by Judy Newman with Alexie Basil
I like to have my cabinets at home well stocked—in case of an unforeseen gas crisis, or the sudden demise of Amazon, or the zombie apocalypse. But after reading about the stockpiling field mice in Leo Lionni’s Frederick, I really began to wonder why I have this tendency.
When I was a kid growing up in Newton, Massachusetts, virtually all stores were closed on Sunday. Some stores even had half-day hours during the week. Retail establishments were definitely not open on holidays. It wasn’t until 1994, when I had kids of my own, that the Sunday Shopping Act was enacted, ending the “day of rest” for commerce in most communities.
Retail and online convenience shopping that we now take for granted were not part of my childhood. Even 7-Eleven didn’t experiment with a full 24-hour convenient status until 1963, or three decades after it was founded. Here’s an interesting excerpt from an article about how it all got started:
“The Southland Ice Company saw potential in Uncle Johnny’s idea [he kept his ice store open 16 hours a day, selling bread, milk, and eggs] and merged operations at various locations under the extended schedule of 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. In 1946, these stores became called 7-Eleven.
“It would take 36 years for the company to adopt the 24-hour model, and when it did, it was an accident: following a football game at the University of Texas, customers flooded the 7-Eleven in Austin. ‘It couldn’t close,’ notes the company’s website. The store stayed open all night. So successful was the inadvertent model, that always-open 7-Elevens began to crop up intentionally; the first all-night outpost, perhaps unsurprisingly, was in Las Vegas.”
I grew up pretty focused on the need to plan, be prepared, and stock up. I loved to have parties, and if I didn’t think in advance—and do a huge shopping trip before the holiday weekend—I would run out of food (not allowed in my family!) for, say, the big Fourth of July barbeque or a huge end-of-summer party.
Before 24-hour convenience stores, you had to prepare. You couldn’t just order something and have it arrive two days later.
These days, my kids couldn’t care less about getting physical “snail” mail. But when I was growing up, getting mail was so exciting. We put our delivered mail on the radiator in the hall in our house (we still do!), and when I came home from school, I would check to see if anything had arrived for me: an issue of Highlights or Mad magazine; a letter from my pen pal; a postcard from Sophie Prioux, who was our French exchange student; or a birthday card (usually bearing cash when it was from my grandmother); or a holiday gift.
I remember being especially thrilled when the huge package containing the seven LP records I ordered for one cent from the Columbia Record & Tape Club arrived: Bobbie Gentry, Three Dog Night, the Beach Boys…
(I was less thrilled when the subsequent records would come, and they were way more expensive than the promotional price and I would owe about $12.99 [which seemed like a fortune!] for each one. But I always fulfilled my membership obligation.)
Writing this post drove me downstairs to my basement to look at the great records I still own (which are waiting for me to get a new record player).
(I am dying to tell you about the time in eighth grade when my friend Carol Waldman and I snuck out and took the subway—before it was called the T—to downtown Boston to see Tom Jones in concert. But too much digressing…)
I got similar amazing deals from Book of the Month Club.
Two more things were critical influencers on my need for preparedness. First, we had a huge gas shortage in the 1970s, and the stress of having to wait to get gas or not being able to go somewhere for lack of gasoline means that today I never let my tank get less than half full.
Second, I always carry around a huge tote bag filled with all kinds of random supplies. I like to be the person who has the extra tissue or Band-Aids or throat lozenges or ballpoint pens. But I just realized why I also carry around a silver dollar, a screwdriver, postage stamps, and a two-dollar bill.
This came from the old days when I would watch Let’s Make a Deal. At the end of each episode, Monty Hall would go into the studio audience and offer people cash if they could produce random items (watch a clip here). This stressed me out so much that I have spent the past several decades trying to be ready if Monty ever comes my way.
When I put all these memories together, it gives me some perspective on why my gasoline tank is always full and why—even in the age of myriad shopping options and nearly instant delivery—I am still a stockpiler.
Our linen closet is always stocked with unnecessarily large quantities of toilet paper, paper towels, and napkins. (Although I have noticed my kids—who live in apartments with much less storage and lower budgets—do take a few rolls home each time they come to visit us in New Jersey.)
I started writing this post from my childhood home in Newton because my dad, age 88, just had spinal surgery (he’s doing well!).
Before I headed home and back to work at Scholastic, I wanted to check out my parents’ cabinets to make sure they had what they needed during my dad’s convalescence.
I needn’t have worried.
My father is an interesting combination of a New World Amazon customer with an Old World need-to-stockpile sensibility. That means he knows how to order online and orders a lot. Just in case.
So now, I am turning to this week’s Dollar Deal—Frederick by Leo Lionni, a beloved Caldecott Medal–winning picture book with a positive message for readers of all ages.
“Words sustain where substance fails—specifically, the “golden glow” of the sun, the colors of the summer countryside, recalled by Frederick, the sedentary mouse.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
In the story, a group of field mice collect food to prepare for winter. But one little mouse, Frederick, has a different approach. Instead of contributing to the stockpile, Frederick knows that when the long winter stretches the family’s supplies and pushes them to the breaking point, they’ll need something powerful to make it through. And so he soaks in his surroundings—the sun, the colors, the flowers, and more. Then, during the season of cold and hardship, Frederick helps the mice through a shortage by sharing his poetry.
It is a beautiful, simple concept and one that David Vozar appreciates. Like Leo Lionni, David is a writer and a visual artist. After reading Frederick, he was reminded of the similarities between the two forms of expression:
“All through high school, I loved to write poetry. Bob Dylan, Donovan, and John Lennon were my muses. I would spend the day in the basement writing, and then I would transcribe my work into hand-drawn books.
“When I got to college, I studied visual design. My brain shifted to expressing myself solely through visual arts.
“In my first job as a designer, I worked closely with many copywriters. We would work as teams with shared due dates for our projects. I remember feeling great anxiety waiting for the writers to deliver their copy to me so I could begin my designs. I always wondered, ‘Why don’t they just give me the copy?’
“It took me a long time to learn that great copy, much like any visual art, needs to go from concept, to sketch form, to first drafts, to iteration upon iteration until it is just right. Just like those hours spent working on my poems.”
Frederick was originally published in 1967 and has had a strong presence in children’s literature ever since. Forty years later, in 2007, it was named one of Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children by the National Education Association.
The blog team was excited to meet another adorable and intelligent literary mouse this week! Tune in to see the Book Boys reenact the story with their own twist; hear from teacher Brian Smith on how Frederick encourages kids to think outside the box in Book Talks; create a Color Collage poem in Cooked Up from a Book; and learn more about Leo Lionni, the beloved creator of Frederick, in Behind the Scenes!
I hope you enjoy this week’s Dollar Deal, and if you need some extra paper towels or a Band-Aid or a screwdriver at midnight, you know who to call.
This Book Is Available from Scholastic Book Clubs