Hurry Hurry Mary Dear is a charming children's picture book about change from fall to winter in New England, and all the work it takes to prepare home and hearth for the coming cold.
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This is one of my favorite children's books: first and foremost for the illustrations, for the folksy collection of New England chores and harvest tasks that come with the end of the season, and for the cute and amusing couple (and cat) into whose lives the reader gets a glimpse.
The mysterious way this book found me
The book, Hurry, Hurry, Mary Dear, written by N.M. Bodecker and illustrated by Erik Blegvad, found me in 1998, at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT.
The Northshire is a book lover's delight and has been a fixture in Manchester for decades. The creaky floorboards and cavernous interior make it a really fun place to explore.
On this day, I was there looking at a tall display of children's picture books. Suddenly, a bookseller was at my elbow, clutching a new, hardcover copy of Hurry, Hurry, Mary Dear. Without a word, he handed it to me. I glanced at the cover and was immediately charmed by the fall scene, the white-haired woman clad in mittens and a house-dress, gripping a shovel in one hand and an ax in the other.
I looked back at the bookseller. He gave me a slow nod with his eyes closed - one of those gestures from TV and movies, meant to convey an event so significant that neither party can fully comprehend the impact.
Then he walked away.
Obviously, I was intrigued. I flipped through the book and immediately loved it. And I bought it.
Before leaving I looked for this mysterious, silent bookseller to thank him... but he was nowhere to be found. Did I imagine the whole thing?? Perhaps it was the ghost of the Northshire! (Ghost or no, he can certainly claim to be quite an effective salesman.)
About the creators of this book
The author and illustrator grew up together in Denmark, and both emigrated to the United States: Erik Blegvad after the German occupation in 1940 and N.M. Bodecker after the end of WWII.
Bodecker was an artist as well as an author. He enjoyed penning "nonsense poems" of which Hurry, Hurry, Mary Dear is one, and Let's Marry said the Cherry is another. Blegvad did illustrations for many children's books, including The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst and Bedknob and Broomstick by Mary Norton (both title words were made plural for the Disney movie adaptation.)
In the foreword written by Blegvad, he speaks of their life-long friendship and the work they did in the studio they shared for many years in Connecticut. I was also pleased to learn that Blegvad had a Vermont connection, splitting his time between his homes in Wardsboro, VT, and in London.
N.M. Bodecker passed away in 1988. Hurry Hurry Mary Dear was published posthumously, with Blegvad providing the illustrations. He tried to draw the book in a way that honored the "delightful pen and ink drawings" of his lifelong friend. Erik Blegvad passed away in 2014.
Expressive illustrations and New England charm
The illustrations of Hurry, Hurry, Mary Dear were what got me first: watercolor swaths of contrasting subdued colors. There are skies of somber grey - so typical of our late Octobers and early Novembers, interiors dimmed by drawn curtains and the setting sun.
Bright accents punctuate the cooler, shadowy hues on the pages, like Mary's blue, striped dress, specks of white, swirling snow, a red pillow on the couch, and bright green, shelled peas.
The other element of this book that I love is the collection of old-fashioned, New England chores that mark the approach of winter, like picking apples, churning cream to make butter, smoking meats over a wood fire, canning tomatoes, and pickles, and putting in the storm windows.
Nowadays we don't need to do many of these things, but I still feel the pull every fall to do a few of them. We go apple picking, even though local apples are at the store. I stand over the stove to ladle sauces into canning jars, even though it's hot and time-consuming (and I get just as weary as Mary does.) We all look forward to the first fire in the fireplace even though it only heats the one room.
Perhaps it is an instinctual pull in native New Englanders, lying dormant inside until that first, cool crisp night in September.
Keep an eye out for the black cat
I enjoyed reading this book to both of my kids when they were younger. They especially liked to look for the small black cat, playfully present on almost every page.
And after all that, her husband
The end of this book is very funny, when we find out that the voice behind all this "hurrying" is Mary's lounging, lamenting husband, cozy and lazy in slippers and a rocking chair.
Poor, hardworking Mary finally reaches her boiling point, in an ending I won't spoil here!
Find this book
It's the perfect seasonal read, best done I think before the first snow, while there is still charm and enjoyment in the cooling weather. (Personally, once the bite of January settles in, all I want to think about is spring.)
Support your local, independent bookstore by asking them to order Hurry Hurry Mary Dear for you. Or, tap here to purchase a copy online. You can check your library, too!
Recipes straight out of Mary's kitchen
And, if after reading this post or the book, you find you are longing to join Mary in some of these seasonal autumn rituals and tasks - I can help with that!
🍎 If you have picked your apples, give these recipes a try:
🥧 Use your freshly-churned or store-bought, quality butter to make a flaky pie crust:
☕ Once your fire is good and hot, here are a few things you can toast, plus a spiced syrup to add to your tea:
🍁❄️ Happy Autumn and Winter everyone!
Oh, Nan! I love Mary. I was attracted by the cover and she's such a sweet spirit. And by the way, what is it about creaky floorboards that makes the old bookstore experience so deeply satisfying?
That's a great question! Perhaps creaky floors imply "old" which gives more legitimacy to said bookstore? Hmmm.
Sounds like a lovely story. I'll have to look for it the next time I'm at the library. The whole thing with the mysterious salesperson was well told, too.
Thanks, Lori. One of those bizarre, fateful occurrences. Granted it's only a book, but would I ever have found this book otherwise?
I live in a warm weather climate, so I didn't grow up with a tradition of all these Fall activities. But the book sounds interesting to me and I can especially relate to "put up the jam" page.
Hi Damaria! It's been awhile simce I've put up jams, but my mom always did it with freah raspberries. Do you have any change-of-season traditions?
The tradition that easily comes to mind is Spring cleaning. Come September, many South Africans clean their houses top to bottom:
a. wipe walls, or if possible or needed, paint them
2. wash windows and curtains
3. clean the house, repack shelves
4. weed the garden
2, 3 and 4 are almost a religion in my village, maybe because they don't cost anything but effort? LOL!
August is wind season, so whatever you scrub will likely have a layer of dust the following week; that's why we wait until September.
Nothing much happens in Autumn. I think we mostly pretend it's still Summer and the weather allows that ( we have almost 9 months of warm to hot weather then).
P.S. My weather and wind comments relate to my region, which is semi-arid. Other regions may experience things differently
Very interesting! I've never lived outside of New England, I've wondered how it would feel to live year-round in a warm climate. I would NOT miss the bitter cold of January and February, but I would definitely miss Fall. 🙂