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Molly Lamken (Caroline More) Cone (1918-) - Awards, Honors, Sidelights, Autobiography Feature Molly Cone - Personal, Addresses, Career, Writings, Adaptations

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Born 1918, in Tacoma, WA; Education: Attended University of Washington, 1936-39. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Jewish.

Agent—McIntosh and Otis, Inc., 310 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10017.

Children's book author.

JUVENILE BOOKS

Only Jane, illustrated by Velma Ilsley, Thomas Nelson (New York, NY), 1960.

Too Many Girls, Thomas Nelson (New York, NY), 1960.

Molly Cone

The Trouble with Toby, illustrated by Charles Geer, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1961.

Reeney, illustrated by Charles Geer, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1963.

(Under pseudonym Caroline More, with Margaret Pitcairn Strachan) Batch of Trouble, illustrated by Lee Smith, Dial, 1963.

Stories of Jewish Symbols, illustrated by Siegmund Forst, Bloch Publishing (New York, NY), 1963.

The Real Dream, illustrated by Bea Holmes, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1964.

A Promise Is a Promise, illustrated by John Gretzer, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1964.

Who Knows Ten?: Children's Tales of the Ten Commandments, Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1965, teacher's guide, 1967, revised and reprinted, 1998.

The Jewish Sabbath, illustrated by Ellen Raskin, Crowell (New York, NY), 1966, reprinted as The Story of Shabbat, illustrated by Emily Lisker, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.

Crazy Mary, illustrated by Bea Holmes, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1966.

Hurry Henrietta, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1966.

Jewish New Year, illustrated by Jerome Snyder, Crowell (New York, NY), 1966.

Purim, illustrated by Helen Borten, Crowell (New York, NY), 1967.

The Other Side of the Fence, illustrated by John Gretzer, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1967.

The House in the Tree: A Story of Israel, illustrated by Symeon Shimin, Crowell (New York, NY), 1968.

The Green, Green Sea: A Story of Greece, illustrated by Ric Estrada, Crowell (New York, NY), 1968.

Annie, Annie, illustrated by Marvin Friedman, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1969.

Leonard Bernstein, illustrated by Robert Galster, Crowell (New York, NY), 1970.

Simon, illustrated by Marvin Friedman, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1970.

The Ringling Brothers, illustrated by James and Ruth McCrea, Crowell (New York, NY), 1971.

You Can't Make Me If I Don't Want To, illustrated by Marvin Friedman, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1971.

Number Four, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1972.

Dance around the Fire, illustrated by Marvin Friedman, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1974.

Call Me Moose, illustrated by Bernice Lowenstein, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1978.

The Amazing Memory of Harvey Bean, illustrated by Robert MacLean, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1980.

Paul David Silverman Is a Father, photographs by Harold Roth, Dutton (New York, NY), 1983.

The Big Squeeze, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1984.

The Mystery of Being Jewish, Union of American Hebrew Congregations Press (New York, NY), 1989.

Come Back, Salmon: How a Group of Dedicated Kids Adopted Pigeon Creek and Brought It Back to Life, photographs by Sidnee Wheelwright, Sierra Club Books for Children (San Francisco, CA), 1992.

Listen to the Trees: Jews and the Earth, illustrated by Roy Doty, Union of American Hebrew Congregations Press (New York, NY), 1995.

Squishy, Misty, Damp and Muddy: The In-between World of Wetlands, Sierra Club Books for Children, 1996.

Hello, Hello, Are You There, God? (selected stories from the "Shema" series), illustrated by Rosalind Charney Kaye, Union of American Hebrew Congregations Press (New York, NY), 1999.

(With Howard Droker and Jacqueline Williams) Family of Strangers: Building a Jewish Community in Washington State, University of Washington Press/Washington State Jewish Historical Society (Seattle, WA), 2003.

"MISHMASH" SERIES; ILLUSTRATED BY LEONARD SHORTALL

Mishmash, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1962.

Mishmash and the Substitute Teacher, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1963.

Mishmash and the Sauerkraut Mystery, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1965.

Mishmash and Uncle Looey, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1968.

Mishmash and the Venus Flytrap, Houghton, 1976.

