Ding Dong School: before Mister Rogers & Sesame Street

Miss Frances Ding Dong School
“Miss Frances”

The day after Labor Day was always the first day of school in Michigan. One of my earliest memories is of my older sister, Terri, heading out for school the year I must have been four. I can see myself sitting in the bay window of our living room, and she alerted me that she was leaving for school, but mentioned how “lucky” I was that I got to stay home and watch “Ding Dong School” on television.

It all seemed rather dubious to me, since I WAS looking forward to kindergarten the next year, but it was kind of her to make the attempt. My mother looked on and seemed to be trying to gauge my response. I suppose it was hard for me to face summer’s end and be the only child remaining at home, since my younger brother was not yet born.

I DID love the show, however, and since we only had clear reception of one network in our little town in Northern, Lower Michigan, I was lucky that it ran on NBC through 1956 (followed by syndication for some years after). The presenter, Dr. Frances Horwich, known to the young viewers as our teacher, “Miss Frances,” had a calm, soothing voice that seemed to be aimed directly at me. The show always began with her ringing the large school bell, of course. She read books to us, presented various types of interesting lessons, and demonstrated art projects. Children often sent their drawings and other works in to the show, and Miss Frances would sometimes share those, as well.

a suitcase with a surprise

Sources reveal that she was an experienced educator, but had very little familiarity with working in front of the camera. From a kid’s point of view, the show felt very natural and real, as if I was actually there in her classroom. Due to the show’s popularity, many different types of products carrying the “Ding Dong School” name became available, like finger paints, balloons, valentines, and records. I don’t remember having any of those, but we did own some of the “Golden Books,” such as these shown. Titles often focused on family, community, and the use of imagination in play.

The Big Coal Truck

My afternoon kindergarten the following year paled in comparison, naturally. With a large room full of actual children and no helpers that I can remember, I’m sure that our teacher had her hands too full to give us much individualized attention. I kind of missed those mornings spent at home in our sunny living room, with my mom nearby and Miss Frances talking to me out of the black-and-white television like I was the only kid in the world. Little did I know at the time that my future would also find me as a teacher in the classroom with young children.

When Ebay was still a novelty, I often looked up collectibles that interested me. One day, I saw some of Frances Horwich’s personal items related to the show up for auction, following her death, such as a custom-made chair with her name on it, her collection of school bells, and awards that she had received. I did some research and learned that she and her husband had no children, so I suppose there was no one in particular to leave these types of things in a will. At first this seemed very sad, that her belongings would simply go to the highest unknown bidders on the Internet. After giving this some more thought, however, I realized how insignificant “things” really are and how many thousands of individuals, like myself, remembered this woman for providing them with a pleasant first education experience. That seemed much more important, in the grand scheme of things.

~Becky

Collectible Stickers from Roller Rinks of the Past with “Atlas Obscura”

Growing up in the small town of Tawas City, Michigan, in the early to mid-1960’s, Friday night at the East Tawas Rollerdrome was THE place to go! My best friend, Jean, and I practiced skating without falling down and flirting with boys who were also trying to act cool and make it around the rink without hitting the wooden floor. If I close my eyes, I can still hear the rumble of wheels, smell the dust, and also hear the corny music, which thankfully evolved into “by request,” for teens who were willing to bring their own records from home. Here’s an image of the sticker from that establishment of long ago.rollerdrome

Now, on to the great article at “Atlas Obscura” that initiated this blast from the past!       ~Becky

Talking with Kids about Climate Change

After reading this week that some of Earth’s “old” polar ice is breaking up for the first time on record and that the current administration plans to further relax the pollution rules, I felt frustration beginning to boil. What to do? Write about it! No, I’m not going to write a children’s book about climate change (at least not now:) but I AM going to tell you about several good literature choices that are available. These books can help you broach this topic with our young and up-coming scientists, activists, and caretakers of the Earth.

 

The Tantrum that Saved the World is by Megan Herbert (writer and illustrator) and Michael E. Mann (climate scientist). This rhyming book is available in hardcover and e-book from World Saving Books in Amsterdam. In the story, various people and animals who have been displaced by climate change come knocking. They don’t just want a place to stay, though; they want to get busy and make a change!

The story is easy to understand for young children, and the colorful illustrations add to the enjoyment. Toward the end of the book, you’ll find informational pages about the science of climate change that will add even more depth for somewhat older readers. The print book includes an action plan poster, and the e-book version offers a PDF of the poster, as well. Bill Nye the Science Guy recommends this book, which is certainly high praise.

 

The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge is just one of the adventures in this science series for kids written by Joanna Cole and illustrated by Bruce Degen. As a teacher, I loved sharing these stories of Ms. Frizzle and her class with my own enthusiastic students.

This particular book from the series explains in a kid-friendly way just why the Earth is getting warmer and explores what the children can do about the situation! The lively illustrations tell even more of the story beyond the text. Available in hardcover, paperback, and audio.

I’m wondering if any of you have read and discussed either of these books with your own children or students. If so, I would love to hear about the experience. In addition, please feel free to share any other titles on the topic of climate change geared toward young kids all the way up through YA! 

