Lydia Maria Child (1802-1880) began her career almost two centuries ago, and some of her writing is dated, yet some resonates today in odd ways. She address the contradiction in American society as to whether to conserve of consume with her association of ideas. Child also offered this thought: The United States is a warning rather than en example to the world.” This odd group including a bird, bees, a squirrel, a whale, a wax doll, and a horse will appeared in “Fanny’s Menagerie,” to be presented at the Children’s Literature Association conference this week. Design by Meredith Eliassen, 2018.

Fanny’s Menagerie.

OH, dear me, what a long day!” exclaimed Fanny, impatiently. “Rain, rain, rain, all the time and nothing pleasant to do. My Doll is in bed, ill with the scarlet-fever. It won’t do to take her up for she will certainly take cold this damp day. I have read through all my story-books. They all tell about good little girls, who hemmed handkerchiefs, and did every thing they were told to do. I am sure I don’t think it is very entertaining to be good, if that’s the way they do it. There goes Charlie Green, driving home the cows and whistling merrily. I wish I were poor too; then I could run about barefooted. My mother would n’t be always saying, ‘You must n’t go out, Fanny, You will wet your feed; you must n’t do this, you must n’t do that;’ as if I were made of sugar or salt. What a fine time the ducks are having on the pond! If I only had a coat of feathers, I should n’t mind a little wetting. I could duck and dive, and splatter about all day long. But now I suppose I must go to sleep; for there don’t seem to be anything else in the world for me to do.” So Fanny threw herself on the bed and lay with eyes half open, watching the ran-drops as they trickled down the window-panes.

Flap, flap, flap! “What’s that at the window?” Flap, flap, flap! In flew a dozen geese, screaming, “Quack! quack! quack! Who carried off our feathers?” They flew round the room like wild creatures, beating their wings against the walls and ceiling.

What Large quills they have in their wings,” thought Fanny. “If I had one of them, I suppose I should have to write six pages of ‘Virtue is its own reward,’ in my new writing-book. What a noise they do make? Why are they all coming toward me?”

Flap, flap, flap, when all the geese, directly over Fanny’s head, and down they pounced upon the pillow. In a few minutes it was ripped to pieces, and the feathers scattered all over the floor. “Quack, quack, quack! Here are our feathers!” cried all the geese; and each one seized a bunch of feathers in its bill.

“What a pity you have n’t aprons to carry them in,” said Fanny. “Wait a minute, only white goose, and I will lend you one of my doll’s aprons. You would look like a perfect beauty with it tied round your neck.” The geese paid no attention to her jokes, but flew off with all the feathers they could carry, leaving the air so full of down, that it seemed like a snow-storm.

Patter, patter, patter! “Can that be Carlo in the entry? It sounds as if there were a dozen dogs there.” Patter, patter, patter! The door was gently pushed open, and a sheep peeped in. “Pray, walk in, Madam,” said Fanny; and in walked a whole flock. “Baa, baa, baa! Where is the wool they cut from my back?” said a great black sheep. “Baa, baa, baa! Who has carried off our wool?” cried all the sheep; and they went snuffing about all over the room.

“I did n’t carry off your wool,” said Fanny. Stop, stop! That’s my shawl. You must n’t take that. Why, what are you pulling the carpet to pieces for?”

Without mind a word she said, the great black sheep tried to put the shawl on. She was rather awkward about it, but the others managed to help. Fanny was so amused that she never thought of taking it away. It made her laugh heartily to see the old black sheep march about with the shawl on her shoulders, followed by all the others, with pieces of carpet folded over them. She thought to herself, “I wish mother could see them walking out of the front door in procession. I am sure she would think them regular thieves.”

Buzz, buzz, buzz! “What comes to the window now?” In flew a swarm of bees.

“Buzz, buzz, buzz! Where is our wax?” said the queen-bee.

“Hum, hum, hum! Who stole our wax?” murmured all the bees.

