In Her Own Words
Lillian Smith was interviewed by Dr. Adele Fasick on February 3, 1978. They are joined in the conversation by Margaret Johnston, Smith's longtime friend and co-worker.
The recording session lacked the benefit of contemporary audio technology. Although efforts have been made to clean up the sound, the quality remains inconsistent. The content is reproduced here without any editing as a historical document. The interview has been transcribed below into Part One and Part Two to read separately or to follow as a guide.
Thanks to Dr. Fasick for her generosity in making the interview available and to David Mills of the University of Western Ontario's Journalism department for his assistance with the recording.
This text will be replaced by the flash music player.
SMITH: I looked up the places where they had children's work. And the two places that I got ...were New York, where they had a children's department, but it was mainly adult work. And then the Pittsburgh one where they specialized in children's work so I chose to go there. And I don't know now, because, the head of the work in New York was Anne Carroll Moore and we came to be such great friends that I wished I had gone there.
SMITH: But, however, I enjoyed Pittsburgh very much and made some awfully good friends down there who became children's librarians around the states. And so it wasn't wasted really...
SMITH: ...as I did make some very good friends down there. But I was very fond of Anne Carroll Moore who I came across when I went to New York to work after I left Pittsburgh. The Chief Librarian called me in and he said I wondered if you would be interested in going to New York because they want a...had the children's department there, and I thought I'd like to go and I said I certainly would because I've alwasy been fascinated by New York, the things that go on there, you know.
FASICK: Uh, hm.
SMITH: And I was very curious about the whole situation there. And Anne carroll Moore and I became very great friends and she used to always call me the Cornish fairy.
FASICK: Oh, is that right.
SMITH: Because my people came from Cornwall and, at least my mother did, and I heard a great deal about it. I had been to Cornwall to see it of course and I thought it was a lovely place and the minute I stepped over the...the river that runs across the border between where I was planning to go...and I just suddenly felt at home, that this was my mother's home see...
SMITH: ...and I had heard so much about Cornwall and what went on there, my mother grew up there and she used to teach music as she grew older. My father came from Cumberland which is a long way off in the north part. I don't know how they came to meet but they did and they married and came to Canada. So, that was where I got my interest in Cornwall.
FASICK: I see. Anne Carroll Moore used to call people different names, didn't she. That was a habit of hers?
SMITH: She had a lot of interest in the people that she was with. Why she called me the Cornish fairy I don't know.
[LOUD NOISE IMMINENT]
SMITH: I wasn't a fairy by any manner or means, but she and I grew to be very great friends and she used to visit me in Toronto and she even gave a talk about children's work and the work she had done there. Everybody was fascinated with her. The next day she was going back to New York by train and...from Toronto...and a gentleman came up to her and he said aren't you the Miss...what was her name...Miss Moore who was a...whom I was talking to.
JOHNSTON: So I heard that you were called the Cornish fairy?
SMITH: Because my mother had grown up in Cornwall and I had heard a great deal [inaudible]...Look at this copy.
JOHNSTON: I hope it tastes like it.
SMITH: Well, Miss Moore was a marvelous person.
FASICK: I noticed that you had, was it Clara Hunt from Brooklyn, she came up too.
SMITH: Yes, yes. She wanted to adopt me.
SMITH: She really did. And she thought that somebody from Canada, they wouldn't mind if I was taken over to Brooklyn.
SMITH: I saw quite a bit of her. But it was Anne Carroll Moore that I was so fascinated with and enjoyed her so much. She really was a wonderful person.
FASICK: I've just read that biography by Francis Clark Sayers...
FASICK: ...on Anne Carroll Moore.
SMITH: Uh huh.
FASICK: You've probably seen that.
FASICK: Do you think she influenced you more than anyone else in terms of what you did in Toronto?
SMITH: Oh, I don't know. I think I might have...
FASICK: You influenced her too.
JOHNSTON: But she gave you a marvelous opportunity. I think you should tell her the story about when you had been working in New York children's department. Was it three weeks?
SMITH: Something like that.
JOHNSTON: And what did you say to Miss Moore?
SMITH: Well, I said I thought that I had all the experience I needed.
SMITH: And that I wanted to do something, I can't remember...
JOHNSTON: You wanted to be head of a branch.
SMITH: Yes, I think I was too.
JOHNSTON: Her voice isn't being heard.
FASICK: It probably will pick it up.
SMITH: Eventually. I think Anne Carroll was so used to this that she thought, well...
JOHNSTON: And she sent you to the toughest branch in New York, didn't she?
SMITH: Yes she did, a branch in which the, well the young boys, the girls weren't hard to manage... but the boys. I was left with a chance for them to give me a good time. And I can remember, they would come sit around the table, it was a long table that they had. The boys were on chairs, supposedly reading their books, but they would as soon as I came in they would lift their chairs and bring them down with a bang...
FASICK: Oh, yes.
