Houses – and Dolly Parton

When I dreamed up the house theme for “Her spirits rose…,” I didn’t expect to spend so much time at Downtown Abbey. But I was much in Anchorage as the result of a fall on an icy running trail, which changed Mr. Carson into a temporary Mr. Bates, without the metal brace but with the walking cane, a trouble compounded by another injury – of Lady Baby’s friend RoRo (who cares for her on work days). Fixable woes, but painful and discombobulating to life and schedules.

So this April brimmed with much unexpected Lady Baby fun, and instead of contemplating books at home and further in my archive, searching for thoughts about artists’ houses or thinking of my house, I’ve been making a study of animal houses. The sort of houses that provide shelter in the scores (and I mean scores) of books we read these days to Lady Baby.

She listens to a pile with breakfast, a stack with lunch, a good selection after getting cozy in the sleep sack before nap and bedtime – and throughout the day, during moments of “lets sit down and have tea and read” (me), or the sudden discovery of a book on a shelf or a table and the request “pease read this” (Lady Baby). One book almost always leads to “nother book” and “nother,” and this bottomless appetite thrills me. Grandparents, being all about time to read and read and read, rarely have to set limits.

We read lots of books about animals, animals that have their houses built-in like snails, animals that build their houses like birds or spiders, or animals that find houses like bears’ caves, raccoons’ hollow trees, and the holes of mice. Of course, many animals live with us in our houses – “Clifford The Big Red Dog” being a tight fit, “Six-Dinner Sid” resides in six houses whose owners don’t know about each other.

And, maybe most memorably, we read about animals that have houses containing all the attributes and comforts of home. We always like to visit Peter Rabbit’s little burrow, and the intricate structures built by the mice in the Brambly Hedge series – dwellings with cozy fireplaces and bunk beds piled with quilts. Chester, a young raccoon, lives in a hollow tree with his family, and in one book has to leave his home and move to another part of the forest. “Bear Snores On” in his cave that is often the site of parties with his friends. Anthropomorphism, yes, but so much fun.

“Need a House? Call Ms. Mouse!” is a definite favorite. Ms. Mouse, a decorator, architect, and builder, provides plans for houses for all sorts of animals to meet their specifications and needs – an elegant hanging pear for a worm, a three-level below-ground fox den, an Asian-flavored, “leaping success” of a pad for a frog.

When we moved from Anchorage to Washington much of our Downtown Abbey library was transformed into credit at Title Wave, the huge second-hand bookstore in Anchorage. When I suggested to Lady Baby that we go there and buy a lot of books she nodded yes, and added, “and eat French fries!” Okay. Sounds good.

Lady Baby is lucky, she has lots of books and chances to go to the library. In one of her books I noticed a label from “Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.” When I asked Mrs. Hughes about this, she told me the book is from Dolly Parton. If you sign up, Parton’s amazing organization will send your child a book each month from birth to five years!

The books come in the mail, addressed to the child, are age-appropriate, and include some classics like “The Little Engine Who Could” and contemporary books. One day we received “Pretend,” and that seemed perfect – as pretending is just beginning for Lady Baby in a big way – aided and abetted by books!

I’m in awe of The Imagination Library ( – what a wonderful thing for Dolly Parton to do.

Ms. Mouse with book list