The Bloody Book Castle?

Cue the creepy music! Allow me to psych you into opening that creaky door to investigate….. the Internationale Jugendbibliothek!! Are you scared yet? No, I didn’t think so, but the International Youth Library located in Munich grew out of one of the scariest events in world history: World War II.

If you ever have the opportunity, please do attend this prestigious book festival. You won't regret it!

If you ever have the opportunity, please do attend this prestigious book festival. You won’t regret it!


Let’s set the scene before jaunting off on this virtual field trip. I recently served as a student ambassador at the Fay. B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival. We ambassadors were able to attend the many sessions at the Festival when we were not performing some task for our keep. Naturally I was intrigued by this offering: The Bloody Book Castle, Jella Lepman, and You: Exploring Munich’s International Youth Library. All kinds of questions popped up immediately: Is it a castle or a library? Why call it bloody? Who is or was Jella Lepman, and how is she connected to the library? What kind of proposal could I draft for work or for school that would get me to Munich? Whoops, I’m getting carried away retrospectively. Sorry about that! Needless to say, I chose to attend this wonderfully titled session. Presented by  Dr. Jamie Campbell Naidoo of the University of Alabama, this session turned out to be one of my favorites of the entire festival, and not just because I came away with a cool bag!

Whisk yourself back in time to the uncertain times immediately after WW II. You are a German Jewish woman living in exile in Britain, having fled there to escape Nazi persecution. As a journalist and a children’s book author, you know the importance of the written word. You know the power of words for evil and for good. Now that the voices of evil have been silenced, you are drafted by the American Army as a consultant for cultural and educational matters for women and children in the American-controlled areas of Germany. This group needs so many things: a sense of security, shelter, employment…. How will you go about fulfilling your important mission?

With children’s books, of course!

The woman who dreamed up this bookish answer to the many needs of children and their parents after WW II is Jella Lepman. She wanted to focus on the children and teens traumatized by the rigors of the recently ended war and to begin to reverse the damage done by years of nationalistic indoctrination. Lepman solicited donations of children’s books from publishers worldwide. With 4000 books representing at least 14 countries, Lepman held an exhibit in Munich of International Youth Literature. Featuring the donated  books and artwork created by children all over the world, the 1944 exhibit was a huge success.

Thus, Lepman was inspired to create the International Youth Library. 1949 saw the opening of the Internationale Jugenbibliotek with 8000 volumes and a mission to foster world peace through international understanding and cooperation. This new library allowed free access to its holdings, and it provided much more than books. Foreign language classes, book discussions, art classes, and music all helped children and their parents begin to heal their invisible war wounds. Lepman’s vision still informs the current library which is now the largest library for international children’s literature in the world. While the library’s mission has changed somewhat over the years, Lepman’s visionary goal of fostering a peaceful world for growing children and teens remains an integral part of the Internationale Jugenbibliotek.

I won this cool swag by being the first session attendee to spot the grammatical error in the session's handout.

I won this cool swag by being the first session attendee to spot the grammatical error in the session’s handout.


This international library moved to its current home, Blutenburg Castle, in 1983. Dating from the 15th century when it served as a hunting lodge, the castle itself is a Munich tourist destination. A chapel contains beautiful artwork, and the castle grounds bounded on one side by the River Wurm are a delight. So we arrive at the final mystery of our virtual field trip. It is a castle, and the German word blut means blood. It’s a bloody castle!

You can understand why the castle itself is a tourist destination.

You can understand why the castle itself is a tourist destination.






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Bookmarks I Have Known

On their surface, bookmarks may seem to be a very prosaic subject for a blog post, even one like this which tends to center on reading and libraries. Well, yes, bookmarks are prosaic. There are a plethora of them, especially at the public library! The public library provides a variety of bookmarks to its patrons. These bookmarks have several jobs to do. First, they help protect the pages of the books from morphing into bookmarks as pages are turned down to mark the reader’s place. Second, and perhaps more importantly, they help advertise important information about the library. Thus bookmarks can provide contact information for library branches or suggest other titles or authors to explore.

Our temporary library cards for new patrons double as bookmarks!

Our temporary library cards for new patrons double as bookmarks!

Here are some of the library's author/genre bookmarks.

Here are some of the library’s author/genre bookmarks.

