Monday, April 11, 2016


IT HAS BEEN LONG ENOUGH SINCE I last posted on We Too Were Children that I have to admit the blog is defunct. There are still a lot of books I want to highlight, but the amount of work each post takes has become prohibitive. Hopefully, a time will come when I can revive the blog or find other ways to get out new material.

One last product of We Too Were Children is my article on Ken Kesey's lost novel Tales of Grandma Whittier, which appeared in Slice Magazine Issue 17. I started to do a series on Kesey's children's books for the blog, and discovered that he had self-published an unfinished serial novel. That discovery led to months of research that culminated in the article, so that article can be considered the final publication of We Too Were Children, Mr. Barrie. Please click through to Slice's website to find out how you can get a copy of the magazine.

My new novel BARREN COVE will be released on Tuesday, April 26, 2016. The starred review in Booklist called it "A quietly brilliant look at what it means to be human....A modern classic." And Kirkus Reviews said it "Weaves a uniquely dreamy spell and a lingering one. Lyrical, unexpected, and curiously affecting...a story that lodges uneasily in the heart and mind."

I will be making the following appearances in support of the book:

April 17, Bethesda Literary Festival @ The Hyatt Regency, Bethesda, MD
April 26, The Corner Bookstore, New York City, NY
April 27, Main Point Books, Bryn Mawr, PA
April 28, Atomic Books, Baltimore, MD

Please come out and introduce yourself. I'd love to meet readers of the blog. And if you are a bookstore or a book group that is interested in scheduling an event, please get in touch.

I will try to update this page occasionally, but the best way to stay up to date is to "Like" my Facebook page Ariel S. Winter and to follow my Twitter feed.

Thank you for reading over the years. On to other projects...

Thursday, December 18, 2014


MARGARET MEAD HAD THE DISTINCTION, perhaps still has the distinction, of being the most famous anthropologist in the world. Close to the birth of modern anthropology, Mead's landmark book Coming of Age in Samoa (1928) helped introduce the idea of cultural relativism to the masses. For the rest of her life, even as her work was sometimes questioned, she remained a vocal and visible member of the intelligentsia on a wide range of subjects: sexual mores, parenting, folk traditions, and....even Santa Claus.

IN DECEMBER 1942, with America's entry into World War II, Margaret Mead became the executive secretary of the National Research Council’s Committee on Food Habits. One of her research assistants was a woman thirteen years her junior named Rhoda Metraux. After the war, Metraux followed Mead to New York to became a graduate student at Columbia University, where Mead was a professor. From that time until Mead's death, the women collaborated on countless papers and books, and starting in 1955, Mead, divorced from her third husband, and Metraux, separated from her husband, moved in together as lifelong partners.

