Down Through The Ages: Meet Mr. Dog’s Most Loyal Fans

It always makes us so happy to hear from folks who love “Mr. Dog’s Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn.” Every now and then, we even hear from readers who have their own personal history with Albert Bigelow Paine's tale. To know that our new edition of Paine's story, with Adam's illustrations, honors their cherished childhood memories and family traditions is a source of great pride and joy.

Most recently, we heard from a father and his grown son…

Randy B: “It was a great pleasure for me when my son recently brought me a copy of your magnificent printing of “Mr. Dog’s Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn.”  This is a tradition in our family, [...] something that has characterized Christmas Eve for us over a long span of time. I send you and your family my most sincere thanks for this well conceived and beautifully executed project.”

Ran B: “You have already heard from my father, who was so excited when I showed him your book, but now that I have ordered copies two and three to be sure all of my kids will have their own one day, I wanted to add a quick note to say how pleased we all are at the wonderful efforts you have made to rescue this lovely story from obscurity and revive it. The book you have assembled is beautifully designed, set, and illustrated, and I hope that it finds broad commercial appeal. I’ve either listened to, or read this story every Christmas Eve of my life, and it delights me to know others out there treasure it, too.”

We’ve even received enthusiastic reviews from Paine’s very own descendents!

Charlotte C: “A friend recently told me about your project and I am writing to introduce myself. Albert Bigelow Paine was my great-grandfather and, needless to say, I also grew up with the Hollow Tree Stories!  My grandmother was the "Little Lady" and the magic of those stories was very much part of my upbringing.  I'm delighted to know that the stories are being rediscovered and that you are working to breathe new life into them.  I hope that a new generation will discover this world, too, and that Mr. Dog and his friends will continue to live on.”

Sometimes, folks discover our edition of the story as a happy accident, as did Phyllis M. She stumbled across our edition while searching for a used copy of the book she remembered from childhood:

Phyllis M: “[Paine’s story] is a childhood favorite [that] my Mother used to read to us. I went online [thinking] I would be able to find an old used copy... So excited [to find your new edition]! Thank you!

Iris H: “My whole family was delighted to discover there are other Mr. Dog lovers in the world. We had the same family tradition on Christmas Eve. Thanks for keeping Mr. Dog and the all the Deep Woods folk alive for future generations.”

And Nancy B wrote to say:

"My daughter just gave me a copy [of your book, Mr. Dog’s Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn.] She had been looking for [this story] for years, [as I’ve often recalled my memories of it to her.] I remember climbing up on my mom’s lap, as a small child in the 50s, snuggling in and asking her to read it again and again (even in the middle of the hot summer in Park City, Utah!). She always did, sometimes as many as three or four times in a row. Then I would ask her to read it again. My favorite story of all time. Tonight, I read it to my almost 40-year-old daughter, her dad, and her husband, stopping to wipe away my tears many times, remembering that special bond between me and my mom. Thank you!"

Each and every one of your stories is so special to us. We started this project because of our family’s long-standing tradition of reading Paine’s story every year on Christmas Eve. We wanted to bring that joy to new generations. Never did we expect to find other families just like ours, who have loved the story of Mr. Dog and his friends for decades. Publishing and promoting a book is hard work, but it’s your stories and encouragement that ground us in the positive and remind us why this project is so special. So we just want to say a big THANK YOU to each and every one of you reading this for supporting Mr. Dog.

Did you meet Mr. Dog and his friends through our edition, or have you known the Hollow Tree folks for a long time? Tell us your story in the comments, or by emailing us!
 

Keeping the Christmas Spirit Strong, All Year Long

Christmas 2016 is now far behind us. It’s sad, but true. The spirit of Christmas though—the values of joy, generosity, and spending quality time with loved ones—that’s something worth keeping alive all year long. So today we wanted to share some ideas to keep your Christmas cheer burning bright in the new year.

Get a present for yourself
Did you get everything you ever wanted this Christmas? As an adult, the gift-giving aspect of Christmas ramps up considerably and the gift-receiving…. Well, shall we say it tapers a little? So get yourself something no one thought of, like a book you’ve had your eye on, or maybe one of the awesome classes over at Creativebug. (Like Mr. Crow with his extra large stocking, you can make—and give yourself—exactly what you want!)

Call up a friend
Sometimes the house can feel a little cold after Christmas when all those loved ones leave (even if they can stay that whole Christmas week, as the Hollow Tree friends do). So call up a friend, maybe one you haven’t connected with in a while, and brighten up the day for both of you.

Warm up with a winter cocktail
Christmas may be over, but the cold weather has just begun. Here’s a recipe for a great twist on a hot toddy from Jess Donaldson @rarebirdsweets that uses gin instead of whiskey or brandy. It’s medicinal!

Enjoy this warm and spicy hot toddy, sure to keep spirits bright! Photo © Jess Donaldson / Rare Bird Sweets

Enjoy this warm and spicy hot toddy, sure to keep spirits bright! Photo © Jess Donaldson / Rare Bird Sweets

Spread the warmth
Right around now, your city’s homeless population would really appreciate any coats, blankets, and sleeping bags that you don’t use any more. Your local shelter can tell you the best way to donate.

Listen to the Mr. Dog Podcast
If your family loves Mr. Dog’s Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn, we think you’ll be fans of the Mr. Dog Podcast too! The first episode’s story occurs just after new year’s, so now’s a great time to get started—and the stories follow the animal friends all through the year, so there’s plenty of wonderful listening material for all seasons. (Stay tuned for a few new episodes later this year!)

We’d love to hear from you. What do you do to share Christmas-y joy, generosity, and togetherness all year long?

questioning

Sometimes I question whether the work I’ve chosen is worthwhile, important, valuable. Mr. Dog's Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn being part of the work I do, and this time of year being “Mr. Dog High Season,” and things being the way they've been lately, the worthiness question has been on my mind this week.

I started this project to share a story that is very simple but profoundly meaningful to me. In that sense, Mr. Dog feels like my artwork, even though I’m neither the author nor the illustrator. Despite those lofty creative feelings, there have been many days since I started the project, over three years ago, that I’ve questioned the value of my efforts. There are things happening out there in the world that demand our attention—injustices and inequalities abound, many of them so painful I can barely look or listen to the news. I argue with myself that what I’ve chosen to do with my time is frivolous, when these urgent humanitarian and environmental crises cry out, “All hands on deck!” 

What possible import could a 100+ year old children’s story about a dog who plays Santa Claus have, in the face of this greater work that needs to be done? This week, I’ve faced that question yet again and I’ve found myself arriving at an answer that renews my sense of purpose. Here’s what I’ve been thinking…

We grow up listening to stories. At some point, we begin sharing them ourselves—stories we enjoy and sometimes even stories we’ve created ourselves. The stories that endure for us say something about our fundamental values, about what we hold most dear. For that reason alone, they are not frivolous at all. In fact, they can be a form of shared language, speaking for us across divides and helping us find common ground.

“Mr. Dog” pulls at my heart because it speaks of friendship, playfulness, creativity, ingenuity, devotion, kindness, generosity, and gratitude. These are qualities I try to cultivate in all my interactions, with both friends and strangers, in good times and in bad. My family’s 75+ year tradition with Mr. Dog has been a touchstone, something we unite around to remind us of how simple our true needs are, how much we have to share, and how much we love and appreciate one another despite the difficulties and differences that crop up between us throughout the year. So yes, it’s entertainment—just a silly children’s story—and yet, it’s so much more. 

I feel so grateful each time I hear from another one of you who loves the story. If I know nothing more about you, I suspect that our shared appreciation for Paine’s story says a great deal about what we have in common, about what inspires and unites us. That feels very important indeed.

Introducing: The Mr. Dog Podcast!

Though I grew up loving Albert Bigelow Paine’s “Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn,” it wasn’t until later in life that I learned of the existence of three volumes of Hollow Tree stories, a generous series featuring all the familiar characters from the Christmas tale—and many, many more.

