Friday, August 3, 2018

The Americans: C's (3 of 4)

This time around, as I teased last time, I've got nine children's authors—including one of the biggest selling American authors of all time—as well as two sets of fiction-writing sisters.

Beverly Cleary

I know some of you have already guessed that the blockbuster children's author (who also happens to be, as Rich noted, one of the few living authors on either of my lists) is none other than BEVERLY CLEARY, who this past April reached the dizzying age of 102. There are reportedly a staggering 90 million copies of her books in print.

Cleary published more than three dozen volumes of children's fiction, of which many of the most famous are set within a single neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. Her most famous character was young Ramona Quimby, who first appears in a supporting role in Cleary's debut, Henry Huggins (1950), but later moves center stage in works including Beezus and Ramona (1955), Ramona the Pest (1968), and Ramona Quimby, Age 8 (1981). Otis Spofford (1953) is credited with introducing one of the first "latchkey" kids, a child growing up with a single parent. A trilogy of popular adventure stories featured a mouse as main character—The Mouse and the Motorcycle (1965), Runaway Ralph (1970), and Ralph S. Mouse (1982). Although her best-known works are for young and middle-grade readers, Cleary also published books for teen readers. Her memoirs are A Girl from Yamhill (1988), which traces her childhood, and My Own Two Feet (1995), which follows her through college at the University of California, Berkeley, through the World War II years, and into her marriage and writing career.

Overlapping with many of Cleary's active years, but focused more on teenage girls, BETTY CAVANNA is another name that's no doubt familiar to many of you. She was the author of more than 70 children's books, sometimes referred to as "malt shop stories." According to a New York Times article here about the genre, Cavanna "tended to write about not-quite-pretty girls with artistic ambitions or interests like aviation or competitive skiing." Writing as Betsy Allen, she published a series of twelve mysteries for girls, beginning with The Clue in Blue (1948), and she also published several books as Elizabeth Headley, including a trio about a girl named Diane beginning with A Date for Diane (1946). 

Other Cavanna titles include The Black Spaniel Mystery (1945), Spurs for Suzanna (1947), A Girl Can Dream (1948), Catchpenny Street (1951), The Boy Next Door (1956), The Scarlet Sail (1959), A Touch of Magic (1961), Jenny Kimura (1964), Mystery in Marrakech (1968), Ghost of Ballyhooly (1971), Mystery of the Emerald Buddha (1976), The Surfer and the City Girl (1981), and Banner Year (1987). (Thanks to Julia and Constance for putting Cavanna and malt shop stories in general on my radar!)

Perhaps along the same lines, though her publishing career began much earlier, ALICE ROSS COLVER was the author of nearly 60 volumes of fiction, including girls' stories and romantic novels for adults. Her children's fiction includes three series focused on Babs (1918-1920), Jeanne (1920-1923), and Joan Foster (1942-1952). In the 1960s, she published three girls' career stories—Janet Moore, Physical Therapist (1965), Vicky Barnes, Junior Hospital Volunteer (1966), and Sally, Star Pianist (1968). 

Colver's first romantic novel for adults was The Dear Pretender (1924), and was followed by titles such as The Redheaded Goddess (1929), Modern Madonna (1932), Passionate Puritan (1933), Substitute Lover (1936), When There Is Love (1940), The Merrivales (1943), and The Parson (1951). She also published two historical novels, The Measure of the Years (1954) and There Is a Season (1957).

I debated about whether ALICE CHILDRESS belonged in this post or the next one, in which I'll discuss several authors whose fiction was engaged with social issues. Childress was a playwright, novelist, and children's author, but I decided to include her here because she is probably best known for her groundbreaking young adult novel A Hero Ain't Nothin' But a Sandwich (1973), which challenged the boundaries of children's fiction by centering around a 13-year-old heroin addict. The book was widely censored by schools, and became part of a Supreme Court case, but also earned wide acclaim for presenting the realities of inner-city life. The book was made into a movie in 1978.

