A Shelfie – My James Oliver Curwood Collection

Post by Gail’s daughter, Virginia.

A shelfie is like a selfie, but it isn’t a self-portrait of yourself. It’s a self-portrait of your bookshelf. Don’t you think you can tell a lot about someone from examining their bookshelves? I do.

Vintage books appeal to me and I’m sure I picked that up from Mom and Dad. When I find an author that I like, I hunt down all their books. The folks were like that too and Gail kept a small notebook with lists of titles they had by certain authors. When they stopped at garage sales or rummaged in a store filled with vintage items, it kept them from accidentally buying a duplicate of a title they already had.

mom's book list notebook

They had an almost complete collection of Margaret Hill McCarter and Peter B. Kyne, plus other authors.

About 40 or more years ago, I read a James Oliver Curwood book. His novels, set in the Yukon or Canadian wilderness, glorify the hardy people who were the pioneers of those regions.

They have romance and adventure and are similar in style to Zane Grey’s stories of the American West crossed with Jack London (particularly White Fang). I enjoyed them and found quite a few over the years for my collection. My dad had several on his bookshelf, so maybe that’s where I first discovered the author.

Curwood’s books topped the bestseller lists back in the 1920s and many of them were made into adventure movies. You can read more about his life on Wikipedia and see photos of him and the fancy house he built with all the money earned from his writing. He’s not well known today.

I’d say my favorite of his books is God’s Country and the Woman. It’s available on Kindle so there must still be some readership. Here’s the review that I wrote for Amazon, “This old-fashioned romance develops in the frozen northland. Scenes of sled dogs, log cabins, and high adventure remind me of Mrs. Mike, another wonderful Canadian romance. There are secrets, desperate treks across the snow-covered wilderness, and dramatic encounters.”

You can even get 22 of Curwood’s books collected into one download for Kindle for just $3.99, but that would leave a big, bare space on my bookshelves.

What’s on your bookshelf?

A Comment on Mom’s Book

Six years ago, a friend of Gail Martin on the Our Echo website sent this comment as she was reading My Flint Hills Childhood.
“So far, Gail, I’m lost in the pleasantness of all your memories. No critical words…no terrible tragedy. Just an honest and open type of life that seems to have faded away
as the years have gone by, for the most part.
I know it is probably wrong to think more of yesteryear than today, but I wish the country held to the same traditions and standards of before. I’d gladly give up the Internet and all modern conveniences to enjoy the good times like you and I had growing up. Ahhh….”   R.S.
You can preview the book at the Blurb website.
Her note to Gail reminded me of an earlier post on this blog, Living in the Good Old Days.

Favorite Books from My Childhood

Classics That Your Child Will Love Too

A post by Gail Martin’s daughter
Virginia Allain profile image
Virginia Allain

Some of the vintage children’s books that were on our bookshelves at home (photo by Virginia Allain)

Recommended Children’s Books from a Real Bookworm

Mom would call me to help with some chore, but I’d pretend not to hear. As usual, I had my nose buried in a book. Reading was a favorite activity of mine and a visit to the local library was like having unlimited access to a candy store. The library only allowed children to check out three books, but that was a totally inadequate amount to last two weeks until the next visit. Fortunately, I had a brother and four sisters, so combined we could take eighteen books.

We would swap our books around so everyone got to read them. If several were eager to read the same book, it was necessary to hide it between reading sessions to keep possession of it.

We owned some books from birthday and Christmas gifts and being voracious readers, we would reread those when our supply of fresh reading material became depleted.

Books for the Very Young

A Is for Annabelle – I have a page about Tasha Tudor’s book, A Is For Annabelle. It is such a marvelous ABC book about a vintage doll and her wardrobe. When Mom made Gone with the Wind style dresses for my sister’s doll, it reminded me of Annabelle with her delightful wardrobe and the trunk to put them in.

Of course, I this list would have to include Curious George. Mom took us to storytime at the public library, an old Carnegie library. I would go down the stairs to the children’s room in the basement. We sat on wooden chairs in stiff rows while the librarian read stories to us. One was Curious George. Years later, as a children’s librarian, I read Curious George to a new generation of children.

Cat Tales Family Album

Cat Tales Family Album

I loved these books with the pictures of cats dressed in complete outfits and posed in little scenes. The stories weren’t memorable, but the photos were adorable. My sister recently found a vintage copy of this on eBay.

