On Crookroad, in Oysterville

When our kids were little, in the early 21st Century, we read a lot of storybooks at bedtime. I had remembered from my own experience, five deacades earlier, that there were some gems in that genre. But I was unprepared for how amazing the children's books had become in the meantime. Every once in a while, one would stop me in my tracks.

I took such a liking to all those titles. When the children reach their teen years, the temptation is to give the kid stuff away. But of a lot of their books, I couldn't let go. They're more important than most of the adult stuff I've read.

Among the favorites from the modern offerings were books about Lottie the hen and her duck friend, Herbie. These were both written and drawn by Petra Mathers, who lived out at the Oregon coast, but they were world-class books, universally loved. We had a couple of them. Both copies were signed by Mathers herself, who was autographing them one day up at a kids' bookstore on Fremont Street in Portland.

Both times around, Herbie was challenged with a new situation, but he came through, partly because of the great guy he was and partly by luck. He overcame jealousy. He overcame rejection. And he always brought a story back to tell his love, Lottie.

So often did we read these tales out loud – with expression, with voices, with accents even – that they'll always be a part of our family history. Mathers's work left a deep impression.

I'm moved to dust off the books and the memories tonight, because I just learned that Mathers died last month at the age of 78. She and her husband, who was 79, reportedly took their own lives together.

The details of her death aren't important. What matters is the look of bliss on Herbie's face when he hears how highly Lottie regards him. And his dreams, some troubled, some happy. And his beautiful humanity (even though he is a duck).

Thanks to this gifted artist and writer, Petra Mathers. May she and her own sweetheart sleep well.

P.S.: One thing I've discovered in my post-bedtime-reading career is that with only a few exceptions, kids' books have a shelf life, after which they're hard to find. If you want to get to know Lottie and Herbie, and you should, now might be the time to seek them out.


  1. Not familiar with her work, but going out the way that they did will surely put a hamper on any legacy that her books would had provided her. I am not a religious person, nor have I ever been. But I see no upside in ending a life like that. Unless of course you were hiding in a bunker with the Russian army closing in...........

    I hope that they enjoyed their time in Oregon and had found peace.

  2. There was a gallery in Cannon Beach - Windridge - that I think carried some of her work. She was so talented. Sorry to hear this.

  3. When Staurt Little was published, I was hypnotized by the story line. 80 years later, I notice that my grandchildren follow other heroes.

  4. Thank you for sharing this, Jack. ✨

  5. A lovely story. Thanks, Jack.


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