Jacob Abbott tells us how to sleep in the hayloft, in this scene from Rainbow’s Journey, wherein two teenagers travel by stagecoach and find no room at the inn (and it’s quite charming that they stagger around in the hay, putting on their nightshirts, because that’s how you sleep; you certainly don’t just flop down in your clothes; that would just be uncivilized); note that you don’t carry around lanterns if the moon is bright enough to keep you from falling down a cliff:

cover for Stories of Rainbow and Lucky“The moon is so bright that you will not need any lantern, I suppose,” said Hitover.

“No,” replied Handie, “it will be light enough.”

The stairs leading to the loft were in an opposite corner of the barn from that in which Hitover’s little compartment had been built, and at the foot of them was a door, which opened out at one side of the barn. This door was open, and Rainbow stopped as he went by to look out. There was a sort of yard there, and a plank walk which led toward the road, and thence to the house. After looking out at this door for a moment to see the moon shining so full upon the trees and upon the roofs of the farm-yard buildings, Rainbow followed Handie up the stairs.

“Now, Rainbow,” said Handie, “we’ll begin our campaign by seeing what sort of a bed we can make out of hay. The hay is nice and fresh, at any rate. It must be new hay, though it is very early for new hay. So, you see, we’re in luck. You must not expect, in knocking about the world, that you will always get fresh hay in the barns that you will have to sleep in.”

In one corner of the barn-chamber there was a small space, open in front, but divided from the rest of the floor, on one side, by a partition. This place had been originally arranged for holding chests of grain, and it was called, accordingly, the grain-bin; but the grain had been removed to the room below, and now it was about half full of hay. The surface of the hay in it was about five feet above the floor. On the other side of the partition which formed the grain-bin was an open space, where the stairs came up. There was a narrow passage-way opening from the head of the stairs to the middle of the barn floor, and beyond the passage-way the floor of the open space was covered with great heaps of loose hay. The grain-bin, the passage-way, and the space covered with heaps of hay, made up the whole of one side of the barn-chamber. The other side was occupied wholly by a great loft, in which the hay was packed close, and piled up high, nearly to the eaves.

In the front part of the barn-chamber was a large square window, which was closed in stormy weather with a shutter and a hasp. This window was now open, and a flood of moonlight poured in through it which illuminated almost the whole interior of the chamber, excepting the grain-bin, which was somewhat in the shade. Still, it was light enough there for Handie and Rainbow to see to make their beds.

So they climbed up upon the top of the hay, which, as has already been said, was about five feet from the floor, and began to make their beds. Handie took his place on the farther side of the bin, next the side of the barn, … and Rainbow went to the other side, next to the partition, … and they both began to make their beds.

“Now, Rainbow,” said Handie, “do just as I do, and you will learn how to make up a bed on the hay.”

So Handie went to work on his side of the bin, Rainbow accompanying and imitating him exactly on his side, through all the successive steps of the process. First they smoothed out the hay for a space long enough for a bed, making it level and equally soft in every part. Then they rolled up good-sized wisps for pillows, and put them in the proper places. Then they spread down the sheets, taking care to use only one half of each sheet as a covering for the bed and for the pillow, reserving the other half to draw over them and cover themselves up with when they had lain down. They opened the blankets too, and placed them at hand on one side, where they could easily reach them, in order to cover themselves up with them after they should have got into bed.

These arrangements having all been made, they undressed themselves, staggering about while they did so on the hay, and, after putting on their night-gowns, each got into his bed. After lying down, they each drew first the spare half of the sheet over them and then the blanket.

“You must put your hand under and shape the hay of your pillow to your head a little,” said Handie, “and that will make it feel soft.”

So Rainbow put his hand under and pushed away the hay a little from the middle of his pillow, so as to make it fit better to his head, and then he said that it felt very soft indeed.

“So, then, you are now pretty comfortable?” said Handie.

“Yes, sir,” said Rainbow; “I am very comfortable indeed.”


Written in 1859 and 1860, “Stories of Rainbow and Lucky” is a series of five books about an African-American teenager living in New England before the Civil War. At age fourteen, Rainbow is hired to help a young man renovate farm buildings; by the end of the series, he’s planning his next career move and thinking about marriage.

The Rainbow and Lucky books were created by Jacob Abbott (1803-1879), an extremely popular 19th-century American writer for children. From 1828 to 1872, he published over 200 books, including dozens of novels for children.

All five books in the “Stories of Rainbow and Lucky” are available in ebook form, with the original illustrations, at amazon.

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I publish a thing

July 8, 2016

cover_smallestYears ago, I had a (very brief) career writing for children. Now I’ve self-published a novel on the same subject as a computer game I created. As a computer game, The House at the Edge of Time is a text adventure in which you assemble a time machine. As a novel for children, The House at the Edge of time is an adventure in which two boys use the time machine to find a treasure-hunter lost somewhere in time.

