Saturday, August 5, 2017


    On July 5th I found in my mailbox a 9 X 12 manila envelope from Good Apple.  It was too flat to be our manuscript.  I stood frozen in my condo lobby for a moment, then opened the flap with trembling fingers.
     To Jerry Aten, July 9, 1986:  "I received your contract on the 5th of July.  How appropriate that the occasion was celebrated with nationwide fireworks . . . ."   Indeed, all weekend it seemed as if the Liberty Centennial jubilation was expressly for Fran and me.  I relayed the good tidings to Floyd Rinker.  We agreed that he would buy the celebratory lunch, and I'd bring the Roman candles.
     I congratulated Fran for coming up with a format that would incorporate my mother's verses; she credited me with persistence in pushing our product for three years.  She couldn't believe it when I wouldn't give up.  No way.  Not when we were getting such great feedback from the results of her field tests -- kids thrived on our book.  Clearly, it was worth all our efforts.  Children would always be fascinated by rhyme and rhythm, and Mom was a genius in that art form.      
     Jerry told me that my co‑editor and I could provide our own illustrator, but he would have to approve sample sketches.  Or we could leave the question of artwork to them.  I asked if this meant we could be hit with a bill of two or three thousand dollars. 
     "Gracious, no!"  said Jerry.  "I wouldn't do that to you.   The most I can ever remember paying an artist for a book of this type is a thousand dollars."
     It sounded like a lot, but to the artist I had in mind, I feared it would sound like a pittance.  I had met Grace Lawrence a few months earlier at an exhibit of her paintings at Cohasset's South Shore Art Center..  She could get a thousand dollars for just one of her beautiful watercolors.  It was hardly likely that she would be interested in my project, but I invited her to have lunch at the golf club, just in case.
      Grace was interested.  She said the money didn't mean that much to her; she thought it would be fun to illustrate Mother's verses, and she had always wanted her name on a children's book.  She was startled when she learned it would be around 100 pages long and would require line drawings in the margins, as well as half‑ and full‑ page illustrations.  She thought it over and decided she was still game.
     Grace came up with three sample sketches.  I laughed at their humor and hoped Jerry would, too.  It would be exciting for Fran and me to see the artwork in progress, a pleasure we couldn't enjoy if Good Apple selected the artist. 
     Jerry gave the nod to Grace's work.  A few weeks later I began carrying armloads of galleys to her apartment.  It happened that she lived at 1000 Southern Artery in Quincy, the same senior citizen's complex where my mother spent the last two years of her life.  One day, struck by a strong sense of déjà vu, I went down to the office to ask where Ernestine Beyer's apartment had been located.  According to the records, it was not only in the same building as Grace's but also on the same floor, almost directly across the hall.  No wonder I had been getting goosebumps when I stepped out of the elevator with my arms full of Mother's poetry. It seemed Fate had anticipated that poet and artist would one day step across a void and blend their talents.
     I used to tell Grace that she and Mom were soul sisters, and now they truly are.  Bless them for leaving us their unique legacy.
    As the book began taking form, occasional changes had to be made in the text.  Two months after we received our contract, Jerry called and asked me to change the last verse of "The Donkey and the Cricket."  He didn't need to tell me why.
      The donkey tried to do so.  Did he sing, then, like Caruso?
      Heavens no!  His bray did not improve, alas!
      He went back to eating clover, saying over, dear, and over:
      "He who imitates another is an ass!"
      The summer of '83, when Fran and I were working by Ed's pool, I brought up the matter of that irksome three letter word.  "Won't children giggle and snicker and nudge each other, the way they do when they know so much more than the teacher?" I asked. 
     Fran considered pros and cons, then decided the word had too long and respectable a history to deter us.  In the case of a verse about a leprechaun, I was able to convince her that teachers would not be  comfortable with, "I chanced to see a stranger standing, cocky, in my way."  She allowed that "jaunty" would be a less hysteria inducing adjective.  (Mother was such an innocent.)
       Getting back to that ass of a donkey, I called the editor with this revision:
      The donkey tried to do so.  Did he sing, then, like Caruso?
      Heavens no!  His song became a bray at once!
      He went back to eating clover, saying over, dear, and over:
      "He who imitates another is a dunce!"
     My solution sacrificed the pun, but Jerry thought the poem had enough going for it to survive the loss.
     In another verse, "The Oyster," I was dismayed when I received the galleys and found a line changed in a way that ruined the meter.
          But one fine morning it befell
          A gritty granule nicked him.
          It hurt like H‑E‑double L, (Mom's line)
          It hurt so much he wanted to yell (Good Apple's line)
