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12 Famous Authors Who Also Wrote for Children

Sometimes you just want to be a kid again. These literary luminaries quietly tried their hands at writing children’s stories. (Caution: spoilers!)

1. James Joyce

Original scan by Maria Popova/Brain Pickings

James Joyce wrote some of the most influential—and impenetrable—literature of the 20th century. When he wasn’t doing that, he wrote about cats.

In 1936, Joyce mailed two stories to his grandson, Stephen. The tales would later be published as children’s books: The Cat and the Devil and The Cats of Copenhagen. The Cat and the Devil, a riff off a French fable, posthumously became Joyce’s first picture book in 1964. In it, a mayor hires the devil to build a bridge. The devil agrees under one condition: he owns the first soul that crosses. When the devil finishes, the mayor tosses a cat across the bridge, sealing the deal and leaving Lucifer with a pet.

Joyce’s second story, The Cats of Copenhagen, was published in 2012. Here’s a page:

2. e. e. cummings

e. e. cummings wrote around 2900 poems, two novels, and countless essays. He also wrote four stories for his daughter Nancy, which were published in a 1965 collection called Fairy Tales. The stories include The Old Man Who Said "Why", The Elephant and the Butterfly, and The House that Ate Mosquito Pie. The most playful yarn, however, may be The Little Girl named I—an experiment with nouns. At the end, the girl named “I” meets a girl named “you.”

3. Upton Sinclair

Upton Sinclair was once called “a man with every gift except humor and silence.” Sinclair poured his life’s work into criticizing society and politics, but he still found room for fun. In 1936, the muckraker released The Gnomobile: A Gnice Gnew Gnarrative with Gnonsense, but Gnothing Gnaughty.

A girl named Elizabeth discovers the last two gnomes living in the Redwood Forest. The gnomes—Bobo and Glogo—distrust “big people” because they cut trees and destroy gnome homes. After gaining their trust, Elizabeth drives her pointy-hatted friends across the country to find other gnomes. Sinclair couldn’t help but moralize, subtly scolding industrialization and pollution along the way. In 1967, Walt Disney turned Sinclair’s tale into a movie.

4. Ernest Hemingway

In 1951, Holiday Magazine published Hemingway’s only stories for children: The Good Lion and The Faithful Bull. Hemingway likely wrote both fables for Adriana Ivancich (his Venetian love interest) and her nephew.

The Good Lion follows a winged, pasta-eating lion. He visits Africa, where he's bullied by other lions for being different. The big cat, however, never bites back. He stays cheerful, eventually flying away from his bullies in Hemingway style:

"Adios," he said, for he spoke beautiful Spanish, being a lion of culture.

The Faithful Bull is a parody of Munro Leaf’s The Story of Ferdinand, a tale about a bull who’d rather smell flowers than fight. Hemingway opens swinging:

One time there was a bull and his name was not Ferdinand and he cared nothing for flowers. He loved to fight and he fought with all the other bulls of his own age, or any age, and he was a champion.

The bull is later sent to pasture to breed, where he falls in love with a beautiful cow. His true love, however, is bullfighting, so he returns—only to be killed by a matador.

5. Aldous Huxley

Thirteen years after writing Brave New World, Aldous Huxley penned a story for his 5-year-old niece called The Crows of Pearblossom. Four years after Huxley died, Random House published the tale as a picture book. The story follows Mr. and Mrs. Crow and their neighbor, Mr. Snake, who always steals and eats their eggs. One day, the Crows leave fake eggs in their nest. When Mr. Snake eats the eggs, he gets a bad stomachache and dies.

6. John Updike

John Updike wrote dozens of novels and won two Pulitzer Prizes for literature. Most, however, forget the five children’s books on his resume: A Helpful Alphabet of Friendly Objects, Bottom’s Dream, The Magic Flute, The Ring, and A Child’s Calendar.

In A Helpful Alphabet, Updike wrote a poem about 26 everyday objects—one for each letter of the alphabet—which his son photographed. Here’s letter K:

“A knot is a thing that happens to string, sometimes on purpose and sometimes not. To undo one is hard for a grownup or tot. The eyes and the fingernails must puzzle it away. Another puzzle: why is it spelled with a K?”

Three of Updike’s other children’s books—Bottom’s Dream, The Magic Flute, and The Ring—are playful adaptations of music by Mendelssohn, Mozart, and Wagner. His fifth book, A Child’s Calendar, is a collection of 12 poems, one for each month.

