New use for old story

Hi everyone,

I’m happy to announce that I’ve signed an agreement to let HarperCollins London reprint an old story of mine in an upcoming anthology edited by JULIA ECCLESHARE and called Stories for 4 Year Olds.

“The Little Boy’s Secret” debuted fifty years ago in THE BOOK OF GIANT STORIES. It’s beautifully illustrated by the French artist, PHILIPPE FIX. In 1973, the book won a Christopher Award.

First presented in 1949, the Christopher Awards were established to “affirm the highest values of the human spirit.” The medals are presented annually in New York City, directly to writers, producers, directors and illustrators in the publishing, film, broadcast TV and cable industries. Winners have included David McCullough, Dave Brubeck, Charles Schulz, Sesame Street, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, The Today Show, Masterpiece Theatre, Face the Nation, and CBS News Sunday Morning are among the long list of winners over the years.

And now the little boy in the first story in THE BOOK OF GIANT STORIES has a new feather for his cap. I’m proud of him.

The Christmas Sparrow

Hi everyone,

Merry Christmas, Season’s Greetings, and Happy New Year!

By David L Harrison

It was Christmas all over the house. From the dazzling tree to the piles of presents to the turkey roasting in the oven, everything was ready. This was going to be the best Christmas Eve in the history of the world according to Samantha Peterson, who was six years old.

Then her brother Paul walked into the room and ruined everything.
He flopped on the sofa, leaned toward the coffee table, and ran his finger over the lid of the candy dish filled with fudge reserved for company. “Mom wants you,” he said.

Samantha’s eyes narrowed. “Why?” she asked, knowing exactly why he wanted her to leave.

Paul shrugged. “Go ask her.”

“I’m telling if you take fudge.”

“I wouldn’t advise it.”

Samantha made a face and stuck out her tongue.

Paul made a face and pinched her arm.

“That hurt!” she yelled. Doubling up her six-year-old fist, she smacked Paul on his nine-year-old nose.

“Ow!” he howled. “I hate you!”

“I hate you back!”

“I hate you more!”


Mrs. Peterson was tired from cooking and needed a break. She was holed up in the bathroom in a tub of hot water, wearing a headset and shouting along to a tune by Led Zeppelin.


After a very . . . long . . . pause . . . the bathroom door opened the merest crack possible.

“What!” came a voice that sounded like, “This had better be important.”

“Paul pinched me!” Samantha wailed, doing her best to sound mortally wounded.

The yelling and fighting excited the dogs. Boomer One and Boomer Two raced through the house, barking and howling and slipping and sliding and banging into furniture. They were huge dogs. Together they weighed 150 pounds, which was like ten bowling balls rolling around the house crashing into things.
Missing a sharp turn around the end of the sofa, the dogs crashed into the Christmas tree. Packages flew like missiles. The tree smashed against the wall and fell in a shower of ornaments and tangled strings of lights.
Mrs. Peterson ran out of the bathroom clutching her robe and rubbing her right temple.

“Mom,” said Paul, trying to be helpful, “your feet are making puddles on the floor.”

Mr. Peterson, who had just gotten home from work, bustled in through the garage door calling out, “Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas!”

Samantha and Paul were too busy glaring at each other to reply.

Mrs. Peterson asked in a thin voice, “Did you remember marshmallows?”

Mr. Peterson smacked himself on the forehead and laughed. “Forgot! But who needs marshmallows anyway?”

Mrs. Peterson’s voice rose with each word to an astonishing pitch. “Who needs marshmallows?”

Mr. Peterson was suddenly indignant. “What’s the big deal?” he asked. “It’s a bag of marshmallows!”

Mrs. Peterson spoke rapidly and rather loudly about how could he forget marshmallows for the sweet potatoes the one simple thing she had asked him to do when she had done everything else and didn’t he even notice that the tree was destroyed and the packages were scattered like buckshot and everything in them was probably smashed and broken and if he didn’t get rid of those horses he called dogs she was going to scream! But in fact she already was screaming.

And then she cried.

And the dogs howled.

“You started it!” Paul yelled at Samantha.

“This is the worst Christmas Eve in the history of the world!” Samantha sobbed.

In the sudden silence, something thumped at the window.

“What was that?” asked Paul.

Samantha pressed her nose against the glass and left a snotty little smear on it. “I don’t see anything,” she snuffled.

Paul opened the door and looked out. On the ground lay a small brown bird with one wing spread out like a dainty fan. The bird wasn’t moving.

