Active and restless, “Bud” Riley, the boy who would grow to be one of the 19th century’s most popular and respected poets, had a hard time sitting still in school—unless he was drawing or writing the “poems he heard in his head.” Fine illustrations and text rich with history draw young readers into James Whitcomb Riley’s world on the edge of the Midwestern wilderness. Children fully experience Riley’s lively youth, from learning to swim (nearly drowning in the process) to acting as ringmaster in his own circus, complete with animal acts, music, and acrobats. Fun facts about James Whitcomb Riley provide children with a preview of the poet’s adult accomplishments and little-known facts about the man greatly admired by novelist Mark Twain and President Benjamin Harrison.
About the Author
Minnie Belle Mitchell lived in Greenfield, Indiana, near James Whitcomb Riley’s hometown. Montrew Dunham is the author of more than 10 children’s books, including Langston Hughes, Young Black Poet and Neil Armstrong, Young Flyer. She lives in Downers Grove, Illinois. Cathy Morrison is the illustrator of Ignacio's Chair and the Young Patriots series. She is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and Picturebookartists.org. She lives in Denver, Colorado.
Read an Excerpt
James Whitcomb Riley
By Minnie Belle Mitchell, Montrew Dunham, Harold Underdown, Cathy Morrison
Patria Press, Inc.Copyright © 2003 Estate of John F. Mitchell Jr. and Montrew Dunham
All rights reserved.
"Hey, Johnty, wait for me!" Bud called as he ran after the big boys in the backyard. His big brother ran to the rope swing, which was gently blowing back and forth in the chilly spring wind. Johnty leaped onto the seat and with a push of his feet swung back and then soared into the air.
Bud laughed with joy as he watched his brother swing higher and higher and shouted,
"My turn, Johnty! Next, it's my turn!"
The boys were running and jumping all over the back lot. Bud shivered a little. The pale sun disappeared behind a dark cloud. The fresh spring air was moist, but the wind was cold. Noah climbed the cherry tree, which was covered with white blossoms. The petals were tossed in the wind as they fell to the ground. Eck ran over to the old apple tree, and he leaned back, almost like an acrobat, and jumped to get hold of a branch to lift himself up into the tree.
Ring barked and barked as he ran back and forth chasing all the boys. Bud was watching his brother Johnty swing higher and higher into the sky, and he didn't see Ring run in front of him. He tripped on Ring and fell flat on the dog. They both scrambled to their feet, and Ring danced around him barking wildly and wagging his fluffy brown tail.
Bud looked up at Johnty and shouted, "Come on ... Johnty! It's my turn!"
Eck yelled from his perch in the apple tree, "Johnty, you might as well give him his turn. Your little brother always wants to do what you are doing."
Johnty stopped pumping. As the swing slowed down and he leaped out onto his knees on the muddy ground, he called, "Come on, Bud, if you want your turn!"
Bud ran to the swing and jumped on to the seat. He gave it a strong push with his feet, and then leaning forward and back, pumped the swing into going higher and higher. He laughed with delight as he went so high that the ropes of the swing would jerk, and it almost felt like he was going to fall off the seat! He was so high he could see clear over the top of their log house and even see the National Road in front of their house. (Image 1.1)
He saw Mother come out. She was going over to the apple hole to get some vegetables. He saw her look up at the darkening sky and hug her woolen shawl around her shoulders. She walked over to the barn and got a hoe to scrape the dirt from the top of the storage pit, where the vegetables were stored for use through the winter months. She looked up when she heard Bud call, "Look, Ma! I'm doin' skyscrapers!"
Mother took a deep breath when she saw how high Bud was swinging! "James Whitcomb Riley, what are you doing! You are swinging too high!" She couldn't believe he was growing up so fast. She smiled as she looked at the little boy with his soft blond hair ruffled in the wind. And she thought back to that seventh day of October in 1849, when James was born in their little log cabin.
