A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
- Happy birthday Nancy Tafuri (Have You Seen My Duckling?).
- Itâ€™s the birth date of Miska Miles, the pen name of Patricia Miles Martin (1899â€“1986), Annie and the Old One and William H. Hooks (1922â€“2008), Pioneer Cat, Moss Gown.
- Happy birthday Moby Dick by Herman Melville, published in 1851.
- Bon voyage! Journalist Nellie Bly starts her "Around the World in 80 Days" trip in 1889. Read Nellie Blyâ€™s Book edited by Ira Peck, Bylines: A Photobiography of Nellie Bly by Sue Macy, and It Canâ€™t Be Done, Nellie Bly! by Nancy Butcher and illustrated by Jen L. Singh.
While I was vacationing in the Rangeley Lakes area of Maine in October a sign caught my eye: â€śWilhelm Reich Museum.â€ť Although I could not get in, I was intrigued to see the location of the laboratory of the radical psychoanalyst who worked with Sigmund Freud. While there I thanked him silently for his little-known contribution to childrenâ€™s literature: He treated and inspired William Steig.
William Steig was born on November 14, 1907. As a young man Steig sought out Wilhem Reich for psychological treatment and, like other devotees, spent time in Reichâ€™s boxes, the orgone energy accumulators. When I interviewed Steig, then in his eighties, he spoke fondly about his experiences in the orgone box and expressed the wish that I might be able to sit in one some day. He had found the experience liberating.
Although I didn’t get to visit the Wilhelm Reich Museum or sit in an orgone box (much to my dismay),Â I did reread Sylvester and the Magic Pebble in Steigâ€™s honor. Sylvester, the donkey, finds a magic pebble, which grants his wishes. Unfortunately, while he is holding it he makes the wrong request and turns into a rock. Then Sylvester has to go through days and nights as a rock, until his father puts the magic pebble on the rock, and Sylvester, wishing to become his real self again, turns back into a donkey.
Steigâ€™s first book for children, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble was created at the insistence of a New Yorker colleague, Robert Krauss. Krauss had started his own publishing company and thought Steigâ€™s sensibility was just right for children. After the book won the Caldecott Medal, Steig himself began to believe that he could create books for children and did so until his death in 2003. Even the books written and illustrated in his eighties, like Peteâ€™s a Pizza, show a remarkable youthful spirit.
During the politically charged seventies, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble got into some hot water. In the book Steig portrays the police as pigs, and some people took offense. Steig always liked to point out, however, that his main protagonists were donkeys! Even in his eighties he felt badly that as a newcomer to the field, not accustomed to public speaking, he gave a very brief Caldecott acceptance speech, which offended some member of ALA. Now, of course, all has been forgiven and forgotten. William Steig gave children of the world some of the freshest, funniest, most original picture books ever created. I like to believe that when working in this form he became his true selfâ€”the person he was always meant to be.
To become oneâ€™s real self is, of course, the goal of all patients in psychotherapy. Maybe this book, and all of Steigâ€™s work, owe far more to Wilhelm Reich than I have ever realized.
Hereâ€™s a page from Sylvester and the Magic Pebble:
Originally posted November 14, 2011. Updated for .