Meridian Industrial


1/8/20 | G. Michael Dobbs


This issue of Go Local features the Story Barn in Somers, CT., and the home of the Frieda B. children’s book series. The idea of the location is to provide a place for children and families to participate in a wide array of activities that encourage creativity and reading. It also gives children an opportunity to meet an author.

I think it’s an amazing thing for a kid to connect a book that he or she likes with the person who created it. I believe that such a meeting helps strengthen the interest in reading and encourages a child to consider that he or she could also create a story.

When I was a little kid – 1961 and age seven to be precise – my mom watched an episode of a popular local TV show “Western Massachusetts Highlights,” hosted by the affable Tom Colton. The daily 15-minute show featured local people and events and on one episode Colton interviewed Thornton W. Burgess, the nationally known children’s book author.

You may not recall Burgess, but he was a prolific author and naturalist. He wrote his children’s books from 1910 through 1960. He was honored during his life for his efforts to introduce children to nature and animals and had a popular radio show as well as his work in print. In 1960, he completed his 15,000th newspaper column. He died at age 91 in 1965. I remember reading his obituary in the newspaper.

Now, the very first book I took out of the Springfield Library was a Burgess book. Burgess wrote a nationally syndicated newspaper feature with his animal stories that was carried locally. From a young age I was interested in newspapers and remember connecting the dots between the person who wrote the column and the person who write the books.

My mom took a comment that Burgess made that he enjoys meeting his readers to heart. She called his studio and home in Hampden and made an appointment for her, my brothers and me to see him.

For my seven-year-old mind this was inconceivable. First, the author I like lives here? He is someone we are meeting? How could that happen?

So one day in October, the three of use drove to Hampden to his home. My mom parked in front of his studio building and went in to see him. She came out after a brief meeting and ushered us in.

Years later she said she wanted to make sure Burgess was genuinely interested in seeing us.

Burgess was very gracious and accommodating. He pointed out a cabin at the top of a hill and explained that had been his writing studio until his arthritis made it impossible for him to climb up the hill to it.

The building with his new studio was built on the edge of a stream, which he called Laughing Brook. Laughing Brook played a huge role in his books as a major location and I recognized it immediately. Again my seven-year-old mind was blown as I thought about something in the books was based on a real thing.

Burgess chatted with us – I remember his desk was messy – and my mom bought several autographed books from Burgess. It was one of my most memorable events of my childhood.

I have my copy of “Grandfather Frog” at my desk at work, along with several other books that have meaning for me. Meeting an author whose work I enjoy is still a thrill for me. If you have children in your life, a trip to see an author should be on your list of things to do.

- G. Michael Dobbs, Managing Editor

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