“There is no wax here,” said Fanny; “but there is plenty of honey in the pantry. Go ask the cook for it, and see what she will say to you.”

The bees did not answer here, but went thrusting their stings into everything, crying, “Buzz, buzz, buzz! “Hum, hum, hum!” They seemed to be very angry about something.

“Oh dear,” explained Fanny; “they have all lighted on my doll, and are nibbling away her pretty face. Oh, my beautiful wax doll! Her cheeks were so red, that I played she had scarlet-fever; and now they have eaten her all up. What shall I do? What shall I do?”

Tramp, tramp, tramp! “Is that a giant stamping through the entry?” Tramp, tramp, tramp! and presently a long waving thing was poked into the door, and went curling about, first in one direction, then in another. “I really believe it is the sea-serpent,” exclaimed Fanny. “Oh no, I see now that it is the trunk of an elephant. What can the great creature want of me?” The elephant walked slowly about the room, saying, “I want my ivory back again. Who carried off my tusks?” He lifted up tables and chairs with his trunk, tumbled the bed-clothes, and turned everything upside down.

“There, now he has seized my pretty ivory basket!” cried Fanny. “Please don’t take that away, Mr. Elephant.”

“It’s a very singular thing to come out of my tusks,” replied the elephant. “It cannot be of any use to me know; but I should like to carry it home and show it to my little elephants. I am sure they will consider it quite a curiosity.” Saying thus he tramped heavily out of the room, with the basket hanging from the end of his truck.

I wonder how that huge beast ever got up stairs,” thought Fanny. They were obliged to make a hole in the wall, the other day, to bring a sofa in. I should think they would have to knock down the house to make way fro an elephant.”

“Hark! Is that my Canary? I never heard him wing so sweet a song before. I hear wings fluttering. How softly they sound!”

Two beautiful little spirits floated in at the window; one in light drapery of blue gossamer, the other with the mantle of grey mist. With a voice sad as the autumn wind on a lonely hill, she sang,

“Sister, sister, mourn with me,

For I have lost my sheltering tree.

Day and night I wander lone,

And to the breezes make my moan.

On sunny hill, in flowery vale,

To every bird I tell the tale.

Far and wide they freely roam,

But none can find my long-lost home.

Ah, whither has gone my maple-tree?”

The spirit in blue folded her arm round her companion, and looked lovingly in her face, while she pointed to the furniture, and sang,

“See this table, bureau, chair,

Carved with skill, and polished fair!

These were once thy sheltering tree.

Thy home it never more can be.

Sister dear, we’ll upward fly,

And float with fairies in the sky.”

“Poor dear little spirit! How sorry I am for you,” said Fanny as they flew away. When my maple furniture was brought home, I thought extremely pretty; but I am afraid I shall never like it again, now that I know it is made of the fairy’s beautiful tree. How she must have lover to hear birds singing on its branches, and winds whispering among the leaves. And now, poor thing, she has no place shelter her from this pouring rain. I hope she will fly far above the clouds, till she comes to clear blue sky. How I do wish I could go with her.”

“What makes such a splashing in the entry? Things to on so queerly to-day, I should n’t wonder if a brook came running into the room, full of frogs and fishes.” Water oozed gradually through the cracks of the door, till the whole floor was covered with it. “There go the chairs and tables swimming about, “ said Fanny. ‘I suppose my bed will soon be drifted out of the window, with all the other things after it; just as I have seen a great duck paddling along, with a troop of little ducks behind her. What a loud spattering and dashing there is against the door! It sounds more like a fountain than a brook. Pray walk in all at once, Mr. Fountain, and not sneak through the cracks in that style. I should like to see how you look walking along all by yourself.”

The door opened, and a whole whale came spouting into the room, with Neptune riding on his back. “I always wanted to see old Father Neptune,” thought Fanny. “I have seen grand images of him riding on dolphins and whales. I supported he was dead a long time ago’ but here is in my chamber, sure enough; and finely he looks, with his long white beard, his mantle of green sea-weed, and the trident in his hand. I am very happy to see you, sir; I wish you had brought some of your Tritons along with you.”

