How the Heather Looks: A Joyous Journey to the British Sources of Children's Books

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McClelland & Stewart, 2010 - Biography & Autobiography - 249 pages
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Over forty years ago, Joan Bodger, her husband, and two children went to Britain on a very special family quest. They were seeking the world that they knew and loved through children’s books.

In Winnie-the-Pooh Country, Mrs. Milne showed them the way to “that enchanted place on the top of the Forest [where] a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.” In Edinburgh they stood outside Robert Louis Stevenson’s childhood home, tilting their heads to talk to a lamplighter who was doing his job. In the Lake District they visited Jemima Puddle-Duck’s farm, and Joan sought out crusty Arthur Ransome to talk to him about Swallows and Amazons. They spent several days “messing about in boats” on the River Thames, looking for Toad Hall and other places described by Kenneth Grahame in The Wind in the Willows. Mud and flood kept them from attaining the slopes of Pook’s Hill (on Rudyard Kipling’s farm), but they scaled the heights of Tintagel. As in all good fairy tales, there were unanswered questions. Did they really find Camelot? Robin Hood, as always, remains elusive.

One thing is certain. Joan Bodger brings alive again the magic of the stories we love to remember. She persuades us that, like Emily Dickinson, even if we “have never seen a moor,” we can imagine “how the heather looks.”

First published in 1965 by Viking in New York, How the Heather Looks has become a prized favorite among knowledgeable lovers of children’s literature. Precious, well-thumbed copies have been lent out with caution and reluctance, while new admirers have gone searching in vain for copies to buy second-hand. This handsome reprint, with a new Afterword by Joan Bodger, makes a unique and delightful classic available once more.

From the Hardcover edition.

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About the author (2010)

Joan Bodger became a professional storyteller in 1948, when she took a course in storytelling at Columbia University. She has told stories and given workshops throughout North America, Britain, Australia, and Japan, and was a co-founder of the Toronto Storytellers School. For many years she led an annual tour, "A Winter's Journey to King Arthur's Britain."

Joan Bodger was also a Gestalt therapist who used folk-tale archetypes as tools of her trade. In 1982, the Chaplain's Corps hired her to use stories as therapy with U.S. Marines. (She had been a U.S. Army staff-sergeant during World War II.) In 1986 she conducted workshops for psychiatrists and businessmen in Tokyo.

Joan was director of the first Head Start Program in New York State. Her later work, as director of a therapeutic nursery school in an orphanage for New York City children, was described in a book by Harvard psychiatrist Robert Coles. In 1968, hired as Director of Children's Services, State Library of Missouri, she was fired within a few months as a "Communist pornographer" in a cause célèbre. Her name was cleared by the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom. In the 1980s, she directed a project, funded by the Children's Aid Foundation of Ontario, in which she taught abusive mothers to use nursery rhymes as an alternative to violence.

From 1958 to 1970, Joan reviewed children's books for the New York Times Book Review. She has taught as an editor at Random House-Pantheon-Knopf. Twice she has been nominated for a Canadian National Magazine Award.

How the Heather Looks, released in a new edition by McClelland & Stewart and Tundra Books, was first published by Viking Press (New York, 1965). Joan Bodger's autobiography, The Crack in the Teacup was released in 2000. Joan Bodger also wrote for children: Melinda's Ball (Oxford Canada, 1982); Clever-Lazy (reissued by Tundra in 1997); and The Forest Family (Tundra, 1999).

Joan Bodger passed away in 2002.

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