As I became familiar with Paine's series, I was a little surprised to learn that Mr. Dog wasn’t always on such great terms with the Hollow Tree folks. If you only know Mr. Dog and friends through our book, you’re kind of in the same boat I was. Maybe you’ve wondered about that line “You see, Mr. Dog liked them all now…”. It certainly gives a clue that there’s a backstory, doesn’t it? Well, of course, Paine set it all up beautifully in the many stories that preceded “Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn” and they are well worth a read.

My hope is to someday republish a few more of them, each as an individual volume, to join the Christmas story in a beautiful slipcovered Hollow Tree Treasury (I dream big!). Until then, though, the magic of 21st century technology gives us an opportunity to share them with you another way…. Introducing: The Mr. Dog Podcast!

Victorian dog joins the digital revolution! You'll find the Mr. Dog Podcast on iTunes and here on our podcast page. Join us each week for a new episode!

Victorian dog joins the digital revolution! You'll find the Mr. Dog Podcast on iTunes and here on our podcast page. Join us each week for a new episode!

My son Henry, a renaissance man if ever there was, has created this show. Each week from now until Christmas, you can listen to a new episode of The Mr. Dog Podcast, as Henry reads aloud from Paine’s Hollow Tree and Deep Woods books. Along the way you’ll meet The Storyteller and The Little Lady, Mr. Turtle, Mr. Rabbit and many more, and you’ll get to know that backstory.... what's the history behind the cozy Christmas friendship of Mr. ‘Coon, Mr. ‘Possum, Mr. Crow, and Mr. Dog, anyhow?

Henry is a wonderful storyteller (wait til you hear his Mr. Crow voice!), and in each episode he gives helpful bits of historical context and definitions for unfamiliar Victorian terms. He provides sweet musical interludes and a cozy crackling fire ambience, too. I love imagining families gathered ‘round each week to catch the latest installment, and the anticipation building as he approaches the Christmas Eve episode.

Of course, Paine was a master storyteller and it seems he loved exploring the form—the Hollow Tree tales have layers upon layers of storytelling within them. I imagine him listening to our podcast, which adds a new storyteller and a new storytelling medium to the mix. I hope he’d be pleased to find his tales being shared this way, enjoyed by many more “little folks” (and their storytellers), over 100 years after he wrote them.

I hope you’ll have a listen, too. You’ll find each episode here on our podcast page. You can also subscribe via iTunes or SoundCloud. Please let us know what you think!

 

Scrapbook: Mr. Dog's First Book Festival

Goodness gracious, how the time does fly! I've been meaning to share these fun photos of us with Mr. Dog at the Bay Area Book Festival, which happened across the bay in Berkeley, California, back in June. 

We transformed a rather bland little 8 square feet into a proper Hollow Tree celebration in record time, early on a Saturday morning, and spent the next two days meeting and greeting Mr. Dog fans new and old. 

Our photobooth with lifesize Mr. Dog was a big hit!

Our photobooth with lifesize Mr. Dog was a big hit!

The Hollow Tree Bulletin Board was replete with the latest news and offerings from Mr. Dog and friends.

The Hollow Tree Bulletin Board was replete with the latest news and offerings from Mr. Dog and friends.

Our gorgeous book was beautifully displayed with Deep Woods trimmings.

Our gorgeous book was beautifully displayed with Deep Woods trimmings.

Did anyone contact Mr. Crow for lessons?! If so, we'd love your feedback. 

Did anyone contact Mr. Crow for lessons?! If so, we'd love your feedback. 

We think Mr. Possum is a fine catch, despite his shortcomings in the spelling department.

We think Mr. Possum is a fine catch, despite his shortcomings in the spelling department.

Cynthia and Adam (our book's designer and illustrator, respectively) popped into the photobooth with Mr. Dog, of course.

Cynthia and Adam (our book's designer and illustrator, respectively) popped into the photobooth with Mr. Dog, of course.

Thanks to those of you who stopped in to say hello! And for those who missed it, we hope you enjoy this virtual tour of the festivities.

Meet us at the Bay Area Book Festival!

Greetings, friends!

We're coming out of hibernation at long last, and we're excited to kick off the 2016 holiday season with our "Christmas in June" booth at the Bay Area Book Festival. We'd love to see you there! You'll find us near the Kid's Stage in Civic Center Park in Berkeley, California (map below), 10am-6pm, Saturday and Sunday, June 4th and 5th.

To celebrate, we're also offering a great deal to help you stock up on the best Christmas gift around (if we do say so ourselves): Mr. Dog's Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn. Whether you pop by the festival to buy your books, or order online, receive a 25% discount when you buy two or more books (now through Sunday June 5th; simply enter the promo code BOOKFEST at checkout).

You'll find us on Center Street, near the corner of Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, in Berkeley. The festival is easily accessible by BART.

We've busted out the Christmas decorations again to create a magical display in our booth. Pop on by to enjoy some early holiday cheer!

We've busted out the Christmas decorations again to create a magical display in our booth. Pop on by to enjoy some early holiday cheer!

The festival promises to be very exciting, with many famous authors giving readings and lots of family-friendly activities, as well as numerous exhibitors... including us! We're so happy to be part of this weekend-long celebration of books, writing, and reading.

If you visit on Saturday, you'll also be able to visit the Center Street Farmer's Market, happening right behind our booth. And on Sunday from 1-3pm, Adam and Cynthia (our book's illustrator and designer) will be with us to sign your copies of Mr. Dog!

We hope to see you there! 

 

 

The little brother recollects

I am eternally grateful to my brother, Jason, for inspiring me to publish "Mr. Dog’s Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn." As I wrote to him on the book’s acknowledgements page: “...this book simply wouldn’t be, were it not for your sly suggestion to me one Christmas morning.”

Though Jason carefully avoids the limelight, I know what a softie he is about "Mr. Dog’s Christmas" and I really wanted him to share his thoughts here on the blog. So I pestered and guilted him the way only a big sister can. He relented and delivered this: the most beautiful recollection of our childhood Christmases—and Mr. Dog’s place there—that I could have hoped for. Thank you once again, little brother.

~Betsy


by Jason Luther

I didn’t grow up at the Hollow Tree Inn, but my hometown was still a pretty nice place and Christmas was always a special time of year. I grew up in Ukiah, a small town in Northern California. Ukiah had four seasons and winters were generally crisp, cool and rainy.  Every year or two a large, cold storm would send a few inches of snow our way, just enough to let us make snow angels and eat a few bowls of packed snow drizzled with maple syrup.

Jason, about age 5, mugging at the Christmas tree farm.

Jason, about age 5, mugging at the Christmas tree farm.

We lived in a large house shaded by a massive oak tree and our home had most everything anyone could need, but it didn’t have central heating. All winter long we’d huddle together near a roaring fireplace, the only source of heat in the house. There, in the mornings, my folks would read newspapers and sip coffee while my sister and I read books or groused at each other. In the evenings my folks would sip cocktails and unwind by the fire while my sister and I did homework or groused at each other. At all times a dog or two and a cat would make an uneasy truce and lounge warily near the hearth for warmth.

Our folks worked long hours throughout the years but they always made sure that Christmas was special. They really went all out. As kids we could count on finding bulging stockings hanging under the mantel and lots of beautifully wrapped gifts under the tree. Our tree was tall and full bodied, with an array of ornaments and colored lights covering nearly every inch. The tree always had everything; everything except tinsel… It never had tinsel.

There are a few long-standing traditions in our Christmas routine: Christmas mornings we always throw some terrible Pepperidge Farm fruit turnovers in the oven before checking out our stockings and opening our gifts. We invariably forget about them till they’re burnt, and after we scrape off the burnt bits we usually inhale the turnovers too quickly, torching our tonsils in the process.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Our most meaningful Christmas traditions happen on Christmas Eve. For decades now the traditional Christmas Eve dinner has been Mom’s leek and potato soup, served with crusty bread. After the meal we settle down comfortably in the living room for one of the holiday’s highlights: the reading of the story we’ve always called “Mr. Dog’s Christmas,” but which is officially titled “Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn,” by Albert Bigelow Paine. My dad has done the reading for many, many years now and as we watch him ease into his comfy leather chair, take a sip of brandy, and clear his throat theatrically a few times, we all know that Christmas is really coming.