7. Salman Rushdie

After The Satanic Verses, Rushdie’s nine-year-old son, Zafar, scolded his father for never writing anything for children. Rushdie promised to write a kid-friendly book soon; two years later, he published Haroun and the Sea of Stories. The whimsical narrative follows Rashid, a professional storyteller who lost his ability to tell tales. Haroun, Rashid’s son, takes his father on an adventure, hoping to re-inspire him. The fantastical book emphasizes one theme: stories are the building blocks of your identity.

In 2010, Rushdie wrote a book for young adults, Luka and the Fire of Life.

8. Umberto Eco

Philosopher Umberto Eco is best known for his novel Foucault’s Pendulum, but he also wrote a trio of children’s books: The Three Astronauts, The Bomb and the General, and The Gnomes of Gnu.

All three books are subtly political. The Three Astronauts teaches lessons in tolerance and multiculturalism. Like a bad bar joke, an American, Russian, and Chinese astronaut walk onto a distant planet and discover they’re not so different. The Bomb and the General preaches pacifism. The story spotlights sentient atoms stuffed inside an atomic bomb. The particles are sad, so in the dead of night, they escape. When the weapon drops, nothing happens, and humans give up on war. The Gnomes of Gnu is Eco’s environmental fable. As earth’s climate changes, a space explorer searches for a new planet. He discovers the planet Gnu and meets native space gnomes. The gnomes reject human “civilization” because it already ruined one planet.

9. T.S. Eliot

Like Joyce, T.S. Eliot couldn’t resist a good cat story. In the early 1930s, Eliot mailed multiple cat tales to his godchildren, writing under the pseudonym Old Possum. In 1939, those stories were published in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Here’s an excerpt.

I have a Gumbie Cat in mind, her name is Jennyanydots;
Her coat is of the tabby kind, with tiger strips and
Leopard spots
All day she sits upon the stair on the steps or on the mat
She sits and sits and sits and sits—and that’s what makes
A Gumbie Cat!

Andrew Lloyd Webber called Practical Cats a “childhood favorite,” and it inspired his long-running musical, CATS.

10. Gertrude Stein

In 1938, Young Scott Books asked a handful of famous authors if they would try writing a children’s book. Most refused, but Gertrude Stein happily agreed: She had a half-written manuscript already sitting in her desk. The draft became The World is Round, a symbolic adventure about a girl who tries to make sense of the world. Here’s a taste:

Once upon a time the world was round and you could go on it around and around. Everywhere there was somewhere and everywhere there were men women children dogs cows wild pigs little rabbits cats lizards and animals. That is the way it was. And everybody dogs cats sheep rabbits and lizards and children all wanted to tell everybody all about it and they wanted to tell all about themselves.

Rambling but philosophical, Stein even planted her famous phrase “A rose is a rose is a rose,” which she regularly sprinkled in her work. In The World is Round, the girl—named Rose—carves it around a tree, forming an endless loop.

11. James Baldwin

James Baldwin’s novel Go Tell It On The Mountain is the story of a boy growing up in Harlem. Baldwin’s children’s book, Little Man Little Man, tells a similar tale. A 4-year old named TJ—based on Baldwin’s young nephew—plays ball in the streets. The story is a collage of his observations, written in a style that “blends black English and child’s talk.” Here’s an excerpt:

“A couple of times a car almost run him over. That ain’t nothing. He going to be a bigger star than Hank Aaron one of these days. Soon as he gets a little bit older, he going to jump the roofs.”

12. Leo Tolstoy

Original scan by Maria Popova/Brain Pickings

Tolstoy loved kids. At 21, the aristocrat opened a school for peasants on his estate. While writing Anna Karenina, he started working on schoolbooks for his students. Tolstoy wrote about his childhood, adapted Aesop’s Fables and Hindu stories, and penned playful fairy tales like Ivan the Fool and The Pheasant and the Cucumbers. When Tolstoy finished, he read the tales to his toughest critics—the tots at his schools. He asked them for pointers and reworked the stories until the tough crowd softened. Tolstoy eventually published the stories in two primers, the ABC Book and the New ABC Book, which became staples at Russian schools.

Interested in what other authors cooked up? Visit the blog We Too Were Children, Mr. Barrie.