My favorite type of library-provided bookmarks, though, are the ones our young patrons craft themselves. I like to think that while they are busy creating, the artists also are considering into which book they will next slip the results of their labor.  And hands down, these bookmarks are the favorite of our patrons too. I have seen adults seriously study the current selection of kid-crafted bookmarks to make sure they pick the very best one.

You can probably guess the relative ages of the artists who designed these cards.

You can probably guess the relative ages of the artists who designed these cards.


I’ve already stated that the library overflows with bookmarks. Not all of those bookmarks are provided by the library, however. Patrons contribute on a daily basis to the huge collection of bookmarks which have been abandoned by their readers in the books they return to the library. These bookmarks run the gamut from handmade pictures from children or grandchildren to fancy embroidered or laminated bookmarks complete with braided tassels. Then there are the myriad of other items which have been called to serve as bookmarks: library receipts, unfilled prescriptions, postcards, photographs, mail opened and unopened, napkins, coupons, and toilet paper (which I fervently hope is unused).

Just a tiny sampling of the many bookmarks left in the library.

Just a tiny sampling of the many bookmarks left in the library.


Bookmarks, I have noticed, serve another function before they ever get anywhere near the inside of a book. I’ve been privileged to tour many different museums lately, including the gift shops. Every museum gift shop I browsed had bookmarks for sale. Often children want to purchase a little remembrance of a cultural outing. However, many children do not have a lot of funds for buying all the many cool items the gift shops offer. In the “kid section,” bookmarks thus offer an acceptable purchase for young buyers. It is not candy. It is non-consumable. It shows the parent who probably provided the purchase price that the purchaser tried to rise above the trivial when making said purchase. Plus, maybe the bookmark will actually be used as a bookmark!

Now I must admit that I am not above the type of dilemma I’ve just described. Last summer I toured the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis, Tennessee. After the museum we went into the gift shop where I saw lots of cool things I wanted but probably should not afford. Okay, I did get a couple of CDs. But I also bought a bookmark. It’s not just any bookmark, though. It is a laminated photograph of Isaac Hayes’ 1972 Cadillac Eldorado. This actual automobile is on display in the museum, and it brought back many a memory to this Memphian born and bred. With strains of his music still rolling through my brain, I felt that I must purchase this bookmark. The automobile was presented to Mr. Hayes to commemorate the success of his Black Moses record album. I proudly showed this nifty souvenir to the children’s services librarian, but she could only identify  Isaac Hayes from a television program. So this quirky bookmark also served a cultural and historical role as I explained why the Hayes name would resonate with a previous generation and learned why another generation would connect Isaac Hayes with South Park.

This bookmark does more than just save your place in a book!

This bookmark does more than just save your place in a book!

Most readers use bookmarks– whether store-bought or fashioned from something around the house. Why should we care about bookmarks?   Sure, bookmarks save our places in our current reading material. They can also connect us to our own kind. If we come across a former reader’s bookmark, we feel the bonds which link us to other readers strengthen. Moreover, bookmarks promise that our leisurely or  intellectual conversation will continue. After we deal with the duties that life requires of us, we rely on those bookmarks to direct us back into the thoughts. dreams, and expressions which help raise our lives above the quotidian.



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Mixing Pleasure with Pleasure


Yes, yes. I know that the expression really is “Mixing business with pleasure,” but that is not how it happened for me a few short weeks ago in early April.

I get a lot of unsolicited email in my graduate school email account. Folks are always encouraging us MLIS students to apply for this or to attend that. Some emails really tantalize me with their suave suggestions that I study abroad or apply for an unpaid internship at the Library of Congress. I read. I salivate. I delete. Except for one email which I mulled over for some weeks. This email, sent by whom I do not now recall, was soliciting applications for the post of student ambassador at the annual Fay. B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival hosted by the University of Southern Mississippi. The email soliciting these applications said that the festival was held in spring and that the student ambassadors would be able to attend sessions when they weren’t working Now, I will readily admit that I had never heard of this book festival, but I like both books and festivals. Moreover, Hattiesburg, MS, home to the festival, is about two hours away from New Orleans and about five hours from Memphis where I have family. Finally I decided to apply for a spot thinking that maybe I could get up some fun in one of those cities after my work was completed. Additionally, I would be able to hear some good speakers and maybe make professional contacts as well. After I applied I promptly forgot all about it. Imagine my surprise when I found out that I had been accepted as a student ambassador!

