Andrew Henry’s Meadow by Doris Burn


As sweet a book as Burns’ The Summerfolk, though with a slightly different message: in this case, it struck me as being more along the lines of “accept your family’s eccentricities” than “get to know strangers before judging them”.

Andrew Henry likes to build things1. His mother does not like the helicopter in the kitchen. His father does not like the eagle’s cage in the living room. His sisters do not like the merry-go-round hitched up to the sewing machine. His brothers do not like the system of pulleys in their bedroom. One day, Andrew Henry becomes fed up with his two older sisters, who spend their spare time primping in front of the mirror, and his two younger brothers, who like toy cars and coloring books, his father, who is too tired to play in the evenings, and his mother, who is too busy in the kitchen to pay much attention at all.

He marches off across Burdock’s pasture, over Blackbriar Hill, across Worzibsky’s Swamp and through the deep woods, to a meadow of his own, a perfect meadow with a sparkling stream, sunlight, a straight pine and no family. He builds himself a perfect little house. Shortly thereafter, several other kids from his town, all about his age, all fed up with their parents and their siblings, show up and Andrew Henry builds them all equally appropriate houses: Alice Burdock gets a birdwatcher’s dream treehouse; George Turner, a house on a bridge over the stream for his boats and his fishing lines; Joe Polasky, a dugout for his burrowing pets; Jane O’Malley and Margot LaPorte, a castle with a drawbridge and plenty of room for dressup.

The parents and siblings search frantically for four days, at which point the Turners’ dog bolts, with a mournful howl, in the direction he has seen his Boy travel. The families left behind race after the dog, and everyone is reunited in the meadow. The parents miss their children, and the children have enjoyed their freedom, but are ready to come home. In the end, the Turners together figure out how to put Andrew Henry’s penchant for building things to good use, though his extravagant contraption in the basement proves only mostly useful.

As with The Summerfolk, Burn wrote and illustrated this book while living on Waldron Island, an island part of the geographic San Juans, but not part of the tourist destination or of the power grid. Both books show what must have been an influence of the author’s community on her writing; the books were written in the 1960s, and while Waldron has moved forward in time somewhat, so far as I know it is still off the grid. Visitors might well see something similar to the very real meadow which inspired Burn to write this book, though the children upon which she based this book have long since grown up.

1Rube Goldbergesque or Heath Robinsonish, depending on your side of the Atlantic, as filtered through the skills of a 10 year old boy

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