Wallpaper design: a story

Florence Broadhurst, Her secret & extraordinary lives

Growing up in a working class home during the late 1950s and early 1960s, wallpaper was all the rage. My sister and I retain a fondness for this inexpensive, decorative touch, even though we may employ less of it as we age. But, decades ago, we loved to pour through books and books of wallpaper designs when there were retail stores that specialized in this home accent, long ago.

This Australian woman born in 1899 seems to have been imbued, at birth, with a drive to create, unlike anyone I have ever read about. Beginning as a young girl, she created multiple, imaginative lives seemingly from nothing. With her family background rooted in the Australian cattle “wilderness called Mungy Station,” she became known across Europe and America as a stage presence singing and dancing with drag queens in the early 1920s to a Bond Street couturier known as Madame Pellier, along with a British accent.

It is the wallpaper designs interspersed throughout this handsomely produced book, that move the story forward. Her last reinvention as a high-end wallpaper designer gives her life the gravitas and accolades deserved as their intricacies are explained with care and detail by O’Neill. The patterns are stunning. For an artist, this is where the story lies – her creativity, her formidable personality to promote and believe in her art form. Yet, her ending is as tragic as any mythological figure diminish does not diminish her contribution.

O’Neill, Helen.  Florence Broadhurst: Her Secret & Extraordinary Lives.  Chronicle Books, 2006. Print.
Dedicated to my sister, Sandy, who just loves wallpaper!


Merry Everything! Children’s books to share with your family

Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London by Andrea Warren

Andrea Warren is the author of award-winning & non-fiction titles, such as We Rode the Orphan Trains, Under Siege:Three Children in the Civil War and the Battle for Vicksburg.

More than autobiography of the famous author, it gives detailed accounts of his traumatic childhood.  Enlarging this personal sphere, Warren incorporates the laws, mores, and ethics of the mid to late 1800’s, especially illuminating the upper classes and their beliefs and behavior toward those living in poverty.  Attitudes toward children and infants were no exception to the social Darwinism, and it is chilling.

Amidst this, Charles Dickens matures and develops a strong sense of responsibility to educate the wealthy point out their lack of humanism.  Warren weaves in stories of the composer, Handel and the artist, Hogarth among those who influenced Dickens and who worked to erode the ignorance and denial by the wealthier classes toward the working class and poor. Carefully documented with primary images and text documentation, Warren offers a list of Dickens’works, a Selected Bibliography, and Works Consulted. A solid non-fiction book. 

Title recommendations by Author, Charles Dickens

original cover of A Christmas Carol
Read this from The Library of Congress, free, as an eBook

A Christmas Carol 

Published in 1843, this book has become favorite ghost story, especially atChristmas.  Here, Dickens incorporates his ardor to change social mores through this sentimental story that still engages the heart.  Online in eBook format from the Library of Congress http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.rbc/bit.37729

Oliver Twist 

In this novel, Dickens uses his own experience when young, working in a blacking shop to convey the hopelessness those feel who are born into London’s working-class and poorer environments.  He combines this with the real-life conditions of orphaned children who are forced to work in deadly jobs, such as a chimney sweep, to develop a setting filled with tension.  The child is always the hero, and Oliver is no different, as he continues to believe in goodness despite his life.  

Title recommendations with Charles Dickens as a character and/or influence

The Haunting of Charles Dickens by Lewis Buzzbe

Charles Dickens helps a young woman solve the mystery of her missing brother in this historical fiction title set in 19th century London. 

The Cheshire Cheese Cat: a Dickens of a  Tale by Carmen Agra Deedy, illus. Barry Moser

Anthropomorphic adventure tale that mimics Dickens novels – those oppressed versus the bullies. Illustrations are sublimely rendered making this a treasure for younger readers.

The Traitor’s Gate by Avi

Avi, a fan of Dickens, begins his suspense tale with the father in debtors’ prison (not unlike Dickens ‘father), and this fourteen year-old assuming the responsibilities for his family and uncovering family secrets.

Audio book covers
Don’t forget about audio books for reluctant readers!

Biography of an iconic author

book cover for Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy: the World of His Novels

While sharing wine and book talk in a local bar (I prefer “pub” since we are discussing Thomas Hardy), it was noted by one of our “irregulars” that our book sharing group seems to be driven to read those titles which are free or cheap. Astute observation; hence, the title of this very post, dear reader, that I came across while browsing, on site, at Daedalus Books (which is going out of business, unfortunately!) for a mere $6.98 – in hardback! Thomas Hardy, you exclaim! Good heavens!  Yes, I too confess to a tender spot for his writing –  highly detailed, perhaps excessive, one might say – with descriptions ranging from the novel’s landscape to its architecture.