It was time to make my frolicking dreams come true. The New Orleans option was soon ruled out, but that still left Memphis. I managed to make a sandwich with the book festival in the middle and Memphis on either side of that. That’s what I mean by mixing pleasure with pleasure. In Memphis I was able to visit with new and old family members and friends. There was lots of laughing, reading, and chatting involved along with a nice long walk on a glorious spring day. I believe that a certain blogger’s birthday, ahem, also merited a tiny celebration.

I had to stop having fun in Memphis to attend the book festival, but that just added to my pleasure. First, I hit the road in my borrowed  five speed convertible. Singing loudly into the breeze, I entertained myself all the way down to Hattiesburg.


Disclaimer: I drove gloveless and alone. However, I do sort of look like this, not! Source:


Part of the lure of this book festival was that attendance and housing for the student ambassadors is part of the gig. I met my roommate on Tuesday evening, and I am happy to report that at least from my perspective we got along swimmingly. We were not really in our room too much, and one night we two closed down the hot tub and swimming pool. I could have had a warm breakfast every morning had I wanted to get up just a few minutes earlier!

The Faye B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival itself was even better than I had imagined it might be. With seven student ambassadors to share the work, our duties were minimal. I counted heads in one breakout session and handed out an evaluation at that session’s conclusion. I counted heads two times for the general speaker sessions. My half of the room usually came in at about 140 people. The conference was hopping! The rest of the time at the festival I was free to follow my own inclinations. I was inclined to browse the vendor area, attend several informative breakout sessions, collect as many author signatures on my festival poster as I could manage, buy only three (!) books from the on-site Barnes and Noble, and attend every single general session.

In no time at all I could operate this baby like a pro. Source:



The featured speakers included Gene Yang, Deborah Wiles, Pat Cummings, Nikki Grimes, Peter Brown, Chris Barton,  Paul Zelinsky, Steve Sheinkin, and David Levithan. Click on their links inside the link to the festival in a previous paragraph to learn more about these creative people.  Not only did I hear them speak, but I ate meals with them and hobnobbed at a special dinner and reception  with most of them. What an inspiration to talk with these creative authors and illustrators about their motivations and methods of creation!

Friday’s conference schedule provided another treat as we ambassadors were given a private tour of the De  Grummond Children’s Literature Collection. There I put my hands on manuscripts and illustrations by notable authors such as Lois Lenski, Theodore Burgess, Jack Ezra Keats, and David Green .We also had access to the closed stacks with over 18, 00 volumes, some dating back to the 1500’s. I tell you frankly that I was in book geek mode.

With that embarrassment of riches to dwell upon, Friday afternoon found me motoring back up to Memphis, and even the rain didn’t bother me. I was a little worried, though, that I couldn’t get the windshield wipers to work at first. My book festival high conquered that situation, and I gabbled to my family that evening about all my experiences. Then Monday morning came, and with it, time to board my plane. I returned to my usual haunts with cool book festival swag and good memories of great adventures while mixing pleasure with pleasure.

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Randolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing

Marcus, Leonard S. (2013). Randolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing. New York: Frances Foster Books.


I found this book at, you guessed it, my local public library!

I found this book at, you guessed it, my local public library!

 No parent who has ever read a picture book to her child, no MLIS student, and probably no public library employee–and I am all three–can get through life without having heard about the Caldecott Medal. Maybe you do not even know the name, but the round engraved looking sticker on the picture book in your hands  assures you that this picture book will be worth the time. When it was my pleasure and duty to choose reading material for my young children, I routinely looked for this seal of approval. So I was happy to run across Leonard S. Marcus’s juvenile biography of the Caldecott of gold medal fame. I did not really know anything about Caldecott, and I’m betting you don’t either. Please accept my invitation to increase your knowledge of all things Caldecott!

