An occasional weekly post on writing, reading, books and other wordy topics.

I probably have some five hundred books, give or take. Many are reference or background books on topics I’ve written about. Few are novels because I tend to borrow those and give them away. Lots are by writers whose prose I just can’t get enough of– the books I pull out over and over to reread portions for their beauty and inspiration.

But a small handful of my books are like old friends — people I’ve known forever. I remember where I met them, who they came from, and where I lived when I first read them. These are the books that survived the many downsizings that come with a lifetime of moves. Today I’d like to introduce you to one of those old friends.

Meet White Patch.

By Angelo Patri (1911).
This is an English translation and retelling of the original Ciandolino, by Luigi Bertelli (1895).

White Patch is about Gigino, a boy wanting to escape the rigours of studying on a lazy summer day. So he makes an idle wish which is promptly granted — and he is turned into an ant. From there, adventure and no small measure of natural history ensues.

From the preface — It’s strength lies, not only in the ease with which it reveals the life of social insects but also in the wholesome moral lessons that are brought home to children.

This book was my father’s. I don’t know where he got it and he no longer remembers, but I know it’s been in our family as long as I can remember. When I was young, maybe 10-11 years old, I loved it for its adventure and its peek inside the secret life of ants and other insects. (I’m afraid I missed the moral lessons altogether).

But it’s only more recently that I’ve come to appreciate the authors and illustrator — how well they wove story and fact into this book to make these insects so exciting. Both the writer and the translator were educators bent on bringing natural history home to children — well boys mostly, but that’s another discussion.

Luigi Bertelli (1858-1920) — aka Vamba — was a journalist and educator in Florence. He founded a weekly magazine for children where he published a serial novel that became the third best-selling book for boys in Italy after Pinocchio and Cuore. Angelo Patri (1876-1965) was an Italian American educator and possibly the first Italian-born American to become a school principal in the United States. He served in the New York City public school system where there is a middle school named after him today.

I also did a bit of Googling for the illustrator, who doesn’t get credit or even a mention in this book. Their signature on the drawings says, C.B. Davis. I didn’t find much but they apparently did some paleoart around the turn of the 20th Century. Have put out a Twitter call for more info.

But enough about them. Let’s take a quick walk through White Patch.

An epic battle and a lesson in hubris…

An epic battle and a lesson in hubris.

An introduction to gallflies…

“I am a gallfly. I belong to a great family of insects.”
“Well, you are a relative then. Tell me, how did you get inside that ball?”
“Why, I never did get inside it. I simply came out of it.”

All manner of bees…

All manner of bees make appearances.

The Robber bee did not wait to be told twice, but flew away immediately. Just then there was a glad cry.
“My dear ant, let me embrace you.”
It was the Mason bee, the rightful owner of the nest.

And finally, of course, a lesson learned …

Do you have any books that are old friends? If so, tell me about them!