Kate Farrell (author of Story Power) does a beautiful retelling of Carolyn Sherwin Bailey’s book about the harbinger of autumn.
Adoll made of an apple twig and a hickory nut is the delightful main character of Carolyn Sherwin Bailey’s Newbery Medal-winning fantasy. Miss Hickory’s survival in a bird’s nest through a cold country winter combines brisk, ironic humor with touches of whimsy and poignancy to form a story with provocative and contradictory implications.
Miss Hickory opens as the doll’s crusty friend Crow informs her that the farm house is being shut up for the winter and that she must plan to move from her corn cob house under a lilac bush to a sturdier and warmer shelter. Initially disbelieving, Miss Hickory soon finds that she has indeed been forgotten by the departing family and must accept Crow’s help in finding her a new home in an empty robin’s nest.
A series of loosely connected adventures ensues. Her neighbor Squirrel inspires both scorn and fear as Miss Hickory alternately mocks him for forgetting where he has buried his nuts and considers the temptation that her own head might present to the hungry animal. She makes friends with the Hen-Pheasants, whose husbands have deserted them for the winter, and organizes them into a ladies’ aid society.
At Christmas, Miss Hickory follows a solemn procession of animals to the barn, where her “hardheadedness,” a characteristic frequently emphasized in the text, prevents her from seeing a miraculous manifestation of Christ. Along the way, however, she does meet Fawn, who happily tells Miss Hickory that he expects to see his mother, a doe who died trying to protect him from a hunter’s bullets.
With the approach of spring, Crow returns and takes Miss Hickory on an exhilarating flight high in the sky. Later, a frosty April morning finds her dislodging Bull Frog from the ice. She pulls him free not only from ice but also from his old skin as well.
Fate, however, does not reward her good deeds, for she returns to her nest to find that Robin has resumed occupancy. Remembering suddenly that she has not heard or seen Squirrel for quite some time, she decides to take over his hole. Squirrel, however, is still there and engages her in an acrimonious dispute that ends with Squirrel biting off Miss Hickory’s head.
Although disengaged from its body, the head continues to think, recriminating itself for its past hardheadedness and selfishness until the Squirrel has eaten it completely. The little twig body, however, surges with life and runs to the apple tree, where it bonds to an upper branch and grows with bright, green leaves.
Carolyn Sherwin Bailey. Miss Hickory, Penguin Publishing Group, 1946.
Note: Miss Hickory was my favorite children’s book when I was in the 4th grade—I loved her corn cob house, her skirt made of brightly colored maple leaves, and her doll’s head made from a hickory nut.
Secrets to Creating, Crafting, and Telling Memorable Stories
Stories are everywhere. The art of storytelling has been around as long as humans have. And in today’s noisy, techy, automated world, storytelling is not only prevalent—it’s vital. Whether you’re interested in enlivening conversation, building your business brand, sharing family wisdom, or performing on stage, Story Power will show you how to make use of a good story.