The feeling and meaning of the story change and grow with time and age. As a youngster the story seemed longer than it really is, the way a sprawling childhood home seems much smaller when revisited in adulthood. As a kid, the end of the story signaled bedtime and the beginning of a fitful night’s sleep while old Saint Nick worked his magic. It’s not that we were anxious for the story to end, but we knew the ending signaled the coming of the Christmas morning extravaganza.

Betsy and Jason on Christmas morning, 1972

Betsy and Jason on Christmas morning, 1972

As an adult, I find myself wishing the tale were a page or two longer, so I could learn a tiny bit more about Mr. ‘Coon, Mr. ‘Possum, the Old Black Crow, and their faithful and fun-loving friend, Mr. Dog. I’d use the extra time to linger over my father’s voice as he reads, pausing in all the right places and landing the all-too-familiar punch lines with quiet joy. I’d steal glances at the faces of the assembled family and friends, taking them all in and watching their pleasure in being present in a special time and place and moment. I’d add these images and feelings to the other Christmas scenes that play in my head like a flickering movie reel, living images of family and friends and pets, many still present and many no longer with us.

I wish I could tell you more about the story and its meaning to my family, but I can’t, because I haven’t time. All I can say is that the story and the ritual of its reading have meant a great deal to my family over the years, decades, and generations. Long after we’ve outgrown the bicycles, lost the tweezers from our Swiss Army knives, and dropped off the funky sweaters at the Goodwill, what remains are the people, the pets, the foods and smells, the places and times and rituals, all of which help make each Christmas something to remember.

Long before The Slanket, we enjoyed these sleeping bag-like robes, decked with B.Kliban's iconic sneaker-wearing cat—very convenient for staying even warmer near the fire, but not as enduring as Mr. Dog's Christmas, or all the wonderful memories of Christmases past. 

Long before The Slanket, we enjoyed these sleeping bag-like robes, decked with B.Kliban's iconic sneaker-wearing cat—very convenient for staying even warmer near the fire, but not as enduring as Mr. Dog's Christmas, or all the wonderful memories of Christmases past. 

Becoming a publisher: one year later

It dawned on me recently: this month marks my 1st year anniversary as a publisher. It still feels strange to call myself that, though it’s undeniable that I have 1) produced a book, 2) sold that book, and now have even 3) reprinted that book with the intention of selling more of them. I’m pretty sure that’s what a publisher does. I may still be settling into my new title, but I'm truly happy and grateful to be here—headed into another Christmas season as Mr. Dog's publisher.  

 
In January 2014, shortly after I began working on Mr. Dog, I joined a mastermind group with five other entrepreneurial women. At our first meeting, we made sticky note nametags, stating one big goal for the year.

In January 2014, shortly after I began working on Mr. Dog, I joined a mastermind group with five other entrepreneurial women. At our first meeting, we made sticky note nametags, stating one big goal for the year.

 

When I embarked on this adventure with my family, I wanted above all else to produce a book that honored our generations-long love affair with Paine’s Christmas story. When I finally held our book in my hands, it was wildly gratifying to see something that had once been all in my head and my heart materialize in the form of a beautiful object. Honestly, that satisfaction could have been enough.

Eleven months later, in November 2014, I was overjoyed to stand in front of my group, don my nametag from our very first meeting,  and show off that book. I published a book!

Eleven months later, in November 2014, I was overjoyed to stand in front of my group, don my nametag from our very first meeting,  and show off that book. I published a book!

But of course, there was always something more that inspired me. It was the conviction that Paine’s story deserves a much wider audience. I’ve always believed that it’s a timeless tale and that there are probably a lot more folks out there who would not only enjoy it, but perhaps even embrace it as we have.

So when we sold through our first print run last year, I was overjoyed. And when I read the kind messages from so many of you, telling us how much you loved it, how your kids were asking you to read it over and over again, I felt home. It was as if my family had suddenly expanded. That, too, could have been a satisfying place to end the story. It would have been lovely to simply rest on those laurels—happy to have introduced Mr. Dog to 2000 more readers and to know that you were out there, enjoying the story with us.

But I believe there's power in our collective enthusiasm—for Paine’s classic tale, Adam’s glorious illustrations, the love of reading good stories to one another, the joy of family traditions and heirlooms passed from one generation to the next—power that can guide our book into the homes of many more like us and keep this wonderful story alive for decades to come. So here I am, at the threshold of another December, books back in stock, eager to see who joins our Hollow Tree tribe this year.

As we head into my favorite time of the year, I wanted to take a moment to thank you—for being part of our extended Mr. Dog Family, for cheering me on and, especially, for sharing your love of Mr. Dog's Christmas with your own family and friends.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

interview with Mr. Dog's designer: Cynthia Wigginton

Greetings, Readers!

Today I’m delighted to share an interview between our publisher, Betsy, and our book’s designer, Cynthia Wigginton. As you’ll learn, Cynthia’s creative talents aren’t limited to graphic design. She’s also an incredibly accomplished musician with some amazing stories from her rock and roll* life. Enjoy!

Your faithful friend,

 

* Betsy had to tell me what “rock and roll” meant, but she assured me that you’ll understand.


designer and musician, Cynthia Wigginton, photo © Bart Nagel

designer and musician, Cynthia Wigginton, photo © Bart Nagel

 

Betsy: What were your favorite books as a little girl? Are there any in particular that have inspired your interest in book design?

Cynthia: I've always been an avid reader, so this is a tough question! I admire the work of so many authors, illustrators, and book designers. In terms of illustrated picture books that I was fascinated with as a child, three come to mind. The first would be Richard Scarry's Busy, Busy World. I would spend hours poring over the elaborate spreads while looking for his cast of familiar characters as they appeared around the globe.

The second would be Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. His illustration in its loose hand is so evocative, emotional, and distinctive. Recently, I was surprised to learn that Bemelmans was not French, but an Austria-Hungary born American writer and illustrator. Also, the heroine, Madeline, is meant to be American rather than French. What an odd thing! I'll have to go back and read the original book again from that perspective.

The third would be a book that I no doubt filched from my older brother, How to Care For Your Monster by Norman Bridwell. In this case, it was mostly the writing that caught my attention and the idea that monsters might need caring for. It's a liberating idea for a child who gets scared in the dark. The illustrations are great, too, in a Scooby-Doo sort of way.

How did you get started as a book designer? What do you most enjoy about the process?

The work that I've created as a graphic designer has been more diverse than with most graphic designers, I think. I don't consider myself exclusively a book designer even though Adam and I've recently completed our tenth children's book together (Are We There Yet? | Chronicle Books | Spring 2016).

After graduating from UC Davis, I landed in London to work for a fashion photographer. At that point in time, I thought that I wanted to be a professional photographer. But quickly, I realized that I was more interested in fusing imagery with written word in the form of design. After returning to the States and a short stint in advertising, I landed a job working at a music merchandising company where I spent seven years designing all forms of music collateral.

My silkscreened poster from that period for the band Oasis appears in the book, The Art of Modern Rock (Chronicle Books | Spring 2005).  You might also be familiar with my Bob Marley image from the same period. As I was on payroll, I didn't retain the copyright to the design and it was licensed off. You can probably buy it on a coffee mug in a shop near you. I see it everywhere now.

Cynthia Wigginton's poster for Oasis

Cynthia Wigginton's poster for Oasis

 
Cynthia Wigginton's iconic Bob Marley image

Cynthia Wigginton's iconic Bob Marley image

 

From my rock merchandising job, I moved on to magazine design. It was at Red Herring magazine as an Associate Art Director where I started fine-tuning my typographic skills. From there, it was an easy jump to book design. Adam and I worked on our first book together, My Friend Chicken, which Adam also wrote (Chronicle Books | Spring 1999).