Andrew Lang’s Fairy Book Series  – There was the Red Fairy Book, the Olive Fairy Book, the Blue Fairy Book, and so on. Each was packed with the best classic fairy tales. There are more, many more stories to stretch your child’s imagination than just Little Red Riding Hood or Cinderella. With these books, they will learn about Snow White and Red Rose, Jack the Giant Killer, Thumbelina, The Tinderbox and folklore from all around the world that was collected by Andrew Lang into the twelve book in the series.
Vintage Marriage of Thumbelina and Prince Postcard
Vintage Marriage of Thumbelina and Prince Postcard

Encourage Your Children to Read – Reading is so important for children’s development

There’s a teensy bit of advertising in this video, but the overall message is really good. Never mind about subscribing to their program, just go to the public library and get a free library card for yourself and for each child.

Favorites for Older Children

Black Beauty was a favorite of mine – A lovely classic story.  Children learn a lot about being kind to animals from a story like this. I shed many tears for the mistreatment of this horse.

Please, parents, give your children unabridged editions of classics. Look for the original author’s name and then check the title page to make sure it is unabridged. If the child is too young to read the long version, read it aloud to them. Abridged versions often truncate the book too much and remove the wonderful flow of words that made the book a classic.

Don’t miss the classic Robin Hood – No, watching the movie is not the same. My book had the Wyeth illustrations. I loved them. This one is even available now on a mousepad.

Ah, Maid Marion, Friar Tuck and the Duke of Nottingham. These great stories have broad appeal and are a great way to introduce children to English history.

I loved books about orphans – classic stories about orphans. It seems that a lot of books that were special to me are pretty old-fashioned. They were even old-fashioned back in the fifties when I was reading them. Actually old-fashioned could just be another term for classics. Books that have stood the test of time.

Elsie Dinsmore really touched me. Actually, Elsie had a father, but he was away on business so she was left in the care of hard-hearted relatives. There’s a whole series of these.



Heidi was left in the care of her gruff grandfather. She reveled in the freedom of following the goats with goat herder Peter.


Pollyanna by Eleanor Porter

Pollyanna had a profound effect on me. Fifty years later and I’m still trying to play the “glad game.” Yes, I know Pollyanna was a bit smarmy, but she had pluck and kept trying to do the right thing. She helped many people live a better life in her small village.

Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster, Fiction, Action & Adventure

Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster

Daddy-Long-Legs was the mysterious benefactor that sent a young orphan to college. Later on, it was made into a movie with Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron.

Large families intrigued me, since I was one of six.

Bobbsey Twins 03: The Secret at the Seashore

Bobbsey Twins 

These were old-fashioned stories even when I read them back in the 1950s. There were Burt and Nan and Flossie and Freddy, two sets of twins in one family. Freddy was always getting into trouble.

Little Women, with eBook

Little Women,

What a wonderful book. With four sisters, I could really identify with this family. We all wanted to be Jo, the independent one who wrote stories.

The Five Little Peppers –  There was a whole series of these. They lived an impoverished life but Polly Pepper was my favorite for the way she solved problems and looked after her brothers and sisters.

Five Little Peppers and How They Grew

This vintage family story shows Polly’s heroic efforts to help her mother.

Books in Series for Children – Get them hooked, then read the whole series

I couldn’t wait to get the next book once I’d started reading a series.
The Borrowers are a race of tiny people who live under the floorboards and behind the walls of old houses deep in the English countryside. They borrow bits of food and other things from the “human beans” who live in the house and try to make their homes as comfortable as possible without being discovered.
A story guaranteed to explode a child’s imagination! They will never look at the nooks and crannies around the house in the same way again!


The Rescuers (New York Review Books Children's Collection)

The Rescuers

I loved all the adventures the intrepid Miss Bianca had with trusty Bernard by her side.

The Little House Collection (Little House Books)

The Little House Collection

These almost need no introduction. Through the television series, they live on, but it is still a treat to read the originals. Having grown up in Kansas, these resonated with me.

The Black Stallion

The Black Stallion

I read the whole series. They did a wonderful job later making this into a movie. I was crazy about horses as a kid.

More Classics for Your Child to Read

The Wind in the Willows (Sterling Unabridged Classics)

The Wind in the Willows 

Enjoy the very British lives of Mole and Rat. I’ve always been an Anglophile.

Lassie Come-Home

Lassie Come-Home

This was the original Lassie, not the television one. What a brave dog!

Misty of Chincoteague

Misty of Chincoteague In the 1970s, I visited Chincoteague Islands and saw the wild horses there. Before that, I read every one of Margarite Henry’s horse books.

