No End of Trouble
Blacky the Crow by Thornton Burgess
Rainbow Crow, my collection of crow poems for children, which releases Monday, April 4, started out as a story. In fact, it has been many stories. I have multiple drafts in multiple forms, over multiple years. But I couldn’t pull it off. Thornton Burgess did it, and he did it 100 years ago. His story is called Blacky the Crow.
My one complaint is that he picked a rather dull name for his protagonist. But hey, it was 1922. I’ll extend the kind of mercy crows never show.
When a friend, who is a retired park ranger told me about Burgess, she was stunned to find out I’d never heard of him. The conservationist and children’s author published more than 170 books and 15,000 pieces for his daily newspaper column. Daily! I wrote a monthly magazine column and burned out after only eight years.
Since Blacky the Crow was written for a young audience a century ago, it is more of a morality tale than most contemporary children’s fiction. But, like Beatrix Potter, it treats an animal’s characteristics as character. So when I read the first sentence, I felt confident Burgess knew his crows.
Blacky the Crow is always watching for things not intended for his sharp eyes.”
What a perfect first sentence! We learn that crows have excellent vision and that they are up to no good. Well done, Mr. Burgess, and in only 14 words!
The story hits all the necessaries for crows, beginning with an elaborate plot to steal eggs from Mr. and Mrs. Hooty (Owl) and ending with a theft of a shiny object that does not, in fact, turn out to be an egg.
If you love crows, I encourage you to pick up this treasure, from a long-forgotten literary stash. I leave you with a few quotes to lighten your heart and trouble your dreams:
* “Peter Rabbit says that it is because Blacky’s conscience troubles him so that he doesn’t dare sleep alone, but Happy Jack Squirrel says that Blacky hasn’t any conscience.”
* “He isn’t easily discouraged. Sometimes it is a pity that he isn’t, because he plans so much mischief.”
* “he shouts, ‘Caw, caw, caw, caw!’ in the most provoking way, and Farmer Brown’s boy insists that he has seen Blacky wink when he was doing it.”
* “He didn’t fly straight there. Oh, my, no! Blacky is too clever to do anything like that.”
* “Blacky has no pockets, so he keeps his treasures in a secret hiding-place, a sort of treasure storehouse. He visits this secretly every day, uncovers his treasures, and gloats over them and plays with them, then carefully covers them up again.”