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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 Reasons You Should Appreciate Squirrels
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Even if you live in a big city, you probably see wildlife on a regular basis. Namely, you're sure to run into a lot of squirrels, even in the densest urban areas. And if you happen to live on a college campus, well, you're probably overrun with them. While some people might view them as adorable, others see them as persistent pests bent on chewing on and nesting in everything in sight. But in honor of National Squirrel Appreciation Day, here are 15 reasons you should appreciate the savvy, amazing, bushy-tailed critters.

1. THEY CAN JUMP REALLY, REALLY FAR.

A flying squirrel soars through the air
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In one study [PDF] of the tree-dwelling plantain squirrels that roam the campus of the National University of Singapore, squirrels were observed jumping almost 10 feet at a stretch. In another study with the eastern ground squirrel, one researcher observed a squirrel jumping more than 8 feet between a tree stump and a feeding platform, propelling itself 10 times the length of its body. Flying squirrels, obviously, can traverse much farther distances midair—the northern flying squirrel, for instance, can glide up to 295 feet [PDF].

2. THEY'RE VERY ORGANIZED …

A squirrel digs in a grassy field filled with fallen leaves.
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In fact, they may be more organized than you are. A recent study found that eastern fox squirrels living on UC Berkeley's campus cache their nuts according to type. When given a mixture of walnuts, pecans, almonds, and hazelnuts, the squirrels took the time to hide each type of nut in a specific place. This method of "spatial chunking" may help them remember where the nuts are when they go to retrieve them later. Though the study wasn't able to determine this for sure, the study's results suggested that the squirrels may have been organizing their caches by even more subtle categories, like the size of the nuts.

3. … BUT THEIR FORGETFULNESS HELPS TREES GROW.

Looking up a tree trunk at a squirrel climbing down
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Tree squirrels are one of the most important animals around when it comes to planting forests. Though they may be careful about where they bury their acorns and other nuts, they still forget about quite a few of their caches (or at least neglect to retrieve them). When they do, those acorns often sprout, resulting in more trees—and eventually, yet more acorns for the squirrels.

4. THEY HELP TRUFFLES THRIVE.

A man holds a truffle up for the camera.
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The squirrel digestive system also plays an important role in the survival of truffles. While above-ground mushrooms can spread their spores through the air, truffles grow below ground. Instead of relying on the air, they depend on hungry animals like squirrels to spread their spores to host plants elsewhere. The northern flying squirrel, found in forests across North America, depends largely on the buried fungi to make up its diet, and plays a major role in truffle propagation. The squirrels poop out the spores unharmed on the forest floor, allowing the fungi to take hold and form a symbiotic relationship with the tree roots it's dropped near.

5. THEY'RE ONE OF THE FEW MAMMALS THAT CAN SPRINT DOWN A TREE HEAD-FIRST.

A squirrel stands on the knot of a tree trunk looking down at the ground.
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You may not be too impressed when you see a squirrel running down a tree, but they're actually accomplishing a major feat. Most animals can't climb vertically down head-first, but squirrel's back ankles can rotate 180°, turning their paws all the way around to grip the tree trunk as they descend.

6. SEVERAL TOWNS COMPETE FOR THE TITLE OF 'HOME OF THE WHITE SQUIRREL.'

A white squirrel in Olney, Illinois stands on its hind legs.
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Squirrels are a more popular town mascot than you might think. Surprisingly, more than one town wants to be known as the "home of the white squirrel," including Kenton, Tennessee; Marionville, Missouri; the Canadian city of Exeter, Ontario; and Brevard, North Carolina, the location of the annual White Squirrel Festival. But Olney, Illinois may be the most intense about its high population of albino squirrels. There is a $750 fine for killing the all-white animals, and they have the legal right-of-way on roads. There's an official city count of the squirrels each year, and in 1997, realizing that local cats posed a threat to the beloved rodent residents, the city council banned residents from letting their cats run loose outdoors. In 2002, the city held a 100-Year White Squirrel Celebration, erecting a monument and holding a "squirrel blessing" by a priest. Police officers wore special squirrel-themed patches for the event.

7. THEY CAN AID STROKE RESEARCH.

An illustration of different regions of the brain lighting up in blue
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Ground squirrels hibernate in the winter, and the way their brains function while they do may help scientists develop a new drug that can limit the brain damage caused by strokes. When ground squirrels hibernate, their core body temperature drops dramatically—in the case of the arctic ground squirrel, to as low as 26.7°F, possibly the lowest body temperature of any mammal on Earth. During this extra-cold hibernation, a squirrel's brain undergoes cellular changes that help its brain deal with reduced blood flow. Researchers are currently trying to develop a drug that could mimic that process in the human brain, preventing brain cells from dying when blood flow to the brain is cut off during a stroke.

