Sitting on my shelves are four books which somehow were saved from my childhood.
The oldest is Giant Otto, by William Pène du Bois. Otto was an immense dog, about the size of a house. He was quite sweet, but when he wagged his tail, he created something like a hurricane.
My copy (it was first published in 1936) is rather small (odd, considering the subject matter) and tells how the dog went off (towed in the barge) to join the French Foreign Legion in what was then a French colony in North Africa. At what ever age I was, I dutifully traced the images with my own pencil markings.
How old was I when this book was given to me? Perhaps five. Curiously, I remember the moment it was given to me by my father, who, if memory is correct, was returning from some trip. It was given to me in my grandfather’s house. No explanation beyond that.
The second book is Old Granny Fox, by Thornton W. Burgess. These books, of which there were many (Bowser the house, Blacky the Crow, Lightfoot the Deer,) and quite a few more, I first discovered on the pages of the New York Herald Tribune, where they were serialized daily. They had been written in the 1920’s. But since “The Trib” was not my parent’s newspaper of choice, I discovered the books in a local used books store. Not only could I walk to this store I could buy the books for twenty-five cents each.
These animal adventures were the first chapter books I bought and read on my own. Simple stories, in large font, illustrated by Harrison Cady, I adored them, and purchased many of the books in the extensive series. I’m not sure why this city boy loved these books, but perhaps it was because I was an urban lad, which made me fascinated by these tales of wild animals.
I have absolutely no doubt that the memory of these books infused me so that they led to my own animal stories, the Poppy books. And, no small feat, a fair number of these books are still in print and have been for a hundred years.
The two other books were published by Grosset and Dunlap, a publisher created in 1898. After going through many changes (including purchasing the Stratemeyer Syndicate books—Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, etc.) G&D eventually became part of the Penguin Random House publishing corporation.
The two books I still have are Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and The Arabian Nights, both unusually well illustrated.
The Arabian Nights is particularly meaningful insofar as on the first blank pages is written (in a variety of handwritings) :
To Edward from his Friends
December 23, 1947
Edward is my given name and used in school before I was generally called Avi, a family nickname.
As for the date, it was my tenth birthday.