“Is it dead?” Samantha whispered. Paul crouched down with his face close to the still form.

“The little guy flew into the window,” Mr. Peterson said.

“Is it dead?” Samantha whispered again.

“It’s looking at us,” Paul said. “See how its eyes are looking at us?”

“Is it going to die?” Samantha asked. “I don’t want it to die!”

“It’s a sparrow,” said Mrs. Peterson. “Bring it inside.”

Paul cupped the hurt bird in his hands and carried it into the living room.
Mr. Peterson lifted the Christmas tree back onto its stand. He rummaged around on the floor until he found one of the bird nest ornaments, which he hung on a branch halfway up the tree.

“Put the bird in that,” he said. “The dogs can’t reach it there.”

“The dogs,” Mrs. Peterson muttered darkly, “are taller than the tree.”

“Maybe it’s thirsty,” Samantha said.

“There is nothing we can do,” her mother said. “I’m afraid it’s dying.”

Tears rolled down Samantha’s face. “I don’t want our Christmas sparrow to die!” she cried.

“I’m hungry,” said Paul.

Leaving the bird resting with its eyes closed, the family sat down at the dining room table. Throughout dinner, which featured sweet potatoes without marshmallows, the only sounds were the clatter of knives and forks and tinkle of ice in glasses. Not one word was spoken. Mrs. Peterson glared at her sweet potatoes. Mr. Peterson stared at the wall. Paul shoveled food into his mouth. All Samantha could think about was the bird. This was, she told herself, the worst Christmas Eve dinner in the history of the world.

After it was over, Paul and Samantha left the table. Normally they would have hovered in the kitchen, urging and begging their parents to hurry. This year they sat quietly on opposite sides of the living room, trying not to look at the crooked Christmas tree with the silent nest halfway up its branches.

At last their parents entered the room. “Who wants to hand out the presents?” Mr. Peterson asked. Samantha studied her shoes. Paul shrugged.
With his arms across his chest Mr. Peterson walked to the tree and peeked into the nest. Shaking his head, he turned away. No one dared to ask what that meant.

Mrs. Peterson was absent mindedly straightening up the mess caused by the dogs. On the floor she found the bible open to St. Luke and started reading softly to herself. As the others began to listen, her voice grew stronger.

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy . . .” Mrs. Peterson continued to read. When she finished the story, she set the book on the table near the tree. Again no one spoke, but this silence was not full of anger like the one at dinner. It was the sort of silence that comes from thinking. After a while the family went to bed. The gifts had not been touched.

Later, when the house lay dark and still, Samantha thought about the hurt bird in the living room. “Please don’t die,” she whispered. She thought about the story that her mother had read. She decided that a piece of fudge and a sack of marshmallows didn’t seem important now. Without expecting to she called out through the dark to Paul’s room across the hall.

“I don’t hate you,” she said.

“I don’t hate you either,” Paul answered back.

In their bed, Mr. Peterson whispered, “I loved your sweet potatoes. I’m sorry I forgot to stop at the store.”

Mrs. Peterson squeezed his hand. “Fewer calories that way,” she whispered.

Moonlight through the living room window fell across Boomer One and Boomer Two. Leaving the dogs in the house at night was strictly forbidden. Now they were lying beside the tree below the nest.

Next morning no one wanted to be the first up. Samantha lay awake with her eyes shut. Paul pulled the cover over his head. At last Mr. and Mrs. Peterson put on their robes and tiptoed into the living room.

“Oh no!” Mrs. Peterson cried when she saw the dogs snoring near the gifts.
Mr. Peterson groaned. “We left them inside!”

Samantha, who had just entered the room, glanced anxiously from her father to her mother.

“The bird!” Mrs. Peterson said, looking into the nest. “It’s gone!”

“We forgot the dogs!” Paul cried.

Boomer One and Boomer Two leaped up and bounded to the front door. With a heavy sigh Mr. Peterson opened the door and let them out. The rising sun was painting the morning pink and red.

From the top of the Christmas tree behind them came a musical two-note twitter.

“Our Christmas sparrow!” Samantha shouted. “It didn’t die after all!”

In a whir of brown wings the bird darted across the room and out into the brilliant day. In amazement the whole family hurried outside to watch it fly away.

Samantha discovered that she was holding her brother’s hand. “This is the best Christmas morning in the history of the world!” she said.

“Don’t forget the story Mom read last night,” Paul reminded her.

