Connecting Literature to Life: Childhood Inspiration Comes Full Circle
Keri Krout can still recall the long hot California summers of her childhood, and how they were marked by each arrival from the mail-order Scholastic book club. Krout and her siblings would gather around their mother, eagerly watching as she opened up the cardboard wrapping that encased the book. But the one book Krout remembers most of all is Andrew Henry’s Meadow, written and illustrated by Doris (Wernstedt) Burn.
“We not only read her story, but I remember studying the pictures for hours and imagining my life in a meadow full of friends,” explained Krout. “My home of choice was the bird house built up in the sky. I imagined what a cool breeze would feel like, and the sound of the birds singing just to me.”
Andrew Henry's Meadow is the story of a boy who feels ignored and unappreciated by his family and decides to build a special retreat for himself in a nearby meadow. Other children from the neighborhood join him, so he builds houses for them as well, each one customized to complement their interests and hobbies.
“My brother and I attempted to build a pulley system in his bedroom like Andrew Henry built for his younger brothers, but I admit our attempts fell short,” said Krout. She noted that while other books continued to arrive in the mail, it was Andrew Henry’s Meadow that impacted her the most.
“I grew up working with children,” said Krout, who now works as the manager of the Associated Students Child Development Center (CDC) at Western Washington University. “I think perhaps I understand children’s need to have their own space thanks to Andrew Henry.”
Krout recalled how her favorite childhood story resurfaced when she first began working at Western as she walked through The Outback on her way to work. She encountered a small cabin and was astonished to learn its connection to Doris Burn, as the cabin had once belonged to June and Farrar Burn, Doris Burn’s parents-in-law.
“My beginning started with a simple story of the need to create, to escape, to be understood and accepted. And here I was, standing by the cabin which had belonged to the family of the woman whose life and creating influenced mine in ways I’m sure I can’t count. I felt a sense of utter gratitude of how life can take a person full circle,” Krout explained.
Krout relayed this experience to some of the families of the CDC, and one of the parents later emailed her about a special exhibition featuring the work of Doris Burn that was on display at Western Libraries. As part of this exhibition, Doris Burn’s daughter, the local author and multi-dimensional artist Skye Burn, was scheduled to give a special public presentation about the life and legacy of her mother. Krout knew immediately she would attend this event, and following Skye’s talk, the two women finally met in person.
“What an honor to meet her daughter and to bask in the glow of creative genius,” said Krout. “How can I begin to even thank Doris and her family?”
Burn’s work continues to speak to readers of all ages, and since her death in 2011, Andrew Henry’s Meadow has been reissued by Penguin’s Philomel Books. The title has also been published and is presently available in translation in Korea, China and Japan. Andrew Henry's Meadow won the Washington Governor's Art Award and was a Weekly Reader book club selection.
“Plenty of Things to Do: The Work of Northwest Children’s Author Doris Burn,” will remain on display through March 10th, and is available for viewing weekdays Monday – Friday in Special Collections, (Wilson Library 6th Floor) between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Additionally, a digital version of the Doris Burn exhibit is now available online, as are detailed collection guides to the Doris Burn Artwork and Manuscripts and related collections of June and Farrar Burn Papers and South Burn Papers, housed and available at the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies.
The pieces on display were selected from a far larger collection of Burn’s original works, which were donated to Western Libraries Heritage Resources in 2015 as a gift of the Burn Family via the Doris Burn Legacy LLC. These materials help document the cultural and artistic history of the Pacific Northwest region and were created by an artist and writer who sought specifically to engage with the needs, interests, and creativity of a younger audience.
Skye Burn’s talk, “The Strength of a Dream: A Daughter's Portrait of a Northwest Children's Author and Illustrator,” can be found in Western CEDAR and is viewable from this link.