This could have been me. I had reddish highlights in my blonde hair and I read anywhere, anytime.

The Secret Garden (HarperClassics)

The Secret Garden

Actually, this one qualifies as an orphan book too. I thought it was fabulous that whiney Mary was rehabilitated by learning to garden and learned to care about other people like the crippled Colin.

Alice In Wonderland

Alice In Wonderland

If your children have seen the movie, then it’s time to read the book too. A complex read, but part of our cultural literacy.

Little Lord Fauntleroy, with eBook (Tantor Unabridged Classics)

Little Lord Fauntleroy went from living in genteel poverty to being discovered as the heir to a fabulous estate in England. He has a hard time winning the heart of his crusty grandfather though.

Louisa May Alcott Books – When I first started going to the public library, I wanted to read every book starting with “A” and follow around until I got to “Z.” This was a rather ambitious plan, and I did make it through all the books by Alcott and then by Aldrich. After that, I decided to read more randomly as there were authors I wanted to sample and they were way down the alphabet.

I read all of Thomas C. Hinkle’s dog and horse stories – More wonderful animal stories for your child.

Black Storm was one of my favorites. Some of these might be found in public libraries. Also, check on eBay for Hinkle’s vintage dog and horse stories.

So — were some of my favorites your favorites too? Tell me which ones I missed.

Develop Your Own Personal Library

I’ve rescued another of Gail Lee Martin’s early articles that she wrote for the eHow site back in 2009.

How to Develop a Personal Library

Reading is an important part of our lives for information and entertainment. Filling our home with books that have special meaning to us seems so natural. Here’s how to develop your own personal library.

Our library of books that take up a whole wall in our home Is the result of a lifetime with my reading family. My parents and sisters read whenever we had some spare time. Then I married Clyde, who came from a big family of readers. Together we raised six children who mostly took to reading like ducks to water.

During more than fifty years of married life, we gathered and saved books like jewels. In the seventies, Clyde built an eight-foot long bookshelf almost ceiling high to hold the many books we thought too precious to get let go. We read them over and over again.


Paul Calhoun standing by the bookshelves his grandfather, Clyde Martin, made. 1973

Collecting books of our favorite authors made garage sales an enjoyable pastime. We watch for early Kansas school books and books written about Abraham Lincoln, Clyde’s favorite since his early years when Grandma Joy would read aloud to him from the well-used book, “Stories and Yarns of the Immortal Abe,” that is a highlight of our wall of books.

Library book sales are good places to find books at bargain prices. Also, check yard sales and flea markets. For hard-to-find books, check antique stores and online.

Authors we love and save their books to read time and time again are Harold Bell Wright, B. M. Bower, Jackson Gregory, James Oliver Curwood, William Allen White and Peter B. Kyne. My mother must have been reading Kyne’s book, “The Enchanted Hill” when she was expecting me in 1924, as she named me Gail Lee after the heroine, Gail and the hero, Lee. How could I not become a writer after that honor?

The collection of Margaret Hill McCarter books began with the book “The Price of the Prairie.” that my mother-in-law gave her husband in 1915. These books led me to research this author’s life and finally performing at elementary schools and clubs in my community as Margaret.  IMG_7188_edited

Our book collecting has outgrown our original wall of books, creating the need for bookshelves in the master bedroom, for mostly western, mysteries, intrigue, and historical paperbacks, again we save series of books by our favorites authors. Dick Francis, Jean Auel, Tony Hillerman, James Herriot, and Sandra Detrix of the Kansas Author Club writing as Cassandra Austin are just a few.

We have many books about Will Rogers, Charles Lindbergh, oil fields, old Model A cars, Norman Rockwell, Frankoma Pottery and Currier and Ives.
One long shelf contains books on gardening, fences, composting, flowers, insects, trees and some “Foxfire” books about the mountaineer people of the Appalachian Mountain. I have added books about learning to survive by eating from the wilds. Including many by Euell Gibbons. We take pleasure from hunting the countryside for wild foods like poke, morel mushrooms, and paw paws to bring home and savor a bit of nature’s bounty.

Two long shelves on the back porch are for the recipe books. These are used for new and old ideas for cooking meals from the produce we grow in our own garden each year. I also use them and the Kansas history books for my research for stories.

Book shelves are currently taking shape all around in my writing room to shelter books containing research for all kind of articles I plan on writing; for our family history memoirs and extensive files of everything our family is interested in. I have added notebooks where I save written material by others in our family. My Mother’s stories that she wrote in the early twenties, our daughter, Shannon’s “Martin News”; my sister, Carol’s “Living on the Bay” her monthly newsletter from Seadrift, Texas and our daughter, Cindy’s “Birdwoman programs” that need a special shelf.

