Miss Pickerell and Me

One of the first books I remember reading was Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars written by Ellen MacGregor and illustrated by Paul Galdone. It was published in 1951. It had a strong influence on me. Many other young readers apparently felt the same way as evidenced by the comments on this page at Goodreads. That book made me hungry for more adventures in science by the independent spinster with a pet cow who was willing to say what was on her mind.

I read about her trips to the Arctic and the Undersea as well as her adventure with a Geiger Counter. The science in each book was explained in ways a young person could understand. I have no doubt those books helped reinforce my interest in science. I became a teacher of physics for my career. Thank you, Miss Lavinia Pickerell and Ellen MacGregor.

MacGregor first wrote for publication in 1946. A class assignment for the Midwest Writers Conference was later published as a book Tommy and the Telephone. Miss Lavinia Pickerell first appeared in a story by MacGregor called Swept Her Into Space published by Liberty Magazine in 1950. That story was expanded to book length in 1951 and published as Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars.

She wanted to offer literature to children with an emphasis on science. Much of the science was not considered known or tested and was classified as science fiction. The explanations in the books used the best known science of the day to tell the stories. Her works were well received by critics. Her first Miss Pickerell book about Mars was the initial selection of the new Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club. I still have a pin I got for reading a certain number of book club selections in grade school.

Three more Miss Pickerell adventures followed before MacGregor’s early death. Copies of the four books are available in different formats from Fadedpage. This link to the Ellen MacGregor collection describes each and provides formats in txt, html, kindle, epub, pdf, and zip files for download.

MacGregor kept many notes on more books she intended to write about Miss Pickerell. Twelve additional books were written from those notes by author Dora Pantell between 1965 and 1986. More contemporary topics were in these later Miss Pickerell adventures such as harvesting the sea, weather satellites, earthquake rescue, supertankers, energy crisis, blue whales, and the war on computers. I have not read these books by Pantell. But, I am confident they are good.


9 thoughts on “Miss Pickerell and Me

  1. I didn’t know Miss Pickerell as I grew up. However your mention of winning a pin for reading book club selections reminded me of my second grade spelling awards. Our weekly spelling test prowess was tracked using a rocket ship, advancing one space for each week with a perfect test. At some point, at least once, I made it to the moon. Space exploration played a tremendous part in our childhoods, whether we were aware, as you were, or less so, as I was. Darn science! 😉

  2. I hadn’t heard of Miss Pickerell, but your interesting story reminded me of some of my early inspirations in reading. I read all of the Tom Swift series, and later, works by Robert Heinlein who wrote a number of books for young people. The best science fiction borrowed heavily from real science. And then there was Jules Verne. He celebrated scientists and engineers in “The Mysterious Island”, “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”, and “A Trip To The Moon and Back.” Like you, these early readings inspired me and I became an engineer and naval officer.

    • Those are all excellent books. Easy to see how they inspired you. I didn’t get to Heinlein until quite late. One of my favorites was Time Enough For Love.

      Story telling that captures the imagination has been around as long as human could talk or act.

  3. Wonderful post Jim! I had not hear of Ellen MacGregor. Books were a big part of our house. Like your pin, I still have a silver dollar I received from the public library for reading a certain amount of books. Wishing you and Melanie a great weekend. Bob

  4. It’s strange. I don’t remember Miss Pickerell or any of the early stories, but the cover of the book looks very familiar. Perhaps the illustrator did work for other writers, or perhaps it’s only that 1950s vibe coming to the fore again.

    I do remember the Weekly Reader, and the Children’s Book Club. I couldn’t tell you what I read, or whether I got a pin, but I certainly did read. The only thing better was the bookmobile in the summer. What I most remember about reading in grade school is that I’d read every book two or three times, so I wouldn’t finish ahead of my classmates. Eventually, a librarian figured out what was happening, and bumped up my reading level.

    Those book titles look good. Maybe I’ll go back and read them.

      • Actually, no. If I hadn’t been so desperately shy, and if I’d had some confidence, I might have achieved a good bit more. I loved school, but was embarassed that I was such a good student. It was a bad combination. 🙂

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