Thursday, October 23, 2014

Scholastic Fest: #5, The Shy Stegosaurus of Cricket Creek

  • Title: The Shy Stegosaurus of Cricket Creek
  • Author: Evelyn Sibley Lampman (1907-1980)
  • Illustrator: Hubert Buel (1915-1984)
  • Publisher: Scholastic Book Services
  • Year: Fifth printing, December 1968
  • Excerpt:
    "Joan moaned with fright, and the animal looked in her direction. The whole head turned with the eyes as it did so.

    "'You should say thank you,' said the creature. His voice, like his head, seemed much too small for the body. It was just an ordinary voice, such as you would expect to hear in any human being, but there was no inflection of words. They all came out in the same tone.

    "'Thank you,' answered Joan automatically. Then she remembered that animals, except parrots and magpies possibly, don't speak English, and her mouth fell open in even greater amazement.

    "'A-are you a dragon?' stammered Joey.

    "'No,' said the creature without surprise. 'I don't know what that is. I am a stegosaurus.'"
  • Notes: I did not read this book in my youth, but it's a much-loved classic from many childhoods and sports a fabulous Scholastic cover. ... Let's start right in with this excerpt from an emotional 2003 remembrance on Amazon:
    "This book changed my life.......
    Strange, but if I were to pick the two books that have had the biggest influence on my life, this would be one of them -- the other being The Brothers Karamazov (but that's another review). I remember reading this book, just before my tenth birthday. The story was so dramatic, so moving (remember -- I'm nine years old here), the characters so vivid -- even though I knew it was fiction, that there really wasn't any stegosaurus (never mind a shy one who spoke English & wagged his tail like a dog), that after finishing it, I cried harder than I ever remember crying in my life. NOTE: The stegosaurus does not die -- nobody dies. But somehow, that made it worse for me -- The seemly impossible bind of a continued lonely existence for the stegosaurus: too shy to meet anyone, too social not to."
    Phew! That's some heavy stuff. But typical of the love for this book, which has 27 five-star reviews (out of 32 total) on Amazon for a 4.8 overall rating. ... A reasonably priced reprint edition is available from Purple House Press for those who can't find one of the older Scholastic copies. (I will, however, mail MY copy for free to the first person to email their name and address to chrisottopa (at) This copy belongs in the hands of someone who once loved it.) ... Evelyn Sibley Lampman was the author of more than three dozen published books, many for children, during her lifetime. She is profiled in a wonderful essay by Truman Price on Old Children's Books. It describes how she was born and raised in Oregon and worked at a radio station in between trying to raise her kids. According to Price: "One day Evelyn’s 4th grade daughter complained that she had read everything in the school library, and couldn’t Mama write another book. Responding to demand, Evelyn set to work." ... Meanwhile, according to this short biography of illustrator Hubert Buel, he was born and raised in California. In the early 1930s, he studied watercolor painting at Fresno State College and later worked briefly at Walt Disney Studios. After serving with the Navy in the South Pacific in World War II, he worked as a Hollywood set designer and then art director of a San Francisco newspaper. He greatest artistic passion was watercolor painting. ... A final tangental note: When I was researching this post, I came across the work of photographer Kerry Mansfield. One of her passions is photographing discarded library books. And one of the photos in the jaw-droppingly gorgeous gallery on her website features, of course, a beat-up (aka "much-loved") copy of The Shy Stegosaurus of Cricket Creek. Here's an excerpt from an article that Matt McCann of The New York Times wrote about Mansfield in June 2013:
    "[T]he nostalgic tug of the old cards and the books they’re glued to compelled her to photograph, as she characterized it, obsessively.

    "This relationship with books is textural — the dog-eared corners or the imprints left by scrawls in the margins are what appeal to Ms. Mansfield’s eye. There is one book from the Hadley Library with 'mold damage on it, and that’s beautiful to me,' she said.

    "'I also truly love paper,' she said. 'I don’t know how else to put that.'

    "Her photographs also reveal details that will disappear as scanners replace cards and tablets replace books."
    If love old books in all their well-used glory, please check out Mansfield's work. You'll be glad you did.

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