Sunday, August 20, 2006

Little Georgie Sings a Song

We're happy that our new neighborhood has an abundance of small wildlife: groundhogs, chipmunks, squirrels and, especially, rabbits. One of our neighbors spotted seven rabbits under a single tree a few nights ago, but we commonly see five or six during our early-morning or late-evening walks.

Soon after we moved in, Sydney dubbed the area "Rabbit Hill," and whenever a baby rabbit hopped across our path, she cried, "Little Georgie!" She was aghast when I got neither reference. "You mean you never read Rabbit Hill when you were a child?" she asked. When I told her I never even had heard of Rabbit Hill, she tracked down a copy at the library and thrust it into my hands.

So now I personally can attest to Rabbit Hill, written and illustrated by Robert Lawson, being a lovely book. It's about the little animals of the pastures and woods waiting expectantly for the New Folks to move into the Big House, in hopes the New Folks prove to be kind and generous with such things as their garden and their garbage. The moral is "There is enough for all," and so there is. Lawson set this book, first published in 1944, on his own farm in Connecticut; like E.B. White's Charlotte's Web and Walter R. Brooks' novels about Freddy the Pig, it's an enduring children's book about farm life written at mid-century by a publishing-industry veteran long resident in New York City.

Most interesting to me, for personal reasons, was Chapter 3, "Little Georgie Sings a Song," about the youngest member of the rabbit family:
Little Georgie lay back in the warm grass and sang his
song --
New Folks coming, oh my!
New Folks coming, oh my!
New Folks coming, oh my!
Oh my! Oh my!

There weren't many words and there weren't many notes, and the notes just went up a little and down a little and ended where they began. Lots of people might have thought it monotonous, but it suited Little Georgie completely. He sang it loud and he sang it soft, he sang it as a paean of triumph, a saga of perils met and overcome. He sang it over and over again.
How admirable the word "paean" in a book aimed at 10-year-olds! But I digress. This description of Little Georgie's song perfectly fits Sydney's little songs, too.

Most people don't know this, but she makes up and sings little songs about things that make her happy. For example, we like to vacation in Kill Devil Hills, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and we generally rent the same condo, year after year. As we approach the condo, Sydney sings:

It's our condo!
Our little condo!

Transcribed like that, it doesn't look like much, but it suits both Sydney and me completely, and its melody does indeed go up a little and down a little and end where it began. Sydney doesn't remember when she started habitually singing these little songs, but I'm convinced they come from her reading about Little Georgie when she was a child -- or, even earlier, having her mother read to her about Little Georgie. Little Georgie probably was one of the first writers and musicians of her acquaintance.

(For a very different take on New Folks moving into a neighborhood teeming with rabbits, read Kelly Link's brilliant story "Stone Animals," in her brilliant collection Magic for Beginners.)


Christopher said...

Wow! I haven't thought of that book in years, but like Sydney I loved it when I was a kid. I probably haven't actually read the full text--I read it (many times) in a Reader's Digest Best Loved Classics or whatever they were called.

I had a melody for the New Folks song. I remember when they have a religious ceremony for St. Francis, and that they like the new guy because he smokes a pipe so they can tell when he's around. I seem to remember the man looking up at Georgie and saying "Oh, hello there" or something like that.

I sing little songs too. In fact, a lot of times I make up a little song for whatever story I'm working on; the one for "The Voluntary State" even made it into the text.

Kip W said...

Robert Lawson was one of the masters. Some years back now, the Chrysler Museum (an art museum, despite the name) had a show of children's book illustration, with original art by just about everybody I could think of from Tenniell, Parrish and Shepherd to McCloskey, Seuss and Van Allsburg. Was Lawson there? How could he not be?

Hm, I remember in 8th grade, snickering because Lawson's drawing of a gangster called "Fish-Eye" looked a lot like one of my teachers. Heh.