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Animals
15 Incredible Facts About Pigeons
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Though they're often described as "rats with wings" (a phrase popularized by the movie Stardust Memories), pigeons are actually pretty cool. From homing instincts to misleading rump feathers, here are 15 things you might not know about these avian adventurers.

1. THEY MIGHT BE THE FIRST DOMESTICATED BIRD.

The common city pigeon (Columba livia), also known as the rock pigeon, might be the first bird humankind ever domesticated. You can see them in art dating back as far as 4500 BCE in modern Iraq, and they've been a valuable source of food for thousands of years.

2. THEY WON OVER CHARLES DARWIN—AND NIKOLA TESLA.

Pigeon-breeding was a common hobby in Victorian England for everyone from well-off businessmen to average Joes, leading to some fantastically weird birds. Few hobbyists had more enthusiasm for the breeding process than Charles Darwin, who owned a diverse flock, joined London pigeon clubs, and hobnobbed with famous breeders. Darwin's passion for the birds influenced his 1868 book The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication, which has not one but two chapters about pigeons (dogs and cats share a single chapter).

Nikola Tesla was another great mind who enjoyed pigeons. He used to care for injured wild pigeons in his New York City hotel room. Hands down, Tesla's favorite was a white female—about whom he once said, "I loved that pigeon, I loved her as a man loves a woman and she loved me. When she was ill, I knew and understood; she came to my room and I stayed beside her for days. I nursed her back to health. That pigeon was the joy of my life. If she needed me, nothing else mattered. As long as I had her, there was a purpose in my life." Reportedly, he was inconsolable after she died.

3. THEY UNDERSTAND SPACE AND TIME.

In a 2017 Current Biology study, researchers showed captive pigeons a series of digital lines on a computer screen for either two or eight seconds. Some lines were short, measuring about 2.3 inches across; others were four times longer. The pigeons were trained to evaluate either the length of the line or how long it was displayed. They found that the more time a line was displayed, the longer in length the pigeon judged it to be. The reverse was true too: If the pigeons encountered a longer line, they thought it existed in time for a greater duration. Pigeons, the scientists concluded, understand the concepts of both time and space; the researchers noted "similar results have been found with humans and other primates."

It's thought that humans process those concepts with a brain region called the parietal cortex; pigeon brains lack that cortex, so they must have a different way of judging space and time.

4. THEY CAN FIND THEIR WAY BACK TO THE NEST FROM 1300 MILES AWAY.

A pigeon flying in front of trees.
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The birds can do this even if they've been transported in isolation—with no visual, olfactory, or magnetic clues—while scientists rotate their cages so they don't know what direction they're traveling in. How they do this is a mystery, but people have been exploiting the pigeon's navigational skills since at least 3000 BCE, when ancient peoples would set caged pigeons free and follow them to nearby land.

Their navigational skills also make pigeons great long-distance messengers. Sports fans in ancient Greece are said to have used trained pigeons to carry the results of the Ancient Olympics. Further east, Genghis Khan stayed in touch with his allies and enemies alike through a pigeon-based postal network.

5. THEY SAVED THOUSANDS OF HUMAN LIVES DURING WORLD WARS I AND II.

Pigeons' homing talents continued to shape history during the 20th century. In both World Wars, rival nations had huge flocks of pigeon messengers. (America alone had 200,000 at its disposal in WWII.) By delivering critical updates, the avians saved thousands of human lives. One racing bird named Cher Ami completed a mission that led to the rescue of 194 stranded U.S. soldiers on October 4, 1918.

6. TWO PIGEONS ALMOST DISTRACTED FROM THE DISCOVERY OF EVIDENCE OF THE BIG BANG.

In 1964, scientists in Holmdel, New Jersey, heard hissing noises from their antenna that would later prove to be signals from the Big Bang. But when they first heard the sound, they thought it might be, among other things, the poop of two pigeons that were living in the antenna. "We took the pigeons, put them in a box, and mailed them as far away as we could in the company mail to a guy who fancied pigeons," one of the scientists later recalled. "He looked at them and said these are junk pigeons and let them go and before long they were right back." But the scientists were able to clean out the antenna and determine that they had not been the cause of the noise. The trap used to catch the birds (before they had to later be, uh, permanently removed) is on view at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.

