'Mary Smith' Wakes Up Village Sleepyheads In the early 20th century, many of England's workers awoke to the tap, tap, tap of their town's "knocker-up." In her children's book Mary Smith, Andrea U'Ren follows a day in the life of a knocker-up armed with a pea shooter.
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'Mary Smith' Wakes Up Village Sleepyheads

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'Mary Smith' Wakes Up Village Sleepyheads

'Mary Smith' Wakes Up Village Sleepyheads

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up, a passel of progeny and a slew of songs.

But first, hard to believe it, but summer is almost over. School will soon return. For many youngsters who've gotten used to lazing around in bed, a question presents itself. How will they get up for school? Bringing us a new old idea to that age-old question is the book "Mary Smith." It's a book for children by Andrea U'Ren. Joining us to talk about it is our ambassador to the world of children's literature, Daniel Pinkwater in Upstate New York.

Daniel, thanks for being with us again.

DANIEL PINKWATER: Scott, you've known me for some time.

SIMON: Yes, I have.

PINKWATER: So you must be aware that when I tell you something is a true story, you can pretty much bank at it being fiction.

SIMON: Well said. Yes, indeed.

PINKWATER: I'm reminded of the time I persuaded your extended family that my dog can read English.

SIMON: Well, and, as a matter of fact, she was pretty good at it.

PINKWATER: Apparently, the whole family. But enough of that. Let me talk about the book.


PINKWATER: "Mary Smith" is not a true story, necessarily. I'm not saying it isn't. But it's about a real person. And her photograph appears...


PINKWATER: This time in the front space(ph). You see her and her work. Shall we just sort of read it and then we can go into the commentary at the end?

SIMON: Sure. By all means.

PINKWATER: Would you like to begin?

SIMON: Sure.

PINKWATER: Please do.

SIMON: (Reading) It's Monday morning, hours before dawn, and Mary Smith, the knocker-up, has left her home. She walks for miles from the outskirts of town, passing one sleeping house after another.

PINKWATER: (Reading) Then, suddenly stops, she takes one dried pea, wrinkly, from her pocket, and puts it into her peashooter then...

SIMON: (Reading) She blows. Tink(ph).

PINKWATER: (Reading) She's hit the baker's window. Tonk(ph). She hits it again.

SIMON: (Reading) On goes the light. Oh, I'm awake, the baker shouts sleepily. All right.

PINKWATER: (Reading) But Mary Smith doesn't respond. She's already gone.

SIMON: (Reading) Look. Here she is hurrying along the baker's home far behind. Then...

PINKWATER: (Reading) You see she's got her pocket watch and her peashooter.

SIMON: Yeah.

PINKWATER: (Reading) She stops again in front of the train conductor's home this time. She hits his window with one pea.

SIMON: (Reading) Tink.

PINKWATER: (Reading) Then hits it with two more.

SIMON: (Reading) Clack(ph). Tink. The train conductor comes to the window but then he falls asleep again. So...

(Soundbite of blowing a shooter)

PINKWATER: (Reading) Mary blows and gently flicks his nose.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: It's a wonderful little illustration here too.

PINKWATER: There's something familiar about these that I can't completely put my finger on. Maybe it'll come to me.

SIMON: (Reading) Oh, hup. Yeah. He yawns and turns on the light. See, I'm up.

PINKWATER: (Reading) But Mary Smith's already on her way and waking up the laundry maids. Tock(ph). Tock. Tock. And the fishmonger. Plik. Plok.

SIMON: (Reading) All through town, Mary Smith shoots dried peas to rouse sleeping townspeople...

PINKWATER: (Reading) So they can start their day on time.

Oh, I'm seeing a little homage to Toulouse-Lautrec lithographs. That's what I (unintelligible).

SIMON: Yes. In this picture of the sleepy...


SIMON: ...or an awakening little village.


SIMON: (Reading) And finally, the end of Egiton(ph) Lane, the mayor's windows crackled with a click, clack, snap.

PINKWATER: (Reading) No one comes to the window, so Mary tries again. Tock. Tock. Clap.

(Soundbite of blowing a shooter)

SIMON: (Reading) The windows swing open. It must be my turn to wake up, the mayor says. That's right, says Mary Smith with pride. The other townspeople are already up. Thank you, Mary Smith. I don't know what we'll do without you.

PINKWATER: (Reading) Studying with John Gielgud(ph), it shows, it shows.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PINKWATER: (Reading) Dim and early, Mary says with a grin. But...

SIMON: (Reading) When Mary Smith arrives back home, she finds a dreadful sight.

PINKWATER: (Reading) Is that really her daughter sound asleep in bed, so very late for school?

SIMON: (Reading) Rose, wake up...

PINKWATER: (Reading) Cries Mary Smith.

SIMON: (Reading) Oh, how impossible it will be to get anyone to wake up for me after they hear about this. My own daughter sleeping in.

PINKWATER: (Reading) I'm not late for school, mommy, answers Rose sadly. It's worse than that. I've been sent home. Timothy was sleeping so I tried to wake him up.

And we see a flashback. The kid's got her own peashooter.

(Reading) But I missed and hit Ms. Pinchit(ph) instead.

SIMON: (Reading) Oh, shame, gasps Mary Smith.

PINKWATER: And then the last spread here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PINKWATER: Rose has her peashooter and she is pelting Mary Smith, who's enjoying it hilariously. And she says, we're really - well, you read the last line, Scott. You do...

SIMON: (Reading) We really must work on your aim.

PINKWATER: There we are.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: That's a wonderful story, isn't it?

PINKWATER: And then there is a historical note. A way to wake up - may I read this?

SIMON: Yes, by all means. Yeah.

PINKWATER: (Reading) Before alarm clocks were affordable and reliable, people needed a way to wake up on time. In England, one solution to this problem was to hire someone called a knocker-up. For a few pennies a week, a knocker-up would come around to wake you at whatever time you requested.

So Scott, this book is deceptively well done. The drawings are so right that it just seems like it all belongs together. I commend it highly and commend you for letting me present it with you.

SIMON: Well, Daniel, thanks so much. Ready?

(Soundbite of hitting bat)

PINKWATER: Missed. Hit it again. Whost.

(Soundbite of hitting bat)

PINKWATER: That was right in the windowpane.

SIMON: The title of the book, "Mary Smith," by Andrea U'Ren. Daniel Pinkwater is the author of many fine books for children.

PINKWATER: Name one.

SIMON: Well, as a matter of fact, the latest, "The Neddiad."

Mr. PINKWATER: "The Neddiad." I wrote it.

SIMON: It's just wonderful, I understand. Daniel joined us from his home in Upstate New York.

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