In 1977, the women decided they needed to answer some of the difficult questions Metraux's three-year-old granddaughter (Mead's goddaughter) had regarding Santa Claus. "Where does Santa come from?" "Where does he live?" "How can Santa be in so many places at one time?"
The obvious solution was to go to the source. They needed to interview Santa Claus. So they gave him a call. 
SANTA CLAUS: I suppose you might say so, yes.
M & R: Are you really alive?
SANTA: I certainly am--and very busy these days, too.
The interview appeared in Redbook Magazine, where Mead and Metraux were contributing editors for over fifteen years. It turned out Santa was extremely knowledgeable about his familial history.
SANTA: I belong to a very big clan and a very old one--a clan of givers. As far as I know, our history goes back at least two thousand years, and maybe much longer, but when you get back that far, it's all hearsay and tales that are almost like fairy tales.
Pressed to talk about his first ancestor, Santa explained who Saint Nicholas was.
M & R: But how did he leave Asia Minor and come to Europe?
(I'm sure that was one of three-year-old Kate's questions.)
SANTA: Well, there are two different stories about that.
There were actually many more stories than two. And they included how Santa got conflated with St. Nicholas, how some of the clan "had to pretend to be scary" like Knecht Ruprecht and Klaubach to punish naughty children, how some of the gift-givers were women like St. Lucia in Sweden and Austria and Babushka in Russia.
M & R: But, Santa Claus, let's come back to you.
SANTA: Oh, that's an exciting saga in itself. You know my immediate ancestors came to America with Dutch and German families. We were immigrants. And like all the other immigrants, we developed a whole new life style as we became Americans.
It turned out, in the New World, the Santa clan used airplanes, helicopters, snowmobiles, and speedboats to get the toy deliveries done. But what about the reindeer? Oh, he still kept some reindeer, for the sake of tradition.
SANTA: Besides, there's a legend about a man--or maybe he was a god--who is said to have been one of our earliest ancestors. Thor, his name was, and people say that in the Far North, in midwinter, he used to come rushing down on the wind, bringing snow and ice and driving a team of reindeer. I wouldn't want to forget that, even if maybe it's only a legend.
(See, Santa proved you could be both jolly and academic.)
In case any children might have gotten confused about the conceit of this history lesson, Mead and Metraux revealed at the end that the phone call was all a dream, and that "gifts that seem to be given freely by wonderful, benign visitors are tokens of happy care given by mothers and fathers."
WE HAVE NO WAY OF KNOWING how satisfied little Kate was with her grand- and godmothers' Christmas story. Sey Chassler, editor-in-chief at Redbook Magazine, wrote in the preface to the book edition of An Interview With Santa Claus (1978), "we believe [it] will become the new classic Christmas story." The New York Times wrote, "If aiming for something in the tradition of 'Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus,' this one disappoints."
Despite the question as to whether An Interview With Santa Claus is appropriate for the intended audience, Mead and Metraux should at least be applauded for adhering to their ideological beliefs. In Margaret Mead: Some Personal Views edited by Metraux and released the next year, Mead said:
One thing my parents did — and I did for my own child — was to tell stories about the different kinds of Santa Claus figures known in different countries. The story I especially loved was the Russian legend of the little grandmother, the babushka, at whose home the Wise Men stopped on their journey. They invited her to come with them, but she had no gift fit for the Christ child and she stayed behind to prepare it. Later she set out after the Wise Men but she never caught up with them, and so even today she wanders around the world, and each Christmas she stops to leave gifts for sleeping children.
Mead's hope was that:
Children who have been told the truth about birth and death will know, when they hear about Kris Kringle and Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas and the little babushka, that this is a truth of a different kind.
As they said at the end of the Interview:
Now it is enough for Kate, and all small children, to learn the legends of Santa Claus. Later, when legend and reality meet in a new way, she will begin to understand, we think, that giving is itself a kind of thank offering.
FOR MORE INFORMATION on Mead's ideas about Santa Claus, see Maria Popova's article on Brain Pickings, which is where I found the quotes from Margaret Mead: Some Personal Views.
For more literary Christmas fun, see my previous holiday posts:
Pearl S. Buck's Christmas Stories here, here, and here.
All images are copyrighted © and owned by their respective holders.


Monday, September 22, 2014


I HAVE SAVED THE BEST INTRODUCTION in Michael Di Capua's 1962 series of classic fairy stories for last. Isak Dinesen may now be best remembered for her memoir Out of Africa from the movie starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, but in her lifetime she was known for her Gothic stories. When asked to introduce a collection of her countryman Hans Christian Andersen's stories, rather than write a simple introduction, Dinesen supplied a ghost story, conjuring Andersen's spirit into her childhood room. "I had been told that the Dead were cold, but I have learned from him that there are people who have got such a rich, sweet glow in their hearts that they will always warm up those they touch." Taking Andersen's ghost by the hand, Dinessen follows him as he magics her room and her playthings like the numerous toys brought to life in his stories. Then, pulling him after her, she drags him through his own fictions, excitedly pointing everything out as though he had never seen them before, and he follows with an amused, knowing smile.

"You can make big things small," the young girl says, "and small things big and everything talk, and I am much braver since I have known you than I was before. Just wait till I grow up, and you will see that because I have known you, I am not even afraid of lions."

Eventually, Andersen is able to convince his passionate fan to return to bed, promising to "go and play with children in other countries," but he asks one last parting question, "which of my tales [do] you like best?"

The child Dinesen, or perhaps it is the adult writer Dinesen, says "I like them all! Let's ask the other children."

The stories included in this volume for consideration are "The Tinderbox," "The Nightingale," "The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep," "The Little Match Girl," and "Thumbelina." If a child never read any other Andersen collection, this is a near perfect selection of the essentials. As with the rest of the Macmillan series of fairy tales, the illustrations were provided by Sandro Nardini and Ugo Fontana.

At the end of her introduction, Dinesen's biography is given:
The greatest Danish writer since Hans Christian Andersen is certainly Isak Dinesen, who is really Baroness Karen Blixen Finecke. She is most admired for her "tales of blood and doom and honor in the old grand manner," tales that she writes in English rather than her native language. From 1914 until 1931 she lived in Africa, where she managed a coffee plantation for ten years before returning to Rungstedlund, her ancestral home in Denmark. She lives there today.
To read the complete introduction--or short story, I would venture to call it--click on the images below.

