Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Lion's Paw

Twenty-four nine-year-olds gathered at my feet on Monday and each day since to hear the adventure of Penny and Nick and their new fried, Ben. I wonder how many times I have read these vivid words.
She would ignore the huge oaks with Spanish moss hanging like dirty gray laundry from every limb.
A foot above her face there was a gray stringed mop, and even as she lay looking up at it a silver drop of water fell from the end of one of the strings and hit her squarely in the eye.
Regular visitors to the my blog (which I have woefully neglected since I joined Facebook) know that my favorite children's book is The Lion's Paw by Robb White. In 1946 White, a Navy commander during the Second World War, created this wonderful adventure set in Florida during the uncertainties of that great war. Two runaway orphaned siblings meet a boy whose father is a naval officer lost in the Pacific and presumed dead. Presumed dead by the navy, the boy's relatives, and everyone else except the boy and his two new companions. They set out to sail their sloop, newly christened The Lion's Paw, to Captiva Island where they will search for a Lion's Paw seashell to complete the collection the boy had begun with his father. He is sure that, if he can find the shell, his father will make it home.

Robb White's sensory images are crisp and delicious. The suspense is riveting. The characters are real and appealing. Here in the late forties we have a heroine who is resourceful, determined, and brave. Penny ranks with Anne Shirley and Jo March as a model for feminists, in my estimation. It is a story of nature, adventure, resourcefulness, bravery, perseverance, loyalty, loss, discovery, and love.

In 1970 my girlfriend (now my wife) suggested I read The Lion's Paw to my students. Her teacher in Tallahassee, Florida, had read it to her class and everyone loved it, she said. I fell in love with it on first reading and have read it to each homeroom I have had in my 30 years of teaching. I also read it to my own daughters. As a matter of fact, when Brannon took a children's drama class in college, she wrote a first act for a prospective play based on the book.

The Lion's Paw has been out of print for several years. It has been listed as the most sought after OOP children's book for several years according to Then last fall, Robb White's widow and step-daughter published a facsimile edition that closely resembles the first edition. I looked for it at Barnes and Noble. Last Christmas I looked through B&N in Manhatten and even at the marvelous Books of Wonder store on 18th Street (if you love children's lit, visit that store when you visit the Big Apple). No Lion's Paw.

So one night last spring, about nine, I was browsing online and found the A.W.Ink website. Their address was several time zones away so I decided to call. I got a recording. Only moments later Leslie, Robb White’s step-daughter returned my call. We talked for about thirty minutes. And I ordered ten copies of my favorite children’s book. Leslie inscribed each with a nice message. I presented one to each of my daughters, my current and two recent student teachers, my niece who teaches fourth grade, and our school library. I gave another away to my nephew’s family as a bread and butter gift after our overnight stay on Friday. Sheila and I have kept one for ourselves. That leaves only one more for the dozen or so others to whom I would like to give this wonderful book. I should have ordered more!

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