MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMB
BOARD BOOK
written by Sarah Josepha Hale and illustrated by Tomie dePaola
G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 2004
ISBN 0-399-24221-X (Board Book)

Notes on MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMB BOARD BOOK by Tomie...

Years ago, in the mid-1970's, I was living in Wilmot Flat, New Hampshire (near New London, where I now live) and I suddenly became aware of a "literary award" given by the town of Newport, New Hampshire, 16 miles from Wilmot Flat.

The award was named after Sarah Josepha Hale. It was certainly not without merit.

Sarah Josepha Hale had been born in the nearby village of Guild (pronounced "guile"), home of the recently closed Dorr Woolen Mill. Her brother went north to Dartmouth College and the story goes that when he came home every weekend, he shared his newfound knowledge and information with Sarah.

As young ladies did in the late 1700's, early 1800's, Sarah married, moved to the "big" town of Newport, bore children, wrote poetry, became a widow, moved to Philadelphia and was hired to be the first "FEMALE" editor (in the USA) of Godey's Lady's Book and became VERY FAMOUS!

I like that. Small-time girl becomes educated behind closed doors, goes on to fame and fortune - AND controversy!!! How? you might ask.

Well, here's my favorite part.

The great Italo-American poet John Ciardi was going to be given the SJH Award in 1976. I went over (20 minutes or so by car) to the Richards Free Library and its adjoining Library Arts Center to get a signed book.

I already knew the librarian, Jean Michie. (What a surprise!)

It was a northern New England festive event - punch, cookies, politeness - read quiet.

 

Ciardi and I started talking louder and louder and then laughing. I don't remember why - but maybe two Italo-Americans (in my case, part Italo-American) in Newport, New Hampshire needed to laugh.

I came home with a signed book (he spelled my first name wrong) and info about SJH.

She - in certain circles - is credited with writing "Mary Had a Little Lamb."

A-HA! But, here's the exciting part! In Sterling, Massachusetts, a woman claimed that she was THE Mary and some dour (my word) minister had written the poem - SCANDAL, SCANDAL.

 

I read ALL the articles of controversy at Richards Free Library. OK, so Henry Ford moved a one-room schoolhouse from Sterling to Sudbury, Massachusetts - adding more fuel to the fire - years after SJH was dead. (Mary Sawyer in Sterling claimed a lamb followed her to the one-room schoolhouse. She said a man wrote a poem about the event.)

SJH swore on her deathbed that she was the sole author of the poem. That was good enough for me.

I shared all of this information with Margery Cuyler, my editor at Holiday House. We agreed to produce a picture book of the poem and credit SJH as the AUTHOR - what fun!

I went to Newport and sketched actual buildings that would have been in Newport at the time of SJH. I even put a portrait of sorts on the title page of an 1850's-1860's lady writing at a desk with a toy lamb pull-toy near her.

 

And guess what? I ADDED to the controversy. Letters poured in - well, OK, dribbled in - correcting me about the "TRUTH." I sent them to the Richards Free Library whose staff enjoyed answering them.

I DON'T WANT ANY MORE LETTERS ABOUT WHO WROTE "MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMB."

My picture book, no longer in print from Holiday House, was re-issued in January as a board book by G. P. Putnam's Sons.

Meanwhile, all of the lovely buildings I used in my illustrations are still in Newport looking better than ever.

Two last things. I'VE never won the SJH Award although there is a Tomie dePaola/Strega Nona Storytelling Room at the Richards Free Library.

But, this is more important! Sarah Josepha Hale, due to a tireless letter-writing campaign convinced President Abraham Lincoln to declare a Thursday in November as the National Holiday of Thanksgiving! (She must have liked turkey.)

Sarah Josepha Hale ROCKS!!!

 
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