8. THEIR FUR MAY HAVE SPREAD LEPROSY IN THE MIDDLE AGES.

A woman in a fur vest with a hood faces away from the camera and stares out over the water.
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If you always warn your friends not to pet or feed squirrels because they can spread disease, put this story in your back pocket for later: They may have helped leprosy spread from Scandinavia to the UK in the 9th century. Research published in 2017 found a strain of leprosy similar to a modern variant found in squirrels in southern England in the skull of a woman who lived in England sometime between 885 and 1015 CE. The scientists suggest that the leprosy may have arrived along with Viking squirrel pelts. "It is possible that this strain of leprosy was proliferated in the South East of England by contact with highly prized squirrel pelt and meat, which was traded by the Vikings at the time this woman was alive," one of the authors told The Guardian. That may not be the most uplifting reason to appreciate squirrels, but it's hard not to admire their influence!

9. THEY'RE MORE POWERFUL THAN HACKERS.

A squirrel runs across a power line.
Frederic J. Brown, AFP/Getty Images

While energy companies may worry about hackers disrupting the power grid, squirrels are actually far more powerful than cyber-whizzes when it comes to sabotaging our electricity supply. A website called Cyber Squirrel 1 documents every public record of squirrels and other animals disrupting power services dating back to 1987. It has counted more than 1100 squirrel-related outages across the world for that time period, which is no doubt a vast underestimate. In a 2016 survey of public power utilities, wildlife was the most common cause of power outages, and for most power companies, that tends to mean squirrels.

10. THEY CAN HEAT UP THEIR TAILS TO WARD OFF PREDATORS.

A ground squirrel sits with its mouth open.
David McNew, Getty Images

California ground squirrels have an interesting way of scaring off rattlesnakes. Like cats, their tails puff up when they go on the defense. A squirrel will wave its tail at a rattlesnake to convince the snake that it's a formidable opponent. Surprisingly, they whip their tails at their foes whether it's light or dark outside. Squirrels can control the blood flow to their tails to cool down or keep warm, and they use this to their advantage in a fight, pumping blood into their tails. Even if the rattlesnakes can't see the bushy tails, researchers found in 2007, they can sense the heat coming off them.

11. THEY HELP SCIENTISTS KNOW WHETHER A FOREST IS HEALTHY.

A squirrel runs down a tree trunk toward a pile of leaves.
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Researchers look at tree squirrel populations to measure just how well a forest ecosystem is faring. Because they depend on their forest habitats for seeds, nesting sites, and food storage, the presence and demographics of tree squirrels in an area is a good bellwether for the health of a mature forest. Studying changes in squirrel populations can help experts determine the environmental impact of logging, fires, and other events that alter forest habitats [PDF].

12. THEY CAN LIE.

A squirrel with a bushy tail stands on its hind legs.
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Gray squirrels know how to deceive. They can engage in what's called "tactical deception," a behavior previously only seen in primates, as a study in 2008 found. When they think they're being watched by someone looking to pilfer their cache of food, the researchers discovered, they will pretend to dig a hole as if burying their acorn or nut, but tuck their snack into their mouth and go bury it elsewhere.

13. THEY WERE ONCE AMERICA'S MOST POPULAR PET.

A man in a hat kisses a squirrel on the White House grounds
Harris & Ewing, Library of Congress // Public Domain

Though some states currently ban (or require permits for) keeping squirrels as pets, it was once commonplace. Warren G. Harding kept a squirrel named Pete who would sometimes show up to White House meetings and briefings, where members of Harding's cabinet would bring him nuts. But keeping a squirrel around wasn't just for world leaders—the rodent was the most popular pet in the country, according to Atlas Obscura. From the 1700s onwards, squirrels were a major fixture in the American pet landscape and were sold in pet shops. Despite Harding's love of Pete, by the time he lived in the White House in the 1920s, squirrel ownership was already on the wane, in part due to the rise of exotic animal laws.

14. THE MERE SIGHT OF JUST ONE COULD ONCE ATTRACT A CROWD.

A historical photo of nurses leaning down to feed a black squirrel
Library of Congress // Public Domain

The American cities of the 1800s weren't great places to catch a glimpse of wildlife, squirrels included. In fact, the animals were so rare that in the summer of 1856, when a gray squirrel escaped from its cage inside a downtown New York apartment building (where it was surely living as someone's pet), it merited a write-up in The New York Times. According to the paper, several hundred people gathered to gawk at the tree where the squirrel took refuge and try to coax the rodent down. In the end, a police officer had to force the crowd to disperse. The paper did not document what happened to the poor squirrel.