SMITH: ...to make a lot of noise. And I didn't say anything to them about it. But I went over with Tom Sawyer and I started reading it to them. Well, it wasn't long before they were so fascinated with Tom Sawyer. And it was Miss Hunt, who was in Brooklyn, was really upset that I was reading Tom Sawyer to the children because she said "He was a liar. You should never have read that." That's the kind of puritan she was.
SMITH: And anything like that in a book she would just throw it away.
JOHNSTON: When you left New York, the boys took you on a trip to...
SMITH: Oh, down to...
JOHNSTON: ...Coney Island.
SMITH: Coney Island. They gave me a wonderful time.
FASICK: Gee, isnt' that...These are the boys from the library?
FASICK: Oh, isn't that nice.
JOHNSTON: It was a real privilege.
SMITH: Oh, I was fascinated with them and they didn't do anything after, just showing me you know. But they were fascinated with the books that we had. What was his name? Not Robin Hood, but almost something like that.
JOHNSTON: Little John?
SMITH: And he was amazed to find out who was in the book. So we read that. He was delighted by his name.
FASICK: I can imagine, yes, yes. Can you remember what branch this was and was it...?
SMITH: At what branch?
FASICK: Branch? Yes.
SMITH: It was the worst branch that they had, the one they had all the trouble with. And they had really crowded Anne Carroll Moore and the head of the storytelling out of the door. This was before I was there at all. They just were, you just couldn't manage them.
JOHNSTON: It was the Washington Heights branch.
SMITH: Yes, that's what it was, the Washington Heights branch. And the...it was on a hill more or less. The children's room out onto the lower part and the upper part to the street. The real streets above. And it was kind of on a slant that way. But I thougt it was wonderful. I could do so much. I had the place to myself.
FASICK: How long did you work in New York?
SMITH: A year? Two years?
JOHNSTON: I think it was a year.
SMITH: I think it was just a year. But then I got a call on the telephone that somebody had found out, or somebody on the board had found out, that there was a Canadian there and they had never had a children's librarian or anything like that.
JOHNSTON: It seems to me it was Judge Keller.
SMITH: It was Judge Keller now that you mention it.
JOHNSTON: Dr. Bain was the...
SMITH: And he had been at a conference in the states and he found out that all the large public libraries in the states had children's departments. Well he had never heard about it. So, he thought this was a good idea and when he heard that there was a Canadian there, they phoned me and said that. Why I would leave New York, but I thought this was a chance I would never have again probably. And I wanted to come to Canada and start the work in Canada because there wasn't anything here.
JOHNSTON: Yes, you were really the first children's librarian in the British empire.
FASICK: It was when he had first come in as chief librarian. Do you know anything about what was going on in Sarnia? Because I noticed that Sarnia, for some reason, seemed to start...this Patricia Spereman who worked there and who later went around the province looking at or trying to develop children's work.
SMITH: No, I think that must have been before I went there because I knew Sarnia and I knew the librarian there and the people that were interested in the library. One of them used to send me the loveliest roses from her rose garden.
JOHNSTON: Peggy Knowles, the children's librarian.
SMITH: She was the children's librarian. And we were good friends.
JOHNSTON: And what was the name of the Chief Librarian who used to come...the name escapes me. Tall, fine looking person.
SMITH: I must have met him but I can't remember because...Oh I don't know. As soon as we started the work in Toronto, so many people got interested and would come to see what was going on.
JOHNSTON: The OLA [Ontario Library Association] I noticed in the paper the other day had their first meeting in the old Mechanic's Institute at Church Street where you first were. Do you remember that first meeting of the OLA?
JOHNSTON: No, I think it was before you came.
SMITH: Well, I'll tell you. I started something down there in the way of a library group. I can't recall what it was called. It was a start. I think it must have been children's work which was what I was interested in.
FASICK: The year after you came, I think in 1913, the OLA had a conference and they had a day devoted to children's work. I just wondered, you probably...you spoke at that. I saw the program. You really brought about that whole development.
SMITH: Yes, I did start a children's librarian's group and talked about with and so on. But that was so long ago it's hard to remember.
[LOUD NOISE IMMINENT]
JOHNSTON: I know we used to always have the children's meetings of the OLA in the old theatre of Boys' and Girls' House. This was when I was at library school, was the first time I knew about them. And because of the OLA, the library closed on Easter Monday but for no other reason. Then they stopped having their meetings in Toronto. We didn't get a holiday, we didn't get Easter Monday until later on. But it was fine it closed. It always seemed like a holiday.
JOHNSTON: For years, the children's section of the OLA met in Toronto.
SMITH: We had good times.
JOHNSTON: Remember the time Anne Carroll Moore came to speak to the OLA? Really fascinating.
JOHNSTON: And it was so cold in the little theatre the wind seemed to be coming out of the fireplace.
SMITH: Was that the time when the room was filled with smoke?
JOHNSTON: That was a private time when... [INAUDIBLE]
SMITH: Was it? The shielding. Not much of a picture for a New Yorker to see.
UNKOWN: She ignored, she ignored the cold...
