20th Century and Contemporary, Books, Children's Literature, Excerpts, Publishing

For the Child at Heart

My gracious said Orlando isn’t it lovely the wind in the trees.
You mean the green trees said Olga, oh yes said Only the wind in the green trees. You mean said Owen the blue sky and the wind in the green trees. Oh yes said Orlando my gracious isn’t it lovely.

Lovely is exactly the right word to describe Gertrude Stein’s To Do: A Book of Alphabets and Birthdays. Beginning with the letter “A” and proceeding all the way through “Z,” Stein dances across the boundaries between poetry and prose as she introduces a fascinating and whimsical cast of characters, all highly preoccupied with their dates of birth. As we move through the alphabet, we meet the dogs Never Asleep and Was Asleep, a boy named Sammy who can only eat the candles off of his birthday cake, and Bertie, who “was cross-eyed because somebody when he was a baby always stroked his nose with their finger.”

The charmingly idiosyncratic composition appears in this edition for the first time as its author envisioned it, complete with stylish illustrations by Giselle Potter and an introduction by Timothy Young that details the history of the text and explains the real-life inspirations for some of Stein’s characters. Between the beautifully painted images on every other page and the appealing patter of Stein’s writing, To Do is a children’s book that will inspire laughter and admiration in six-year-olds and sixty-year-olds alike.


For the Holidays, Gertrude Stein is bringing you a a story from the letter “H”:


But Henriette knew and Mr. House too that when the cock crew and the mous said mew it would be Sunday.

Well very well Monday comes after Sunday.

Gracious me said Henriette, I have not been born yet.

Mr. House said in a solemn voice typewriting machines are not born they are made, and even if they are always in the shade, they are made.

Oui oui, said Henriette oui oui.

Ja ja said Yetta ah.

And Mr. House said nothing more, because he was not a bore and he would have been of course he would have been if he had said anything more.

More more more.

Shut oh shut the door.

It is shut said Henriette.

Not yet said Yetta.

And so the three typewriting machines went to war, they said they would, they would they said.

Henriette fell off the shelf.

Yetta was left there all by herself.

Mr. House quick as a mouse heard the noise, he did not go to help because he thought he heard a yelp and he did, but it was not a fuss, Henriette had fallen off the shelf but she was not a muss, she just said she would fuss and she did, and Mr. House quick as a mouse covered her with his cloth he had one of course it covered him over and so there they were mr. House and Henriette and it was fair that they were there, and Yetta all alone on her shelf could not take care of herself, she just got dirty and cried and when anyone tried to make her keys go they stuck ever so, and so no, no there was no use, no use in that, she might as well have been a cat, and Mr. House got on very well and so did Henriette who loved to look well when they said shw would tell how to fall off a shelf and not hurt herself much, it was such fun to tell every one.

So there it was begun and it was finished before they were done and every one has a gun and no one can run and that is what war is and now there is none, thank you every one.

And I follows H, it does not sound right but it is H and then I it is better to try H and then I, H I makes high.


Excerpted from To Do: A Book of Alphabets and Birthdays. Copyright © 2011 Estate of Gertrude Stein.

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