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"Graham Greene wrote children's books!"

Posted by Christopher Shea  May 20, 2010 08:37 AM

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"We Too Were Children, Mr. Barrie" is a new blog devoted to a specific literary niche: little known and hard-to-find children's books by "adult" authors. "After years of finding children's books tucked away in authors' bibliographies (Graham Greene wrote children's books!), followed by quick disappointment (how can they be out of print?), I realized that I was having this same frustrating revelation over and over," writes Ariel S. Winter, the blog's Baltimore-based author.

Winter's first post discussed "The Cat and the Devil," a story by James Joyce that originally appeared in a letter to his grandson Stevie, in 1936, and was subsequently published as a picture book in 1964 and 1981 (and also in 1978, in France). James Baldwin, the African American essayist and novelist, tried his hand at a book for children in 1976, with "Little Man Little Man." Like his breakthrough novel "Go Tell it on the Mountain," it told the story of a young boy in Harlem; somewhat controversially, it made use of what would later be called "ebonics." ("TJ bounce his ball against the sidewalk as hard as he can.")

The most amusing example so far is "The Widow and the Parrot," which Virginia Woolf contributed to a newspaper run by her teenage nephews, Julian and Quentin Bell. "We had hoped vaguely for something as funny, as subversive, and as frivolous as Virginia's conversation," Quentin Bell wrote in 1988. "She sent us an 'improving' story with a moral, based on the very worst Victorian examples." In the story, a widow learns that her brother has died, leaving a fortune, but the money is nowhere to be found. The woman does find his pet parrot, left alone in his house. Later, after the house burns down, the parrot leads her to the riches, buried behind bricks, and the two live happily ever after. "Such," Woolf wrote, absurdly, "is the reward of kindness to animals."

Winter writes that he hopes to turn the material unearthed for the blog, whose title pays homage to the author of "Peter Pan," into a book.

Woolf+-+Widow+and+Parrot+-+001.jpg
A 1988 edition of "The Widow and the Parrot"
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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

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Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.

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