SMITH: Oh she just had a mind about all these certain things. I remember one time she told me that she... Betty Endicot was in New York at that time and she thought she'd have Miss Moore talk to the parents. It was after I left and Betty was doing the work with children's. I knew this was arranged. And Betty had the idea that she would invite the mothers and fathers and so on of the children who came and Anne Carroll Moore would talk to them. So she arranged it and when she arrived there were ten people arrived. And Betty was feeling a little discouraged because she had notified a lot of the parents. And they just hadn't come. And Anne Carroll Moore said to her "Oh well there are only ten people in any group that are intelligent. And we picked ten who are intelligent." So she comforted Betty.
[LOUD NOISE IMMINENT]
FASICK: Most of the children's librarians in Toronto you trained yourself I guess.
SMITH: No, none of them had any library experience. And they didn't know anything about it. And I can remember the first one who came down to ask if she could join this, you see, the job. And she was the one who had been my partner in really...What do you call it when people speak on two sides?
JOHNSTON: Oh, a debate.
SMITH: A debate. There was a debate and then I was on it and this girl who wanted to join you know and she and I debated on one side and two other library people voted on the other side and one of them fainted.
FASICK: Oh dear.
SMITH: I was there on the platform and watched her and she got whiter and whiter and I was terrified. You know...I...what can I do? Well, she settled that by fainting. But, then everybody picked her up of course. But I was certain that she was going to faint.
JOHNSTON: Were you debating on a library topic?
SMITH: No, no, I think it was something...Oh, it was so long ago I forgot.
FASICK: Did the library have the debates? I mean, was it a like a library activity?
SMITH: We did have debates, but we also had the libraries did meet. I remember debating around a good number of the branches.
JOHNSTON: Speaking of the training of the children's librarians. A number of your people went to a three months course that was held in the library. Was that in the old reference library on College Street upstairs or was it out at Bloor and Bradstreet, Dovercourt as it was called?
SMITH: Yes, I think it was out there.
JOHNSTON: It was a three months course. But, was it sort of sponsored by the Ontario Library Association or was that only Toronto Public Library?
SMITH: I think it was only the Toronto Public Library. I think it was started by a man named Carson.
JOHNSTON: Oh yes, he used to be inspector of public libraries.
[LOUD NOISE IMMINENT]
SMITH: Yes, he was. He used to drive me nearly crazy. He would always come in at a busy time of the day after the schools were out and so and and he used to want to talk to me about things and he would stand there and as he stood he could wind his feet around me and be almost like a tree going up. And I got so mad, it fascinated him, that I forgot what he was talking to. He looked at me for an answer and I knew I couldn't tell him because I never heard anything about it. And I said yes. I felt so silly. I was so involved with the questions from the children.
FASICK: It's too bad he didn't realize that he could have picked a better time. Those library inspectors, Mr. Carson and Mr. Nursey, they seemed to be very interested in children's work. They were always saying the library should have more children's library.
SMITH: Mr. Carson and who else?
FASICK: Mr. Nursey, was it, just before him. He was...
SMITH: I don't remember him. I certainly remember Mr. Carson because he was the first one that I met so it must have been before I got to New York...to Toronto. I used to get so used to Mr. Carson, he would be oblivious that there was anybody else in the room except himself when he was talking.
JOHNSTON: But he was interested in children's work.
SMITH: Yes he was.
JOHNSTON: It seemed to me he suggested a notice to you or to Dr. Locke that the children's librarian should be the head of the branch.
JOHNSTON: This was a very forward looking idea at that time, wasn't it. It didn't happen for a long time.
FASICK: Why did he say that? He thought the children's person was...
JOHNSTON: Was capable of doing, you know...
SMITH: I think the thing was with children's librarians at first when I went to Toronto and had some children's librarian training and so on, and the adult department seemed to think that they were there to be used by them. And they would schedule work right after the children's room closed and things like that. And after spending a day in the children's room, so we put an end to that.
FASICK: How did you manage that? Were the children's librarians after that just kept for the children's room?
SMITH: Yes. Well they were when I was there. You see I wasn't there so very long was I?
SMITH: In Toronto.
JOHNSTON: Oh, you were there forty-odd years.
SMITH: Was I?
JOHNSTON: From about 1912 to 1952. You're surprised? The time went that fast, did it?
FASICK: Maybe not long enough.
SMITH: No, it wasn't nearly long enough.
FASICK: In the few years after you came like between that 1912 and 1920, the circulation of the children's books almost doubled.
SMITH: Oh yes it did.
FASCIK: Do you think it's the children's librarians that made...
FASICK: ...a difference?
SMITH: I mean, yes. It would be because I don't think the children knew what to look for or where to find it, that they wanted. And the children's librarians knew the kind of things that they would enjoy. The first child that entered the children's room after I got there was my little Jewish friend [INAUDIBLE]. And she is still a very good friend of mine.
FASICK: Oh my.
SMITH: Yes. And she remembers it all closely. I remember her coming in and saying "I want the little Jesus." That was the book she wanted. And it was the life of Christ really, that little book we had. A pretty book.
JOHNSTON: She later married [INAUDIBLE] who used to be the first violinist...
