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 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)

Beyond the Paw Paw Trees X2

craig hodgkins

~ by Craig Hodgkins on July 28, 2007.

50 Responses to “How I Finally Satisfied My Wife with a Lavender Blue Strawberry Choo Choo Train”

  1. That’s great! Very nicely written. It makes me want to find a long lost book!

  2. This is also a favorite of mine. I am 25 years old and got this book from a great aunt of mine who was a book lover herself. I used to have the copy she gave me but 8 moves and 12 years later it is nowhere to be found and I am devastated! If you can help me find a copy I would be sooo happy! I have not had any luck finding it. Thanks

  3. Liz. I’ll shoot you an email with some search info. The book is not impossible to find (since you know the title!), just pricey. I know I didn’t have that kind of money when I was 25. Or even today, actually.

  4. Craig, thank you so much for sharing your heartwarming story! This was one of my favorites as a child (I’m now 38), and for the last few months I’ve had snippets from it floating in and out of my mind. I finally was near a computer when it happened, and stumbled upon your story when Googling it. Thank you for the BookFinder link, and cheers to you for doing something so wonderful for your wife! I’m sure she’s enjoying it as much as I will when I find my “new” copy! How wonderful that the book is still bringing joy to readers, even being so far out of print! Thank you!!!

  5. Thanks for stopping by, Robin, and especially for the kind comments. I receive an average of 2-3 Google searches a day about “Beyond the Pawpaw Trees,” so you and my wife are not alone in your fond memories! And if you’re out there looking for a copy, don’t forget Palmer Brown wrote a sequel titled “The Silver Nutmeg.”

  6. Anna Lavinia is also translated in dutch and it had a great effect on my life. I became a youth librarian because of Anna Lavinia.She made a different in my childhood, i started to look different towards life itself: ‘only eat when it’s nice not because you ve to’ and the simple way Anna Lavina deals with problems in life it is still MAGIC for me. I always wondered why there is no movie of this book and wonderfull child. Anne Myrrthe

  7. I am so happy you found this book! There is actually a second one which I grew up reading called The Silver Nutmeg, where Anna Lavinia has another adventure. This book I do have, and if you wish to surprise your wife, it is not as pricey as Beyond the PawPaw Trees. I have been searching for a reasonably priced PawPaw book with no luck. Maybe when I feel like splurging, I will just bite the bullet and do it. I want my daughter to read about Anna Lavinia. She is a wonderful character.

  8. Anne and Flora: Thanks for stopping by. I do own a copy of The Silver Nutmeg, and my wife, children and I enjoy it as well. I’m so pleased that Anna Lavinia continues to provide great memories for people around the world.

  9. I just came across this while Googling said book, trying to obtain a copy for my little cousin. When I was a kid I checked this book out and renewed with a vengence – I could not get enough of it. I missed it desperately for several years. One day I was telling my best friend about the book. The very next day she surprised me with a copy – actually, the copy I had read as a child. She’d bought it at a library sale for fifty cents.

    I’m still on the hunt for The Silver Nutmeg, and now my best friend is, too!

  10. Like so many others before me, I found this site through a google search. This book was a childhood favorite from the school library. When I went to try and find it as an adult, I could only remember the “paw paw trees” part of the title. I kept thinking it was “Under the Paw Paw Trees”. Fortunately I eventually found what I was looking for, although I have yet to locate a copy that is affordable. What I enjoyed about your post is the mention of the phrase “lavender blue” Now I know why I love that phrase so much! I thought it was from hearing the song of the same name, but it must have been a combination of both the book and the song. I had forgotten both the phrase and the cat named strawberry, but remembered once I read what you had written of your wife’s memories. Thank you for the reminder! I hope to find the book again someday. Perhaps the publisher can reprint it?!

  11. Allison: You’re fortunate to have such a great (and lucky!) friend. Hope you locate The Silver Nutmeg soon (it seems to be a bit more available than Pawpaw Trees).

  12. Jennifer: You’ve run into the same issue my wife had, but at least you had most of the title! Maybe you were mixing it up with the old Jack Lemmon film “Under the Yum Yum Tree.” With all of the songs and movies out there, our heads can get pretty full!

  13. I too checked this book out from the library as a child, millions of times, and longed for a copy. I checked the web over and over for a copy. I finally found one on ebay for more than I have ever paid for a book before, but I love having it! No dust jacket though. I am so glad to find out this book was as enthralling to other children as it was to me!

  14. Beyond the Pawpaw Trees and The Silver Nutmeg were favorite childhood reading and I love them still. They influenced me greatly and, I hope, positively. Why on earth has no one reprinted them? I cannot possibly afford the prices charged for used copies. The hedgehog over the wall, the spoon in the oatmeal, the drawings of flavors, Songs from Nowhere, The Spangled Pandemonium – what joy!

  15. I am 41 years old and have read vorociously my entire life. As a child in very rural La., my joy was the arrival of the bookmobile in our driveway every week or so. I just stumbled on your posting during a google search {Lavender blue} looking for a long lost love{YOUR WIFE’S BOOK}. Our stories {your wife’s and mine} were almost exact. Irony like this only happens once in a lifetime. Thank you for the closure. I will soon have my copy.