Randolph Caldecott lived in England in the late 1800’s, and he was quite a doodler and drawer. He fumbled around in various jobs before he met his destiny as the seminal illustrator of children’s books in the 19th century. I imagine Mr. Caldecott hunched miserably over a bank ledger ala Bob Cratchitt or Bartleby the Scrivener. While still employed at the bank, Caldecott began shopping his sketches around the myriad newspapers and magazines of the day. At age 26, Caldecott felt secure or hopeful enough to quit the bank and move to London to hobnob with artists of the day. Caldecott had illustrated books in the past, but his rise to fame began when he teamed up with book printer Edmund Evans. Evans had a reputation for producing illustrated books in color. Unlike some in the field, Evans liked to use delicate rather than harsh color tones because he thought the production of children’s books was an art. Evans and Caldecott made plans to produce a series of children’s “toybooks,” and the rest was history. The biography continues  past Caldecott’s death in 1886 to 1938 when the American Library Association awarded the first Caldecott Medal for distinguished achievement in the field of children’s book illustration.

An undated self portrait

An undated self portrait


Marcus’s biography provides many examples of Caldecott’s artwork, both in color and in the brown ink which Caldecott preferred for his line drawings and sketches. Marcus also takes time to explain how different Caldecott’s work was and how Caldecott made that happen. Spoiler alert: It’s the lifelike detail and movement with which Caldecott suffused his work. “[A]ny number of others could produce a drawing of a horse that looked precisely like a horse. But Caldecott alone knew how to make the horse gallop.” (p. 41).  Resources at the end of the book include a timeline of Caldecott’s life and lists of the children’s books Caldecott illustrated as well as of other books he illustrated. Source notes and a bibliography serve to round out this inspiring biography.

Illustrations really are integral to Caldecott's tale.

Illustrations really are integral to Caldecott’s tale.

Even the end papers move the story along.

Even the end papers move the story along.

I do wonder, though, at the projected audience for this lovely biography. A child who loves to draw or who has artistic yearnings may be moved to pluck this biography off the shelf. The picture book size of the book is appropriate given the subject, but the 61 page length may frustrate young readers who usually don’t expect such dense text in this format. I do expect, however, that plenty of teachers, children’s librarians, and parents will enjoy this well-written and amply illustrated juvenile biography.

In my research for this blog post I learned that the United Kingdom also honors illustrators. The award is called the Randolph Caldecott Prize. Here is a link for further information: More information on the American award can be found at Now, snatch up the nearest child, and share a picture book with him!


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Arts and Crafts and Picture Books

This semester I am enrolled in LIS 617, Materials for Children. This course aims to provide future school and children’s librarians with the knowledge needed to serve the young reader from birth up through the elementary school level. I expected to enjoy this class since I loved reading to my children, and I enjoy matching readers with books in my current public library gig. Imagine my surprise nonetheless when, in preparation for last night’s class, we were instructed to bring construction paper and scissors to our online session!

Part of learning how to be a good librarian is being able to identify the qualities which make any book “good,” and to be able to use that information to select and recommend books for readers. A large part of the school or children’s librarian’s job will revolve around picture books, and that was the topic of last night’s class. One text we have been using is Molly Bang’s Picture This: How Pictures Work. Picture book author and illustrator, Bang explores what it is about a picture which makes us as viewers respond the way we do. Using three colors of construction paper Bang leads her readers through an exploration of shape, size, color, white space, placement on the page, and much more. Bang helps us see why these pictorial elements work on our emotions; this will help us become more informed readers and more effective librarians. This book is written for everyone, not just professionals in the arts or information sciences fields. The very day my copy of Picture This arrived in the mail, my quick flip through the book turned into  reading the entire book in one sitting!


Bang, Molly. ( 2000). Picture This: How Pictures Work. Chronicle: San Francisco.

Bang, Molly. ( 2000). Picture This: How Pictures Work. Chronicle: San Francisco.


People tend to think picture books are simple because they are aimed usually at the youngest readers, or should I say listeners? This is far from the truth. A successful picture book has to meet high standards, not just in the text, but in the illustrations as well. Picture books are truly works of art. So, while Bang takes us on her journey through what makes a picture effective using the familiar tale of Little Red Riding Hood, her insights could just as easily be applied to a masterpiece such as one of Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings, to name just one very obvious example.