SMITH: First violinist and in charge of the orchestra because that was what he was supposed to do, pull the whole thing together. But he died.
JOHNSTON: His name was Robert Finch and Dalton who later became the chairman of the library board.
SMITH: They started in the children's room.
FASICK: And they started...
SMITH: They were in the teens and they weren't reading easy books or anything like that, you know. But they found that I was interested in books as books, just children's books. They used to come to me and one of them would say, Dalton it was, was quite a large boy and the younger one Robert Finch was very slim, handsome, clever and so on. And he used to come in and say "Well, has my fat friend been in here today?" He always referred to him as his fat friend.
JOHNSTON: That's one of Robert Finch's paintings.
SMITH: Margaret got it at the...
JOHNSTON: He had an exhibit.
SMITH: An exhibit and she bought it for me. Wasn't that nice of her?
FASICK: Very nice.
SMITH: To have one of Robert's pictures. Something to do with his bringing up.
FASICK: That's right. That's right.
SMITH: The trouble with him was that he had so many talents. I never knew any person so talented as he was, there wasn't anything he couldn't do. He could speak German, French and English of course like a native. Teachers told me that he not only could speak it but he thought like a French boy or a German boy, or whoever it was and talked in their language. And he really was a genius.
SMITH: There isn't any art that he isn't interested in. You might say he was always a great favourite of all the old ladies. They thought he was a lovely boy. And he was so polite.
JOHNSTON: Didn't Robert and Dalton write an operetta?
SMITH: Yes. One of them wrote the music and the other wrote the...what do you call?
SMITH: Yes. And I remember taking them to Dr. Locke and showing them to him. He was astounded. Two boys of that age had written an opera. They were the cleverest boys. But they came to the children's room just to talk to me. You know they weren't interested in the children's books. But they were very interested in the books I was reading and the other part of the library.
FASICK: One person I've wondered about it Marie [INAUDIBLE]...
SMITH: Oh yes. The storyteller.
FASICK: The storyteller.
SMITH: Well she taught storytelling when I was in New York.
FASICK: Oh, is that how you knew her? Is that how she happened to come to Toronto?
SMITH: Yeah. Uh huh. So she came. But she was a wonderful storyteller. She could just put you in a different place, you know.
FASICK: Did she give classes here for the librarians or anything?
SMITH: No. She wasn't..she only was here on a short visit.
FASICK: Oh, I see.
JOHNSTON: She talked to the staff, of course.
SMITH: She did, uh huh. I grabbed everybody I could that came to talk to the staff because I thought they'd like to mee them. Anne Carroll Moore was quite a specimen for them because she stayed with me and then she would talk and talk and talk until anytime in the middle of the night, you know. And I remember some of the people on the staff, I don't know if you were one of them, who used to say to me "Just one more day."
JOHNSTON: Nineteen hours, sixteen hours.
UNKOWN: She was there a week you see. That's a long time to have an important house guest.
SMITH: And she not only...she wanted to talk, she had no sense of time whatsoever. She could talk right through to morning about anything and I enjoyed her, but I got so tired out sometimes.
FASICK: I could imagine.
SMITH: I wasn't a nighthawk really. But, oh she was a joy all the same. She'd laugh at herself. She didn't take herself so seriously as she might seem. She knew perfectly well that she was boring me to death you know by 4 o'clock in the morning. She was still talking.
FASICK: Did she have that little doll, that Nicholas? Did she really carry that around all the time?
SMITH: Yes she had it but she never showed it to me or around. It wasn't around but she did show it.
JOHNSTON: On one or two occasions.
SMITH: We had, on occasions, remember we had a party for her or something and she had Nicholas.
JOHNSTON: She was a real New Yorker, you know, and there wasn't anything about New York she didn't know. My first visit to New York she took us to dinner at a place called...
JOHNSTON: Then after dinner she took us to the Rainbow, and that wasn't high enough for her. She knew all the ins and outs of the places and she took us up little steps, little ladders.
SMITH: Not me, I refused. I hate heights.
JOHNSTON: There was always another little ladder, up a little higher. She showed us Fifth Avenue, you know, just swarming with people after the theatre.
SMITH: She loved New York and she knew every bit of it. She walked the streets of New York. Had her favourite walks.
JOHNSTON: When we got down on the street afterwards she took me by the arm and walked me up Fifth Avenue, pointed out all the signs and told me what used to be there. All along it was just fascinating history of New York.
SMITH: If she didn't know it nobody else would because she really loved New York, walked the streets. Just for the pure love of the place.
FASICK: It's too bad she didn't write a history or something.
JOHNSTON: Well, she did, something about Nicholas and New York, didn't she? In one of her books, something about Nicholas and New York?
SMITH: Yeah. Oh she'd never leave out New York. She was a typical New Yorker. She came from Maine I think.
FASICK: Do you think in Toronto that any of your work was influenced say by English, British librarians?
SMITH: No, I hadn't met them, the English.
FASICK: They hadn't done children's work for a long time.
JOHNSTON: We had a great many interns.
SMITH: A good many of them.