  16. Suzie: So glad you fond this post. This book continues to delight so many. I hope whomever owns the copyright will decide to put it back in print so a new generation may enjoy it more easily.

  17. Oh dear. I have been looking for an affordable copy of this for soooooooo long. A semi-local library had a copy but about 18 months ago, I checked and it had been stolen (damn and bless e-bay!). I have a copy of Silver Nutmeg from about 30 years ago from my beautiful Aunt (thank you, Aunt Phyllis!) I’ve got some leftover birthday money this year so I may spring and buy it. I so do not understand why they don’t reprint it!

  18. I too, loved this book and its sequel. I read it a ton of times when I was a child. More than 30 years later, when time and money permitted, I decided to find the books, with only a bit more info than you had. I sent an email to someone I didn’t know, who answered in a day with the titles. I bought both Beyond the Paw Paw Trees and the Silver Nutmeg. I am so happy I found these, they are incredible stories.

  19. I loved your story and immediately read it aloud to my husband who has had to listen to me recite the first chapter and all of the songs from Beyond the Paw Paw Trees repeatedly (I still have them memorized. Thankfully, my mom always started reading a book aloud with the title and author so I’ve always had that information). I wish someone would decide to reprint this wonderful book! We finally found the tape my mom made so he has now heard the whole story. Someday we’ll save up our shuckles and buy our own copy.

  20. I am not sure if any of you will check this for updates, but I have a copy of this book that I am about to put on E-bay for nowhere near the high price that you all mentioned. It does not have its dust jacket, but if you are looking for it for sentimental reasons, this should fit the bill! Let me know if any of you are still looking for it and I’ll post it after I hear back from at least one of you.

  21. I loved both “Beyond the Paw Paw Trees” and “Silver Nutmeg” as a kid (and went on to major in English and become a high school English teacher). I had no idea how fortunate I am to have kept my paperback copies of both from the ’70s! Amazon sellers have them listed for about $100 each?! Holy smokes!

  22. I was like your wife and have searched for years for it and the companion book, The Silver Nutmeg. I actually (years ago) almost had the luck of buying it for $9 on a used book site–but they ended up canceling my order. Fact was, before that time it not anywhere near as expensive as it is today, but it went way up shortly after that. I actually read it to my second grade class and years later had kids (boys and girls) coming up to ask me if could tell them the name of the book with the red-headed girl. I finally read it again last night–getting it as an interlibrary loan. (A very few libraries still have copies of it.) I agree that they should republish, (even wrote to a publishing company to suggest it, but i am sure that email got lost in the mash of emails i am sure they get about everything–I didn’t have a specific person to send it to.) Kathy Bates, the actress, had it on a website that was her favorite book–maybe she could influence them to reissue it, so another generation could enjoy.(It looks like the copyright was renewed in 1982)

  23. It’s interesting to see all the responses to what I thought was an obscure children’s book. I read it over 50 years agao as a child and it has stayed with me all this time. I’ve searched for a copy I can afford. Hope to find one someday. Congratulations on getting this wonderful book for your wife.

  24. I love this book! I received a copy from my grandmother and have read it every year or so since then – about 20 years. Now I can read it to my children and we have been loving it. My father recently found a copy of The Silver Nutmeg for me. Such a wonderful couple of books!
    I’m so glad you were able to find the book for your wife. I am sure she was so happy. What a great husband!

  25. Craig- that is a fantastic story! Thanks for sharing it with me =)

  26. Joy of joys! Several of my wonderful friends chipped in and bought me Beyond the Pawpaw Trees for my 55th birthday. When I opened the box, I gasped, my jaw dropped, and I burst into tears (BLUSH). What sweet and thoughtful friends I have, and how lucky I am to have my very own copy. The story and illustrations are just as superb as I remembered. Big, happy sigh.

  27. I love your story. Yesterday I checked out all of Palmer Brown’s books available at our library, and ordered the others through interlibrary loan. I walked out of the library feeling such an affection and love for the books in my hands I’ve been on a little mission since then–even calling the publisher to request a reprint (I haven’t heard back and don’t know if I will). I also had a copy of Pawpaw Trees as a girl but have no idea what I did with it. Does anyone know much about Palmer Brown? I can’t find anything and would love to know more. Can you imagine having a parent who thought up such wonderful things!?

  28. I created a facebook site to try to drum-up support for a reprinting. It’s called “‘Beyond the Pawpaw Trees’ fans request reprint”–sorry, I don’t know how to create a direct link here. Please add it if you know how to do that.

  29. I loved these books as a child, and I always thought I was the only one who knew about them…
    My lovely husband also hunted them down for me, and probably paid too much, but we now have a hardback with dustjacket of “Beyond the PawPaw Trees” and a nice paperback of “The Silver Nutmeg”.
    This brief statement is the only information I have ever found about the author. I copied it below.
    If you want more information, I found it on the website for the Univ. of Minnnesota Libraries, Palmer Brown donated his papers to them.