The old sea-god did not trouble himself to thank her for her compliments. “Who stole the oil from my favorite whale?” said he in a commanding voice. Ho, ho! Here it is in this glass lamp. I should like to see how it burns. I think I have in my pocket a box of excellent cigars, which I picked up from a wreck near Havana. There were not such things when I was young. But we sea-faring people learn to love strange things.” He took a match from the box, and lighted the lamp; then began to search his pockets, which appeared very deep. “I wish I could peep in,” thought Fanny. “I dare say they are full of all sorts of treasures from the ocean. He might at least throw me a handful of pearls.” But except for an oyster shell, on which he rubbed the match, he took out nothing but a cigar. He puffed away at a great rate, and very coolly sailed out of the room, with all the water flowing after him.

“There’s a fine cataract to go over the stairs!” thought Fanny.

“Well, at last I have seen a real whale; and, what is more, a real Neptune, too. The house must have enlarged very much before they could get in. I noticed that my room seemed to stretch itself out, as if it were made of India Rubber. Now it has become small again, and all the furniture has settled down.”

“What is that chirping in the elm-tree? I should think every leaf was changed into a locust.” A gray squirrel peeped in at the window, and six little brown ones peeped over his bushy tail. “Who stole our nuts?” said they, as they went frisking and frolicking over the chairs and tables. One of them looked in the glass, and seemed surprised to see a strange squirrel there. “Shake your paws with him,” said Fanny; “you should always be polite to strangers.”

“I have found our nuts!” exclaimed the gray squirrel; and all the brown squirrels began to squeak, “This is the little girl who stole them.”

“Frank and I expected to have such a good time cracking nuts this evening,” said Fanny. “Pray, don’t carry them away.”

Let us pelt the little thief,” said they; and all the squirrels began to throw nuts at her.

“Dear me! It’s a perfect hail-storm,” exclaimed Fanny. “But I can play ball as well as you.” She started up and tossed the nuts back again, and away scampered all the squirrels as fast as they could.

“Now there is a great prancing and stamping in the entry. I wonder what will come next?” In trotted a troop of horses, neighing loudly, “Who stole our flowing manes? Who carried off our long waving tails?” “Here they are,” said a great white horse, and he began pulling the mattress to pieces.

I shall have nothing but the bare sacking to seep on now,” thought Fanny, as they went galloping out of the room, with their mouths full of horsehair. “I wish I could have jumped on the back of that great white horse. Frank would be so astonished to see me cantering down the front door-steps in that style. But what on earth is jumping through the entry now? It sounds like a kangaroo, or a gigantic grasshopper.”

“Fanny! Fanny! Why don’t you come down to tea?” shouted Frank, bursting into the room.

“Oh, Frank,” said she, “Did you meet the horses cantering down stairs?”

“Horses cantering down stairs! What are you talking about, Fanny?”

“Why, a whole troop of horses came into the camber, and tore the mattress to pieces. A great whale has been flouncing about here. A flock of sheep carried off the carpet. A swarm of bees have eaten up my doll’s head. The squirrels have been taken away our nuts; and everything has been topsy-turvy in the room.”

“Here are our nuts, safe and sound,” replied Frank. “Your doll is lying on her bed, with cheeks as red as cranberries. The carpet looks as pretty as ever; and the room is all in order. Sister dear, I think you have been dreaming a great deal of nonsense for one afternoon.

Fanny sat up, rubbed her eyes, and looked round the room with great surprise. “This is very strange!” said she. “I suppose I must have been asleep and dreamed it all. But I really thought those animals had been here. I wish they had; it would have been such rare fun. I guess mother will laugh, when I tell her about this queer dream.”

And away she ran down stairs, as if a whole menagerie were after her.

Source: “Fanny’s Menagerie,” Rainbows for Children, edited by Lydia Maria Child (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1847): 119-131.