The novel was written almost 25 years ago and failed to find a publisher. While I had great relationships with my publishers, I realized that I don’t want to play in that sandbox any more and decided to be my own publisher. It was surprisingly fun to revise this: I rearranged and reworked and rewrote and just had an amazingly good time. It was fun to create the cover and to decide how the book would look.

The book is widely available: you can get it via iBooks and Overdrive; and it’s available from
Barnes & Noble | Smashwords | Kobo | Amazon | Inktera | Scribd

I hope readers have as much fun reading the book as I had writing and rewriting it. Below is the first chapter, for a little taste. Read the rest of this entry »

Dear HarperCollins

March 5, 2011

An email that went to HarperCollins:

It was with dismay that I read of HarperCollins’ recent decision to put limits on libraries’ use of ebooks produced by the company.

I’m really puzzled that a publishing company I’ve supported for years doesn’t appear to understand how libraries are helping it financially and so obviously doesn’t care about the place a library has in a community.  This is where many of us born into the lower income brackets learn to love books—in my case, enough to pursue a PhD and become a literature professor.  The library is where we check out the books that we then decide we can’t live without, so we purchase them.  Here we discover the writers whose books we get into the habit of buying the instant they’re available.  In my case, it means that I now spend around $200 a month on books, many written by authors I discovered at my local library.  How is it that no one at HarperCollins understands the service that libraries are providing the company?

And, yes, that service extends to ebooks.  Like a lot of people who own a lot of books, I’ve realized how handy it is to carry around an electronic copy of a book I already own in paper.  The two ereaders I own make it very easy to make spur-of-the-moment purchases.  And, effortless as it is to check out an ebook from my living room, it’s just as effortless to buy an electronic copy of that book once I’ve realized that I like the book so much that I simply must have my own copy.

I’m surprised by the company’s action, because this will likely become a public relations fiasco.  Budget cuts are forcing libraries to close branches and cut back on service; that HarperCollins chose this time to squeeze more blood from the turnip is—put mildly—reprehensible.

Limiting ebook checkout to 26 on the supposition that paper books fall apart is laughable.  Paper books are much tougher than that.  HarperCollins paper books are much tougher than that.  I should know:  since the late 1980s I’ve used a number of your books in my university literature classes.

Which is why I’m rather pleased by the timing of this announcement.  We just got a notice that it’s time to order books for next fall.  I have 90 students buying several books apiece.  This semester, I’ve had good experiences with two of your titles.  Fortunately, I’ll have time to find titles to replace them—books published by other publishers.  So that’s 180 potential sales going elsewhere.

Actually, it’s even more sales going elsewhere, because now I’ll be much more careful about which publishers get my money.  I do wish your company luck; you have many wonderful authors.

I just won’t be buying their books.

Bartlett’s Americanisms

August 8, 2010

is now available in epub format at merrycoz.org, freshly proofread.  And proofread.

And proofread.

I read a dictionary.  The whole thing.  (And I’m betting that there are still typos…)

Handmade

July 6, 2010

I have succumbed to the lure of techno-gee-whizzery and have been playing with the little Nook I bought.  (And reading Mary Roberts Rinehart, whose middle-aged spinsters would be dandy to survey in an American lit class.)  Naturally, this means making everything I can get my hands on into some sort of electronic book, because what’s the fun of having a cool piece of gadgetry if you don’t get to make something with it? or for it?

The result is Ruth Hall in epub format, the first of the long books at my web site to be made available in that format.  You can snag a copy at merrycoz.org.

Earlier attempts to make ebooks available at merrycoz haven’t been a singular success.  “Plucker” puffed the html files into unwieldy digital blobs; and the only comments I ever got about the ebooks were complaints about one thing or another.  The books in pdb and prc format are certainly more usable (I happily read the books in eReader, on my 7-year-old Sony Clie), though I can’t tell if humans are actually reading the ones at the site, or if spambots are building their own library.  I hope people find the epub format useful.

The amusing thing about creating ebooks is that it seems that the best ones pretty much need to be made by hand.  I already do that for the books in pdb format, and it looks as if I’ll have to do it for the epub books as well.  I tried Calibre; I tried eCub; I tried to try Jutoh and Sigil (no success).  And none of them made a book that looked right (Calibre) or opened on the Nook (eCub).  Luckily, I found instructions and examples and hammered out a version of Ruth Hall that looks good in the readers.

Ruth Hall struck me as a good book to learn on, since it’s mostly text.  And, trust me:  once you’ve formatted 94 individual files into an ebook, most other digitizing projects are going to look like small potatoes.

But it amuses me that I’m surrounded by electronic equipment and basking in the dawn of the twenty-first century (you know–the one where we all get jetpacks and vacation on the moon); and I’m still spending an astonishing number of hours making digital files by hand.

Given that the original books were set by hand from hand-written manuscripts, before being bound by hand, I guess that’s appropriate.