15. IN THE 19TH CENTURY, THEY WERE TASKED WITH TEACHING COMPASSION.

A boy doing homework with a squirrel on the table.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

In the mid-1800s, seeking to return a little bit of nature to concrete jungles, cities began re-introducing squirrels to their urban parks. Squirrels provided a rare opportunity for city slickers to see wildlife, but they were also seen as a sort of moral compass for young boys. Observing and feeding urban squirrels was seen as a way to steer boys away from their "tendency toward cruelty," according to University of Pennsylvania historian Etienne Benson [PDF]. Boy Scouts founder Ernest Thompson Seton argued in a 1914 article that cities should introduce "missionary squirrels" to cities so that boys could befriend them. He and other advocates of urban squirrels "saw [them] as opportunities for boys to establish trusting, sympathetic, and paternalistic relationships with animal others," Benson writes.

But young boys weren't the only ones that were thought to benefit from a little squirrel-feeding time. When the animals were first reintroduced to parks in the 19th century, feeding squirrels was considered an act of charity—one accessible even to those people who didn't have the means of showing charity in other realms. "Because of the presence of urban squirrels, even the least powerful members of human society could demonstrate the virtue of charity and display their own moral worth," Benson writes. "Gray squirrels helped reshape the American urban park into a site for the performance of charity and compassion for the weak." Even if you were too poor to provide any sort of charity for someone else, you could at least give back to the squirrels.

BONUS: THEY USED TO HATE TAX SEASON TOO.

A colored lithograph shows men and dogs hunting squirrels in a forest.
Currier and Ives, Library of Congress // Public Domain

Though notably absent from big cities, much of the U.S. was once overrun by squirrels. The large population of gray squirrels in early Ohio caused such widespread crop destruction that people were encouraged—nay, required—to hunt them. In 1807, the Ohio General Assembly demanded that citizens not just pay their regular taxes, but add a few squirrel carcasses on top. According to the Ohio History Connection, taxpayers had to submit a minimum of 10 squirrel scalps to the town clerk each year. Tennessee had similar laws, though that state would let people pay in dead crows if they couldn't rustle up enough squirrels.

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Design
Forget Horns: Some Trains in Japan Bark Like Dogs to Scare Away Deer
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In Japan, growing deer populations are causing friction on the railways. The number of deer hit by trains each year is increasing, so the Railway Technical Research Institute has come up with a novel idea for curbing the problem, according to the BBC. Researchers there are using the sound of barking dogs to scare deer away from danger zones when trains are approaching, preventing train damage, delays, and of course, deer carnage.

It’s not your standard horn. In pilot tests, Japanese researchers have attached speakers that blare out a combination of sounds designed specifically to ward off deer. First, the recording captures the animals’ attention by playing a snorting sound that deer use as an “alarm call” to warn others of danger. Then, the sound of howling dogs drives the deer away from the tracks so the train can pass.

Before this initiative, the problem of deer congregating on train tracks seemed intractable. Despite the best efforts of railways, the animals aren’t deterred by ropes, barriers, flashing lights, or even lion feces meant to repel them. Kintetsu Railway has had some success with ultrasonic waves along its Osaka line, but many rail companies are still struggling to deal with the issue. Deer flock to railroad tracks for the iron filings that pile up on the rails, using the iron as a dietary supplement. (They have also been known to lick chain link fences.)

The new deer-deterring soundtrack is particularly useful because it's relatively low-tech and would be cheap to implement. Unlike the ultrasonic plan, it doesn’t have to be set up in a particular place or require a lot of new equipment. Played through a speaker on the train, it goes wherever the train goes, and can be deployed whenever necessary. One speaker on each train could do the job for a whole railway line.

The researchers found that the recordings they designed could reduce the number of deer sightings near the train tracks by as much as 45 percent during winter nights, which typically see the highest collision rates. According to the BBC, the noises will only be used in unpopulated areas, reducing the possibility that people living near the train tracks will have to endure the sounds of dogs howling every night for the rest of their lives.

Deer aren't the only animal that Japanese railways have sought to protect against the dangers of railroad tracks. In 2015, the Suma Aqualife Park and the West Japan Railway Company teamed up to create tunnels that could serve as safer rail crossings for the turtles that kept getting hit by trains.

[h/t BBC]

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