Livia J. Washburn Reasoner
First I’ll tell you about the book, and then I’d like to share a little of its history.
MOCKINGBIRD AND BIG EARL by James and Livia Reasoner, a chapter book for 3rd and 4th grade reading levels.
They were an unlikely team, the big, gruff circuit court judge and the talkative Blackfoot girl. Together they travel across the Old West solving mysteries and delivering justice. Judge Earl Stark comes to El Paso to try the case of a man accused of a crime, but it's Mockingbird who finds the clues that lead to what really happened. A man's future depends on a missing dog, and it's up to Mockingbird to figure out the truth!
Mockingbird was talking, as usual. That was how she had gotten her name. She liked to talk, and when she was little, her Blackfoot mother had called her Mockingbird. Mockingbird barely remembered her mother, who had died when the little girl was only a few years old. After that, she had been an orphan until she had met and been adopted by the big man who sat beside her in the buggy, handling the reins of the horse that pulled it.
Judge Earl Stark wasn’t really paying attention to what Mockingbird was saying. He was watching where he was going as he drove the buggy down one of the main streets of this busy, growing town called El Paso del Norte. The name meant The Pass to the North. Mountains rose on both sides of the Rio Grande, or as the Mexicans on the other side of the river called it, the Rio Bravo. Mockingbird was a long way from Montana, where she had been born.
She was nine summers old, this summer of 1880, small for her age but lively and smart. She wore a blue flowered dress and a leather headband. Her long, dark hair was loose around her shoulders today, although sometimes she wore it in two braids. She looked even smaller than she really was because the man who rode in the buggy beside her was so big. In fact, his nickname when he was younger had been Big Earl. He rode shotgun on stagecoaches in those days, before he became a lawyer and then a Federal Circuit Court judge for the Western District. He wore a dark suit and a cream-colored Stetson hat, and he had a short gray beard.
Mockingbird traveled everywhere with Judge Stark now. His cases took him from the Rio Grande to the Canadian border, from the Great Plains to the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Even though she had only been with the judge for a short time, Mockingbird had already seen a lot of the West.
Now, they had come to El Paso so that the judge could try a case. Mockingbird had never been to this city in the western tip of Texas before. She was looking forward to their visit.
Judge Stark brought the buggy to a stop in front of the Camino Real Hotel. He stepped down from the vehicle, then turned back to lift Mockingbird down to the street. The judge tied the horse’s reins to the hitch rack in front of the hotel, then he and Mockingbird stepped up onto the porch.
Two old men were sitting on cane-bottomed chairs on the porch. One of them pointed at Mockingbird and said to the judge, “Got you a little wild Indian gal, huh?”
The judge frowned at the man. “My daughter is half Blackfoot,” he said, “but she’s not nearly as wild as I am when I’m riled, mister.”
The old man said quickly, “I didn’t mean no offense.”
“None taken...this time,” the judge said. He held the door open for the little girl. “Come on, Mockingbird.”
They went inside the hotel and checked in. The desk clerk was expecting the judge. “Got your reservation right here, Judge,” the man said. “What brings you to El Paso?”
“I’m here to preside over a court case,” the judge explained.
Mockingbird wasn’t really listening to Judge Stark and the desk clerk as they talked. She was too busy looking around the lobby of the hotel. It was a big room with fancy glass chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and flowered paper on the walls. Potted plants were placed beside big armchairs and sofas. The wooden floor was polished so brightly that she could sort of see herself in it. It was just about the nicest place Mockingbird had ever been inside.
She tugged on the judge’s coat. “Is this our room?” she asked.
“Our room is upstairs,” the judge said. “Come on. We’ll take our things up, and then we have somewhere else to go.”
“Where?” Mockingbird asked.
The judge looked down at her and said, “Jail.”
|Naomi Washburn 1967|
Now about the background. James was writing a western series for adults about Big Earl Stark for Pocket Books. My mother was our daughters’ first grade teacher. She would get James to dress up in his cowboy garb and talk to the students about writing. Since all we had were novels for adults we started making little chapbooks written for the kids and printed in our bedroom on a copy machine. This was long before all the publishing options we have today We did this for several years, but lost all our copies when our house burned in 2008.
Mom passed away in July 2013. While I was cleaning, I found a copy of MOCKINGBIRD AND BIG EARL. She had hidden a copy my dad didn’t throw away. (He sometimes gets a little overzealous about getting rid of things.) Mom was a big believer in reading. We always had books available because of her. She and my father ran a beauty shop when I was little. It was attached to our home so they could keep an eye on me and my older brothers. Believe me, we needed watching. Mom went back to college when we were old enough to know better than to blow up the house, and got her teaching degree while working in that beauty shop. She was an amazing woman. She loved teaching children to read, and she worked hard to keep improving. She would teach all day then attend classes in the evening until she had her master's degree. I am very proud of the book we wrote because of her and will try to be the type of woman she would be proud of. I am thrilled to say we were able to raise $1,000 for a scholarship in her name for a student from our hometown majoring in education. naomiwashburnteachingscholarship.yolasite.com
As a side note to this book, the original edition had this image on the cover. Wish I still had the photo. This is James as Big Earl and our daughter Joanna as Mockingbird. Mom was a quarter Cherokee and Joanna was the only one to pick up those genes with her beautiful dark hair and eyes.
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