Pitt-Bradford professor’s new book explores literary childhood

1pitt-mccabe-jbghiufd75e3gvj6refjBRADFORD, Pa. — Like many parents, Dr. Nancy McCabe enjoyed rediscovering the books of her childhood as she read to her own young daughter.

In her new book, “Little Houses to Little Women: Revisiting a Literary Childhood,” McCabe fully explores her lifelong relationship with fictional friends. Meeting the characters of her youth again was no chance bumping into an old acquaintance. Rather, it was a chance to examine as an adult the places and people who had inspired and driven her to become a writer herself.

McCabe began with the books closest to her family, the Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House” books about growing up on the 19th century prairie, reading them to her then-3-year-old daughter, Sophie, just as her mother had read them to her when she was 3 years old.

A Kansas native, McCabe said her mother closely identified with Wilder. McCabe’s grandfather had come to Kansas in a covered wagon, and her mother had gotten her teaching license at 19, echoing the circumstances of the “Little House” books.

Her mother, in fact, lived down the road from an older Wilder when she began writing her “Little House” books. As McCabe and her female cousins grew up in Kansas, her mother and aunts took them to multiple “Little House” sites.

As McCabe read the books to Sophie, she itched to show her own daughter the same places. Gradually they revisited the sites as part of family trips, and McCabe, a prolific essayist, began writing about these trips.

Soon after an extended literary vacation to the Midwest, a friend suggested they visit Prince Edward Island, Canada, home of the Lucy Maud Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables” books. A trip was planned and a pattern emerged that became the making of this literary traveling memoir.
McCabe added more stories and series and sites about girls who wanted to grow up to be writers: Maud Hart Lovelace’s “Betsy Tacy” books set in fictional Deep Valley, Minn., and Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” among them.

Interspersed with her literary travelogue are chapters on the values she learned from reading and how her own imagination developed through books. Those chapters allowed her to explore even more beloved books and writers: Louise Fitzhugh’s “Harriet the Spy,” EB White’s “The Trumpet of the Swan,” Carolyn Keene’s “Nancy Drew” books and more.

With the book now in print from the University of Missouri press, McCabe has especially enjoyed giving readings and talks, where audience members often share their own childhood stories with her.

“That’s been the most fun part of this book – hearing people talk about their own memories,” she said.
McCabe will be continuing those conversations through two blogs, her “Rereading Childhood” blog on her website, www.nancymccabe.net , and a forthcoming blog about literary travel on the website of the noted literary magazine, www.pshares.org.

This is McCabe’s fourth full-length book. Her work has won a Pushcart Prize for memoir, made the notable lists for Houghton-Mifflin Best American anthologies and won two awards from the literary magazine Prairie Schooner.

The Friends of Hanley Library and Pitt-Bradford Nontraditional Student Association will hold a reading and launch party for the book at 7 p.m. Jan. 14, 2015, in the Mukaiyama University Room of the Frame-Westerberg Commons. The public is welcome.

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