Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Americans: B's (3 of 4)

15 more of the B's from my in-progress American Women Writers list this time around, 10 of them particularly known for their children's fiction, so some of you will recognize a few names here. At least two of these definitely belong on my future pioneers/immigrants/western expansion subject list as well.

Probably the biggest name here is CAROL RYRIE BRINK, still well-known for her perennial bestseller Caddie Woodlawn (1935), about an 11-year-old girl on a farm in frontier Wisconsin. I think I might have read that book when I was very young, but perhaps a re-read is in order. Brink later adapted it as a play, and Magical Melons (1944) is a collection of additional stories about Caddie. Brink also published more than a dozen other volumes of children's fiction, as well as several novels for adults. 

Baby Island (1937) is a comedy about two girls stranded on a Pacific island with four babies (sounds like stark realism to me). Family Grandstand (1952) and Family Sabbatical (1956) are about the children of a college professor and a mystery writer, and is loosely based on Brink's own childhood in St Paul, Minnesota. The Pink Motel (1959) is about the eccentric guests at a Florida hotel. 

Some of Brink's novels for adults have historical settings but darker subject matter. Buffalo Coat (1944) is about doctors in Idaho in the late 19th century. According to Brink's entry, The Headland (1955), set in France, is "a curiously flawed novel about five young people to whom World War II brings tragedy." Brink said of Snow in the River (1964), set in a fictionalized version of her hometown of Moscow, Idaho, that it "is probably as near to an autobiography as I shall ever write." Despite that comment, she did also write a short reminiscence, Four Girls on a Homestead (1978).

Then there's ALLENA BEST, known to many of her readers under her pseudonym Erick Berry. She was an illustrator and author of more than 60 children's titles, many historical in theme. She received a Newbery Honor for her 1933 work The Winged Girl of Knossos (1933). Various other books were set in Africa, Scandinavia, or in various periods of American history. Hudson Frontier (1942) is set in an early Dutch settlement, while The Wavering Flame: Connecticut, 1776 (1953) is set at the beginning of the American Revolution. Illustrations of Cynthia (1931) is set at an art school, and Careers of Cynthia (1932) and Cynthia Steps Out (1937) are presumably sequels. Best appears to have used the pseudonym Anne Maxon for a single title, The House That Jill Built (1934) (though its illustrations are still credited to Erick Berry, surely a rare example of an author using two pseudonyms at the same time on the same book). She was married to boys' story writer Herbert Best, and illustrated many of his books as well as her own and some by other authors. Other of her titles include Girls in Africa (1928), Strings to Adventure (1935), Honey of the Nile (1938), Hearth-Stone in the Wilderness (1944), The Little Farm in the Big City (1947), Sybil Ludington's Ride (1952), Stars in My Pocket (1960), When Wagon Trains Rolled to Santa Fe (1966), and The Valiant Little Potter (1973).

Mildred Benson

Until recently, MILDRED BENSON was quite the unsung heroine of children's fiction, despite the fact that some of you, at least, have undoubtedly read one or more of her books. In recent years, it has been revealed that she was the main author behind most of the early Nancy Drew books, published under the collective pseudonym Carolyn Keene. Benson reportedly wrote more than 20 of the first 30 books in the series (often from outlines created by the Stratemeyer Syndicate, which owned the series), but did so for flat fees, retaining no copyright, though she and other contributors were eventually granted a share of royalties. She worked on well over 100 children's titles in all, including works for several other series including those featuring Kay Tracey, Penny Parker, and the Dana Girls. 

Mildred Benson in later years

The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives singles out the four-book Ruth Darrow series (1930-1931) for attention. Written under Benson's earlier married name, Mildred Wirt, the series focused on a young woman pilot. According to Scribner, "The aeronautical lore in the books is generally authentic, but the series' greatest strength is its consistent and outspoken advocacy of women's abilities and mechanical competence." Benson was a journalist throughout most of her life, and her life seems to have been an adventurous one: she travelled a lot in Central American, took an interest in archaeology, and was herself a trained pilot. She wrote under a whole slew of additional pseudonyms as well, including Frank Bell, Joan Clark, Don Palmer, Helen Louise Thorndyke, Julia K. Duncan, Alice B. Emerson, and Frances K. Judd.

Early author pic of Margery Bianco

MARGERY BIANCO is best known for her classic children's book The Velveteen Rabbit (1922), but not everyone knows that her first published works (under her maiden name, Margery Williams) were four novels—The Late Returning (1902), Spendthrift Summer (1903), The Price of Youth (1904), and The Thing in the Woods (1913)—the last a horror tale about a werewolf in Pennsylvania, published under the pseudonym Harper Williams. After the success of The Velveteen Rabbit, she focused mainly on children's books, including Poor Cecco (1925), The Little Wooden Doll (1925), The Skin Horse (1927), The House That Grew Smaller (1931), and Green Grows the Garden (1936). Another 1936 title, Winterbound (1936), was a runner-up for the Newbery Medal. 