Childress began her career as a playwright, directing and starring in her first one-act play, Florence (1949). Other notable plays include Gold Through the Trees (1952), Trouble in Mind (1955), for which she became the first African-American woman honored with an Obie award, Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story in Black and White (1966), When the Rattlesnake Sounds (1975), a play for young adults presenting Harriet Tubman working as a hotel domestic to raise funds for the Underground Railroad, and Moms (1987), about innovative black comedienne Jackie "Moms" Mabley. Her first fiction (which I read a few years ago and enjoyed very much), was Like One of the Family: Conversations from a Domestic's Life (1956), a series of fictional conversations between Mildred, an African-American domestic worker, and her friend Marge. That book was reprinted in 1986 and a new edition appeared in 2017 with an introduction by Roxane Gay. Another novel for adults, A Short Walk (1979), reprinted in 2006, traces a black woman's harrowing life through the first half of the 20th century. She continued to court controversy in her final children's title, Those Other People (1989), which deals, among other things, with rape and homosexuality.

Natalie Savage Carlson

NATALIE SAVAGE CARLSON can't quite compare to Childress in tackling controversial subjects, but her Newbery Honor book The Family Under the Bridge (1957, aka Under the Bridge) is set in Paris among the poor and homeless, which is more realism than many children's book of the time offered. Carlson was the author of nearly 40 children's books, some of which appear to be picture books for young children. A few others, however, seem to be for older readers, including Wings against the Wind (1955), Carnival in Paris (1962), Luigi of the Streets (1967, aka The Family on the Waterfront), Marchers for the Dream (1969), and Luvvy and the Girls (1971).

I'll need to add at least one of CORNELIA JAMES CANNON's books to my future list on the theme of pioneers and Western life. Cannon was a journalist, progressive activist, and author of six works of fiction, some or all aimed at older children. She was also influenced to some extent by Willa Cather, particularly in Red Rust (1928), about a pioneer community of Swedish immigrants in Minnesota, in which she took pains to show both the idyllic beauty of the landscapes and the harshness of pioneer life. That novels was also influenced by Cannon's own childhood in Minnesota. Four of Cannon's books—The Pueblo Boy (1926), The Pueblo Girl (1929), Lazaro in the Pueblos (1931), and The Fight for the Pueblo (1934)—deal with the Spanish conquest of the southwestern U.S. Her remaining title, Heirs (1930), is described by American National Biography as "a contribution to the nativism debate, depicted the confrontation between old and sophisticated but exhausted New Englanders and a vigorous pioneer race of Poles in a New Hampshire town." Cannon was an active proponent of birth control, and an unpublished final novel, Denial, deals with the tragedy of women under then-current birth control laws. According to her ANB entry, many of her writings remain unpublished, including narratives of her many travels and another, very early, unpublished novel, The Clan Betrays. Cannon's husband worked at the Harvard Medical School, so she lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts for most of her later life.

Hughie Call

HUGHIE CALL also wrote about the West, inspired by her own experiences. Golden Fleece (1942) is her autobiography of three decades as the wife of a sheep rancher in Montana. Her four children's titles—Rising Arrow (1950), Peter's Moose (1955), The Little Kingdom (1964), and The Shorn Lamb (1969), also deal with rural Western life and settings.

On the other hand, FRANCES CARPENTER seems to have written about the whole world. The author of numerous non-fiction works for children about geography and life in other countries, Carpenter's place on this list stems from her volumes of folk tales from various cultures, such as her "tales" series, including Tales of a Basque Grandmother (1930), Tales of a Russian Grandmother (1933), Tales of a Chinese Grandmother (1937), Tales of a Swiss Grandmother (1940), and Tales of a Korean Grandmother (1947). She also published an "Our Little Friends" series and a "Wonder Tales" series, as well as a late collection of Japanese folk tales, People from the Sky: Ainu Tales from Northern Japan (1972)

Yearbook photo showing Hazel Cole (right) with Storm Jameson

And finally, HAZEL COLE might not really belong among children's authors, but I didn't quite know where else to put her. She published a single novel, Maids Will Be Wives (1929), which traces a young woman's life from her college days through her children's leaving home. Perhaps it fits here in the sense that being a wife and mother could be seen as a career story? Cole was for many years an English professor at the Pennsylvania College for Women.

