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The Return Of 'Crows,' Huxley's Children's Tale

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The Return Of 'Crows,' Huxley's Children's Tale

Book News & Features

The Return Of 'Crows,' Huxley's Children's Tale

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is Weekend Edition from NPR News, I'm Scott Simon.

High above the ground in the branches of a cottonwood tree near the town of Pearblossom, there once lived a mother crow and a father crow in a well appointed nest. Or at least the pair aspired to be parents. But a crafty snake, who showed up like clockwork every day, had other plans for their eggs.

This drama plays out in a children's book called "The Crows of Pearblossom." It's written by Aldous Huxley. Yeah, Aldous Huxley the novelist known to generations of high school English students as the author of a very different kind of book - "Brave New World."

"The Crows of Pearblossom" has been out of print for years, but just been re-issued with new illustrations to delight readers. And although the story may not be for the faint of heart, the book does have a happy ending, not to give it away.

You know who joins us now. Daniel Pinkwater, our ambassador to the world of children's' literature. He joins us from his home in a nest in upstate New York.

Daniel, so good to have you back.

Mr. DANIEL PINKWATER (Author): Scott, first of all I am tired of people saying that I am a bore and a philistine.

SIMON: I have only said that a couple of times.

Mr. PINKWATER: Well, you're known for being nice.

SIMON: I don't say it always.

Mr. PINKWATER: You're famous for your niceness.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. PINKWATER: But I'm just pointing out that this is by indeed Aldous Huxley. And I have brought it in. So I just want you to know that Aldous - besides "Brave New World," the guy wrote about 1,000 things. He wrote novels. He wrote plays. He wrote philosophical texts. He wrote political diatribes. He wrote ads for Corn Flakes. And he wrote this book.

SIMON: Yeah. I must say, even being a little bit familiar with some of what he wrote, I didn't know that he wrote for children. And it's a...

Mr. PINKWATER: Well, he did this once mainly to entertain children in the family circle. And it is a bit of a period piece from 1944, but re-illustrated by Sophie Blackall with really swell drawings. So the book is old, the drawings are new.

SIMON: The dedication is for Olivia, Aldous Huxley in 1944.

Mr. PINKWATER: Yeah, Olivia and all the people named in the book are people amongst his friends and family when he was living down there in Arizona, having a good time and taking peyote and meditating and writing.

Shall we give this thing a light reading?

SIMON: I think we should, please.

Mr. PINKWATER: Shall we toss the coin to see who begins the fray?

SIMON: Yeah. Do you have a coin?

Mr. PINKWATER: No.

SIMON: I do. Hold on. I've got a Krugerrand here in my pocket.

Mr. PINKWATER: I would expect no less of you, Scott.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: OK. Let me get this close to the mike. OK. Heads or tails, Daniel?

Mr. PINKWATER: I'll take heads.

SIMON: It is heads.

Mr. PINKWATER: Ok.

(Reading) Once upon a time, there were two crows who had a nest in a cottonwood tree at Pearblossom.

SIMON: (Reading) In a hole at the bottom of tree lived a rattlesnake. He was very old and very big. And when he shook his rattles the noise was so loud that it could be heard by the children at school in Little Rock.

Most of the time he slept, but every afternoon punctually at half past three, he used to crawl out of his hole, climb the tree and look into the crow's nest. If there was an egg in the nest, which there generally was, he would swallow it in one mouthful, shell and all. Then he crawled back into his hole and went to sleep again.

Mr. PINKWATER: (Reading) When Mrs. Crow came back from the store where she went every afternoon to buy her groceries, she would find the nest empty. What can have happened to my darling little egg, she would say as she hunted high and low. But she never found it, so after tea she laid another one.

This had gone on for a long time when one day Mrs. Crow came home earlier than usual and caught Mr. Snake in the act of swallowing her latest egg.

Monster, she cried. What are you doing? Speaking with his mouth full, the snake answered, I'm having breakfast. And he glided down the tree and into his hole.