    Biographical Sketch
    Palmer Brown was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1919. He received his BA at Swarthmore College and his MA at University of Pennsylvania. Although he had no artistic training, he became a writer and illustrator of children’s books. Biographical Source: Something About the Author, v. 36, pp. 40-41.

  30. The excellent New York Review of Books is reprinting “Beyond the Pawpaw Trees”. It will be available October 2011. If it proves popular enough, fingers crossed for “The Silver Nutmeg” to follow.

  31. I have been searching, though not as diligently, for Anna Lavinia all my life. People tell me I dreamed her up. But I remember oatmeal with pats of butter, a high brick wall, a hot air balloon, and a lavender rosebush. The drawings were stipple, as I recall. She is the prototype for my inner being, forever. Your wife is so blessed to have a husband who cares so much. I’m thrilled to know that the book fetches such a high price, even though that means I can’t afford it. I even worked in the Children’s Rare Book Collection of the Boston Public Library and couldn’t find it. This is a special day for me!

  32. I have a framed print of a palm tree in my bathroom. I fell in love with it when I saw it in a gallery and had to buy it. I didn’t know why until just now when I went to look at the new listing (which seems to have been corrected to include the word “trees”). But looking at the cover of the new book, I realized the reason I like my palm tree so much is that it is done in exactly the style of Palmer Brown’s illustrations in the books which I loved as a kid.

    I’m lucky to still have my childhood paperbacks of both Anna Lavinia books, but alas have no kids of my own to pass them on to.

  33. I seem to have multiple personalities on here; Seattle Dave, Dave, and oldtarrier are all me.

  34. Just wanted to let everyone know. ITS BEING REPRINTED!! It is due to be released October 11, 2011 and you can pre-order it from amazon for $9.97. Woohoo!

  35. How wonderful that this classic is being reprinted. I’m buying a copy for each of the friends who chipped in last year to buy a secondhand copy for my birthday. I’m so excited – now they can all have it! Spread the word, everyone, and let’s make sure this book stays in print for a long, long time.

  36. NYRB is also reprinting the sequel, “The Silver Nutmeg”, available April 10, 2012.

  37. This was my favorite book in the 6th grade, and I loved it so much my teacher gave it to me. I haven’t read it for gosh, 25 years? But I still remember the poem that says something like “when I was young and full of hope, I braided me a length of rope, to tie about the bag of gold, that I would have when I was old …” Did I get it right? It’s just one of those things that struck me and has been retained in my mental “forever file”!

  38. This is such a wonderful story! I have a similar one… For many years I had been casually looking for my favorite book as a child in elementary school. I checked Beyond the Paw Paw Trees out so many times between 4th and 6th grades I truly believe no one else had a chance to read it. I fell in love with it in the early 80s and described it to my husband almost as vaguely as the woman in this story did. One day, when I was home sick from work, he surprised me with my very own copy – it looked exactly like the library copy I remembered! I treasure it!!!

  39. My mother (1945 – 2002) read “Beyond The PawPaw Trees” to me when I was a child. I was luckier than your wife, and stumbled upon a copy at an estate sale; every book, 50¢!! When I got home I googled it and saw the very large price tag and knew I’d found a treasure in more ways than one. Not that I would part with it! I’m sure my mother’s copy is in storage somewhere among her other things, but ah! finding it is another story.

    Fast forward severaI years, and I recently gave copies of the new printing to my daughter’s 6 year old friends for Christmas, with an inscription explaining how the story had been handed down to me and how glad I was to pass it along again.

    One of the girls fell properly in love, calling it her, “third favorite book ever.” I am now in the process of sewing a “Thobby” to present to her complete with blue satin ribbon and silver key, (hunted high and low for a key that matched the illustration!) probably as a gift for Valentine’s Day, but maybe just for no reason at all on the next Lavender Blue Day..

    I did not give my daughter a copy, because we have the old one, but I’m making a thobby for her too. (Or is it for me?)

    • I meant to add, that I didn’t realize it, until I re-read the book as an adult, but Anna Lavinia is probably responsible for my decision to home school, “Although she was old enough to go to school, her mother had never troubled to send her. When the time had come for her to go, her mother thought about it for an hour or so and decided not to send her.”

  40. Just found this blog.. Palmer Brown was my neighbor. He lived with his mother and he gave my sister and I several of his books. He wrote personal inscriptions to us inside along with special illustrations just for us and he signed them. We’ve kept them in excellent condition all of our lives and still enjoy looking at them. We never realized there was anyone else who knew of him or that his books had such a following. I am sad to know that he passed away.

  41. I have tears in my eyes and goosebumps reading this. All-time favourite Wondrous book, reading it as an adult I realized how subversive it is – no wonder i am the way i am, lol – but such pure magic I can’t fathom why it’s not better known. The last comment above fills me with awe. I have both PawPaw and The Silver Nutmeg now and always want to share them widely. Thank you!

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