Fans of Gail Lee Martin’s Book

Here’s a comment by Gerald Brazil: “Gail grew up in the 30’s in the oil fields of Greenwood County and her book paints a very real picture of the time and place.
Gail’s book is not only well written, it is beautifully and professionally crafted with black and white photographs integrated with the text.

Gail’s book won the 2010 Kansas Authors Club’s Ferguson Kansas History Award.”
November 1, 2011

  • Momose

    Peggy StricklandWhat a wonderful tribute, Gail, to your family and heritage! You are an inspiration to those wondering if their life experiences could make a compelling read for others. I look forward to reading more.

    Peggy Strickland   July 24, 2010

  • kboybob

    Jerry Flynn  “I loved the preview. You are very talented. June 1, 2010

  • Here’s a comment received by Gail’s daughter via e-mail:
    “I just wanted to let you know that I just received your mother’s book.
    It’s just wonderful. I’m so impressed with her writing and what you’ve done with it.” Scott   January 21, 2010

  • “Ok, you are the BEST! Your description of Saturday at the movies prompted much reminiscing by my 92-year-old Mom and me. You guys must have been at the same theater (or they were all like that!). Thanks so much. This is a wonderful story.” (Lori Burdoo) November 23, 2009

    “I loved the story about decorating for Christmas. The glimpse of your life in those days was so interesting and wonderful. What a contrast to the commercial holiday of today. I loved your descriptions and the pictures are great (especially the ones with the Halloween memories). Great reading!” (Mandica)

    “I particularly liked reading about the prairie dolls. Very sweet and nostalgic story. Thanks for sharing this dying art with us.” (Cherst)
    “You are a wonderful writer. Thank you for sharing.” (Veryirie)

    “You are such an inspiration, I love all of the stories I’ve read so far. I checked out your book on Blurb, how fascinating!” (Cindy Sully)

    “I am always riveted to your storylines… you have a flair for drama and detail. I’m glad you’re writing your memoirs in book form, it will be a hit!” (Shirley Philbrick)

    “I love reading your stories. I never want them to end.” (J.M. Knudson)
    “The health remedies bring back some great memories of growing up. Thank you for it.” (Kimi from eHow)

From Gail’s Bookshelf – As I Remember It

Esther Imhof was born in 1914 and recounts her family’s efforts to turn virgin Kansas prairie into a productive farm. Her memories are preserved in As I Remember It.

Their hard work brings some success until the drought and dust storms of the 1930s come along. The memoir contains fascinating details of daily life of a farm family with activities like hog butchering, wheat threshing and raising chickens and eggs for a cash crop. (review by Virginia Allain)

Ray Imhof encouraged his mother, Esther, to write her memories which he compiled to make this book. Esther Imhof died in 1996. I wonder if my mother, Gail Lee Martin, met Esther or her son, Ray. Esther and Mom would have had a great time talking about the old days.

L is for Liking the Book

Radell Smith of the Yahoo Contributor Network interviewed Bobbie H. Here’s what Smith wrote:

She had been asked to take a gander at Gail Martin’s “My Flint Hills Childhood” and see if she could relate to the stories woven by an octogenarian from Kansas. The request, more an effort to help Bobbie find her own biographical voice, turned out quite a different result entirely.

I have to express my pleasure and thoughts about this little masterpiece,” Bobbie concluded when asked to share her thoughts about the life and times of Gail’s family in 1930s Kansas.

Bobbie says that as she went deeper into Gail Martin’s biographical account of what it was like to live in the Kansas prairie during the era of the Depression, she couldn’t help but “think back to my own childhood and relive many memories of my own.

While not a product of that generation, Bobbie says some activities and actions by Gail and her family resonated with her anyway.

“My Flint Hills Childhood” and the Depression Period

Gail grew up during some of the hardest times America has ever known,” Bobbie lamented, adding, “Because of ancestors who knew the most important things in life was God and family, she was instilled with great values of love of God, family, and country.”

In our current economic climate, those values would be a welcome attribute today many would conclude. But this reader wasn’t finished with her accolades for Ms. Martin, heaping more praise for the book with less than 200 pages from cover to cover.


Gail also learned survival techniques which have obviously served her well.