          O, how it plagued its victim!
     I implored the editors to accept the following change so my mother could rest in peace:
          And then it happened, one fine day,
          A gritty granule nicked him.
          It hurt him more than words can say ‑‑
          O, how it plagued its victim!
     To my relief, the revision met with Good Apple's approval.
     With the galleys nearing completion, I decided to express my gratitude to Fran by placing her name first on the title page.  This was a mistake. In short order I learned how true it is that no good deed goes unpunished.  Delivering some revisions to my co-editor’s front door, I was jolted when her son called, “Mom, Mrs. Malley is here about your book.” 
      Uh-huh, those were his words.  Mata Hari was telling everyone about the book she'd written, explaining that “Barbara just did the legwork of getting it published.”  An article appeared on the front page of the Patriot Ledger (“I tried to reach you, but you weren’t home”), with a photograph showing the "author" reading a poem to the children surrounding her.  When a skeptic asked if she had written the 6-page preface, her answer was:  "Barbara's English teacher wrote it."
      It feels rather good to set the record straight after all these years.
      From Jerry Aten, June 12, 1987:  Hooray!  The errors have been corrected, the books have been printed, the ink has dried and they've finally arrived.  As per our contractual arrangement, your first royalty check will be coming your way near the end of December, 1987.  This check will reflect sales made during the months of July, August and September.  Dealers usually put a rush on us during those months for our new titles.  It's also a popular time of year for teachers who are looking for their back- to ‑school supplies. I've enjoyed working with you on this project.  Let's hope the effort pays off for you and for Good Apple!
     To Jerry Aten, June 24, 1987:
     A lot has happened since you called a year ago and nearly made me burst my stitches.  A dream has become a reality that's more fantastic than the dream.  Thank you for going to bat for us and convincing your board of directors or whoever had the final say on our book.  I hope they are half as pleased with the result as Fran and I are.  We are already getting so much positive feedback, we can barely keep our feet on the golf course.
    In sum, dear readers and would-be authors, here is my recipe for marketing a successful children's book:  Start with fresh, flavorful material; toss in a friend with a yummy idea; add an artist with a dash of whimsy; press and push your product with the persistence of Sisyphus; blend with an editor who doesn't like to distress a writer. 
     Phone call from Jerry Aten, July, 1987:  "If we sell 3,000 copies in a year, we'll be elated; 2,000 would be satisfactory; 1,000 would be a disappointment."
     Oct. 31, 1989 report from Inventory on Poetry with a Purpose:  Number of copies sold since July 1987, 6,205.
     Thanks, Jerry, thank you, Jeeves, Jr., and above all, thank you, my dear, extraordinary mother.
     Taped to the inside of Ernestine’s typewriter case was a quotation from Calvin Coolidge:    
     “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan "press on" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race”
Note to Tears and Laughter visitors:  Amazon has copies of Poetry with a Purpose ranging from $2 for used to $25 for collectibles. Whenever you order a book or anything else from,, please have the kindness to access Amazon via my Kathie’s blog, My daughter believes that in a world full of violence, her small effort in behalf of peace may make a difference that is preferable to indifference. (Supporting engagingpeace by accessing Amazon in this manner does not add a cent to the cost of ordering.)


  1. Sent a copy of Poetry with a Purpose a few years ago to Caroline Kennedy. She has compiled at least one book of her favorite poems, and I thought she might like to be introduced to someone from our country who excelled at it...

    Too, I was hoping she might possibly pass these treasures along to the children at the library she is a member of, or possibly some of the schools she's been affiliated with.

    Alas, I never heard back. But this and Read Me a Rhyme were sent to the library she's involved with, so hopefully these rare treasures ARE out there somewhere!

    1. Rhapsody, I can't thank you enough for your continued support of my mom's poetry.
      Kathie was saying only yesterday that she thought the reason I didn't receive more comments was that visitors can't figure out how to make them. Then, bless you, I get this heart-warming message from you!
      I mentined your blog recently when I was posting something--told the story of your saving "The Laughing Willow" from childhood on. Sorry I can't remember the context--I'll use Search to see if it turns up. I am having fun working on "Songs of the Haiku Bird," which was a book put together by my Oriental Brush teacher and me. Have many more sketches ready to include.
      Thank you again, dear friend, for your loyalty.

  2. "Read Me a Rhyme, Please," a third activity book, has become so popular with teachers and parents that copies purchased from Amazon cost three times as much as the other two.