Monday, April 25, 2016

Thornton Burgess (#atozchallenge)

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I let this #atozchallenge get away from me! I should be on "U" today, but I'm only up to "T." Sorry about that! I may have to skip a letter and just catch up. We will see. I spent my blogging time over the weekend attempting to learn Tunisian crochet. It was...interesting.

One of the first books I read with my girls after discovering Charlotte Mason, and the wonderful curriculum at Ambleside Online, was The Burgess Bird Book for Children by Thornton Burgess. They remember it well, and speak fondly of it whenever it comes up. The following year, we read The Burgess Animal Book for Children, and enjoyed that one, as well. This is another author I look for at thrift stores and used book sales. I have quite a few, though not nearly all, of his books.

Those two books, and others by Mr. Burgess are shining examples of what makes a living book. A living book is defined, generally, as being written in a narrative style, by one author who is passionate about the subject. My friend Emily, at Living Books Library, said a living book teaches "truth cloaked in beautiful language." If you want to experience a living book for the first time, you can safely start with anything by Thornton Burgess.

In those books, as well as The Burgess Flower Book for Children, Peter Rabbit is the main character. In the bird book, Jenny Wren introduces him to various species of birds. He learns where they like to live, what they like to eat, and which species have differentiated plumage for males and females. In the animal book, Peter goes to school where Mother West Wind is the teacher, and learns about different animals, their diets, and their habitats. In the flower book, the Merry Little Breezes take Peter to the very first flower of spring–the skunk cabbage–and then to other flowers as they bloom. You learn where you might find them and when they bloom in the spring. It's an ingenious way to teach children about nature.

In The Burgess Seashore Book for Children (sorry, I haven't been able to find this one online), Danny Meadow Mouse goes to the seashore and meets all kinds of creatures. I haven't actually read this one, though I wish I had, so that we could have looked for the things described when we visited the ocean in North Carolina.

Thornton Burgess was born in Sandwich, MA in 1874. He was raised by his mother after his father passed away the year he was born. They were not wealthy, and Thornton worked year round to help earn money. He did a lot of jobs that required being outdoors, like picking arbutus and berries, and trapping muskrat. One of his employers lived on property with amazing wetland and woodland habitat for wildlife, which became the setting for many of his stories. In 1925, he bought a home in Hampden, MA, which he made his permanent residence in 1957, and lived there until he died in 1965. It's now the Laughing Brook Nature Center, thanks to the Massachusetts Audubon Society. Mr. Burgess was active in many conservation efforts, which you can read about here.

In addition to the Books for Children, he wrote many others. You can see a complete bibliography here.

There are some wonderful homeschooling resources for the bird and animal books:
If you decide you need a large collection of Burgess stories RIGHT NOW, check out this collection of 26 books from Dover. Project Gutenberg also has several of his books available free online.


  1. This author is new to me, but who doesn't love Peter Rabbit? So I'll give Mr. Burgess a look. Funny that you were occupied by Tunisian crochet on a T day - since you didn't blog about it, I better Google :)

    1. :-D I may blog about Tunisian crochet, but I'm still not sure how I feel about it. It's a bizarre hybrid of knitting and traditional crochet. You use these crazy long hooks (Apparently also known as afghan hooks) and each row requires two passes. You pick up stitches on the hook on the first pass, and work them off on the second. It's not all that hard, really, but the shawl I was attempting was frustrating me so I'm starting with a different project that will hopefully be a little easier and give me some practice. If you do Google it, let me know what you think! Do you knit or crochet?

      You WILL like Thornton Burgess. I just love his stories, and thankfully, my kids do too. It's always better when they like what I want to read to them, LOL.

  2. Sorry for the delay - just now catching up after the challenge. Looking at the images on the Tunisian crochet, it looks lovely! I like the larger pattern or weave or whatever is the technical term. As you can tell, I don't knit. I've tried it, as well as crochet. I really like it but my handwork is usually more keyboard-related :)

    1. I confess that I aborted my attempt at Tunisian crochet. I love to knit, and I *can* crochet, but I don't like it much. I decided I don't have time to invest in a new handicraft right now. My friend who introduced me to Tunisian crochet is going to make the shawl I was attempting, because she's awesome like that. :-)