Good things do indeed come in small packages
By Melora B. North
Saturday, Dec 27, 2008
PROVINCETOWN – The name Catherine Woolley may be a familiar one, especially to those who live in Truro where the late writer resided. In fact, the children’s reading room at the town’s library is named after the author, who died July 23, 2005, after penning 86 books for children.
So prolific was Woolley that her editor suggested she author some of her books under an alias. Borrowing her maternal grandmother’s name, Jane Thayer, Woolley wrote “The Blueberry Pie Elf,” now out in a facsimile edition just in time for holiday reading round the fireplace with the little ones.
In this endearing book, Elmer, an impish, wee elf, gets into the blueberry pie and simply swoons with delight till his tummy swells with excess. It is so sweet, so tasty and so tantalizing, the berries bursting in his mouth with joyous abandon.
Elmer is weak with desire to awaken the next day and have another sampling. But the universe is against him — the family whose home he lives in has polished off the pie for breakfast. Drat!
In a house full of bakers, another pie is in the offing the following week. Elmer thinks perhaps the people are going to make another blueberry pie. Yum, the elf is in heaven with anticipation; that is, until he gets a whiff of apples. An apple pie, double drat! How can he get across to the family that they must make a blueberry pie, the savory sweet he lusts after?
Being an invisible creature, Elmer sets out on a course of action. He will do chores around the house to win the affection of the family. He will make the beds, tend the dishes and simply do whatever needs be done to get their attention.
Alas, his household doings are appreciated but the family still has no clue as to his existence, nor for that matter, his desire for a blueberry pie. Oh, if only he hadn’t sneaked into the pie the other day and fallen in love with the scrumptious concoction. The antics that follow are sweet frolics that tempt the imagination and bring back memories of youthful schemes.
In this small book there are large ideas that touch on innovation, creativity, sensitivity and even manners. It is a delightful little tale that is fanciful and engaging in its innocence and simplicity, capturing readers of all ages — which is perhaps the reason it has been resuscitated at this time. Seymour Fleishman — who collaborated on other books by Woolley, including the “Gus the Friendly Ghost” series — illustrates the book. With a sense of humor Fleishman has created a petite elf with choppy hair, a long nose and toothpick legs — a creature that will win your heart with his earnest antics. The artwork coupled with the story makes a delightful marriage of spirit, hope and imagination.
Woolley wrote children’s books under her alias and used her real name for books she wrote for teens and adults. She is perhaps best known for her “Ginny” and “Cathy” series for young adults. Her one book for adults was a tutorial titled “Writing for Children,” which deals with publishing, writing for the audience and tapping into the imagination.
The writer’s first book, “I Like Trains,” published in 1944, was inspired by her nephew who was a train hound and let her know it. So smitten was she with his enthusiasm she knew she had to pen a story about trains. Thus her career took off — but not before she paid her dues.
A 1927 graduate of the University of California in Los Angeles, she started out as a copy and freelance writer in New York City during the 1920s and ’30s. She then moved on to the American Radiator & Standard Corporation where she did copywriting in publicity. Editorial positions followed in the ’40s at various publications, and then she took on the challenge of public relations writing for the National Association of Manufacturers, also in New York. She would stay there until 1947 when she moved out of the trenches and into her private office where she would pump out her books, the last of which, “The Popcorn Dragon,” was published in 1989, the same year her adult book came out.