7. YOU CAN TRAIN THEM TO BE ART SNOBS …

Japanese psychologist Shigeru Watanabe and two colleagues earned an Ig Nobel Prize in 1995 for training pigeons, in a lab setting, to recognize the paintings of Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso and to distinguish between the painters. The pigeons were even able to use their knowledge of impressionism and cubism to identify paintings of other artists in those movements. Later, Watanabe taught other pigeons to distinguish watercolor images from pastels. And in a 2009 experiment, captive pigeons he'd borrowed were shown almost two dozen paintings made by students at a Tokyo elementary school, and were taught which ones were considered "good" and which ones were considered "bad." He then presented them with 10 new paintings and the avian critics managed to correctly guess which ones had earned bad grades from the school's teacher and a panel of adults. Watanabe's findings indicate that wild pigeons naturally categorize things on the basis of color, texture, and general appearance.

8. … AND TO DISTINGUISH WRITTEN WORDS.

In a 2016 study, scientists showed that pigeons can differentiate between strings of letters and actual words. Four of the birds built up a vocabulary of between 26 and 58 written English words, and though the birds couldn't actually read them, they could identify visual patterns and therefore tell them apart. The birds could even identify words they hadn't seen before.

9. FLUFFY PIGEON FEET MIGHT ACTUALLY BE PARTIAL WINGS.

A white pigeon with curly feathers and fluffy feet.
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A few pigeon breeds have fuzzy legs—which hobbyists call "muffs"—rather than scaly ones. According to a 2016 study, the DNA of these fluffy-footed pigeons leads their hind legs to take on some forelimb characteristics, making muffed pigeon legs look distinctly wing-like; they're also big-boned. Not only do they have feathers, but the hindlimbs are somewhat big-boned, too. According to biologist Mike Shapiro, who led the study, "pigeons' fancy feathered feet are partially wings."

10. SOME PIGEONS DISTRACT FALCONS WITH WHITE RUMP FEATHERS.

In a life-or-death situation, a pigeon's survival could depend upon its color pattern: Research has shown that wild falcons rarely go after pigeons that have a white patch of feathers just above the tail, and when the predators do target these birds, the attacks are rarely successful.

To figure out why this is, Ph.D. student Alberto Palleroni and a team tagged 5235 pigeons in the vicinity of Davis, California. Then, they monitored 1485 falcon-on-pigeon attacks over a seven-year span. The researchers found that although white-rumped pigeons comprised 20 to 25 percent of the area's pigeon population, they represented less than 2 percent of all the observed pigeons that were killed by falcons; the vast majority of the victims had blue rumps. Palleroni and his team rounded up 756 white- and blue-rumped pigeons and swapped their rump feathers by clipping and pasting white feathers on blue rumps, and vice versa. The falcons had a much easier time spotting and catching the newly blue-rumped pigeons, while the pigeons that received the white feathers saw predation rates plummet.

Close observation revealed that the white patches distract birds of prey. In the wild, falcons dive-bomb other winged animals from above at high speeds. Some pigeons respond by rolling away in midair, and on a spiraling bird, white rump feathers can be eye-catching, which means that a patch of them may divert a hungry raptor's focus long enough to make the carnivore miscalculate and zip right past its intended victim.

11. DODOS WERE RELATED TO TODAY'S PIGEONS.

Two blue and green Nicobar pigeons.
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Though most of this list focuses on the rock pigeon, there are 308 living species of pigeons and doves. Together, they make up an order of birds known as the columbiformes. The extinct dodo belonged to this group as well.

Flightless and (somewhat) docile, dodos once inhabited Mauritius, an island near Madagascar. The species had no natural predators, but when human sailors arrived with rats, dogs, cats, and pigs, it began to die out, and before the 17th century came to a close, the dodo had vanished altogether. DNA testing has confirmed that pigeons are closely related to the dodo, and the vibrant Nicobar pigeon (above) is its nearest genetic relative. A multi-colored bird with iridescent feathers, this near-threatened creature is found on small islands in the South Pacific and off Asia. Unlike the dodo, it can fly.

12. AT ONE POINT, MORE THAN ONE-QUARTER OF ALL THE BIRDS LIVING IN THE U.S. MAY HAVE BEEN PASSENGER PIGEONS.

Wild/feral rock pigeons reside in all 50 states, which makes it easy to forget that they're invasive birds. Originally native to Eurasia and northern Africa, the species was (most likely) introduced to North America by French settlers in 1606. At the time, a different kind of columbiform—this one indigenous—was already thriving there: the passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius). As many as 5 billion of them were living in America when England, Spain, and France first started colonizing, and they may have once represented anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of the total U.S. bird population. But by the early 20th century, they had become a rare sight, thanks to overhunting, habitat loss, and a possible genetic diversity issue. The last known passenger pigeon—a captive female named Martha—died on September 1, 1914.

