs light flipped back off. The sudden darkness was almost as startling as the laughter I had heard.

Perhaps I had imagined it all. Perhaps this was another one of Pearl’s performance tricks. Either way, I had to wonder what The Bottle Cap Lady had seen and what it meant for my chickens.

Pearl’s desperate hope in this chapter is that the other chickens will realize ballet dancing (which they all enjoy performing) isn’t the only kind of dancing in Paris and so there really may also be more than one way of being a chicken.

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated! I did enjoy the challenge of adding Pearl into a work by one of my favorite artists. It’s exactly the kind of thing Pearl would want to do herself. Can you imagine Pearl in any other famous works of art?