Having said, all this, I must admit that when the time came for the class to apply Bang’s insights by completing one of her suggested exercises in class, I found myself a little less than enthusiastic. This is an online class, for one thing. Creating at home alone in front of my laptop seemed a little silly. Plus, while not artistically gifted, I do dip into the creative stream in my own little way. Just last weekend, for instance, I had crafted tiny icons with a friend. I asked, albeit silently, if our limited time in class could not be used more effectively by continuing our discussion on board books and the classic picture book ?


By no means do I scorn artistic endeavor!

Not by any means do I scorn arts and crafts!


No! I was wrong, and I am happy to admit it. As a class we followed Bang’s instructions to create our own scary pictures of a bird or birds attacking a victim. After a few concentrated minutes  of making our own pictures, some members of the class shared their pictures.

I did not share my creation last night in class, but I would like to do so now.

My picture shows me enjoying a fine day outside when, suddenly, a bird comes down and pecks me right in the eye. Bang urges her readers to  emphasize the features that are scariest to you as the creator of the picture. For this reason, I made my body elliptical. It signifies me as a person, but the shape is also that which we associate with our eyes. So the dark blue shape is both me and my eyes which happen to be blue . My family has a history of very poor eyesight, and I worry that I will become blind as I age.  If a bird is going to peck me in the eye he must have a sharp-pointed beak. This pointy yellow triangle is the bird’s method of attack. I chose yellow for the beak because it signifies caution. The larger orange triangle represents the body of the bird. Two smaller triangles attached to the body of the bird are the bird’s wings. They are the same color as the bird, so that the yellow beak predominates in the figure of the bird. The arrangement of the bird’s wings leaves an open triangular space. This could be the bird’s tail. The three triangles which form the wings and the tail seem pointy; they are not placed on their bases, so they make the picture seem edgy and signify the danger to come. The entire triangular shape of the bird as a whole also presents the off kilter aspect of this picture . Placing the triangle on the diagonal across the center of the page has two results. First, the diagonal lines signify motion and make me see the bird  zooming down out of the sky. Second, the most dangerous aspect of the bird, its beak, takes center stage when I view this picture.

The green curvy shape at the bottom left of the picture represents the grass I am reclining on as well as the earth in general. The curving shape is calming, welcoming, and accepting. This lends another frisson of fear to the bird’s attack since I am in a spot which I presumed was safe. The light blue triangles represent the sky and the unknown. In its first iteration I had the sky triangles touching both my figure and the figure of the bird to show the interconnectedness of life. I am acting as a human would by enjoying the day; the bird is acting as a bird might do in looking for food or protecting its territory. So the sky blue shows that no blame can be attached to me or to the bird. We just happen to be in the same place at the same time. That makes the attack more frightening, as I am not doing anything to provoke the bird. I also wanted to break up the white space of the picture by adding another color.


I prefer this arrangement of colors and shapes.

I prefer this arrangement of colors and shapes.


I think I like the second iteration better. Here I have balanced one sky triangle in the right hand corner of the picture against the green earth shape in the lower left hand side. The widest side of the triangle faces  down toward the ground. This blue triangle also extends off the page, another indication of the  immensity of the sky and of the natural world. That might be scary, or it might be freeing.

All of these ideas and responses originated from just four pieces of colored construction paper and a pair of old scissors! Thanks to my LIS 617 professor for leading our class on this exploration. I recommend that you read this book and complete some of the exercises which Bang suggests. You will never see the world in the same way again!


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Rainy Day Fun

Rainy days like today mean that we have to make our own fun indoors. A rainy day for me certainly would include a visit to the library. Today’s weather prompts me to think about the fun I can create for myself and my patrons when I have my own library kingdom. I have been collecting a few things toward that end, and in honor of weather alerts everywhere, I will share them with you today.



Noses will have to be blown, so this tissue box holder will come in handy. Even as a recovering English major, however, I must admit that Moby Dick, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and War and Peace will not constitute fun reading for every library patron!


Next I’d like to introduce librarian figurine Nancy Pearl. Nancy, come on out and say hey to my readers!


Er, I think maybe we should give Nancy a moment or two  to freshen up.


Meanwhile I will give you a quick tour of a couple of doodad collections I have on my shelves here at home. I do not know whether any of these guys will come to the library. I would like your opinion on the matter.IMG_0139 Here I have some pigs consorting with what I believe to be a ptarmigan or a quail. I am sure I can think of some reason why they need to visit the library.