What I like most about design is seeing all of the elements come together in such a crystalline way. The end result becomes its own entity and acquires its own personality. Perhaps I'm a bit of an animist.

What was your design inspiration for Mr. Dog? Tell us about how you and Adam collaborated to bring the book to life so beautifully.

Interior spreads from Mr. Dog's Christmas featuring a number of Cynthia's wonderful design details, from the faux bois patterning to the use of Victorian era frames, letter forms, decorative flourishes, and even the aged look of the paper. The design strikes the perfect balance between Victorian style and a more contemporary sensibility.

Interior spreads from Mr. Dog's Christmas featuring a number of Cynthia's wonderful design details, from the faux bois patterning to the use of Victorian era frames, letter forms, decorative flourishes, and even the aged look of the paper. The design strikes the perfect balance between Victorian style and a more contemporary sensibility.

Adam is a very flexible illustrator who can work with many mediums in a variety of styles. With so many options available, it can be a studied task to decide what might be the best approach for any given project. In the case of Mr. Dog, I found myself particularly drawn (pun intended!) to Adam’s sketched renditions of the characters and encouraged him to render the final illustrations with the same crowquill and ink technique. It's such a natural fit for a story that was originally published during the Victorian era.

In general, ours is a fairly organic process. My studio is across the hall from Adam's. We often call back and forth and ask each other for opinions, thoughts, and ideas. The illustration is, of course, all Adam's. I do my best to make sure that things come together in a way that makes sense for the project at hand with supporting typography, layout, and graphics; for example, adding the faux bois texture to some of the pages in Mr. Dog was an idea of mine. It makes sense as, after all, much of the story takes place at the Hollow Tree Inn. And you, Betsy, deserve full credit for the cloth cover concept for Mr. Dog, along with shepherding the book to final production. You did such a great job.

What are some of your other favorite book projects with Adam? With other illustrators?

I have a soft spot for all ten of the picture books that Adam and I have worked on together. The creation of them generally takes at least a year and sometimes much longer. Their 'stuff' ends up being spread around our house and studios and hung on our walls. They truly become members of the family. And then they leave home and head out into the world. But if choosing favorites is a must, they would be (after Mr. Dog, of course!) The Monsterologist: A Memoir in Rhyme (Sterling | 2009) and Mom and Dad Are Palindromes (Chronicle Books | 2006).

Cover for The Monsterologist: a Memoir in Rhyme by Bobbi Katz with illustrations by Adam McCauley and design by Cynthia Wigginton

Cover for The Monsterologist: a Memoir in Rhyme by Bobbi Katz with illustrations by Adam McCauley and design by Cynthia Wigginton

 
Award-winning monster stamps endpapers for The Monsterologist: A Memoir in Rhyme by Bobbi Katz / illustrations by Adam McCauley and design by Cynthia Wigginton

Award-winning monster stamps endpapers for The Monsterologist: A Memoir in Rhyme by Bobbi Katz / illustrations by Adam McCauley and design by Cynthia Wigginton

 

The former includes such beautiful writing by Bobbi Katz. The project also presented lots of artistic challenges for both Adam and me. The end paper design won a Gold Medal from the Society of Illustrators and the cover of the book was included in AIGA's 'Top 100' show. The latter, Mom and Dad Are Palindromes by author Mark Shulman, also involved unique artistic and typographic challenges. I love the way that it came together with Mark's farcical wordplay.

Mom and Dad are Palindromes by Mark Shulman with illustrations by Adam McCauley and design by Cynthia Wigginton

Mom and Dad are Palindromes by Mark Shulman with illustrations by Adam McCauley and design by Cynthia Wigginton

 

Although I'm open to working with other illustrators on book projects, I tend to prefer working with my in-house partner, Adam. I do enjoy working with a variety of illustrators though; for example, on album art with the very talented Christian Northeast out of Toronto, Canada. I've designed two album covers around his amazing work and hope that his schedule allows for further collaboration next year.

In addition to your amazing design talents, you’re a very accomplished musician. You’ve worked with some really cool folks over the years, and now you front your own band as singer/songwriter. Tell us more about all of it!

So yes, I create music in my parallel life. Adam does as well and we play in a band together, Bermuda Triangle Service. That's not to say that music and visual art don't intersect. I've designed the album packaging for all of the Bermuda Triangle Service records. We put out a new record last year entitled Yoo Hoo which is currently doing well on iTunes and Apple Music. Adam and I have also played independently in many bands. In fact, we met at a show where Adam was drumming as part of a band called Little My, which was named after the Tove Jansson character. I was playing violin with Richard Buckner as a member of The Doubters. I started studying classical violin at age seven and have been playing, writing, and making music ever since.

Album packaging for "Yoo Hoo," the latest album from Cynthia's band, Bermuda Triangle Service Illustrator: Christian Northeast Designer: Cynthia Wigginton

Album packaging for "Yoo Hoo," the latest album from Cynthia's band, Bermuda Triangle Service
Illustrator: Christian Northeast
Designer: Cynthia Wigginton

 

To tell all of my rock and roll stories would require many more interviews, but certainly a memorable night was opening for The Pogues at The Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco in 1987. It was with my first band, The Bedlam Rovers, and I was primarily the fiddler. This was perhaps our third show ever, and The Pogues were performing with Joe Strummer of The Clash. It was a rather terrifying night in many ways as we were playing this historic venue, very early in our band's existence, with our heroes. There were also loads of skinheads in the audience and my dad was positioned amongst them for this sold out show. Courtney Love was purported to be in the balcony. Later in the evening, our drummer was ejected from a side door. I'm not sure what happened there as Andrew is the most peaceable of guys. My dad ended up in jail and he is an upstanding citizen. After we left the stage, Joe Strummer told us, 'Nice set, kids.'


Cynthia Wigginton works out of San Francisco, California. She is currently studying web coding at the California College of the Arts under Chris Koehler. Bermuda Triangle Service's latest record, 'Yoo Hoo', can be purchased on iTunes or via CDBaby. Adam and Cynthia's upcoming picture book with author Nina Laden, 'Are We There Yet?', can be pre-ordered via Amazon. And, of course, you can purchase Mr. Dog's Christmas right here! Say hello to Cynthia directly at wig@cynthiawigginton.com

 

interview with illustrator Adam McCauley

Greetings, Friends!

My oh my, but it's been a long time since I've blogged! To make up for my long absence, I have a wonderful little video interview with our illustrator, Adam McCauley, to share with you. Adam talks about developing the Hollow Tree characters—including yours truly, of course!—and about working with Betsy's family on this independent publishing project.

Enjoy!

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P.S. Did you know we're offering FREE SHIPPING* on all orders? It's a great way to stock up now on the Christmas gift that will be enjoyed for generations to come!
*Free shipping ends 11/30/15 at midnight PST.

Adam McCauley, award-winning artist behind the new Christmas classic, "Mr. Dog's Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn" talks with publisher Betsy Cordes about his inspiration for the illustrations and what he enjoyed about this independent publishing project.

May Day Greetings

Hello and happy May, dear friends!

In honor of May Day, I wanted to share a lovely gift from a dear friend and fan of Mr. Dog. Artist Katie Daisy gave me this beautiful little book for my birthday earlier this year. I was charmed and surprised to learn of yet another book by Mr. Dog’s author, Albert Bigelow Paine: A Little Garden Calendar.

A Little Garden Calendar, by Albert Bigelow Paine, 1905

A Little Garden Calendar, by Albert Bigelow Paine, 1905

I promise, this is not another crazy April Fool’s joke. The incredibly prolific Paine published this gardening manual for children in 1905. In it, he expertly instructs young readers in the art of gardening and observation of the natural world. In his words, he

has tried to tell in simple language a few of the wonders of plant life, and to set down certain easy methods of observation, including planting, tending, and gathering the harvests, from month to month, throughout the year. Along with this it has been [my] aim to call attention to the more curious characteristics of certain plants—the really human instincts and habits of some, the family relations of others, the dependence of many upon mankind, animals, and insects, and the struggle for existence of all.