JOHNSTON: Trained here for a year or so and then went back. Some of them stayed on. I don't think there were children's librarians, I mean trained ones, for a long time.
SMITH: Well, Miss Caldwell, she was a lovely person and she had been very interested in children's work. But she was very interested in some of the...oh the men in England that are interested in children's work. The one who gave the...
SMITH: Osborne Collection and so on. She used to go and see him practically every week and read him stories or tell him stories because he loved that.
FASICK: Is that right?
SMITH: Uh huh.
JOHNSTON: She used to tell stories to [INAUDIBLE] right up until the family died.
FASICK: Is that right?
JOHNSTON: She came to the first [INAUDIBLE] festival.
[LOUD NOISE IMMINENT]
SMITH: Was that when she came the first time because we had an English librarian who had been at...in the Toronto library. These English people you don't like and some you do. But I could not stand that man. And I said something to him one day about Miss Caldwell that I thought she would like to come and see what we were doing. He just brushed away the thought. This Caldwell she wouldn't be bothered with that. She knows far more about it than anybody else does. Well she came and she met me I was scared really because of all the things he said that she would look at me and she just came to me with open arms you know and she and I were very good friends always. That Englishman thought she wouldn't pay any attention to what we were doing. He thought she was doing a lot better than I was. Just shows what he knew.
FASICK: It's funny I think that a lot of people don't realize something that's local they just don't appreciate, they just don't realize.
SMITH: That's true. But Miss Caldwell is certainly a wonderful person. She has done more for I think the English children's books and libraries than anybody else.
SMITH: The library school?
FASICK: Yeah, because it's a...You know the students think of you as kind of a legend.
SMITH: Oh, kind of legend. I never...
FASICK: I just wondered, you know. Of course it would be...it would be...you know if we...whatever was recorded then I'd get somebody to type it up and show it to you and anything you didn't want kept you could take out. But at least...so many of the things you've done probably...
SMITH: Well, I've got a girl there who remembers everything.
JOHNSTON: Well, I don't remember everything, but, I've had a very memorable time myself.
FASICK: I can imagine.
JOHNSTON: On staff, and I do have a fairly good memory. So I don't mean to correct you...
SMITH: She's got a memory like an [INAUDIBLE]. They never forget.
FASICK: Well I hope you're writing the history of it then or something.
JOHNSTON: Well, no. I feel a little too close to it.
SMITH: A little too close to me.
JOHNSTON: Well, no. I don't think that's it.
JOHNSTON: Maybe in a year or so when I can see things in perspective.
SMITH: Well I couldn't be very helpful or anything like that.
FASICK: Well, I think you...
JOHNSTON: Things would come back to you that you had forgotten, you know...[INAUDIBLE]. Two mainstays of the library school.
SMITH: I don't know. I can't remember...I can remember...Well, I found her as such a support, you know. I had a...have always had a great dislike of thunderstorms and things like that and being in the children's room with the doors swinging open, you know, the lightning coming down and so on. Whenever anything like that happened [UNKNOWN] would come up from the cataloguing department just to hold my hand.
FASICK: Gee, that was nice.
SMITH: Cause she knew I was scared of storms and lightning. Still don't like the wind.
FASICK: It'll blow you over.
SMITH: But she was certainly an awfully good friend and is still but I don't see her.
JOHNSTON: Very unfortunate, but she learned to read braille so she's not cut off from words.
SMTIH: And every time she sees me she tells me...
JOHNSTON: Read another book. That book that I wrote was all I really wanted to say.
FASICK: But an editor down at ALA (American Library Association) told me that a new edition was coming out of your book The Unreluctant Years.
JOHNSTON: It's not a new edition of The Unreluctant Years, at least it's not supposed to be.
JOHNSTON: It's an [INAUDIBLE] doctoral student.
SMITH: They asked me if I would undertake to it over. Well, I thought I really hadn't dated it in any way. But it certainly wasn't modern. So I said no and I suggested that you and Sheila [Egoff] should do it because you are modern girls and you would know what to do.
JOHNSTON: Well, I think the thing that you told them...Or I think he understands that The Unreluctant Years is really a timeless book. There's no question of it being out of date.
SMITH: Well, I told him I wasn't going to modernize it or anything like that and he could just let it come to its place, you know.
JOHNSTON: But you suggested to him that a new, an entirely new publication was necessary to deal with the attitudes and new trends in children's books. And so this is what Sheila has embarked on. I gave up the idea of working with Sheila.
SMITH: Well, I'm glad you did.
SMITH: She's writing a very good book herself.
JOHNSTON: And so, was it Herbert Bloom you were talking with?
JOHNSTON: He asked me if I had any ideas and I had several ideas and sent him one and to my surprise he liked it. Then he asked for a kind of plan. That too I dashed off just before I went off to Germany in the fall. Again to my surprise he liked it and said please proceed. So, I've been working on that.
JOHNSTON: But it's an entirely separate thing and it's a response to children's books. It's not a criticism.
SMITH: It's different.
JOHNSTON: Mine is well it's just an experience with children's books.
SMITH: Response, it's a response.
