Monday, June 21, 2010

Miss Esta Maude's Secret

Miss Esta Maude's Secret
story and pictures by W. T. Cummings
McGraw-Hill, 1961


One of those books people always ask me about but I'd never set eyes on until I scored it at a library sale a while back. It's a book that tends to be worth a lot of money when you can find it, and on the first read it was obvious why it would've stuck in the minds of so many children decade after decade. I have no idea who this author is or why this book is so highly collectible, but the story is unforgettable. It's kinda like if Batman was an old woman and instead of a lot of superpower-enabling devices, she just has a really, really fast car.

Esta Maude drove a little black car. Everyone in town called it "Miss Esta Maude's Machine." She never drove over fifteen miles an hour and obeyed every traffic rule. "What a dull life Miss Esta Maude must have!" everyone said. If Esta Maude heard them she just smiled -- because Esta Maude had a secret.

Well, the little school teacher's secret is that Miss Esta Maude likes to drive very, VERY fast in a little red racing car she keeps hidden away in her barn. In the wee hours of the night, she revs up and takes off on adventures that save sheep and lost little children and women in labor. Secret identities are AWESOME and even more awesome if you imagine your teacher to have one.

Doecdoe posted on another book by this author, The Girl in the White Hat, but I couldn't find any information on the artist. If anyone has any info on this book or perhaps even a scan of the dust jacket, I'd be much obliged. (A guess: W.T. is E.E.'s pen name and this was his swan song? Maybe it's even a long lost brother. Ha! Wouldn't that be sweet.)

Also by:
The Kid

15 comments:

A* said...

This book looks awesome! Thanks for sharing it :)

Ariel S. Winter said...

W. T. Cummings appears to have written at least two other children's books: The Kid (1960)also published by Whittlesey House and Wickford of Beacon Hill (1962)published by McGraw Hill. It looks like all three Whittlesey House books were made into film strips (and later VHS cassettes). A short clip from Miss Esta Maud's Secret is available on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5Da43JHxTw

I also drew a blank on biographical information in my quick search. As for the e.e. cummings theory, it turns out that e.e. cummings was a painter, so it's possible he could have done the illustrations. Even with the other books I uncovered, the last one was published in 1962, the year of the poet cummings's death. I'm actually going to be posting an entry on e.e. cummings fairy tales on We Too Were Children, Mr. Barrie at some point, so I'll try to look more into it then.

Scribbler said...

so mysterious.....

camille said...

love it

Natascha Rosenberg said...

This book looks wonderful!

Sidney Lawson, Jr. said...

I own an ink drawing by W. T. Cummings given to me by a dear friend of W.T. Cummings (and with his permission). He had published 'The Girl in the White Hat' by that time (late 1950s'). I was a student in Boston at the time. I believe his first initial is for William and he was called Bill. Unfortunately I never met this most gifted man. Would love to know of his life since those early days in the Boston area.

Native Vermonter said...

I own an ink drawing done by W. T. Cummings. It was given to me by a dear friend of his (and with the artist's permission). I cherish it. W. T. Cummings had published 'The Girl in the White Hat' by that time (late 1950s). I was a student in Boston at that time. The initial W. stands for William and he was referred to me as 'Bill'. I have no knowledge of his life after that initial period. I hope he found joy in his life. I would love to know. A very gifted man.

Sidney Lawson, Jr. Montpelier, VT

Azor said...

W.T. Cummings (William known as Bill) was a California native, served in the military during the war years and settled in Boston. I met him many, many times during my childhood and teen years. He was the life partner of my uncle and they would visit our family, or we would visit them in Boston. Yes, he published 4 children's books. I have them all and they're signed, and several drawings from his school years. In time he went on to teach and make documentary films, and later became a technical book illustrator. Eventually he and my uncle sold their home outside of Boston, bought a sailboat and moved/sailed to Florida. They bought into a hotel there. Bill passed away in Florida. If more information is wanted, I'm sure my parents could supply it. My uncle passed away quite a few years ago.

Scribbler said...

Thanks Azor... this book is so beloved by people I'd love to do a followup post if you could supply some history, photos and a few scans... If you are interested you can e-mail me at webe(at)soon(dot)com. Either way, thanks for chiming in and the info. Such a wonderful legacy!

E LeBlanc said...

My mom knew him in Boston in the 50s or 60s. We have his books. I've read them to my kids. My mom thinks they went to Mass Art together ...but it was a long time ago. We have a 4ft x 4ft painting of his on the wall. It is abstract and signed WTC.

B. Streetman said...

E,

I know more than a few people who would like to see a photo of that painting. Would you be willing to send a snapshot?

webe(at)soon(dot)com

St. Frida said...

Hi--

This is O LeBlanc, E LeBlanc's little sister. I believe we actually have more than one Bill Cummings painting. There's the one I'm looking at right now and a few more in storage, I think. There are incredible paintings--he was an incredible artist. I would love to know more about his biography, too, since we have these amazing paintings and all our personal information about him is gone w/ my father's death. I will try to snap photos soon to share.

B. Streetman said...

That would be amazing. I'd love to see them and I know a few readers who would to...

Paul Stubbs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul Stubbs said...

I have a signed copy of this book also. My Uncle who lived in the Boston area at the time had Mr. Cummings sign the book for me.

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