But to make this book even more remarkable, Paine presents this instruction in the form of a sweet fictional story that follows two young children, Davy and Prue, as they learn throughout the year with the help of their friend, “The Chief Gardener.” Again, in Paine’s words:

Simple botany plays a part in the little narrative, which forms a continuous story from chapter to chapter, interwoven with a number of briefer stories—traditions, fairy tales, and the like, all relating to plant life and origin. These are presented by way of entertainment—to illuminate fact with fancy—to follow, as it were, the path of knowledge through the garden of imagination.

The more I learn about old Albert, the more I love him. This seemed a lovely thing to share with you all on this first day of May. I hope you enjoy the photos below. You can read the book online, or even download a free copy for your iPad or Kindle from Gutenberg.org.

Wishing you a brilliant May!

Betsy
Creative Director, That's So Enterprises

April Fools and Easter Bunnies

Greetings, dear Reader.

If you know me and my friends at the Hollow Tree, you know we enjoy a good prank now and then. Well, it appears my April 1 hoax did indeed fool quite a few folks and I hope you enjoyed it in the spirit of good April Fools’ fun!

Our publisher, Betsy, has an update and a real Albert Bigelow Paine story to share with you below. And I promise no more shenanigans... Well, at least not for a while!

Your foolish friend,

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Hello!

Although it’s simply not true that we discovered an unpublished Albert Bigelow Paine Hollow Tree story, we have been enjoying more of the tales in his three-volume series, all of which are available as free ebooks at Project Gutenberg. With Easter coming this weekend, I thought it would be fun to share “Mr. Rabbit Explains: An Easter Story” from The Hollow Tree and Deep Woods Book, in which Mr. Rabbit tells his friends just how the Easter “bunny” myth got started.

"THEY CAME TO A LOG UNDER A BIG TREE AND SAT DOWN FOR A SMOKE AND TALK" (image courtesy of Project Gutenberg)

"THEY CAME TO A LOG UNDER A BIG TREE AND SAT DOWN FOR A SMOKE AND TALK" (image courtesy of Project Gutenberg)

I love the illustrations by J.M. Conde, who did the art for all three original volumes.

IT WAS A NICE BLUE EGG WHEN SHE GOT THROUGH WITH IT (image courtesy of Project Gutenberg)

IT WAS A NICE BLUE EGG WHEN SHE GOT THROUGH WITH IT (image courtesy of Project Gutenberg)

For those of you planning dye eggs and enjoy a hunt this weekend, this tale could be a fun addition to the festivities. You can read and download the full story from Project Gutenberg here.

A FEW LESSONS IN RUNNING AND HIDING (image courtesy of Project Gutenberg)

A FEW LESSONS IN RUNNING AND HIDING (image courtesy of Project Gutenberg)

In other news, I’m really happy to be able to confirm (no joke!) that Mr. Dog’s Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn will soon be on press again. We know that many of you missed out last year, and many of you are interested in more copies for gifts this year, so we’re going to open up a pre-order page on this site just as soon as we get all our ducks in a row. I expect everything should be ready by the end of April. If you’re not on Mr. Dog’s newsletter list yet, please do sign up. Subscribers will be the very first to know when the books are available again.

Happy Spring!

Betsy

Mr. Dog 2014 Out-takes

Happy New Year! We hope this finds you enjoying the first days of 2015, with memories of Christmas lingering pleasantly.

Our heads are still spinning from the whirlwind of October, November and December, when our books finally arrived and we were able to share the beautiful result of so many months of hard work. We thought you might enjoy these “out-takes.”

They may not be the most professional photos... but they definitely capture the joyful, independent, bootstrapped nature of our family endeavor!

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October 18th: Betsy tentatively opens the advance copy, just received from the printer. A scary and thrilling moment!


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October 27th: Jim gets his first look at the book. Overcome with pride. Martini at the ready!


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November 3rd: The shipment arrives in San Francisco. And goes straight into our warehouse... um... garage.
(Wish we had photos of Chuck and Betsy—about a month later—hurriedly toting about 40 of those boxes
upstairs into the flat, to save them from potential flash flooding predicted due to #stormageddon 2014!)


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Throughout November: Friends pitch in and we at last begin fulfilling orders to our dear Kickstarter backers!


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Throughout December: We're excited to see Mr. Dog popping up at some of our favorite stores
in San Francisco and Mendocino. He's such a looker!


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December 18th: A spectacular article appears in the San Francisco Chronicle and sales of the book go bonkers. Betsy’s parents drive from Mendocino in the middle of the night, in torrential rain, to help with packaging orders. We’re sold out within 48 hours.


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December 18th-21st: Our Mission District flat becomes a full-fledged fulfillment center.
And we get to use some really big carts at the post office.


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December 21st: And finally, Mr. Dog and family enjoy a much deserved toast and dinner out on the town.


Cheers to all of you who brought Mr. Dog into your homes in 2014! Thanks for helping to make our first year such an exciting and rewarding adventure. We're so happy to be sharing this story with you and hope you'll continue to share your photos and impressions of the book with us.

All the best to you and yours in 2015!

A beautiful connection

Greetings, Dear Reader!

I'm delighted to share a very special post with you in this week before Christmas, and in celebration of our very successful first year. Our publisher, Betsy Cordes, interviews someone with an important connection to our book's author, Albert Bigelow Paine.

Enjoy, and may you have a very Merry Christmas!

 

This project has had lots of really happy surprises for me, but one of the biggest has been the opportunity to connect with Stephen Bigelow Cushman, the great-grandson of Albert Bigelow Paine (author of Mr. Dog’s Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn). Stephen Cushman is a professor of English at the University of Virginia, specializing in American poetry.

Early last month, after a bit of getting to know one another via email, we met face-to-face on Skype and it was my great pleasure to hear Stephen’s memories of his great grandfather’s stories, to discover shared Christmas traditions (turns out “Mr. Dog” isn’t the only old Christmas story both our families enjoy!), and more.

I’m so grateful to Stephen for his warm reception of our project, and for the stories and perspectives he shared in our conversation—part of which I now get to share with you here.

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Stephen Bigelow Cushman holding his first editions of the “Hollow Tree and Deep Woods” tales: three volumes of stories written by his great-grandfather, Albert Bigelow Paine.

BETSY (San Francisco, California): I’m really grateful to you for doing this. I think that this connection with you is really one of the most rewarding things about this project.

STEPHEN (Charlottesville, Virginia): I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to go back to all these books. I was just sitting here re-reading my 1898 first edition. Paine was my great-grandfather, and the “little ladies” he told the story to, well, he seems to have written a book for each of his daughters. The third one, the youngest, was my father’s mother. Her name’s Joy. [Stephen holds up photo; shown below] See what you’re looking at?

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Mark Twain playing cards with Stephen Cushman’s grandmother, Joy (far right), her sister Louise (second from right), and their friend in Redding, Connecticut. (Image from twainquotes.com)

BETSY: It’s Mark Twain?

STEPHEN: Mark Twain, with three little girls. And the littlest girl farthest from him is my father’s mother. And the one next to her is Louise. And she is the little lady to whom Paine told “Mr. Dog’s Christmas.”

BETSY: That’s wonderful.

STEPHEN: So that picture was taken in Redding [Connecticut] in 1908. And I don’t know if you know the story of how Twain and Paine were connected.

BETSY:  I know that Paine was Twain’s biographer.

STEPHEN: Biographer, and executor. And editor. Some people say not a very good one. And Paine was the one who got Twain to come out to Redding, which seems to be the setting for the Hollow Tree. Certainly, those are New England winters you’re reading about.

BETSY: From your first email to me, it sounds like the reading of this story has been a tradition in your family forever.