Married to an artist and Whitbread-winning author, no less, this academic, this J.B. Bullen, offers a beautiful exposition of Hardy the author – researched, footnoted, and documented making any librarian’s heart pitter-patter with joy. Overlay a series of sensitive narratives – a story for each of Hardy’s novels – that both widen one’s horizons to the author’s brilliance,

On Far From the Madding Crowd, Bullen writes, “Of its fifty-seven chapters, at least thirty-one are set in conditions where vision is partly or totally obscured” (40). 

while simultaneously enfolding the reader within the bittersweet world of his characters and their dramas. It is here, upon a dark, obscure path where Bathsheba Everdene begins her downward spiral.

“This bit of the path was always the crux of the night’s ramble, though, before starting, her apprehensions of danger were not vivid enough to lead her to take a companion” (165).

There is much to be said for re-reading the classics in tandem with a serious, albeit lovingly composed and illustrated companion piece. There is much to be said for age, also. I rather doubt, in my teens or even twenties, that I would be as thrilled to the bone as I am now with Mr. Hardy and his world, even with Mr. Bullen’s guidance, and the experience of living. Thank you to both authors for a chance to re-visit, re-learn, and re-love literature.

And, I am only at Chapter 1.

Further reading

Bullen, J.B.  Thomas Hardy: the World of His Novels.  London: Frances Lincoln Limited Publishers, 2013. Print.
Hardy, Thomas. Far From the Madding Crowd. New York: Open Road Media, 2014. eBook.

Children’s author remains steadfast


The Trumpet of the Swan

[A teacher ponders a lesson.]

Imagine a boy riding a bicycle. Steel handlebars wide apart, arms open wide. Impish smile spreading as worn leather shoes pedal round and round. Speed away from the cry, “Steady as you go.” Inhaling country air in gulps, joy is unleashed. This boy, this Elywn, loves herons on the lake, paddling his canoe. And now, this city man treasures those summers of slipping off into the woods. Imagine. This boy becomes a man who writes for children who love summer, who love trumpet swans and one that cannot speak. This storybook Sam embraces nature. 

First, share the life. Fifteen faces imagine our cyclist.  Their young hands open to page one – The Trumpet of the Swan – Begin, my cynets. Go beyond the classroom to summer’s call.

divider line

collaged cover art

A stellar biography of this author is highly advised for those young readers who have enjoyed so many of E.B. White’s titles written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet.

I am so fortunate to have taught where I did for so many years. I created a world for my students that suited their sensibilities. One winter my young charges shared in the fictional world of E.B. White based upon this classic title, while I shared with them his boyhood based upon a stellar biography of the author.

Sims, Michael. The Story of Charlotte’s Web: E.B. White’s Eccentric Life In Nature and the Birth of An American Classic.  Walker and Company, 2011. Print.
Sweet, Melissa. Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. Print.
White, E.B. and Fred Marcellino, illus.  The Trumpet of the Swan. HarperCollins Publishers, 2000. Print.

tête-à-tête with a children’s author

biography book cover large

Stories of My Life 

The hiatus from teaching and librarianship flew by o’er these past two weeks. This is due in part to my reading of above book – a gift from an astute friend who has nothing to do with formal librarianship, but much to do with libraries and reading!  She is an avid reader.

Although this is touted as a biography in many reviews, my dear students may find this in the 810s (DDC) as it has more to do with an understanding of this author, rather than a linear biography for sequential events in her life.

It is a delight.

Imagine Katherine Paterson sitting across from you, a pastel pink button-down sweater, a single strand of elegant pearls, with tea in hand. She and you are chitchatting about her life, as events arise in the ebb and flow of a relaxed conversation.

Reading this book every evening presented me with such an opportunity. Her life as a child, living in Japan with her missionary parents and siblings in peace and times of war, her serendipitous meeting of her would-be husband, marriage, travel, again, and her experiences portrayed through her novels – all are divulged with honesty and in the language of friendship.


While not within the same category as Stories of My Life, it is Michael Morpurgo’s  A Storymaker’s Journey: Singing For Mrs Pettigew that comes to mind.

His compilation of short, intimate stories although fictional, resonate in tenderness, drama and humor with Ms. Paterson’s chapters.


Morpurgo, Michael. Singing for Mrs Pettigrew: A Storymaker’s Journey. Walker Books, Ltd. 2007. Print.
Paterson, Katherine. Stories of My Life. Dial Books, 2014. Print.