FASICK: Oh I see and how they react.
FASICK: That would be interesting.
SMITH: And it's awfully good I think.
JOHNSTON: I read it to her in and she makes me go back and read it from the beginning.
SMITH: Makes we want to read all the books again.
JOHNSTON: I feel like a soap opera.
FASICK: And then Sheila Egoff is going to...
JOHNSTON: She's doing something on the books of the last twenty-five years. See that came out in 1953 and so she's dealing with what as I understand is '53 until the present. Well I would have been very interested to do that if I had all the time in the world. But I would have kept to work on it by myself really and it would have been a great deal of work. Well, Sheila has been lecturing for some time on the subjects you see and so that she has material all collected that she can use and has the other angle of the things that's more like the critical approach. That's what this one should be. He shouldn't call it a new edition and this annoys me every time I hear it. We made it very plain to him that we did not want it revised by you or anyone but to let it stand on its own merits.
FASICK: So this is an entirely...Are they going to reissue your book so the two of them will come out together like...
SMITH: I hope not.
JOHNSTON: It comes out of The Unreluctant Years and this is what has sparked the idea. But it's not to a new edition. Unless by a new edition they mean another issue.
FASICK: That should be very interesting, though, you know, to have Sheila Egoff's view of the books of the last twenty-five years. The two of them together would make a good set.
JOHNSTON: And what I'm doing covers the whole ramifications of children's books, not just the last twenty-five years.
FASICK: Right, and that will be how children...
JOHNSTON: I will be dealing with newer books.
SMITH: Well, I haven't seen what Sheila has done. I think you could make a real contribution for people who are interested in children's literature.
JOHNSTON: Well, this is something I've wanted to do. I was going to do it whether it ever got published or not. It was just something I wanted to do, spend my time at. It never occured to me that ALA would be interested.You might not have like what they would have done.
SMITH: Well, I must say that they asked that I would...What was it they wanted?
SMITH: Revise this one. Because I didn't think it was dated. It was my sense of what was permanent, or what permanence meant. You never know what they...
JOHNSTON: Well, I think his point of view is that, well as you yourself knew, that the trends in writing have changed so in the last twenty-five years. I'm sure you must have been glad at the suggestion of an entirely new publication.
SMITH: Yes, so true.
JOHNSTON: I think he wanted to tack on something at the end...I wouldn't want to put anything on the end of The Unreluctant Years.
FASICK: No, no.
JOHNSTON: I wouldn't.
FASICK: Of course that's why it has lasted. But I think there are a lot of librarians and teachers even more so who want a book that will list a lot of books.
SMITH: Yes I suspect they do.
JOHSTON: Bill Toye is editing Sheila's book because she's committed to Oxford for publication. So while ALA won't be publishing Bill Toye will be the editor.
SMITH: He was talking about writing, and so on...what did I say? Something about the kind of writing, not that I did, he did. What was required of writing something for publication. He said yes and he didn't say anything else really because you're going to have writing no matter when or how. He said a lot depends on whether it's literature, whether there's rhythm. What else did he say?
JOHNSTON: Authority I hope.
FASICK: Yes, I hope so.
SMITH: No, he didn't say that.
JOHNSTON: You have to have something to say. It doesn't matter how rhythmic...it could be marvelously rhythmic and not say anything.
SMITH: You don't usually use that word except for the things that have the qualities of literature. At least I don't think so.
FASICK: The Newbery committee I understand this year had a terribly hard time deciding on the winner because Beverly Cleary was a big contender. Her new book Ramona and her Father. I don't know if you've seen that? I haven't read it either. It's supposed to be one of her better ones. But so many years she's beens so popular and...
SMITH: Who is it?
FASICK: Beverly Cleary. Henry Huggins.
SMITH: I've been out of touch with those books.
JOHNSTON: There's a series that she wrote, too, at the moment escapes me. [INAUDIBLE] But some of the other things she's done are much better. Mouse on the Motorcycle is quite a good book for younger children. It isn't a picture book but a very young fiction. She got an award last year.
FASICK: She got some kind of award. The one for the whole series of works.
FASICK: Rather than one particular book.
JOHNSTON: I was introduced to her and I really was nonplussed. I'm not usually nonplussed if I know I'm going to meet somebody because I can think of something to say. But when I met her I couldn't think of anything but these books by Edith Blyton. I had a hard time getting through that introduction.
SMITH: There was a note in the paper when they came out and it was quite amusing because it said it was somebody who was writing about her husband.
JOHNSTON: That was Edith Blyton's husband. Talking about her it wasn't about him.
SMITH: The husband said when the critics would ask him about his wife's writing and so on, "It's all imagination, it's all imagination." But you wouldn't think of Edith Blyton...imagination.
JOHNSTON: She just sits down at the typewriter, closes her eyes...
FASICK: Oh dear.
JOHNSTON: I wish I could do that.
SMITH: No you don't.
JOHNSTON: Every word I write is painfully written by a hand.
FASICK: Her books sound as though that's what she's done. Theyr'e all the same.