STEPHEN: Yes. I was born in 1956 and I cannot remember a time when my father didn’t read these books to us all, all year, because there are three volumes and there’s the summer too and everything. Some terrifying characters in there: “Mr. Turtle’s Thunder Story,” “Old Man Moccasin,” and a lot of others as well. Oh, these all come back: “Mr. Turtle’s Flying Adventure.” Mr. Possum’s Sick Spell.” There are so many good ones here. And then, here’s the final one: “The Hollow Tree Snowed Inn” book. And I remember this one! Yes: “The Bark of Old Hungry Wolf.” That’s a story about them all being hungry in the winter.

But, certainly “The Hollow Tree Christmas” was a ritual. And I was just thinking before you called of all the things that we grew up saying from the story. For example, it could be the middle of July and sweltering outside, but if something good happens to somebody you might say, “Oh, there’s something in all our stockings!” So it’s very much part of the lore. We did that throughout my childhood. And then: I got married to Sandra in 1982, and our first son was born in 1987. His name is Samuel. Then the second son is Simon. And we always read them to them as well. So I guess if you count my father, we’re on generation three.

But these stories have some sadness in them, some grimness in them. Because this is a pre-internet, pre-television, pre-radio world where storytelling was a major way to pass cold, snowy New England evenings. And there is in these books loneliness and solitude and some hard things. Which I didn’t think about it that way as a child so much, but now that I look at them again, I see it.

BETSY: It will be interesting now for me to go and read some of those because I’m not as familiar with them, and I think that the Christmas story is really pretty lighthearted.

STEPHEN: Yes, although, what’s interesting—I recently re-read it—there’s really a great dramatization in the Christmas story about Mr. Dog thinking at first, “what a great joke this will be.” But then thinking, “how sad this would be to play a joke on them.” So he’s going to play the role. He really becomes sort-of this artist-author figure who’s going to create this illusion for the sake of his friends. What a shame to let them down. So then, even there, it seems to me there’s some pathos in that, too.

BETSY: The thing that I particularly love about it is that it’s very much about friends and family, and all of the best things. But there’s also that total late-night stress miracle when he’s getting things together. And, how hard it is for him, how hard he works to pull off this surprise for his friends. I absolutely love that part about it.

STEPHEN: You know, there are two sides to it. While we’re having a great time there are a lot of people who are not, for any number of reasons. And so I feel that one of the things that story’s about is Paine’s projection onto Mr. Dog of this desire to share the pleasures with people who might otherwise not have them. And I think it’s very moving in that way.

BETSY: What do you think about the story being republished now?

STEPHEN: Oh, I think it’s wonderful. You know, to have a book go out of print is a very sad thing. It’s not quite like a death, but it’s a little bit odd. And, so, to have a book that I love come back into the world, I only have good feelings about it. What I’m going to be interested in is if your project brings out of the woodwork people who have been leading lives parallel to ours, who have been reading these things all along and so on, as well as making new readers out of young people and other people.

BETSY: There has been at least one person that my parents discovered quite by accident that grew up reading the “Hollow Tree” stories.

STEPHEN: Oh, no way!

BETSY: Yes, and she’s ordered copies for two friends and had them inscribed because both of these people grew up with the Hollow Tree stories as well. The thing I love about the Christmas story is it’s just so timeless. It definitely has a lot of period stuff in it, and there are some funky things, like my dad, when he reads it, always likes to pause at the point where they say they’ll leave the latchstring out for Mr. Dog. And my dad always makes a sort-of hokey point of, “Now, do you know what a latchstring is?”

STEPHEN: Right! Well, one of the things we haven’t talked about yet is the timelessness of the Christmas story, yes, but the timelessness of beast fables in general—from Aesop’s on. I think that animal stories become even more resonant against the backdrop of environmental degradation and all kinds of things. I mean, to “the little lady”—my grandmother, or her sisters in the late-19th,early 20th century—these weren’t animals, these were people. They had latchstrings, and they had deep snows, and they were snowed in for a week, these things. Well, that never happens to anyone anymore. So there’s a kind of remoteness, a nostalgia for a time when life was a little different, life was a little closer to the animals and to the rhythms of the seasons. And, I think that aspect is always going to reach out. Read today the story might appeal to a deep longing for a non-urban, pre-modern pastoral world. And, I think you’re always going to get that being attractive to people especially at Christmas, when we’re fighting against so many other distracting forces: Shopping, doing your taxes, whatever, you know, all these terrible things! And you have this chance to be transported back. It’s wonderful!

BETSY: I’m curious, too, since you’re so familiar with all of the other stories, how often does Mr. Dog feature in all of them?

STEPHEN: Lots of Mr. Dog: “Mr. Dog Takes Lessons in Dancing,” “Jack Rabbit Plays One More Joke on Mr. Dog,” “Mr. Polecat Makes a Morning Call & Mr. Dog Drops In.” And then, there’s one about, “How Mr. Dog Got Even.” So Mr. Dog comes up a lot. And the reason is—and I was thinking about this before you called too—he’s the intermediary between the human world and the world of the forest. So, we need him as a kind of go-between. And there’s this sentence in the Hollow Tree Christmas: “Well, the Hollow Tree People had never heard of Santa Claus. They knew about Christmas, of course, because everybody, even the cows and sheep, knew about that.”

BETSY: I love that.

STEPHEN: “They had never heard of Santa Claus.” Well, that’s the only faint acknowledgment of the Christ story. You know: There’s the manger, and there are the animals. Otherwise, it’s a thoroughly secular Christmas. And it’s a kind of wonderful touch there, where on some level, all the animals knew about Christmas. But they didn’t know about this particular human version of Christmas. It’s gotta be the cattle are lowing or the shepherds are out with their sheep, their flocks abiding by night, and so on.

BETSY: I just remember, when I was in junior high and high school that sometimes on Christmas Eve, a bunch of my friends would come over to listen to this. And it was such a child-like thing that you would think that a jaded teenager would go, “What the hell is going on here?” But they were all, to the last one, every single time, every one of them no matter who it was, totally charmed by this story, and just completely present and really, really loved it.

STEPHEN: Well, it’s an interesting thing you say right there. In the full bloom of the Christmas readings when my sister and I were adults (if that was the right word), we would do, “The Hollow Tree Christmas.” But, we had other readings, too.

BETSY: Yeah? Tell me!

STEPHEN: Well, one of them—if you don’t know this, this would be a great thing for your family, in two forms—do you know Dylan Thomas’s, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales?”

BETSY: That’s another favorite. Absolutely.

STEPHEN: Ok. So, have you ever heard him read it?

BETSY: Yeah, so that’s another one of our traditions. On Christmas Eve, it’s the reading of Mr. Dog. And on Christmas morning, we have an album of Dylan Thomas reading, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” and that is on every Christmas morning.

STEPHEN: Well, this is scary, because this sounds as though we probably were cloned in the same… [laughs]

BETSY: That is so weird! [laughing]

STEPHEN: …and the other ones that we do: My dad had an ancient record I think he bought when he was in the army, a ’33 rpm. But on one side was Ronald Coleman reading an abridgment of “A Christmas Carol,” Dickens. And on the flip side, was Charles Laughton dramatizing an abridged version of “Pickwick Papers,” for Christmas. So that was our our trilogy: that record, the Thomas recording, and then our reading of, “The Hollow Tree.”

BETSY: Wow. We need to somehow get our hands on that third one. That sounds pretty special.

STEPHEN: Are you ready for the holidays?

BETSY: I am going to be so ready for the holidays!

STEPHEN: Well, I will tell you that here on the East Coast, the sun is going down, and I have a Mr. Dog I have to take out.

BETSY: I bet you do! Thank you so much for your time. I will send your books soon, and I look forward to staying in touch. And thank you so much for your warm reception of this project. It really means a lot to me.

STEPHEN: Well, thank you so much for the project, and seeing it through. And I wish everyone in your family a very happy Christmas.

