by Aldous Huxley
illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2011
Aldous Huxley whose novel Brave New World probably was a must-read for my generation, is easily a well-known figure in the literary world. The Crows of Pearblossom is a children's story he wrote, in 1944, for his niece, Olivia, as a Christmas present. Olivia's family at that time lived in Pearblossom, a town near where Huxleys lived circa 1937.
The original manuscript unfortunately was destroyed in a fire. By happy chance, the Huxleys neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Yost (the tall poplar in which Old Man Owl lived belonged to them), had a copy of the story, which remained unpublished for nearly two decades. In 1967, it was released with Barbara Cooney's (whose Mrs. Rumphius is well-loved in our bookshelf) black and white drawings, which edition, as far as I searched, is out of print.
Olivia revived the story in full-color splendor with Sophie Blackall's detailed and brilliant illustrations. Abrams Books for Young Readers republished The Crows of Pearblossom in 2011 in picture book format.
Mr. and Mrs. Crow lived in a cottonwood tree at Pearblossom. A very proper couple, they went about their business with righteous dignity. Every day Mrs. Crow laid an egg. When she returned from her afternoon shopping trip she always found the egg gone. This worried and annoyed her so, naturally.
A rattlesnake lived in a hole in a cottonwood tree at Pearblossom. Every day, he woke up punctually at half past three, slithered up the tree and breakfasted on a fresh egg in a crow's nest. Then, he crawled back to his hole and went back to sleep.
By now if you have quickly surmised that the big old rattlesnake and The Crows shared the same tree, you are correct.
And, as is inevitable, one day Mrs. Crow comes back early and catches the snake swallowing her egg whole, shell and all, and gets rightfully indignant. She worries Mr. Crow into teaching the rattlesnake proper manners or better yet, just kill him.
Mr. Crow being a gentleman states that her idea is not very good, and tells Mrs. Crow that he will consult with Old Man Owl who is a thinker.
Together with Old Man Owl, how Mr. Crow teaches the rattlesnake a lesson makes up the rest of the story, which is best enjoyed directly from the book.
The illustrations are delightful and charming. The inside back-flap notes that the illustrator's father once arrived at a party as Aldous Huxley was leaving. They may or may not have crossed paths in the vestibule.
I first encountered Sophie Blackall in Ivy+Bean books we read last summer. Then, in Wombat Walkabout (Carol Diggory Shields) and then in The Big Red Lollipop (Rukhsana Khan). I found her distinctive style appealing, and for some odd reason reminded me of Alison Jay's, (whose picture books are simply breath-taking with their signature crackle-finish), even though there is nothing much similar.
All's well that ends well in Pearblossom. The text is delightful and rather humorous. Of course, as it was written over half a century ago, it is possible that today's conscientious parents might find some aspects of the story objectionable. I found nothing terribly unappealing about it and loved reading it to Ana, reserving the sermonizing, opting to open some thoughtful discussions later on.
At the post-reading chat, I casually mentioned, "Poor rattlesnake, he was just hungry and that is what snakes do - find food, eat a bunch, sleep, wake up, eat again. If not Mrs. Crow's egg, he might just find a nearby Mrs. Blue Jay's eggs."
To which, Ana countered, "I hope the snake learnt his lesson about not eating all of poor Mrs. Crow's eggs. She will never have babies if all her eggs are eaten. The rattlesnake should leave her a few eggs so she can have her babies."
We did agree that the rattlesnake was untangled and released from its agony afterwards, which is not mentioned in the story book, but happened anyway, and that he went about his life in a fair and courteous manner.
[image source: blommi.com]