JOHNSTON: Just run off. They say that it's translated into more languages than...any other book and it has even surpassed the number of books being bought, even surpassed the Bible.
FASICK: Is that right?
JOHNSTON: You know the bestseller all over the world. I think she's dropped down a bit in the last...
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SMITH: She was here...she was here at one time. Yes, and I think I drove her down to...and I took her down first right down to the water's edge and was driving along the lake and she never looked once. She talked and talked and talked but she didn't notice a single thing that was around. And, well the lake is beautiful, remember. Somebody from New York coming up and when she got off the train and I got her in the car and I started driving along the lakefront and she said "I didn't know you were so near the ocean?" It was a big lake.
FASICK: I was surprised at the meetings just now. I went to some of the book discussion groups and especially the young adult discussion groups. They were talking so much about "well this book is popular the kids will like it" or "they won't like it" and not at all really about how good the book was. In fact, when somebody made a comment about "well this is really well written" and somebody else on the Board said "oh you're talking like a CSD syndrome" that's what she said, like a children's librarian. I wondered... I think it's very disheartening that we're talking so much more about popularity.
JOHNSTON: The thing is so many books and this I think is why, one reason why Edith Blyton is so popular, is that they're so available.
JOHNSTON: If they would make other books as available to children they would read them too. This is the marvelous opportunity children's librarians have is to tell the children about the books. If we aren't allowed to do it, which seems to be the trend these days, well their circulation is going to go down and down and down there's no two ways about it. While children can be attracted to the library for crafts and other things of that kind they're not going to keep coming to those things if they don't get the books anymore.
SMITH: Well why wouldn't they get them?
JOHNSTON: Popularity, I think. Just depends so much on what people suggest to them.
FASICK: And what happens I think in a lot of the libraries is that somebody comes in and they want a Nancy Drew book you know and there isn't one in or if they don't have them nobody will suggest anything. They'll just leave sometimes.
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SMITH: I remember a boy who I suggested a book to him. I said to him...He said refused the book and said "I wouldn't like that kind of book." And I said to him well, what is the kind of book that you like and he told me about it. And I said well show it to me so he brought it in to read. I said well, if you will read this book that I think you'd like I'll read the book that you think I'll like. So I did. I read the book and it was one of a series. I can't remember it now. I won't say anything about it except that yes I read it. He said "Well, I liked the book that you gave me" but he said "I hate to tell you but I dropped it in the river." And I said oh what happened. He said "Pure accident. I didn't mean to drop it in the river and I didn't know how I was going to tell you. It had fallen in" but he said "I picked it out" and sure it was a very damp book you know with the pages all...And I said well that's just fine that you were able to get it and you can keep the one that I picked out for you. So we'll just leave it at that. The things that used to happen to those books. Children would come in and say that they couldn't get their book because their mother was using it for an iron holder, you know.
FASIC: Oh, yeah.
JOHNSTON: They were always propping up the windows with them.
SMITH: Propped up windows with them.
JOHNSTON: Do you remember the children in Boys' and Girls' House that lost a book? And they found it about six months later and we asked them where they found it and it was in the bed.
FASICK: Oh, dear.
SMITH: Oh, dear. Then there were the children that pleased you so much when they said they used to read their books to their mother while she did her ironing. That made you feel pleased. Using them for ironing didn't please you so much.
FASICK: Not quite, no. Do you think the children changed very much over the time you were say at Toronto? Has there...did they want different kinds of things?
SMITH: Me? I don't know. You see I've been out of the library for quite a long time.
FASICK: Yeah, but I mean during the time you were there there were an awful lot of changes.
FASICK: The children were pretty much the same.
SMITH: The books were...They liked new books you know when they come out. But they still liked the ones that were there already if they were any good and I hope they were. You don't choose the book just for the season that happens to be there but something that goes through all the seasons. Enjoy it at almost any time. But I don't think...I can't say. I'm not in the library anymore and I don't really know really. I know the mothers of some of them and they seem to be still giving them good things that they've had. They know that they like them and put them on the mantle because they know that they'll want to know what the book is and take it down and read it. But they don't believe in saying "This is a good book you should read it." But they try in various ways to get them interested. I don't know. Margaret knows far more than I do about what changes there are.
JOHNSTON: I think the primary reason for reading a book has not changed, you know. I think they want some adventurous experience. Sometimes, of course, they want information but you're talking more perhaps about creative writing and I don't think it really matters what the subject is as long as it just strikes the right chord.
SMITH: I suppose.
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JOHNSTON: Once they've enjoyed a book then they'll go on and on and on. It's that first trip to the library that matters so much. I still think the right book at the right time...
JOHNSTON: I think children are more knowledgeable about what comes out because there's more talk about children's books then there used to be. It can make them very self conscious too which I think is too bad because it doesn't take a great feat to read a book. It's something that is pleasurable. I still don't think...They may want newer things more than they used to. We used to say a book was new until you've read it. This was particularly true with the children. I think now they're more conscious of what's coming out because of their friends.