Little Folks

Greetings, dear Reader!

This week I welcome back Henry Cordes, who has his own memories to share about growing up in a "Mr. Dog Family," and some nice thoughts about keeping stories and traditions alive.

Enjoy!

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My family has quite a few Christmas traditions. There’s the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding we have for Christmas dinner, and the figgy pudding my grandma makes. She douses it in liquor and lights it on fire; it’s very exciting. Many families leave out cookies for Santa, but we always left out a little cognac as well. And then of course there’s Mister Dog, the tradition we will soon share with you.

Little Henry, big tree. How the Little Fellows do slip away from us!

Little Henry, big tree. How the Little Fellows do slip away from us!


On Christmas Eve as a little kid, I’d sit with my family by the fire in my red and green striped pajamas while the adults sipped their drinks and talked and admired the tree. And at some point my grandpa would shuffle over to the bookcase and take down a very old, battered volume and say, “I think it’s time for Mr. Dog, don’t you?”

Mr. Dog's Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn first appeared in this 1898 volume of stories by Paine

Mr. Dog's Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn first appeared in this 1898 volume of stories by Paine

Albert Bigelow Paine’s “Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn” is but one in a series of story collections he wrote over two decades about Mr. Dog and the other Hollow Tree folks. Researching Paine in order to write a short bio about him for our book, I learned that he wrote these stories for his three daughters, and that “Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn” was to be the last story in his beloved series. But even as his older daughter grew up and began to lose interest, his younger daughters kept demanding new stories. After publishing “Mr. Dog,” Paine and his illustrator J.M. Condé went on to create two more books. As Paine wrote in the preface to the very last in the series:

How Little Ladies do slip away from us! The first Hollow Tree stories were told for one who is now a Big Lady, and the Snowed-In stories for another, who will soon be a Big Lady, too. But in the Deep Woods the years do not count. The Hollow Tree people never grow any older, but stay always the same, and the Story Teller and the Artist have to keep stepping backward to find out the new Hollow Tree stories and to tell them to the new Little People that come along.

Until we started this project I’d assumed I was probably one of the last of the little people who would ever come along. Paine put Mr. Dog down on the page over a century ago, and in the natural course of things even the best loved relics fade from memory. What makes this project so exciting for me is stepping back, like Paine and Condé, to breathe new life into some well-loved characters. It is my sincere hope that our republication, and Adam’s wonderful new illustrations, will bring this gem into the hearts and memories of many more Little People, and that Mr. Dog may become your Christmas tradition too.

Growing up in California with Mr. Dog's Christmas

Greetings, dear Reader!
My guests this week are Henry Cordes and his grandfather, James “Doompa” Luther. Henry interviews his grandpa on the topic of Christmases Past.
Enjoy!

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HC: Hey, Doompa! I’d love to know more about how “Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn” became a tradition in our family. Do you remember who gave the book to your family in the first place? And who first read it to you?

JL: I think the book came from my mother's family, but no one still alive seems to remember. It must have first been read to me when I was about 5, when we lived in Sierra Madre, California. I say that because in my imagination the porch of the Hollow Tree Inn has always been the porch of that great old house we lived in then. The upstairs hallway there, with the bedroom doors opening out onto it on one side and a banister on the other, was always where I imagined the three Hollow Tree regulars poking their heads out to see if there was anything in their stockings.

Henry’s grandpa, wee Jim Luther (right) with his big brother, Jack. This must have been taken right around his very first Christmas.

Henry’s grandpa, wee Jim Luther (right) with his big brother, Jack. This must have been taken right around his very first Christmas.

HC: You moved to Berkeley not long after that, right?

JL: Yes, in 1942 we moved to a place in Berkeley on San Mateo Road. It was a two-story place, too. We had plenty of Christmases there. I remember my Dad setting up a spindly WWII era tree and testing the lights. Getting ready. I think this was the place and the time and the age when the expectation of Christmas really started to take hold in me and grow each year. After that was an even bigger place, with four stories if you include the big basement with its monster, octopus armed furnace and the huge attic, on Indian Rock Avenue, Berkeley. Wartime Christmases with uncles in uniform and other family and others passing through heading off to somewhere out there or going east, maybe home, afterwards. Newspapers with big headlines. Fireplace, big stairway, adults kind and friendly to us kids and our dog, Sandy. Everybody drinking something in front of the lit-up tree and warm fire. Phonograph going. My brother, Jack and I getting to stay up late a lot.  Sometime in there we moved to a house on Shattuck Avenue, around the corner from Oxford Elementary School, where Jack and I went together for a couple of years. I know we enjoyed our Christmases there and at school—giant Christmas tree in the hall with all us little kids around it singing carols.

Jim (lower right, about age 6) with brother Jack and their parents—Henry's great grandparents—John and Betty, at home on Indian Rock Avenue in Berkeley, CA.

Jim (lower right, about age 6) with brother Jack and their parents—Henry's great grandparents—John and Betty, at home on Indian Rock Avenue in Berkeley, CA.

HC: Tell me more about your dog, Sandy.

JL: Sandy is what I remember most about our places on Indian Rock Avenue and Shattuck Avenue. He was our ready-for-anything Samoyed, who was constantly breaking out of our backyard and coming over to the schoolyard to look for Jack and me and cause havoc; he never hurt anybody, just wanted to play, herding big crowds of squealing, laughing kids back and forth across the playground. More than once, I was allowed (told) to leave school for long enough to get him home.

HC: What was Christmas like after you left Berkeley and moved to the country?

JL: In 1946 when I was 9, we moved to a two-story house near Fair Oaks, in Sacramento County. It was colder there in the wintertime than it had been in Berkeley. The house had a fireplace that we used a lot, and we had good Christmases there; one year I got a brand new Monarch bicycle, straight out of the pictures in the magazine ads. Then in 1951 we moved to suburbia: Arden Park, halfway between Fair Oaks and Sacramento. We lived in a small but comfortable, modern, one-story ranch style house on Las Pasas Way. Fireplace and plenty of room in front of the picture window for the tree, carols going on the Magnavox, but no upstairs to look down from. Christmases were still fun, but some of the childhood wonderment was fading a little. By age 14, I felt an obligation to be awkwardly cool. Fortunately, my little sister Joan was in just the right age-range, and that kept the Christmas innocence going for us.

Cultivating his cool. Jim, age 11,

Cultivating his cool. Jim, age 11,

HC: When did you start reading “Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn” to my mom? Was that when you lived in Ukiah? What was Christmas like in those years?

JL: Your mother was 9 when we moved West Standley Street in Ukiah. And of course she and your uncle Jay had lived in a couple of places in Sacramento County, and up on Fircrest Drive for two years when we first moved to Ukiah. And there were Christmases with plenty of Mr. Dog at those places, too. But it was the Standley Street house where she spent the most time as a child and as a teenager. The fireplace there got good use because the only other heat was from electric wall heaters, which we tried to avoid using because they were so expensive to operate. Your mother can tell you about staying huddled a few feet from the fire, wrapped up in a sleeping bag because it was so damn cold everywhere else in the house! There was almost always a cat and one or two dogs. I think that Christmases were wonderful for all of us there, I know they were especially fine for me: lots of tree-lights and well-used old familiar ornaments, bringing back the Christmas memories as we got them out anew each year. Smelling the Christmas Tree smells, listening to the same familiar records of carols and Dylan Thomas’s reading of “A Child's Christmas in Wales” each year. Presents, all kinds of toys and games, and lots of wonderful things to drink and eat, especially your grandmother's famous Christmas roast beast and Yorkshire Pudding. And always Mr. Dog by the fire on Christmas Eve.

HC: Much like Christmas has always been for me. So you’ve been the official Mr. Dog reader for a long time now!

JL: I guess I have! I started reading it to your mother and then your Uncle Jason when they were small, before we moved to Ukiah. Except possibly for one year (with reminders sometimes from Mrs. Dog) I've continued to read it all these years. And my audience has grown, of course, to include your dad and your Aunt Jean, then you and your cousins, Joon and Jory—and often guests who stop in for a Christmas Eve visit. One Christmas I even read it twice: your mother was in New York and insisted on a private reading over the phone.