Two later works—Other People's Houses (1939), about a young woman trying to make a living in New York City, and Bright Morning (1942), described as an autobiographical novel, seem to be for adults or at least older children. She also translated several French works into English, and co-wrote a single play, Out of the Night (1929), described as a mystery comedy. (Bianco is something of an in-between author for this list, as she was born in England, emigrated to the U.S. at age 9, then spent a number of years back in the U.K. and Europe as an adult. She seems to have been a U.S. citizen, however, so in this case I've let that determine where she belongs.)

Another name that will be familiar to some of you is HELEN DORE BOYLSTON, who was a trained nurse herself as well as a children's author. She's best known for her series of books about Sue Barton, based on her own training, which follow their heroine from her days as a student nurse through various stages of her career. Titles are Sue Barton, Student Nurse (1936), Sue Barton, Senior Nurse (1937), Sue Barton, Visiting Nurse (1938), Sue Barton, Rural Nurse (1939), Sue Barton, Superintendent of Nurses (1940), Sue Barton, Neighborhood Nurse (1949), and Sue Barton, Staff Nurse (1952). In the 1940s, she also published a series about a young actress, including Carol Goes Backstage (1941), Carol Plays Summer Stock (1942), Carol on Broadway (1944), and Carol on Tour (1946). 

Boylston worked with the Red Cross during World War I and on into the 1920s, from which came her first published work, "Sister": The War Diary of a Nurse (1927). She also made friends with Rose Wilder Lane (who will appear on this list in due time) during her time in Europe, and a journal of their road trip across Europe was published as Travels with Zenobia: Paris to Albania by Model T Ford in 1983. Fans of her Sue Barton series will certainly want to check out this blog post and the two subsequent posts, which provide details of Boylston's real life, including some of the people and places upon which her books may have been based.

There's a good chance that most readers who know the name MARY BARD know her as the sister of Betty MacDonald (who will also appear on this list eventually) and for three humorous memoirs of her own—The Doctor Wears Three Faces (1949), about meeting and dating her doctor husband, Forty Odd (1952), which continued her story into her forties, and Just Be Yourself (1956), about her experiences as a Brownie leader. But she did also publish three works of fiction for girls—Best Friends (1955), Best Friends in Summer (1960), and Best Friends at School (1961), the first of which was reprinted in 2015.

I might be more interested in ROSE BROWN's memoir, too, than in her fiction. She was the wife of avant-garde author, journalist and publisher Robert Carlton Brown and author of at least four children's books inspired by their time living in Brazil—Amazon Adventures of Two Children (1942), Two Children and Their Jungle Zoo (1948), Two Children of Brazil (1949), and Three on a Raft (1951). She also co-wrote, with her husband, Amazing Amazon (1943), about their trip up the Amazon River.

DOROTHY BIRD published three girls' adventure stories. Granite Harbor (1944) is about a young girl adjusting to her move from Texas to Michigan, near Lake Superior. Mystery at Laughing Water (1946) is about a girl's adventures at summer camp, including solving a mystery dating to the 1820s. And in The Black Opal (1949), a young college girl who aspires to be a journalist attempts to solve a murder mystery from the 1840s. Barb at Leaves & Pages wrote positively about the last here.

Mary Buff

MARY BUFF wrote more than a dozen children's titles, most illustrated by her husband Conrad Buff. Some of these are for younger children, but several appear to be for older readers. Titles include Dancing Cloud, the Navajo Boy (1937), Kobi, a Boy of Switzerland (1939), Peter's Pinto (1949), The Apple and the Arrow (1951), Hah-Nee of the Cliff Dwellers (1956), Forest Folk (1962), and Kemi, an Indian Boy before the White Man Came (1966).

And finally, ELEANOR HOYT BRAINERD published nearly a dozen volumes of fiction, most or all of them aimed at girls or young women. Titles include Elizabeth: A Story of the Oklahoma Run (1902), The Misdemeanors of Nancy (1902), Concerning Belinda (1905), The Personal Conduct of Belinda (1910), Pegeen (1915), How Could You, Jean? (1917), and Our Little Old Lady (1919).

I couldn't trace any relationship between that author and EDITH RATHBONE BRAINERD (and in any case both women married Brainerds, so the relationship would have been slight), but I figured here was as good a place as any to tell the tragic tale of the latter Brainerd. She was author, along with her husband J. Chauncey Corey Brainerd, of around 20 volumes of fiction, much of it first appearing in periodicals. Several of their novels were adapted as early films. Titles include The Sixth Speed (1908), Mister 44 (1916), Too Many Crooks (1918), The Mantle of Silence (1920), The Nervous Wreck (1923), The Brains of the Family (1925), and Let's Go (1930). 

