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The Stories Mother Nature Told Her Children by  Jane Andrews


 

 

Sketch of Jane Andrews

BY
MARGARET ANDREWS ALLEN
Reprinted from the "Kindergarten Magazine."

[v] IN the little Wisconsin town of Wilton, on Arbor Day, the children, in making their selection of names for the trees they planted, chose these three: "Washington, Longfellow, and Jane Andrews,"—names which must have embodied for them some real personality, and thus secured their affection and loyalty. Last autumn a class of children in Portland, Ore., met at the house of their teacher, for a "Jane Andrews afternoon," to talk about this friend of theirs, and her books, making her one of themselves for those pleasant hours. And yet none of these persons—teacher or pupils— [vi] had ever seen Miss Andrews, and it was only through her books that she had become a real person to them. This has made me think that some account of my sister, and how these books came into being, might interest her many friends all over the country, who know her merely through the children of her thought.

Through all her life, my sister had a great fondness for children, and a power of winning their confidence and love. But she had never thought of putting into writing the stories with which she often fascinated them, till in 1860, after intimate association with the children in her little school (in our old home at Newburyport, Mass.), "the stories grew of themselves," as she said. These stories appeared in 1862, under the title of "The Seven Little Sisters who Live on a Round Ball that Floats in the Air." This was soon followed by "Each and All," carrying on the story of the "Seven Sisters."

I have always thought that we people who grow up on the seacoast feel our connection with all the nations of the world, the unity of [vii] races, more as a matter of instinct and circumstance than of reason.

The middle sea contains no crimson dulse;

Its deeper waves cast up no pearls to view.

Along the shore my hand is on its pulse,

And I converse with many a shipwrecked crew.

To add to this natural tendency from position, was the fact that our ancestry on one side belonged to the merchant marine of New England; and many a tale of their adventures by sea and land, in strange countries and among strange people, were the fireside entertainment with which our mother beguiled the long winter evenings, while the distinct sound of the sea lent reality to the tale. And to her stories were added our father's rich store of old Scottish and English legends and ballads, and the stories of old New England, of which he had an endless store. Thus we grew up with a wide interest and a realization of things beyond our sight. The great outside world was peopled for us with real beings, not the dim shades which many children glean from second-class [viii] geographies. In after years, looking back on these stories of our childhood, we understood that only that which is endowed with life and reality is capable of interesting a child and bearing a vital part in his education. We learned, also, how the bent and interests of one's life are always influenced, and often determined, by the education of early years.

When my sister graduated from the Normal School at West Newton, Mass. (now the Framingham Normal School), she first put into writing, in her valedictory, her ideas on the teaching of geography,—the same ideas which she afterwards carried out in teaching the children of her little school, and in the writing of "The Seven Little Sisters," which grew out of that teaching. In this she was led, as all true lovers of children are, by the thoughts of the children themselves stimulating her thought and enabling her to give her "Seven Sisters" a real personality. To many a child, "The Brown Baby" is just as real as her own baby sister in the cradle by her side; and many a child with her sled longs for Agoonack's [ix] brisk little dogs, and looks with added interest at the dogs in the Eskimo Village at the World's Fair, or the seal in the zoological gardens at Philadelphia, because they are old friends of hers through these stories.

In a report of an entertainment given some years ago at the Perkins Institute for the Blind, we find that even there the "Seven Sisters" have found their way. I will quote the account as it appeared in Boston Transcript at the time:

"While Mr. Hawkes was speaking, the little kindergartners had been diligently modeling in clay; and when he had ceased they gave an exercise called 'The Seven Sisters.' The first tiny creature showed a round ball, and told us that it was a large ball that could float through space, and had men and trees on it; in short, it was the earth, which contained the homes of the 'Seven Sisters.' The next child told of the little dark sister who lived in a warm country and ate cocoanuts, and she showed a cocoanut. The next child told of the Eskimo sister who dwelt in a hut, and exhibited a clay hut. The [x] fourth one described the life of an Arab and her country, and had a successful model of an ostrich. Then a little girl told of the Swiss maiden who dwells high on the Alps, and of her brother the wood carver, and held up a bowl and spoon which were like the little Swiss girl's. The sixth girl showed some chopsticks with which the little Chinese girl eats, and the seventh told a very pretty story of the African sister, who wears bracelets and anklets of gold. The last of the 'Seven Sisters' was the German maiden who lives on the Rhine. Then the sixth girl explained that though the 'Seven Sisters' lived on different parts of the globe, they were all under the loving care of one Father."

Quite a number of these stories grew out of real events. The story of "Louise, the Child of the Rhine," had its rise in the account a German emigrant gave my sister of his early life of hardship not far from Chicago, after happy days of prosperity near the Rhine. In "Each and All," sequel to the "Seven Sisters," Agoonack's wonderful voyage on the ice [xi] island is modeled after the real adventures of the crew of the Polaris. The little figures of clay, in "Christmas Time for Louise" ("Each and All"), were really modeled by some little children in Kansas, when a circle of educated people tried to bring something beside the toil and privations of pioneer life into their children's lives. The spirit of all this is brought out in the story of Louise.

Geographical plays grew naturally out of her work in the little school which she carried on in our house for many years, and each play was enthusiastically acted by her school children.

To "The Ten Boys on the Road from Long Ago to Now"—probably the most widely known of all her books excepting the "Seven Sisters"—she gave the most careful study, and it remained longest in her mind before committing it to paper. She desired greatly that each fact should be accurate as well as interesting. Her respect for children was too sincere for her to give them anything but the best work. She wished to make the noblest traits [xii] of all times and nations helpful to the boy and girl of to-day. The ruling lesson which her "Boys" teach is embodied in the closing sentence: "It is not what a boy has, but what he is, that makes him valuable to the world and the world valuable to him."

The "Stories Mother Nature Told Her Children," is a collection of the articles which appeared in Our Young Folks and The Riverside Magazine, shortly after the publication of the "Seven Sisters," and were collected by my sister Emily and myself after the death of my sister Jane. She had intended to do this herself, and had already told me of the title which we have used. In this book, also, there are many articles which I can easily place. The sixty-two little tadpoles lent joy to my childhood. "What the Frost Giants Did to Nannie's Run," really happened to some friends of ours in the early days of Washington Territory. "Sea Life" is founded on the shipwreck of my sister Caroline in the Caribbean Sea, and "Little Sunshine" is a real child. The same story was told by Colonel Higginson in Our [xiii] Young Folks, under the title of "Carrie's Shipwreck."

But the book which contains the most of personal incident, and which is much less widely known than the others, since it has not found its way into the schools, is "Only a Year, and What it Brought." The story tells how a thoughtless but warm-hearted girl learned the joy of leading a helpful life, by not only accepting, but putting her whole heart into, the opportunity which came to her. "Something to do, and the power to do it," I remember, was my sister's answer, when asked her idea of a happy life. On page III is a description of my sister's room, as she fitted it up for herself when about sixteen years old. "Katie's Auction" is one which my sister really conducted for an old black woman in "Guinea," the African suburb of our town. The Thanksgiving party, in which the portraits of the ancestors are the only guests, brings in the old stories of our fireside when we were children. The flood in the river, and the little Irish baby left motherless, are all real events, [xiv] as are many other facts in the book, which my sister desired to bring together to illustrate the beauty and nobility of our every-day life that "thanks God for the opportunity offered and accepted."


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