Now, it's not often that I get to include two sets of sister in a single update post, and it's even more infrequent that they are all at least somewhat intriguing. But that's the case with two five-letter pairs, the Chase and Chute sisters.

Not a great photo of this cover, and I don't see a
signature, but surely it's a Shirley Hughes?

MARY ELLEN CHASE was a college professor and author of nearly 40 books, including novels, children's books, memoirs, and non-fiction on religious themes and on the craft of writing. Her fiction was often set in her home state of Maine, and some was based on her own family history. Her most successful novel was Windswept (1941), a saga about a Maine family from the late 19th century to the beginning of World War II, though The Edge of Darkness (1957), centered around a Maine fishing village, was reportedly the author's favorite and is the one that intrigues me most. Other novels are Uplands (1927), Mary Peters (1934), Silas Crockett (1935), Dawn in Lyonesse (1938), The Plum Tree (1949), The Lovely Ambition (1960), and A Journey to Boston (1965). Her children's titles include The Girl from the Big Horn Country (1916), Mary Christmas (1926), The Silver Shell (1930), Sailing the Seven Seas (1958), Victoria: A Pig in a Pram (1963), and A Walk on an Iceberg (1966). Her memoirs are A Goodly Heritage (1932), A Goodly Fellowship (1939), and The White Gate: Adventures in the Imagination of a Child (1954). Chase taught at Smith College for nearly three decades, often spending her summers in England, which inspired her book This England (1936).

Her younger sister (by 15 years, no less), VIRGINIA CHASE, was a schoolteacher and lecturer, journalist, biographer, and author of four novels, also focused on Maine settings. The American House (1944), set in the early 1900s in a small town in Maine, deals humorously with a family's attempts to make a go of a misshapen hotel. I came across a copy a few years ago and found it entertaining but just a bit too episodic for my tastes. Discovery (1948) is about an empty-nester who becomes a nurses' aide in a city hospital. The End of the Week (1953) focuses on a group of elementary school teachers, presumably drawing from the author's own experiences (I admit that one is also tempting me). And One Crow, Two Crow (1971) is about the hardships of young love and marriage in working class Maine—Kirkus called it "[a] gently understated and wholly unaffected book which is easy to overlook but much harder come by with its radial appeal for all ages." The Knight of the Golden Fleece (1959) is a biography of William Phips, and early colonist of the Massachusetts, and Chase had earlier published The Writing of Modern Prose (1935). Speaking of Maine: Selections from the Writings of Virginia Chase appeared in 1983. Her husband, Wallace Perkins, was an inventor and executive at General Motors, who in retirement aided his wife in research for her work.

And now on to the Chute sisters. Here, the eldest, MARCHETTE CHUTE, is probably the better known. A biographer, playwright, and children's author, she is best known for her biographies of English literary figures, particularly Geoffrey Chaucer of England (1946) and Shakespeare of London (1949). She also used her specialized knowledge of those authors' time periods in two acclaimed children's novels, The Innocent Wayfaring (1943), set in 1370 Surrey, about the adventures of a young girl who has determined to run away to London to be an entertainer, and The Wonderful Winter (1954), about a young actor in Shakespeare's company. Chute also published children's poetry and non-fiction, as well as The First Liberty: A History of the Right to Vote in America 1619-1850 (1969).

Both of Marchette's children's titles are enticing me, but perhaps not quite as much as a couple of little sister's B. J. (BEATRICE JOY) CHUTE's novels. It was Julia, already mentioned above, who first drew my attention to this sister, and particularly to her most famous novel, Greenwillow (1956), about a village in which two ministers, the fire-and-brimstone Reverend Lapp and the nature-loving, feel-good Reverend Birdsong, influence a young man's romance. Greenwillow was made into a Broadway musical in 1960, with music by Frank Loesser of Guys and Dolls fame and featuring no lesser actor than Anthony Perkins!

From the review I read, it's not quite clear
how this one could have been marketed
as a Gothic romance.  Hmmmm...

