Old Mother West Wind, by Thornton W. Burgess, illustrated by Harrison Cady
“Old Mother West Wind came down from the Purple Hills in the golden light of the early morning. Over her shoulders was slung a bag — a great big bag — and in the bag were all of Old Mother West Wind’s children, the Merry Little Breezes…When she reached the Green Meadows, Old Mother West Wind opened her bag, turned it upside down and shook it. Out tumbled all the Merry Little Breezes and began to spin round and round for very joy…First they raced over to see Johnny Chuck.”
100 years ago, in 1910, Thornton W. Burgess introduced the world to Old Mother West Wind, her Merry Little Breezes, and the many little folk of the meadows and ponds and forests where the Breezes played. At that time, his stories, which he’d first told to his son, began to be published. The first volume was called simply, Old Mother West Wind. Over the next 50 years he went on to write over 170 books, and thousands and thousands of stories.
As a child I read oh-so-many of the Mother West Wind tales. One shelf in the library was lined with the hard-back green volumes and on every visit I would bring one back and choose another.
The books all follow the adventures of folks like Chatterer the Red Squirrel, Johnny Chuck, Reddy Fox, Jimmy Skunk, Peter Rabbit, and Ol’ Grandfather Frog — chug-a-rum! Burgess uses a story-telling style, rich with quaint, folksy language, brimming with gentle humor and little moral lessons, and woven throughout with a deep love of Nature.
Burgess himself was an ardent naturalist who grew up exploring the wilds of Cape Cod in the late 1800s. His knowledge of the habits of these creatures and his protective attitude towards them permeate the stories, despite the fact that his animal characters wear pants and suspenders and chatter constantly with one another.
The chapters contain a mix of truth and fancy. In one, we learn that Mrs. Redwing lays her speckled eggs in a nest in the bulrushes — a tidbit of nature lore. In another, Grandfather Frog tells a story about the King of all the Frogs who was “very proud, oh, very proud indeed of his long tail” causing Mother Nature to punish him with tail-lessness, a big mouth, and bulging eyes! A delightful, Kipling-esque tale.
Mother West Wind is perfect for very young children whose attention spans are just getting long enough for a chapter story. Very short chapters. Engaging style. Characters with heaps of personality. If you like it, there are plenty more to choose from! Original, old-fashioned, charming illustrations are by Harrison Cady.