My weakness for chickens is clear in this collection: IMG_0140  Notice the random camel. I think he ambled over from a manger scene. Again, with a little creative elbow grease, these fine feathered and furred animals could be made welcome in my library.


Let’s check back  on Nancy. Nancy, are you ready to receive visitors now? Great, she is ready for us. A friend whose intellectual attainments I highly admire gifted me with this Nancy Pearl figurine and her various and sundry accoutrements.


One thing I learned in my Archives and Preservation class this past summer is never, never to store books on the floor. Let’s police that area, Nancy!


Every library has to consider security issues. That would be one reason to include this man in my library doodad selection.


Not only does he provide security, but he also reminds me of two of the characters in The Last of the Mohicans. If you squint, and I often do, this guy could be either Natty Bumppo or Uncas. Or so I like to think.  No doubt, library patrons will make their own connections with him.


And last, but surely not least, is this librarian good fairy who sprinkles her magic book  dust over all things inside the library:

librarian image2

Below she presides over her own library kingdom. This photo and caption were part of an assignment I completed about my ideal librarian. I see no reason to change what I wrote back then. Well, there you have it–my small collection of doodads awaiting its first library home. Do you like collections like this? Do you play with them on rainy days?


This little diorama illustrates the ideal librarian at work. Technologies as new as the latest computer widget and as ancient as the codex await the students. There are places to collaborate as well as to get cozy with books and ideas. The car represents the ideal librarian's capacity to take her show on the road as necessary. If you look closely you'll spot the pair of glasses the librarian needs!  The librarian serves as catalyst and facilitator for learning in her library.

This little diorama illustrates the ideal librarian at work. Technologies as new as the latest computer widget and as ancient as the codex await the students. There are places to collaborate as well as to get cozy with books and ideas. The car represents the ideal librarian’s capacity to take her show on the road as necessary. If you look closely you’ll spot the pair of glasses the librarian needs! The librarian serves as catalyst and facilitator for learning in her library.


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Sunlight in the Stacks

Gardeners and those delighting in gentle reads from an earlier age will find much to delight them in the works of Beverley Nichols. First published in the 1930’s, Nichols–journalist, author, composer, dedicated gardener–produced many charming books about the vicissitudes of the rural gardening life in England. Even the titles of the books themselves entice you to stroll leisurely through them–and that’s before ere a single page has been turned! Down the Garden Path, A Thatched Roof, A Village in the Valley, Merry Hall, Laughter on the Stairs, Sunlight on the Lawn, among others, can be enjoyed on many levels. This writer first stumbled upon Mr. Nichols on one of her stacks safaris in which she delights to hunt down old treasures which still provide entertainment and instruction in the present day. I believe it was Sunlight on the Lawn which begged for retrieval from the shelf. Who but the most hard -hearted library patron could resist the siren song of a book spine with its colors faded to pastels, ornate script, and that indescribable yet palpable feeling that said tome is selecting you to be its next audience? No, I am not the reader to harden my heart against such a plea.

Ooop! I forgot to rotate this photo of the book spine which called to ne from the shelf.

Oops! I forgot to rotate this photo of the book spine which called to ne from the shelf.

Title page and more decorative details

Title page and more decorative details

Take a chance on something new-or old!

Take a chance on something new-or old!

I love these old fashioned decorations inside the book.

I love these old fashioned decorations inside the book.

Nor should you ignore these deliciously old-fashioned books. Whether they are characterized as fiction –as in the case of the first book I found–or as literary essays–  the case of the last Nichols book I enjoyed–the result is pure delectation. What shall a reader who ventures into this verdancy discover? Oldfield the stereotypical crusty English gardener, frenemies Miss Emily and Our Rose, general factotum Gaskin, and a host of other engaging characters embroiled in a series of events by turns comic and poignant. Nosy parkers such as myself can also revel in the quotidian details which made up life in a day and age long gone. And, oh yes, gardeners of both the armchair and actual varieties can experience the trials, travails, and triumphs of coaxing forth living things from the soil. For maximum pleasure read with a cup of tea or a glass of sherry at your elbow and a favorite  house pet  within petting reach.

The website provides many photos of Mr. Nichols as well as information about his many creative activities.


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