I've also got my eye on her fourth novel, The Moon and the Thorn, about two long-alienated sisters whose tense reunion is influenced by the love affair of one of their daughters. Hmmm, long-alienated sisters. Was this entirely fiction, one wonders, or were the Chute's an earlier version of the famously tense relationship between A. S. Byatt and Margaret Drabble?

Beatrice was a professor of writing and author of a dozen volumes of fiction in all. She began by publishing numerous sports-themed stories for boys in periodicals like Boy's Life. Blocking Back (1938), Shattuck Cadet (1940), and Camp Hero (1942), are novels for boys, while Shift to the Right (1944) and Teen-age Sports Parade (1949) are collections of some of her periodical stories. During the same period, she also published some romantic periodical fiction. In 1950, Chute published the first of seven adult novels, The Fields Are White (1950), about a period of crisis in the life of a man frustrated with small town life. In addition to Greenwillow and The Moon and the Thorn, the others are The End of Loving (1953), The Story of a Small Life (1971), Katie: An Impertinent Fairy Tale (1978), and The Good Woman (1986). She also published two collections of her adult stories—The Blue Cup and Other Stories (1957) and One Touch of Nature and Other Stories (1965). Chute was a professor of writing at Barnard College for many years, volunteered with an NYPD program to help at-risk youths, and had six foster children from all over the world.

Et c'est tout!

Next time is a bit of a mixed bag. A couple of mainstream novelists of interest, a few "socially conscious" authors, a couple of chroniclers of urban life (to counteract all the pioneer authors!), a singularly non-prolific but highly experimental modernist, and a few other bits and pieces.


  1. Oh, Scott, as a former children's librarian, I am in LOVE! So many familiar names - some, alas, not so much read anymore - except Beverly Cleary! I think she will always be popular. We used to call her "the mistress of the ordinary," and meant that as a great compliment. Even now, when a child or a student of children's literature asks for "realistic fiction," she is the author we hand them!
    Betty Cavannah, mostly relegated to the referenece section of the Children's literature dept. although Natalie Carlson, well, every so often.
    As always, LOVE the cover at!
    Thanks, I really love this column!

    1. Thanks, Tom. I haven't read Cleary since I was about 9 years old, but I'm wondering if I should change that...

  2. That was Anthony Perkins in Greenwillow, rather than Anthony Hopkins. It is a lovely musical.

    1. Oh what a difference a syllable can make! Thanks, Patrick. I've made the correction above.

  3. Love some of that cover art! The Chute/Chaucer book gave me a shock because I owned that very edition when I was doing Chaucer for A-Level.
    When I was at school, everyone was reading Fifteen. That was a very long time ago.

    1. Oddly, I had a dream this morning about discovering a box of books that I hadn't seen in years and years, and feeling that shock of recollection. Wouldn't that be a lovely experience?

  4. I completely admire your scholarship and research. A fascinating list of writers and their work. I was an avid reader of books of books like this as a child here n England and I have to say i have not heard of one of these writers. I don't think any of them were published in the UK, which is pity because I would have loved Marchette Chute.

    1. Some of them must have appeared in the UK too, but yes, many of them wouldn't have. Now you know how I feel about many of the British authors whose books didn't appear here! :-)

  5. You've left out one of my very favorite B. J. Chute books--Journey to Christmas. It's novella, really. We re-read it every Christmas. Sort of a Christmas fairy tale about the effect of small kindnesses on other people. Although nothing can beat Greenwillow!

    1. Thanks for mentioning this, Joy. I had the title in my database, but you're right I didn't mention it in Chute's entry for some reason. I actually wasn't sure what it was, so I'm happy to know more about it, and I'll make a note to add it when I have a chance to revise the list. Thanks!

  6. In reference to the Chute sisters, you may be surprised to know that there were actually three. Mary Grace was the firstborn, then Marchette, then Joy. All three became prof'l writers. Mary Grace wrote hundreds of short stories for adults and was published in numerous magazines. She was best known for her Sheriff Olson stories in The Saturday Evening Post and a book collection of some of them. The three sisters were born in MN and moved with their mother to NYC in 1941. They were always close. Marchette and Joy lived together their whole lives, until Joy died in 1987. Mary Grace married and had a daughter and a son, who have shared their family insights with me.


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