SMITH: Yes, the school was a great place. Give a child a good book and takes it to school and all the pupils that see him absorbed, they wanted to read it too and so it worked out very well. And it is an incentive just to see somebody enjoy it.
FASICK: While you were at the library, the public libraries supplied the schools...school libraries didn't they?
SMITH: Yes, but before that do you remember when the books were supplied by the...oh it was...
JOHNSTON: The Ministry of Education.
SMITH: No, I was thinking about the church people who supplied books for children at the Sunday school libraries. They were terrible.
JOHNSTON: I won a great many of them as prizes. Myra Sherwood's Cross and How She Bore It. I have never read it. I still have it but I never read it. The title didn't exactly grab me.
FASICK: It's still a new book till you read it.
JOHNSTON: You don't regret having read some of those things in your youth when you really think back on how you enjoyed them. But if that was all you had to read as a child it would have been too bad.
SMITH: I remember a member of the congregation who saw that I was usually reading a book or something like that. So she got me one as a present for Christmas time and it was Christy McKeat's Servant. Imagine what that was like.
JOHNSTON: Was that the same Christy as Christy's Old Orphan?
SMITH: Yeah, it was. She said to me "You haven't read this book? I'm amazed your father hasn't given it to you. This Christy McKeat's..."
JOHNSTON: Her father being the Minister.
SMITH: He was the Minister. He didn't give me books except one and he gave it to me because he said it was the first book ever given to him when he was a child and it was called The Basket of Flowers. Did you ever hear of it? Well, I read it because I thought I'd like to read a book that he had read when he was a boy. And it was the softest story you could ever imagine and they thought this was suitable I suppose.
FASICK: Did you have trouble ever at the library or often with parents or teachers objecting to some of the books you had?
SMITH: Not very often. I don't remember the parents ever being...The person who criticized the most was the head of the Brooklyn children's work.
FASICK: Is that right?
JOHNSTON: You mean Clara Hunt.
FASICK: Clara Hunt.
SMITH: Clara Hunt. "Oh, Tom Sawyer. You had Tom Sawyer in your library? Why he was a liar."
JOHNSTON: But in your time didn't they, the Separate School Board, want you to have some of the books...was it Father Dunn...things that were written by Cathlolics simply because they were Catholics.
SMITH: There were some Catholic teachers, I went to the Catholic schools as well as the Protestants. They suggested books and I invited them down to the library to have tea. So they could see the books we had and I never had another suggestion of a Catholic book.
FASICK: Is that right? They were so impressed by what you had.
SMITH: Oh, they were fascinated. I think they were probably nuns and the other sex, what were they called?
JOHNSTON: I think they were brothers.
SMITH: The brothers, yes.
JOHNSTON: I used to go to St. [INAUDIBLE] School. We sort of got off on that subject.
SMITH: And the Principal of that school was awfully good.
SMITH: She was a nice person.
JOHNSTON: One day I went and she came and said she wanted to speak with me. "I saw you brought some new books the other day" and I said yes. Well she said "I noticed one called Freddy the Detective" and I said yes. And she said "Well, um, I was thinking that I would like to read that."
JOHNSTON: I was just steeling myself inside.
SMITH: She wanted to read a detective story.
JOHNSTON: What am I going to say? How am I going to defend Freddy?
SMITH: I like the Catholic teachers and when they came you know they were really interested in the books. What was it...I invited the Catholics, the Catholic females, you know...
JOHNSTON: The nuns.
SMITH: The nuns.
JOHNSTON: The sisters.
SMITH: The sisters and the brothers to the library for tea. And I was enraged because I had provided an awfully nice lunch for them and the Catholic men ate them all up and the poor women weren't allowed to.
FASICK: Oh, dear.
JOHNSTON: There's a case for women's lib.
SMITH: I was so mad. There they were having such a good time and these poor women having to refuse everything that was offered to them.
FASICK: That was strange.
SMITH: It wasn't the right time, was it? Or else they didn't have them with the men around. I think maybe that was the rule that they didn't join in. But we had an awfully nice lot of Catholic people. One of them from one of the schools right down on the lake and he was so interested in the books that we had.
JOHNSTON: That was Brother Walter.
SMITH: I think so. He had them write poetry...the children that he taught in the Catholic schools. They did some awfully nice things. We put them up on the wall and that pleased them very much. But it's terrible the other children writing poetry had the same talents.It worked both ways. I never met such nice men and nice women as in the convents. What do they call the men's?
JOHNSTON: They call them monasteries as a rule.
SMITH: I don't think so.
JOHNSTON: But the teaching orders, we certainly had a great many of them in the schools.
SMITH: That's where I met them. They came to the library though for the books we had and they were Catholics. Just charming and interested in everything.
JOHNSTON: I remember Mother Mary Blanch used to bring her class to the library. She later went to Boys' and Girls' House. On any occassion in the summer time it was their last visit and they would bring lovely bouquets of flowers that they had all picked from the church gardens.
FASICK: Oh, my.
SMITH: I know when the children picked the flowers from the gardens, you know the parks, they'd bring them in as wild flowers. We'd suggest to them, you know, and they'd go and bring back some flowers.