Friday, November 23, 2012

Burgess Bedtime Stories 1944

The Stories

January 1 to January 5. Peter and Mrs. Peter Rabbit come to appreciate the skunks in the Old Briar Patch.

January 6 to January 12. Desperate with hunger, Reddy Fox attacks Hooty the Owl and steals fish from Little Joe Otter. 

January 13 to January 20. Reddy Fox inadvertently discourages Shadow the Weasel from following Peter Rabbit's trail. 

January 21 to January 24. Happy Jack Squirrel talks to Peter Rabbit about thrift and loyalty. 

January 25 to January 26. Chatterer the Red Squirrel taunts Black Pussy, who is stuck in a tree. 

January 27 to January 28. Lightfoot the Deer is humble after he loses his antlers but feels better when he learns Flathorns the Moose loses his too. 

January 29 to January 31. Burgess tells the stories of the "Million little sunbeams" and the "Million little shadows," which help to camouflage the young deer. 

February 1 to February 10. Tommy Tit is warned not to move into the same neighborhood as Spooky the Owl, but decides to stay when Spooky proves to be a good defense against Chatterer the Red Squirrel (who wants to eat him).

February 11 to February 19. Blacky the Crow thinks Peter Rabbit is dead when he gets his foot caught in a hole. Farmer Brown's boy gets him loose.

February 21 to February 25. Farmer Brown's boy and Happy Jack Squirrel match wits over the bird feeder. Farmer Brown's boy "cuts off his line of communication" (an explicit war reference) to keep him from becoming dependent on "welfare."

February 26 to March 11. Hooty and Mrs. Hooty are nesting already. Canada jays [gray jays] have babies even earlier in the year. But bears have the first babies of all. 

March 13 to April 6. Jerry Muskrat is upset that the water level of the Smiling Pool is a little low but learns that beaver dams are an effective way to regulate water levels. Other animals, including wood ducks and pileated woodpeckers, also benefit from beaver ponds  Many settlers arrive at the beaver pond, including the Quacks, Sawbill the Merganser, Longlegs the Heron, and Teeter the Sandpiper.

April 8 to April 14. The Jerry Muskrat Juniors (their father is getting a little gray) build a house. 

April 15 to April 25. Predators stalk ducklings. Only Sharpshin is successful.

April 26 to May 6. Mrs. Longlegs the Heron raises children. Not all of them make it. 

May 8 to May 16. Birds arrive at the Old Orchard, including Goldie the Baltimore Oriole, Glory the Cardinal, and Welcome Robin. Peter Rabbit asks them about gender roles. [Burgess mistakenly asserts that female orioles don't sing].

May 17 to June 5. Peter Rabbit learns about a variety of wasp species. 

June 6 to June 13. Danny Meadow Mouse and Nimbleheels the Jumping Mouse compare tails and dodge predators.

June 14 to July 18. Wabblenose, the young rabbit, gets separated from his family and learns about friends and foes on the Green Meadows and by the Smiling Pool.

July 19 to August 7. Smoky the Gray Fox with the ringed tail visits the Woodhouse Night Club and competes with Handsome the Skunk for Aunt Sally's lap. Later, Farmer Brown's boy experiments with raccoons and rats move into the Night Club.

August 8 to August 31. The raccoons raid cornfields and find an easy living at a frog pond. One young raccoon mistakes a rattlesnake for an eel, another learns to avoid porcupine quills. The raccoons watch as Buster Bear avoids the snake, while Mrs. Lightfoot chases it off. 

August 31 to September 4. Peter Rabbit learns about cicadas and katydids.

September 5 to September 16. A drought affects different animals in different ways. Stickytoes the Tree Toad insists (once again) that he does not have the power to call the rain. 

September 18 to September 22. Peter Rabbit learns how gulls fly and about visitors (eels and salmon) from the Great Ocean.  

September 27 to October 10. Silversides and Mrs. Silversides the Salmon travel upstream to spawn. Later Buster Bear fails to catch the salmon, and gets beat in a fight with Flathorns the Moose, but ends up filling his stomach with beechnuts.

October 11 to October 21. Mrs. Flathorns must choose between two rivals for her affection. Then hunters try to decoy the moose with their treacherous mating calls but Paddy the Beaver saves the day. (Partially reprinted in At Paddy the Beaver's Pond).

October 23 to October 31. After his sibling is killed by a falling tree, Flattail the Beaver must help his parents prepare for the winter alone.

November 1 to November 4. Peter Rabbit's grumpy mood is transformed when he discovers a puffball.

November 6 to November 13. Old Mr. Toad is frustrated in his attempts to dig in for the winter. 

November 14 to December 2. Buster Bear wisely decides not to try to get fish from a shack (it was a trap). Then Peter Rabbit tries to learn about bear hibernation. Buster finally goes to sleep, covered with a blanket of snow. (Partially reprinted in The Crooked Little Path)

December 4 to December 8. Blacky the Crow and Creaker the Raven talk admiringly about musquash (muskrats). 

December 9 to December 13. Jerry Muskrat worries that the water in the Smiling Pool is too low to allow him to work underwater during the winter. 

December 14 to December 23. Whitefoot and Mrs. Whitefoot the Wood Mouse move into an old hornet's nest and avoid Shadow the Weasel. (Reprinted in The Crooked Little Path)

December 25. "Peter's Christmas Wishes." [I have not yet found this story. Many newspapers did not have Christmas editions.]

December 26 to December 31. Lightfoot's antlers fall off, giving other animals something to gnaw on. 


According to a 1939 profile in Editor and Publisher, Thornton Burgess was supposed to retire in 1944. He would turn 70 years old and in January would publish his 10,000th story. Obviously he didn't retire, though it is unclear why he didn't. The fact that he had reached 10,000 was celebrated by a profile in Life.

Overall 1944 was a return to form (new scenarios--baby herons; new characters--Silversides the Salmon) after an uninspired 1943, though Farmer Brown's boy's role remained relatively peripheral. War language still came up once in a while, as did welfare, though Burgess qualified his criticism--it was OK for folks who needed it (birds in winter) but not for folks who didn't (squirrels at risk for becoming dependent on it). Recognizing the advanced age of his characters, Burgess suggested that Jerry Muskrat was getting a bit gray.

On the Green Meadows was published in 1944, the first of a new round of Burgess books in the 1940s.  Readers might be surprised to discover that it is primarily focused on insect and arachnid life. I wonder if Burgess had originally been thinking of doing a "insects you should know" type book (this would also account for his wasp/katydid stories in 1944).

The "Million Little Sunbeams/Shadows" were old Burgess titles, published in John Martin's Book in 1914, but I do not know if these were the same stories.

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