Stories from the Hollow Tree and Big Deep Woods

News Flash from Things that are Not Important! I was thinking of a book some time ago and just came across it as I slowly organize bookshelves in our new house. It’s The Hollow Tree by Albert Bigelow Paine.

There are other paperbacks with more stories, but from looking at the publishing history I think that the original book from the 1890s which likely contained them all. And I just found the original on Project Gutenberg, so I’ll read that next and report back.

The edition I have is a paperback from the 70s, probably from a book from the Scholastic Book Fair in my elementary school in Detroit. It’s illustrated by Cyndy Szerkeres. In its short chapters – discrete but connected stories – we see Mr. Possum, Mr. Coon, and Mr. Crow, roommates in The Hollow Tree, as they meet up with friends and their sometime adversary, Mr. Dog.

The illustrations to these folksy animal fables are incredibly charming! I love them!

page from book showing mr crow and mr dog
Mr. Crow and Mr. Dog chat about their childhood talents and ambitions
Mr Crow faints
Mr. Crow pretends to faint to save himself from an embarrassing situation when his prank is turned back against him

The book popped into my mind because my partner has a hat that I think of as Mr. Dog’s hat. It isn’t exactly like it or like Mr. Possum’s hat but you can definitely see the similarities.

Mr Dog's Hat
Mr. Dog, in his hat, on a perch outside the Hollow Tree so that he can participate in a poetry club
liz and danny at dweb camp
Danny, wearing the Mr. Dog Hat

It’s wholesome without being nauseating – The animals play tricks on each other that can be a little mean, but that they end up resolving in friendship – They have dinners, picnics, and poetry readings. The poems are funny and express each animal’s personality perfectly.

mr rabbit reads a poem
Tiny marginal drawing of Mr. Rabbit declaiming his poem

As I read the stories over this morning it hit me that this is where I learned there aren’t any easy rhymes for “silver” or “orange”. Weird facts that seep into your brain early and stick there!

The author, Albert Paine, wrote biographies and children’s stories. He edited St. Nicholas Magazine (for children). In the early 1900s he worked with Samuel Clemens (ie Mark Twain), wrote several biographies of him, and became his literary executor.

I also looked up the illustrator, Cyndy Szekeres. What an interesting career she has! I am very curious which Little Golden Books she illustrated – I read a ton of those, including all the ones my mom and aunts had as children in the 1950s. A cursory search shows me a lot of fluffy, happy little mice and so on, good, but far from the disreputable joy of the patched-trousers Mr. Possum!

mr coon, mr possum, mr crow
The three friends embrace with happiness at their plan to run a hollow tree boarding house

The original illustrations were by J.M. Condé. I think I have other books with his drawings, somewhere. Szekeres stayed very true to the characters in her later illustrations!

illustration from 1890s of crow and coon
Mr Coon and Mr Crow drawn by J.M. Condé

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