Elizabeth and Reuben Riley, John and James' parents, had moved to the very small village of Greenfield in 1844. They had built a log cabin on the National Road like most of the other houses in the village. Reuben was a lawyer and put his sign out on his front door. He soon became very successful in town. He served as the mayor of Greenfield, and then he was elected to serve in the Indiana State Legislature. And when their second son was born, they named him James Whitcomb for Governor James Whitcomb, who was Father's friend.
Next after Johnty came
His little towhead brother, Bud by name,
And O how white his hair was — and how thick
His face with freckles, — and his ears, how quick
And curious and intrusive! — And how pale
The blue of his big eyes —
Their log cabin was small but cozy and bright. It had a big living room, a little kitchen with a huge fireplace, and a low loft upstairs. The loft had such a sloping ceiling that even Johnty and Bud bumped their heads if they weren't careful. Father had hung corn and beans from the rafters up there, and Mother had stored hard green pears among the hickory nuts and walnuts on the floor.
Their vegetables had been stored in the apple hole in the yard. In the fall Father had dug a hole and lined it with straw. Then they laid cabbages, beets, parsnips, potatoes, and apples on the straw. They covered the vegetables and apples with more straw and piled dirt on top. They left a little opening at one end, which was also covered with straw and loose dirt.
Mother was gathering some cabbages and potatoes from the apple hole when, suddenly, heavy raindrops started to fall. Then, almost at once, the rain came down in drenching sheets blowing across the yard. "Come quickly, boys!" Mother cried as she ran toward the door of the house.
She looked back as Johnty ran toward her, and the other boys ran home, but Bud was still twisting in the swing. "Bud, come on! You are going to get soaked!"
Bud had twisted again and again until the swing ropes were taut ... and he couldn't get out until they untwisted round and round! With the rain in his face, round and round he went until finally the swing slowed and he hopped off. He was so dizzy he had trouble running to the house!
Mother held the door and led both boys over to the fireplace hearth to dry. They stood before the open fire, their wet clothes dripping. They rubbed their cold wet hands and stamped their feet as they dried off. They leaned over to see the kettles and pots hanging on their heavy iron hooks in the fireplace and the hearth oven. Mother had supper almost ready, and there were so many good smells. Mother was a wonderful cook of honey cakes and roasts and puddings and everything else.
Mother said, "Stand back boys, I need to tend my cooking."
Johnty and Bud climbed up on the benches at the table in the kitchen so they could watch their mother preparing supper. With a heavy potholder, Mother adjusted the crane, swinging the kettle out of the fire and more over the hearth. Hungrily, they watched as Mother moved the kettles and pots to just the right place, and then she took the bread out of the hearth oven. It smelled so good!
"Can we eat?" Johnty asked.
Bud nodded his head. "We're very hungry." He could almost taste that good bread.
Mother smiled, "I know you are. ... It won't be long. We'll eat as soon as your father comes."
"Then tell us a story while we wait!"
"There is only time for a teensy one," Mother said. Then she began, "Do you see the lid jiggling on the kettle?"
Bud nodded. He could see the heavy iron lid dancing up and down on the kettle.
Mother went on, "There are little fairies that live in the red-hot embers in the fireplace. Every now and then they like to jump up onto the lid. They dance jigs and cut all kinds of capers. Do you hear their feet tapping away there?"
Bud sat with his chin propped on his hands as he watched the lids intently. He listened carefully. Then he heard. He could hear the fairy feet tapping.
"Inside the kettle there are other fairies — imps, really. They hear the little coal fairies and plan tricks." Mother said softly. "Do you hear them chuckling and whispering? They like to push up on the lid all together. Then what will happen?"
"The imps will spill the coal fairies into the fire," laughed Johnty.
Bud frowned, "That isn't very nice of the imps."
"It's all in fun, Bud. Remember that the coal fairies live and play in the hot embers of the fire," Mother said.
