Book Review: The Mother West Wind Collection

The Mother West Wind Collection, vol. 1 by Thornton W. Burgess

This volume contains four books:  Old Mother West Wind, Mother West Wind’s Children, Mother West Wind’s Animal Friends, & Mother West Wind’s Neighbors.  The books were first published between 1910 and 1913.  They are collections of Mr. Burgess’ first children’s stories centered around the Green Meadow, Green Forest, and the Smiling Pool. 

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The stories are funny, sweet, and very pertinent for young listeners.  They are definitely aimed at preschoolers and are best read aloud.  The substance is gentle and timeless – the animals are given names, attributes, and personalities that any preschooler would recognize in his or her playmates, but that are also quite accurate for the animals being portrayed. When Billy Mink catches a young trout for his dinner, Mr. and Mrs. Trout and the remaining trout small fry do what fish do naturally – they hide under a ledge where Billy Mink can’t go.  Spotty the turtle is slow when ashore, but in the water he can move as rapidly as the next animal. 

One of the best aspects of Mr. Burgess’ world is that even though the animals are recognizable as children themselves, there is no artificial suspension of how these different animals interact with each other or fit into a food web. In less adept hands, these interactions could frighten a small child, but Mr. Burgess seamlessly blends a child’s sense of play, and of right and wrong, with the natural order of things.  As a result, young children can identify with his animals as people as well as begin to recognize the different animals themselves and their place in the natural world.  His mischief makers behave as they would naturally without being scary, and the animal’s play serves the same purpose – teaching the youngsters about the world – as it does in nature.  The animals’ behaviors are thus givens, and the very complex interrelationships that exist in any ecosystem are rendered in a simple, recognizable form.  Reddy Fox is a bully and is always picking on Johnny Chuck, who is a slow, mild-mannered chap who doesn’t go in for strenuous physical activity.  But when Reddy Fox surprises Johnny Chuck and pulls his tail, Johnny Chuck turns on Reddy Fox and chases him all over the wood.   

It is hard to envision a better introduction to the natural environment than is provided by these stories. The books themselves, and collections such as these, are readily available from at least two publishers through Amazon.  The author, Thornton W. Burgess, grew up in Massachusetts around the turn of the 20th century, and it is his observations of a local wooded wetland habitat that animate the characters and settings of these stories.  He became a noted conservationist and a prolific author, penning over 170 books of short children’s stories about the natural world and the animals living in it. His writing career lasted from 1910 through the 1960s, during which he also furthered conservation causes and wildlife protection efforts.  He died in 1965 at the age of 91.