SIMON: (Reading) When Mr. Crow came home that evening from Palmdale, where he worked as assistant manager in the drug store, he found his wife looking very pale and haggard, pacing up and down the branch outside their nest.

What's the matter, Amelia, he said. You look quite ill. You haven't been overeating again, have you?

Mr. PINKWATER: (Reading) How can you be so coarse and unfeeling, Mrs. Crow burst out. Here am I working myself to the bone for you. When I'm not working, laying a fresh egg every single day - except Sunday, of course, and public holidays - 297 eggs a year, and not a single chick hatched out. And all you can do is ask if I've been overeating? And when I think of that dreadful snake, I go all of a tremble.

Snake, said Mr. Crow. What snake? The one that ate all my darling little eggs, said Mrs. Crow, and once again burst into tears.

SIMON: Let's do a little compression here and just explain that Mr. Crow seeks advice from his friend, the owl.

Mr. PINKWATER: And Owl knows just what to do.

SIMON: So the owl says to him, (Reading) You talk to much, said Old Man Owl. Keep your beak shut and do exactly what I do.

Mr. PINKWATER: (Reading) So saying, he took a big handful of mud and began to shape it into the form of an egg. Mr. Crow did the same.

SIMON: So they take the clay eggs and they put them into the nest. The idea is to trick the snake.

Mr. PINKWATER: (Reading) Next afternoon, Mrs. Crow went down to the store as usual to do her shopping. While she was gone, Mr. Snake woke up and, feeling hungry, came gliding out of his hole, up the tree and along the branch to Mr. and Mrs. Crow's nest.

Two eggs today, he said. Yum, yum. And he smacked his lips, for his mother neglected his education and he had very bad manners. Then he stuck out his neck and swallowed the two eggs whole, first one and then the other.

SIMON: (Reading) After that, he stretched himself along the branch in the sunshine and began to sing a little song.

I get to be a singing snake.

(Reading) I cannot fly, I have no wings. I cannot run, I have no legs. But I can creep where the blackbird sings and eat her speckled eggs. Ha, ha. And eat her speckled eggs.

Mr. PINKWATER: Getting serious, this story.

(Reading) Suddenly he broke off. Those eggs must've had very thick shells, he said to himself. All at once he began to have the most frightful stomach ache. Ow, he said. O-i-eee. Mr. Snake began to writhe and wriggle and twist and turn.

SIMON: Twisted and turned himself into knots, which absolutely snakes do, don't they.

(Reading) By and by, Mrs. Crow came back from the store. And at first when she saw the snake she was frightened. The soonest she noticed how tightly he'd tied himself up she felt very brave and proceeded to give the snake a very long lecture on the wickedness of eating other people's eggs.

Mr. PINKWATER: (Reading) Since that time, Mrs. Crow has successfully hatched out four families of 17 children each. And she uses the snake as a clothesline on which to hang the little crows' diapers.

And you see in the excellent illustration, Snake is not happy about this at all.

SIMON: No. No. You know, and there's nothing cuter than a baby crow's diaper, is there, Daniel?

Mr. PINKWATER: Would they all had them.

SIMON: Yes.

Well, Daniel, thanks very much. I had no idea that Aldous Huxley had written anything for children. We've been reading "The Crows of Pearblossom," by Aldous Huxley, just re-issued with new illustrations by Sophie Blackall.

Daniel Pinkwater is the author of many fine books for children and adults - and reptiles. His latest, and perhaps finest, role is as the station ID announcer -I didn't know this - for Radio Mozart.net in Marseille - Marseille, France or Marseille, Wisconsin.

Mr. PINKWATER: Yes. I am the English language station ID announcer for RadioMozart.net, which is 24 hours a day, all Mozart, all the time. And it is my honor to be the one who says, you are listening to RadioMozart.net.

SIMON: Thank you, Daniel.

Mr. PINKWATER: Bye-bye.

(Soundbite of song, "The Day I Read a Book")

Mr. JIMMY DURANTE (Singer): (Singing) I'll never forget the day I read a book. It was contagious, 70 pages. There were pictures here and there, so it wasn't hard to bear. The day I read...

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