Now the tragic part: Brainerd and her husband were both killed, along with dozens of others, in the roof collapse at the Knickerbocker Theatre in Washington DC in January 1922—see the details here. Although I lived in DC for a decade, I had not previously heard of the Knickerbocker collapse. Many of the Brainerds' novels appeared in book form for the first time in the years after their deaths, presumably having only appeared in serialized form in earlier years. There's a fascinating story about the roof collapse here, mentioning several other victims but not the Brainerds.

And then, a few random authors who don't really fit in anywhere else.

Edna Bryner's 1907 Vassar yearbook entry

EDNA BRYNER was the author of two novels—Andy Brandt's Ark (1927), about a young woman who, having escaped an unhappy childhood, returns home to aid her sister, and While the Bridegroom Tarried (1929), a portrait of a man whose constant uncertainty and hesitations haunt his life. She appears to have written no further fiction, but she became a scholar of Tibetan Buddhism and, following years of study, published Thirteen Tibetan Tankas (1956), described by her Vassar archives entry as "an important contribution to the study of the rebirth doctrine in Buddhism."

ANNA ROBESON BURR wrote more than two dozen volumes of fiction, non-fiction, and biography. The Jessop Bequest (1907) and The Great House in the Park (1924) both deal with drama and intrigue surrounding inheritance. Palludia (1928) is about the search for an enigmatic artist whose works are suddenly in demand. Other fiction includes Alain of Halfdene (1895), Sir Mark: A Tale of the First Capital (1896), A Cosmopolitan Comedy (1899), The Wine-Press (1905), The House on Smith Square (1923), Wind in the East (1933), and The Bottom of the Matter (1935). She also published non-fiction including The Autobiography: A Critical and Comparative Study (1909), described as the first critical analysis of memoir as a genre.

Sylvia Chatfield Bates's 1905 Elmira College yearbook entry

SYLVIA CHATFIELD BATES wrote ten volumes of fiction, including one initial story collection, Elmira College Stories (1911), about her own alma mater. Her other titles, about which details are sparse, include Vintage (1916), Golden Answer (1921), That Magic Fire (1928), I Have Touched the Earth (1934), Floor of Heaven (1940), The Weather Breeder (1948), and The Silver Yoke (1951).

Last and perhaps least, LUCILLE BORDEN wrote at least a dozen volumes of fiction informed by her Roman Catholicism. Titles include Gates of Olivet (1922), The Candlestick Makers (1923), Gentleman Riches (1925), From Out Magdala (1927), Sing to the Sun (1933), Starforth (1937), and From the Morning Watch (1943).

Next time around, a handful of mystery writers, a couple of scandalous women, and some authors who focused on social issues and injustice.


  1. From Jerri:

    As always, some great cover art. Of the authors who wrote for children, I have read several when I was young. Brink's Baby Island holds a special place in my heart, even though I am very much NOT the sort described, who
    would go out and "borrow" babies for fun. Yet this sort of junior Swiss Family Robinson was a favorite comfort read to me for many years, and I even re-read it a year or two ago, still with great enjoyment. Not sure how it would read to someone reading it for the first time as an adult. But the team work and ingenuity of the two young heroines is outstanding. Somehow I
    never read Caddie Woodlawn as a child. I picked up on her within the past year or so, and loved the two books about her. Wish there were more.

    1. Thanks, Jerri. Baby Island sounded a bit offbeat to me from the descriptions I read, but now I'm more intrigued by it.

  2. Yes, Scott, you're so right, I do recognize many of these authors from my days as a children's librarian, especially Brink, Bianco and Buff. And of course, how many girls went on to become nurses thanks to the Sue Barton????
    LOVE some of that cover art, which makes the titles look much more risque than they probably are!

  3. Great to read about all these authors new to me in England. I do though know, and own, the Sue Barton books. And it was lovely to hear of Mary Bard, since I'm a fan of Betty MacDonald, and Mary Bard is on my one-day-at-some-point list.

    1. Thanks, Grace. Not sure if it's also available in the U.K., but I happened to notice just yesterday there's an inexpensive e-book version of The Doctor Wears Three Faces, as well as versions of all of MacDonald's books.

  4. I love those mid-twentieth century career novels like the Sue Barton and Carol books, and the many others like them (Cherry Ames, and the Rosamond Bertram and Lorna Hill books, etc). Although many of the roles are somewhat stereotypical, it was still such an age of optimism for girls, reading this books and thinking with aspiration about a career in the way their mothers had not.

    1. Yes, it's interesting, isn't it, to think of these books as part of the expanding opportunities for women--perhaps even as a significant part of the feminist movement!


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