13. THEY'RE REALLY GOOD AT MULTITASKING.

According to one study, they're more efficient multitaskers than people are. Scientists at Ruhr-Universitat Bochum put together a test group of 15 humans and 12 pigeons and trained all of them to complete two simple jobs (like pressing a keyboard once a light bulb came on). They were also put in situations wherein they'd need to stop working on one job and switch over to another. In some trials, the participants had to make the change immediately. During these test runs, humans and pigeons switched between jobs at the same speed.

But in other trials, the test subjects were allowed to complete one assignment and then had to wait 300 milliseconds before moving on to the next job. Interestingly, in these runs, the pigeons were quicker to get started on that second task after the period ended. In the avian brain, nerve cells are more densely packed, which might enable our feathered friends to process information faster than we can under the right circumstances.

14. PIGEONS PRODUCE FAKE "MILK."

Only mammals produce genuine milk, but pigeons and doves (along with some other species of birds) feed their young with something similar—a whitish liquid filled with nutrients, fats, antioxidants, and healthy proteins called "crop milk." Both male and female pigeons create the milk in the crop, a section of the esophagus designed to store food temporarily. As is the case with mammal milk, the creation of crop milk is regulated by the hormone prolactin. Newly-hatched pigeons drink crop milk until they're weaned off it after four weeks or so. (And if you've ever asked yourself, "Where are all the baby pigeons?" we have the answer for you right here.)

15. ONE STUDY SUGGESTS THAT, GIVEN THE RIGHT CONDITIONS, THEY'RE AS GOOD AT IDENTIFYING CANCER AS DOCTORS.

We've already established that pigeons are excellent at differentiating between artists and words, but a 2015 study revealed they can also distinguish between malignant and benign growths in the right conditions. Researchers at University of California Davis Medical Center put 16 pigeons in a room with magnified biopsies of potential breast cancers. If the pigeons correctly identified them as either benign or malignant, they got a treat, According to Scientific American.

"Once trained, the pigeons' average diagnostic accuracy reached an impressive 85 percent. But when a "flock sourcing" approach was taken, in which the most common answer among all subjects was used, group accuracy climbed to a staggering 99 percent, or what would be expected from a pathologist. The pigeons were also able to apply their knowledge to novel images, showing the findings weren't simply a result of rote memorization."

Mammograms proved to be more of a challenge, however; the birds could memorize signs of cancer in the images they were trained on but could not identify the signs in new images.

No matter how impressive their results, "I don't anticipate that pigeons, no matter how good they become at pathology or radiology, will be playing a role in actual patient care—certainly for the foreseeable future," study co-author Richard M. Levenson told Scientific American. "There are just too many regulatory barriers—at least in the West."

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'Angry Badger' Terrorizes Scottish Castle, Forcing Closures 
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Portions of the 16th-century Craignethan Castle in Scotland were shut down last week after a less-than-friendly badger holed up there and refused to leave. Historic Environment Scotland, which manages the site in South Lanarkshire, sent out a tweet last Friday notifying visitors that the property's cellar tunnel would remain closed over the weekend “due to the presence of a very angry badger.” Staff tried to coax it out with cat food and honey, but the badger did what it wanted, and they were unable to move the mammal.

A spokesman for HES told the BBC, "The castle is surrounded by woodland and we believe the badger may have become lost. Staff first spotted some dug-out earth on Wednesday evening, and later spotted the badger on closer inspection."

On Saturday, staff used a GoPro camera to check out the tunnel from a safe distance and learned that the badger had left voluntarily, but not before making a mess. The critter dug through both soil and stonework, according to The Scotsman. The castle, an artillery fortification erected around 1530, is already partly in ruins.

Craignethan Castle in Scotland
Sandy Stevenson, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Badgers are not typically dangerous, but they can become aggressive if they feel cornered or threatened. They can be seen year-round in Scotland, especially during spring and summer. Earthworms, bird eggs, small mammals, fruit, and roots are among their favorite meals, and they can even be “tempted into your garden by leaving peanuts out—a tasty snack for our striped friends,” the Scottish Wildlife Trust says.

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