After that Bud watched carefully to see if the fairies could hold the lid down. When the lid tilted, Bud shouted, "The imps are winning! The imps are winning! Hold on tight, little coal fairies!" He got so excited that Mother lifted the lid off carefully and told the fairies to jump off and run home.CHAPTER 2
Old Swimming Hole
On Saturday morning, when the baking had to be done, Johnty and Bud played farther from the house. "When the dinner bell on the Guymon House rings," Mother said, "you will know it is time to come home for lunch."
The boys ran home when they heard the bell ringing loud and clear. As they reached the back yard they started to march with their bare feet on the path. Bud led the line of boys as they marched into the house. They sang in loud voices:
"Pig tail done —
Go tell son,
Pig tail done!"
Mrs. Riley laughed. "Where did you learn that funny song? I've never heard it before."
"Bud made it up," said Johnty.
And Eck added, "He's always making up funny songs and rhymes like that." Johnty's friends liked Bud's little jingles. They asked for new ones all the time.
After lunch Bud, Johnty, and Johnty's friends all gathered in Riley's back lot. Bud ran to the apple tree and climbed up to sit on a bottom branch.
"Hey, let's go swimming!" Eck called
"All right!" The boys shouted and started to run to the old swimmin' hole.
The weather was perfect for swimming. The afternoon sun was beating down relentlessly. Old Sorrell stood in his hot stall, flicking his tail back and forth to shoo away the flies. Ring lay on the bare ground under the apple tree, panting with the heat. Bud, up in the apple tree under the green leaves, was a little cooler, but he quickly scrambled down from his perch and ran to catch up with the big boys.
When Johnty saw his little brother, he stopped for a moment and called back, "You stay home, Bud. You are too little to go with us today. We're going to Brandywine Creek. You can't swim, and you might fall in and drown!"
"I can too swim!" Bud retorted.
Johnty shook his head and replied patiently, "Oh, Bud, you are too little. You don't know how to swim!"
Bud stuck out his lower lip stubbornly, as he insisted, "Can, too!" And he followed close behind the boys as they walked down the dirt path to the creek.
"Oh, let him come," Noah said, "We'll watch him, Johnty." The boys liked to have Bud with them. He was always fun.
Happily Bud followed the boys on the path under the shade of the big forest trees and through the underbrush and weeds towering above his head. The dust under his bare feet was soft as velvet.
Brandywine Creek was a pretty stream that flowed through the woods only a short distance from the Riley home. Willow trees and sycamores grew along its banks. No matter how hot and sticky it was anywhere else, it was always cool and shady at the creek. Little children played in the shallow spots and the older children swam in the deep pools.
Oh! The old swimmin' hole! In the happy days of yore,
When I ust to lean above it on the old sickamore. ...
Thare the bullrushes growed, and the cattails So tall,
And the sunshine and shadder fell over it all.
Bud liked watching the boys dive off the log that lay across the stream. And then he watched eagerly as they held on to a root at the bottom to see how long before they came up. He cheered excitedly and clapped his hands.
However, after a while, he grew tired of just watching. He wanted to swim, too. So he ran out on the log and jumped in. He hit the water with a splash! And right after him so did Eck and Noah! They pulled him out on the bank in a hurry.
But when Bud jumped in again, Johnty decided it was time for Bud to go home. He dragged Bud into the house, and said, "Here, Mother, you keep Bud with you. He won't stay out of the deep water."
"I can swim," Bud protested.
"No, he can't," Johnty said disgustedly. "We keep having to pull him out!"
Mr. Riley was working at his desk and heard them talking. "Bud, you're too little to swim."
"I'm going to swim," insisted Bud as he ran across the back lot and down the path toward the creek.
Father got up from his desk and said, "If he is going to run off to the creek, he had better know how to swim." (Image 2.1)
"Oh, he is much too small," Mother said. "He'll step into a deep hole and drown!"
"He needs to learn how to swim," said Father. He called after Bud, "Wait for me. I'll teach you to swim."
Bud shouted triumphantly, "Father is going to teach me to swim!"