~Becky

Reblog about Orangutans and Deforestation for Palm Oil

From Chris the Story Reading Ape’s Blog-

Make sure that you go back to the original source to see the animation. Not only is this an important message, but it’s a lovely children’s story, as well! ~ Becky

Originally posted on Life & Soul Magazine: Greenpeace has hit out at big brands including Unilever, Nestlé and Mondelez for their role in deforestation for palm oil, by launching a powerful animation that shows how orangutans are being pushed to the brink of extinction due to the palm oil crisis. The short animation, voiced by English…

via Rang-Tan: Greenpeace launch animated story to raise awareness of the story of dirty palm oil — Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog

Lighthouses I have Known and Loved

tawas lighthouse

National Lighthouse Day can’t sneak past me without a mention of my experiences with those stately structures. I didn’t truly understand, while growing up in a small town on the shores of Lake Huron, in Michigan, how lucky I was to have such easy access to Tawas Bay and the beautiful lake, with its moaning fog horn and elegant lighthouse. Years ago, the light wasn’t open to visitors, as it is now, but I loved the hot summer days when my parents would drive all the way out to the end of Tawas Point so that my siblings and I could gawk. Many a rainy night I fell asleep to the comforting sounds of the foghorn, in the distance.

lake_huron lighthouse map
As an added bonus, we often traveled north along the lake shore toward Rogers City, to visit relatives. This gave us a chance to view several other pretty lighthouses along the way, such as the one at Sturgeon Point, and when we reached our destination, near Forty Mile Point.

 

Michigan isn’t the only state to sport lovely lighthouses, of course. I had the opportunity to visit several that are situated along the Atlantic coast of the United States while living in North Carolina, such as the lights of Bodie Island (left) and Cape Hatteras (right). Quite the tourist destinations.

Bodie Island light NC                                      north carolina lighthouse

Years later, when a teaching job brought me back to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I discovered an entirely new group of lighthouses to explore along the shores of Lake Superior. Several that had become private enterprises, such as at Sand Bay and Big Bay, even rented out rooms to overnight guests, which was great fun!

One of my favorite Michigan lighthouses, and possibly the last one I visited before moving to Texas, is pictured below at Ontanogan. It offers an impressive museum area to show visitors what life might have been like for early “keepers of the light.”

lighthouse Ontanogan

Although my writing was prompted by our country’s National Lighthouse Day, the title of this piece also opens its arms to encompass an important spot in Ontario, Canada, as well. I spent several lovely vacations there, near Bruce Mines (below), and couldn’t complete this post without including that memory.

lighthouse in Bruce Bay Canada

Critique Group: what we bring to the table

 

The first Wednesday evening of each month finds me at the local library rearranging the tables for critique group. This gathering of writers and illustrators for children’s works has taken place for about 18 months, now, and has evolved a great deal during that time. Attendees come and go with their own particular needs, which is to be anticipated with this type of group, and a usual core of ‘regulars’ shows up on a dependable basis.

Members include those who are traditionally and self-published, in addition to those who are seeking their first publication, or who might just enjoy the process of writing. We share our works in progress, give voice to our successes and disappointments, offer praise and helpful advice, in addition to discussing common concerns related to our craft and industry.

I think that the biggest change I have seen during this time is the wide variety of creations that those attending bring in to read, show, and discuss. Yes, writers still share complete and partial picture books or chapter book texts. In addition, we’ve mulled over many a query letter and just had our first taste of a press release, as well. Illustrations now run the gamut from sketches to full-color renderings and include those to be used in picture books, magazine/newspaper stories, social media banners, and for pure inspiration!

Bottom line, there’s a great deal of “work” and communication that needs attention, beyond the specific written and/or illustrated products that we hope to publish. Within our ranks, we’re finding a supportive environment for ALL of those needs, and we’re each adding to or reinforcing our personal knowledge with every new encounter.

I can hardly wait to see what the second half of this year brings!

If YOU belong to a critique group, I would love to read comments about the types of works that are shared.

~Becky~

 

Recipe Notebook from the Past

Laurium House
Vintage photo of unknown neighbors and what years later would become my home. The border is formed from wallpaper recovered within the kitchen walls!

Decades ago, my former husband and I bought a fixer-upper home that had been built around 1900 in a small town of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The house needed tons of work, and we basically lived upstairs while we began remodeling the first floor. When I say “we,” I mean mainly that he did the carpentry, and I cleaned up during and after the work was completed.

Since the kitchen was on the first floor and needed to be functional as soon as possible, that room was one of the priorities. While taking out the drawers in the kitchen for painting and new hardware, a small notebook was found jammed into the deep, dark depths of a cabinet. The booklet’s pages were somewhat discolored, and the brown, waxed cover bore the words “Memorandum Book.”

Within those lined pages, I discovered a delightful collection of handwritten recipes and helpful household hints. Some of them were even affixed with what must have been the names of the owner’s friends who had shared, as I recognized several of the last names of families living in that and the neighboring town. The penmanship style was similar to that of my mother or aunts who reliably sent letters to keep up on family news. I felt like I had struck gold.

Many of the recipes were desserts, although some were of casseroles or various types of vegetable and meat dishes. Two different versions of the Cornish meat pie regional specialty called the “pasty” were offered. Household hints ranged from a mixture that could be used to soften a hardened paintbrush to a home remedy for cough syrup.

When we said “goodbye” to that house some years later, the notebook found a new home in my paternal grandmother’s wooden recipe box and left with me.

I was recently encouraged to see that an online author acquaintance, Karen Musser Nortman, had put out a call for camping and/or Upper Peninsula recipes to accompany her current Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mystery, which is set in the area. I’m happy to say that the directions I submitted for pasties, “cry baby” cookies, and pasta sauce, all copied from that old notebook, now appear in the fiction book, Real Actors, Not People. What a fun way to recycle a few of those rescued recipes!

~Becky~