1993: Henry’s first Christmas, with his Doompa in the house on West Standley Street, Ukiah, California.

1993: Henry’s first Christmas, with his Doompa in the house on West Standley Street, Ukiah, California.

You might also enjoy: Welcome!

Adam McCauley's Mr. Dog Artwork Honored by the Society of Illustrators

Happy Spring Greetings, Folks!

We hope you’ve had a cozy hibernation. I’m emerging from my own long winter’s nap to share the latest news here at the Old Hollow Tree. I’m quite proud to tell you that our illustrator, Adam McCauley, was recently recognized by the Society of Illustrators, in part for his work on our forthcoming book! Adam’s “Mr. Dog Spins a Tale” (seen below, left) appeared along with several of his illustrations in the Society’s 56th annual exhibition in New York City last month, and will be included in the annual publication this fall. We’re thrilled for the honor this brings to Adam and to our book!

top: Poster-sized reproductions of Adam’s “Mr. Dog Spins a Tale” and “Christmas Arrival at the Old Hollow Tree” on display for guests at our special holiday reading party in December. bottom: Henry interviewed Adam about the illustration process while videographer Tim Prestoza captured footage for our (in-the-works!) book trailer. photos © Sarah Deragon

top: Poster-sized reproductions of Adam’s “Mr. Dog Spins a Tale” and “Christmas Arrival at the Old Hollow Tree” on display for guests at our special holiday reading party in December. bottom: Henry interviewed Adam about the illustration process while videographer Tim Prestoza captured footage for our (in-the-works!) book trailer.
photos © Sarah Deragon

We had a little shindig over the holidays to introduce the story to a few friends. It was a glorious celebration, complete with a reading of the story by my dear old friend, Jim Luther. Our fine guests also had a chance to see a couple of the illustrations in large and glorious detail.

top: The scene set for a cozy reading of Mr. Dog’s Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn. bottom: The other Mr. Dog, Jim Luther, spiffed up for a special rendition of his annual reading. photos © Sarah Deragon

top: The scene set for a cozy reading of Mr. Dog’s Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn.
bottom: The other Mr. Dog, Jim Luther, spiffed up for a special rendition of his annual reading.
photos © Sarah Deragon

I’m glad to have your company here on the blog as we head toward publication later this year. Stay tuned for exciting announcements, behind-the-scenes stories and photos, and interviews with the whole cast of characters—real-life and fictional—behind Mr. Dog’s Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn. We hope you’ll share the news with your friends and family, too.

Yours truly,

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You might also enjoy: The story behind the story.

 

Christmas Eve Love Letters

I know you're all waiting very patiently for That's So Enterprises to publish Mr. Dog's Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn next year, and I do appreciate your loyalty. But heaven forbid you should let a Christmas Eve pass without some good stories by the fire. So in honor of the wonderful night before, I wanted to share a few of my all-time favorite Christmas stories. I'll bet some of these are already in your bookshelf, so be sure to pull them out and put them next to a cozy chair, ready for enjoying anytime over the next few days. And if there's a title on my list that's new and intriguing to you, see if you can grab a copy at your local bookstore as you do your last minute shopping tomorrow!

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This beloved poem by Clement Clarke Moore has been repackaged and republished many times since it first appeared on December 23, 1823 (exactly 190 years ago today!) I highly recommend searching for a vintage copy with illustrations by Jessie Wilcox Smith or Grandma Moses.

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This story and its epic illustrations are both by the talented William Joyce. Daring boy explorer Art Atchinson Aimesworth, his wise sister Esther, and their friend Spaulding receive a mysterious summons to the North Pole!

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A beautifully illustrated tale from the Swedish author Anna Emilia Lindgren (of Pippi Longstocking fame), about an elf-like creature and his nighttime visits with the animals on a snowy farm. He speaks a "silent little language" only they can understand, warming them with promises of Spring to come. Illustrations by Harald Wiberg

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This contemporary classic, written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg, tells the story of a young boy who awakes on Christmas Eve to find a train conductor beckoning him aboard The Polar Express, which has dreamily appeared right outside his front door. It's about the magic of allowing yourself to believe—even if only once a year—in the unbelievable.

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For those who appreciate good Christmas humor like I do, Raymond Brigg's Father Christmas can't be beat. This story, told in cartoon fashion, introduces us to the grumpier side of Santa. And honestly, who in the old man's position wouldn't be a bit put out? It's a lot of work… and all in one night!

Now, for those of you just itching to get a taste of what's to come next year, head on over to Love Letters Live—a weekly podcast series hosted by Janet Gallin to discuss, honor and encourage the sending of love letters. Really, what could be nicer? Janet recently interviewed Betsy about the upcoming publication of Mr. Dog's Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn and she even coaxed Betsy into reading the introduction to the story. Listen in on the Love Letters Live website, where you can also subscribe to the Janet's series via iTunes.

Happy reading and listening. And a very merry Christmas to you all!

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Welcome!

Christmas Eve 1996: my dad reads the story to us with my son, Henry (in his pirate phase), in his lap.

Christmas Eve 1996: my dad reads the story to us with my son, Henry (in his pirate phase), in his lap.

I'm Betsy of That's So Enterprises (proud soon-to-be publishers of Mr. Dog's Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn) and I'm delighted to share this introduction to our book and our story.

Every Christmas Eve for as long as I can remember, my dad has read aloud to my family a wonderful story, "Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn," by Albert Bigelow Paine. Originally published in 1898, the story centers on a group of animals who reside at The Hollow Tree Inn and their rascally friend, Mr. Dog, who decides to surprise the Hollow Tree folks by playing Santa Claus.

My dad reads the story from a lovely old 1915 volume called Little Folk's Christmas Stories and Plays by Ada M. Skinner—and my dad's parents read the same story to him and his brother, from the very same volume, when they were little boys. It's a tradition now enjoyed by three full generations of my family (my dad, my brother and me, and now our children).

More than three generations and going strong: my family's original 1915 copy of Ada M. Skinner's Little Folk's Christmas Stories and Plays. Photo by Sarah Deragon/Portraits to the People.

More than three generations and going strong: my family's original 1915 copy of Ada M. Skinner's Little Folk's Christmas Stories and Plays. Photo by Sarah Deragon/Portraits to the People.

The story has always felt like our little secret, but earlier this year my brother Jason had a brilliant suggestion: Why not republish this long out-of-print tale with new illustrations so it can be enjoyed by a much wider audience and many future generations? Wonderful new developments in the world of independent book publishing—along with my experience as an art director and my enthusiasm for tackling big new projects—made this all seem like a very viable and fine idea... And so that's just what we made up our minds to do!

We have been incredibly fortunate to engage award-winning artist Adam McCauley as our illustrator and we could not be more pleased with Adam's interpretation of the characters and the setting. His beautiful illustrations pay homage to the Victorian era aesthetic of the story while introducing a contemporary touch that's just what we hoped for. I'm excited to be able to give you sneak previews of his illustrations like the one on our home page, and more to come soon here on Mr. Dog's Blog!

In addition to a bit of the artwork, I look forward to sharing lots more with you as we head toward our publication date in the Fall of 2014. Loyal readers of Mr. Dog's Blog will learn more about our illustrator Adam, about the amazingly talented Mr. Albert Bigelow Paine, about family traditions, adventures in publishing, the story's characters and much more. Please check back regularly, and please share your own cherished holiday traditions, favorite stories, and more with us in the comments.

Lastly, we hope you'll tell your friends! In addition to this website and Mr. Dog's Christmas newsletter, you can also follow and share Mr. Dog on Twitter. [3/21/14 update: Mr. Dog is also on Facebook!] We are so thrilled to be able to introduce this story to new readers and we appreciate your help spreading the word.

Merry merry!
Betsy