For the previous entries in this series, see:

Elizabeth Bowen on John Ruskin
Jean Stafford on the Arabian Nights
John Updike on Oscar Wilde
Randall Jarrell on the Brothers Grimm and Ludwig Bechstein

All images are copyrighted © and owned by their respective holders.

Monday, September 8, 2014


IF YOU FOLLOW MY BLOG, you are most likely interested in the esoterica of children's books: forgotten classics, eye-opening stories that make you reconsider cherished authors, behind-the-scenes history of children's literature. Three of the biggest bloggers in the children's book world have just released a book that is full of such tidbits, Wild Things! by Betsy Bird (Fuse #8), Julie Danielson (Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast), and Peter D. Sieruta (Collecting Children's Books). It's like sitting around a table with three very amusing (and very amused) experts expounding on what they love, an informal book for causal reading. As my blog remains embarrassingly quiet, Wild Things! is a good alternative. I thank the good people at Candlewick Press for sending a copy my way.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


JOHN RUSKIN IS BEST KNOWN as a highly influential 19th century art and architecture critic most famous for his three-volume treatise The Stones of Venice (1851-53). It seems natural then that his children's book, his only work of fiction, would appear on We Too Were Children. That's what WTWC is about after all, a towering writer not known for his children's work. However, The King of the Golden River was published in 1850, fifty years before WTWC's 20th century requirement, making it ineligible for inclusion. Which is why I'm happy to sneak Ruskin in the back door, as the fifth of the books I've covered in Macmillan's 1962 series of fairy tales with introductions by esteemed authors.

RUSKIN'S TALE IS INTRODUCED by Elizabeth Bowen. Bowen, who went on to win the John Tait Black Memorial Prize for her 1968 novel Eva Trout, or Changing Scenes, was already a literary grande dame when she contributed to the Macmillan series. Her bio reads:
Elizabeth Bowen has published five books of non-ficiton (including a memoir of her Dublin childhood), six collections of short stories and eight novels...In the Birthday Honours List of 1948, Elizabeth Bowen was created a Companion of the British Empire.
Bowen's inclusion in the Order of the British Empire, the first order of chivalry to admit women, is testament to the regard with which her work was held.

Her introduction to Ruskin situates The King of the Golden River in the fairy tale tradition. "You may notice that while no good fairy stories are ever at all the same, many of them have something in common." In Ruskin's case, the fairy tale trope is three brothers, of whom the elder two are reprehensible and the youngest is fair and good.

There's no princess, Bowen admits, but there are fairies of a sort, "an odd-looking, fussy, bossy pair of old men." They are the South-West Wind, Esquire, who destroy the brothers' farm after the elder two show him no courtesy, and The King of the Golden River, who rewards the youngest brother for his generosity.

After addressing the story, Bowen draws attention to the story's setting. "The King of the Golden River (unlike many fairy stories) is not set in a quite imaginary land. This marvelous region of beauties, perils and mysteries is a real one, to be found on the map--Styria, a province of Austria." Bowen explains, "[Ruskin] gloried in natural scenery...He loved to breathe pure air (far from his dim-lit study) and sought it through travel and mountaineering." These life experiences find their way into the story.

Bowen does not go into any of the historical facts surrounding the composition of the story, which was written by Ruskin at age twenty-two for the twelve-year-old Effie Gray. Ruskin later married Gray, but never consummated the marriage, which was annulled six years later. Those details, while fascinating, wouldn't have been appropriate in a children's book, on the off chance any child were to actually ever read the introduction.

Regardless of how he came to write it, Ruskin clearly had fun in the composition. The story is five chapters long, much longer than a typical fairy tale. It does have a bit of moralizing, but Bowen is quick to say, "Don't, however, form the idea that John Ruskin 'preached' when he gave us The King of the Golden River. On the contrary: you are about to discover an exciting, semi-magic adventure story, with some eeriness but also some sturdy comedy."

Ruskin's story is easy to come by having been printed and illustrated many times, but as far as I know, Bowen's introduction has not been in print since the Macmillan edition. I've included the entire thing below. Click on the images to read.

FOR PREVIOUS ENTRIES on the Macmillan series see:

Tales of the Brothers Grimm translated and introduced by Randall Jarrell
Tales of Ludwig Bechstein translated and introduced by Randall Jarrell
Tales of Oscar Wilde introduced by John Updike
Tales of the Arabian Nights retold and introduced by Jean Stafford

For more of Sandro Nardini's beautiful art from The King of the Golden River, see my Flickr set. If anyone knows anything about Nardini, please let me know. I've been unable to find anything about him.

All images are copyrighted © and owned by their respective holders.