Indeed, the octogenarian is still around to tell others about them, serving previously as a webmaster for an online memory-writing website called Our Echo. The friendly and informative writing venue encourages others to do like Gail and share treasured family memories about bygone eras — or current ones, for the younger generation. (since this article came out in 2011, Gail Martin has died)

You can pick up a copy of Gail’s historical journey for yourself from Amazon or go directly to the publishing entity known as Blurb.com. There’s an author website at http://gailmartin.wordpress.com and a fan page at the Gail Lee Martin Facebook Page.

Gail’s book “My Flint Hills Childhood” won the 2010 Ferguson Kansas History Book Award and the author has enjoyed the attention of writers as esteemed as those found on USA Today, who say that “Grandma’s greener than you.” The USA Today article featured Gail’s memories of thrifty times in the 1930s.

G is for Gail’s Bookshelf – Slacks and Calluses

Slacks and Calluses is a first-hand account of women factory workers in WWII. It’s the memories of two school teachers in California who used their summer vacation to help the war effort. They took jobs in a bomber factory and found the work much harder than they expected.


slacks and calluses goodreads

Book Cover

This book is their lively account of what it was like and reads somewhat like a diary. It gives a glimpse into an aircraft factory during WWII. The authors are Constance Bowman Reid and Sandra M. Gilbert.


I found this quite interesting, as my mother, Gail Lee Martin, had worked for Boeing during the war in Wichita, KS. After I read the book, I passed it along to Mom for her bookshelf. Later, I asked how she liked it. She said it was fairly similar to her experience at Boeing.

I kept nagging my mother to write more about her memories of working at Boeing and she did oblige with several emails. Sure wish I’d been able to get her to tell more details. In Slacks and Calluses, they mention the problem of getting aluminum slivers in their hair. You’ll note in the cover photo above, the young woman has a snood over her hair.

The photo below is my mother, Gail McGhee, at that time. She has on her work uniform and has her hair pulled back away from her face, but not entirely covered.

gail mcghee boeing wichita edited

Gail Lee McGhee, later Martin – wearing her Boeing uniform in WWII


N is for Never Ninety

I wanted my mother to live forever, I guess. Even though I knew that wasn’t realistic, I was hopeful that she’d live well into her nineties at least. After all, her grandmother lived to be 91 and great-grandfather lived to 92. Her Aunt Bertha lived to 96 and Aunt Vina to 94.

Those are all from the Tower line in our family. It’s pretty remarkable for people born in the 1800s to live that long. I was hoping that those Tower genes would carry Mom along into the nineties too.

We had worked together to complete the two books, Mom’s memoir and the collected stories about Dad’s life. I’d hoped the three works-in-progress gave her some incentive to hang around. I really needed her input on our Civil War ancestor’s book and on Aunt Bertha’s biography.

The book includes her prize-winning essay on "My Mother's Apron."

My mother’s memoir.

They say that having a passion for something contributes to longevity. Sadly, she did not regain her zest for writing and research and genealogy after Dad died. Her health issues and missing her spouse of 67 years dragged her down. She died of a broken hip followed by a heart attack at 88.

Now it is up to me to make those books happen. I worry that there will be gaps that I can’t fill without her knowledge of family history. I worry that I can’t tell the stories like she could.

Knowing that they won’t be perfect, I need to go forward with the projects. It is what she would want. Here’s hoping I live until 99 to complete all the family projects.

The book about Dad.

The book about Dad.

A Life Tip from My Mom

Maybe we should all make a list of truths that we discover during our lives. We could leave these lists for our children to guide them through the pitfalls they are sure to encounter.

In trying to think what life tip my mother might wish for me to know, my mind swirled around the importance of reading, of writing, of memories… Perhaps she would have said:

A good book will last you longer than a tidy house. Hmm, that doesn’t flow quite right. How about “Do what you love and don’t worry about cooking and cleaning.”

Mom often raced to get a meal on the table for her hungry husband and six children. Supper time sneaked up on her as she worked on a craft project, read a book or helped a child with their 4-H activity.

Although we loved her pot roast and the pancakes made in creative shapes, we’ll probably remember most the hours she spent showing us how to make a butterfly net or driving us to a remote location where we could find geodes for our rock collection.

As I turn the page of the book I’m reading, I silently thank my mother and father for being readers. They set the example in our home and all their children became lifelong lovers of books.

My whole career evolved from a love of reading. I spent thirty years as a librarian ensuring that communities had access to books through their public library.

We may not have had the neatest house around and our meals weren’t always on time, but we learned to create things and to love books. That’s a legacy that I’m glad I have.

three silly kittens

The Three Silly Kittens – favorite stories from childhood.