“Oh. Right,” Samantha said. “It’s the second best, and that’s perfect!”

Hand in hand the Petersons went in to breakfast. Soon they would get around to opening their presents. But they knew they had already received the best gift of all.

The short-faced bear

Hi everyone,

Last weekend we drove south past Branson to the home of Big Cedar Lodge and The Wilderness Club, properties of Bass Pro Shops. A third attraction is called Top of the Rock. This was formerly the home of Graham Clark, first president of College of the Ozarks. The hilltop view of Tablerock Lake and the rolling Ozark country is unsurpassed in the region.

Later the site was turned into a restaurant. Nine years ago it burned and has only recently reopened after major expansions that include a golf course (recent host to the Legends of Golf Tournament), two restaurants, a gift store, a chapel, a wine tasting bar, an indoor/outdoor pub, and more.
One of the things that caught my eye coming in was a display of ice age animals including the short-faced bear, American lion, and woolly mammoth. A wall reference mentions Riverbluff Cave in Springfield, home to the oldest known ice age fossils found anywhere on the North American continent (the last I knew).IMAG1605

My book, CAVE DETECTIVES, is written about the discovery, preservation, early explorations, and mysteries uncovered in Riverbluff. Standing there before a replica of the enormous short-face bear, mounted as though emerging from a cave, brought back memories. Here is how my book begins.
“A short-faced bear moves along a stream. He is a giant compared to any other bear that will ever live. He is mostly a carnivore, a meat eater. Whether he brings down his own prey, steals from smaller predators, or chases buzzards off a carcass, he is always hungry for meat.

“The stream loops through scattered clusters of pine trees and crosses a clearing. It comes to the base of a hill and disappears into the mouth of a cave. The bear knows this cave. It is cool in summer, a good place to nap through cold winters, and a safe hideaway to nurture newborn cubs. Rolling his massive head, the bear enters the cave and vanishes into the darkness.

“Sometime later a band of peccaries pauses outside the cave. The peccaries are about the size of pigs; they look much like pigs, too. For a while the peccaries mill around the entrance, snorting indecisively. When the leader heads inside, the others follow. Snuffling and grunting, the peccaries jostle one another down the black tunnel.

“Somewhere beyond the light, the bear rises up from a deep pit. Without warning he strikes, his great claws slashing at the clay bank as he lunges toward the snuffling and grunting above him. Squealing peccaries flee in terror, but there is no escape. Even in the dark, the bear is deadly. He catches a peccary and bites off its foot. In a short time the killing ends. Silence returns to the darkness.”IMAG1608

I’m glad to say that CAVE DETECTIVES has recently been made available from Chronicle Books in digital form. Anyone interested can order it online.

And that’s how I spent part of my weekend!


Brady’s story

Hi everyone,

Last week when I visited the kids at Bissett Elementary School, a boy named Brady handed me a story that he had written for me. I was flattered and impressed. Brady also illustrated his story. This young author/illustrator spells phonetically for now and gets his point across quite well. I’m printing the story here just as he wrote it so you can see for yourself that Brady knows exactly what he wants to say. Way to go, Brady!

1) A cet and a mows livd in a hows the cet wes slepen end the mows wes krepen

2) the mows wes edn ches in the hows He ete to mech ches in then he hed sem pes in then he win to slep

3) the mows chrid to sit n his hows but he wes to frtith he srld her kenp the cet eooo

4) the mows skerd owt of the hows the cet folod.

5) the mews tok a nop endr the okch chre

In Brady’s illustrations the cat and mouse add comments that help move the story along. In one panel, mouse says, “I am fle.”

As you can see, Brady is creating a setting with characters, a problem, and a resolution. The mouse eats too much cheese, the cat spies him, the mouse runs from the house, the cat follows, and the story ends well when the mouse takes a nap under an oak tree. If you were going to illustrate this story, the author provides several scene changes: 1) a cat and mouse living in a house; 2) cat is napping; 3) mouse is creeping; 4) the mouse eating cheese and looking stuffed; 5) mouse now turning to some peas; 6) mouse tries to sit up but is too full; 7) the cat discovers the mouse in its compromised position of being too full to sit up; 8) the frightened mouse somehow makes a run for it out of the house with the cat after it; and 9) the mouse takes a nice nap under a tree.

Even at his young age Brady already has a sense of what makes a story and what it takes to keep a story going.

Brady, if you read this, thank you again for your entertaining story. Now you are a published author!