When the boys saw Mr. Riley, they clambered out onto the bank. They all grinned. The big boys knew there was only one way to learn to swim. They gathered around to see how Bud would like it.
Mr. Riley took Bud to the bank above the deep pool. "Ready?" he asked.
"Ready!" shrieked Bud with delight. "In you go, then," said his father as he tossed him into the water. "Now swim out!" he shouted.
But Bud didn't swim out!CHAPTER 3
Bud's father and the boys looked expectantly at the ripples where Bud went in as they waited for him to come to the surface. Anxiously they waited and waited for him to come up. The water smoothed and nothing happened. Mr. Riley leaped into the water with all his clothes on. Johnty could not wait any longer, and he dived in too, with Noah right behind him! They swam underwater trying to see Bud, and when they came up for air, there was Bud sitting on the bank.
He looked at his father in surprise as he said, "Father, your clothes are all wet!"
His father picked Bud up in his arms. He was so relieved to see him safe and sound.
"Where were you? What happened to you, Bud?" asked Mr. Riley.
"I held on to the root, just like Johnty," Bud answered. "See!" and he jumped in again before his father could stop him. Bud went down to the bottom of the swimmin' hole. He grabbed onto the root and held on just as he had seen the others do. When he came up, he splashed around as lively as a duck.
Father took a deep breath as he watched Bud dog-paddle over to the bank and pull himself out of the water.
"See, I can swim just like everybody else!" Bud shouted.
Father laughed, "You sure can! I guess there's no reason why you can't come to the ole swimmin' hole with the boys anytime you want to!"
After that Bud went with the boys to Brandywine creek often that summer, but he also spent a lot of time sitting out by the front fence. He liked to watch the people, animals, and carts passing through Greenfield on the National Road. He saw wagons and oxcarts, buggies, and coaches carrying the mail, all rolling along on the smooth planks of the National Road. There were the pioneer families going West in their big Connestoga wagons. Bud watched and wondered how it would be to live in a big wagon and not even know where your new home would be. Bud didn't even want to move into their new house, which was just in front of their log cabin. And that was in the same place in the same town!
He looked back at their new house, which was almost finished. He felt strange about going to live in another house. He worried that it wouldn't feel like home. Their log house was just right, with the big kitchen where Mother did all the cooking, and the long table where they all sat to eat. The big front room was warm and cozy with its large fireplace, where in the cold weather, the fire crackled and glowed with friendly warmth. In one corner was the big high bed with the trundle bed underneath where he slept. Father's big double desk was in the other corner where he worked with all his law books. Then Bud thought about the upstairs loft. On rainy days he and Johnty stretched out on the floor and listened to the sounds of the rain pelting on the roof.
But Father said they needed a bigger house, and all summer Father and his helpers had worked building the white frame house. Though Father was a busy lawyer who spent most of his days at the county courthouse, he liked to work in his shop making furniture and cupboards for the new house. He was also shaping and building the black walnut stairs and staircase for the front hall in their new house.
Bud ran to the workshop to find his father. The old woodhouse was cool and dark. He walked in past the neatly stacked firewood, to the other half of the shed that was Father's workshop. Though he didn't hear his father at work, he called anyway. "Pa, are you here?"
There was only silence. Bud was disappointed. He loved to watch his father at work as he carefully smoothed and planed the wood to make the handrail for the staircase and the doors for the cupboards. He especially liked when Father planed off satiny curls of fresh thin woodshavings. The boys would pick them off the floor and play with the fragrant loops of wood.
Slowly Bud walked back out into the bright sunshine. The rope swing dangling from the tree looked inviting, but he decided to go out front by the road. He wandered out to the front fence where he just stood and thought and watched the traffic on the road.
Excerpted from James Whitcomb Riley by Minnie Belle Mitchell, Montrew Dunham, Harold Underdown, Cathy Morrison. Copyright © 2003 Estate of John F. Mitchell Jr. and Montrew Dunham. Excerpted by permission of Patria Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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