How I Finally Satisfied My Wife with a Lavender Blue Strawberry Choo Choo Train
Early in our engagement, my wife and I discovered we each loved browsing used books stores. It was great; wandering up and down the aisles, sipping coffee, dodging cats…until it became clear that on just about every visit, I found some long-lost children’s book I was looking for. And she didn’t. Ever.
“Hey, look,” I’d say, in typical clueless fashion, not realizing it was turning the knife just a bit more, “here’s a Freddy the Pig. By Walter Brooks. Used to read those back in sixth grade. I’ve been looking for that FOREVER!” She’d smile that wonderful smile of hers, genuinely excited for me.
Maybe it was because my “want list” was longer than hers. Those first few years I picked up clean first editions of Sid Fleischman and Keith Robertson, all of the The California State Series Ginn Readers…you name it. But she was a walking shutout…a Gutenberg goose-egg. Eventually, though, the truth behind the trauma became obvious: she was always looking for the SAME book, a single book she’d read over and over and loved as a child. Her fond descriptions of this book were so touching, I began to pine for it, sight unseen.
And she remembered it vividly…described it at length in fact, with the exception of a few details…pretty important details, such as…the title…the author…the name of the main character. The whole thing was shrouded in mystery, as if she’d imagined it all. She remembered the phrase “Lavender Blue,” the word “Strawberry.”
For years, I ordered children’s books with “strawberry” in the title, hoping one of them would be it. Soon, our shelves were full of “it,” but no magic book.
Fast forward fifteen years. My personal library had grown to ridiculous proportions, and the used book business had shifted with the growing dominance of the Internet. You could now locate a one-of-a-kind book in Zanzibar with the touch of the enter key…as long as you knew the author or the title.
We’d nearly given up hope.
Then one day in 2005, while browsing the on-line stacks of Loganberry Books in Shaker Heights, Ohio, I stumbled onto a feature titled “Stump the Bookseller.” Here was a site where you could cry out for help to people who understood, people who cared about the lost souls with titles and authors on the tips of their tongues, wandering through the fourth circle of book hunting hell. Simply put, you could describe your memories of a book, and, for a couple bucks, post it for those caring people to see and…dare I say it? Respond. Here’s my two bucks worth, exactly as I wrote it:
“We are searching for a small hardcover book my wife read in elementary school in the ’70s. It was about a young girl sent to spend a summer with her relatives, possibly her grandparents. She may have traveled by train. The keyword my wife remembers is “lavender.” The word “strawberry” is also in her head…The cover was white, with black lettering in a circular design, possibly around a circular train track design. The book is small approx. 5″x7″ and less than 100 pages or so. Not much to go on. Thanks for any clues or assistance!”
A day later — ONE DAY LATER — this response was posted:
“Palmer Brown, Beyond the pawpaw trees: the story of Anna Lavinia, 1954. This is the story of Anna Lavinia setting out to visit her Aunt Sophia Maria who lives in a mysterious land. She’s accompanied by her cat Strawberry. The book does indeed begin on a “lavender blue day” (a theme running throughout denoting a “topsy-turvy” or “special day”) Yes, there’s a map illustrating the train journey. Highly detailed and intricate black & white illustrations by the author, himself. A truly exquisite book! (122 pages in 1973 Camelot pbk edition). Originally published by Harper in 1954. I do feel this is the one you are looking for.”
That evening, with the precious info in hand, I hit Bookfinder.com with a vengeance. I found not one, but TWO fine hardcover editions of “Beyond the Pawpaw Trees,” a first printing with a fine dust jacket, and one in the library binding my wife (ahem) remembered. Bought ’em both, because she is worth it. Besides, if you divide the cost of the two by 20 years, they weren’t really that expensive.
Harriett Logan, the founder of Loganberry Books, describes the “Stump the Bookseller” feature as a small sideline. All I know is, it saved my marriage.
NOTE (April 26, 2011): Great news! This wonderful book is finally back in print! Pre-order it HERE.
Maybe you’re searching for a book with a limited amount of information. Avoid 20 years of pain. Click HERE.
To read an interview with Ms. Logan, click HERE.
If you think it was hard locating a book without a title or author, you’ll have to read the story of a very difficult book search when I had all of that info. CLICK HERE.
For my other posts about BOOKS, click on the books category in the right hand sidebar.
Finally, here they are, in all their glory (and my wife is still smiling)