Mishmash and the Robot, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1981.

Mishmash and the Big Fat Problem, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1982.

"SHEMA" (TITLE MEANS "HEAR O ISRAEL") SERIES

First I Say the Shema, Union of American Hebrew Congregations (New York, NY), 1971.

About Belonging, Union of American Hebrew Congregations (New York, NY), 1972.

About Learning, illustrated by Iris Schweitzer, Union of American Hebrew Congregations (New York, NY), 1972.

About God, Union of American Hebrew Congregations Press (New York, NY), 1973.

Contributor to juvenile magazines and anthologies, including Bold Journeys, Macmillan, 1966; The Young America Basic Reading Program, Rand McNally, 1972; and Stories My Grandfather Should Have Told Me, Bonim Books, 1977.

Only Jane was recorded by the Library of Congress for the blind. Five stories from Who Knows Ten?: Children's Tales of the Ten Commandments, as told by Peninnah Schram, were recorded on A Storyteller's Journey, POM Records, 1978, and on A Storyteller's Journey II, POM Records, 1981.

POSTSCRIPT:

Molly Cone contributed the following update to SATA in 2004:

I remember confiding to someone that the autobiographical piece I wrote for Something about the Author Autobiography Series was the most difficult writing I had ever done. Putting myself up front, onstage so to speak, is something I've never done with complete ease. Taking the center of attention by telling a joke, making a speech or introducing friends to newcomers at a party, I often felt what is called "butterflies in the stomach"—except that the fluttering was not in my stomach but in my head. And suddenly, flown out of my mind, would be the punch line of the joke, the order of the speech, or the names of my friends. (Once I even momentarily lost the names of my sisters.)

When I was growing up, the wisdom of the day on such moments of stage fright was that it was "something you grow out of"—except that I didn't. I now seldom allow myself to tell jokes; in making speeches, I write down everything I want to say and read/talk from the paper in front of me; at parties I simply tell my guests to introduce themselves.

Rereading my earlier autobiographical essay, I recognized that the child I was still dominates the adult I have become. Throughout the hop-scotch and jump-rope years of my girlhood, I was eagerly waiting to On a weekend trip on the Washington coast with her sisters: (left to right) Evelyn, Molly, Phyllis, and Estelle "grow up." However, when I finally did grow up, and became a wife, a mother, and a writer, the feeling lingered. I kept waiting for life to unfold before me, and as it unfolded, I waited with great anticipation for its future unfolding. My childish daydreams, yearnings, and imaginings continued along with me.

My stories are set in ordinary life but I write in the belief that a fairy-tale world lies hidden in the everyday one. Between the lines of my stories can sometimes be found an ugly duckling, a frog prince, a Cinderella, or a big bad wolf. I still dream in fanciful scenarios, awaking almost every morning holding on to the edge of a dream reluctant to let go. Yet, when fully awake, I am eager to start the new day ahead. Now, as then, I believe that the impossible can become possible. As a matter of fact, it was just such a phenomenon that became the subject of another book.

Shortly after the Something about the Author Autobiography Series essay was published, I found in my mailbox a New York Times newspaper clipping sent by my Houghton Mifflin editor in Boston. The article featured an elementary grade school, 3000 miles from New York, in the city of Everett, close to Seattle where I lived. The article was about the kids in the school and a nearby stream called Pigeon Creek—a stream that had once been full of fish but had become so polluted that no fish had been seen in it for more than twenty years. What was remarkable was that those kids had done what everyone had been saying was impossible. They had brought the stream back to life and the fish back.

"How did they do it?" was the question my editor asked me. "Find out," she said to me over the telephone, "and maybe their story will make a good book."

I got into my car, rode the twenty miles up to Everett, and drove around until I found the Jackson School. It looked like any other school—until I saw paper fish hanging in the windows and found a fish tank set in the wall of the first grade classroom. When I showed the principal the New York Times article, she pulled out some pictures. "This is Pigeon Creek," she said, "the way it was."

I saw a wet gully filled with piles of tin cans, crushed plastic containers, smashed paper cartons, old tires, and other rubbish. "That was the creek?" I asked. "Go look at it now," she said.

I went out the school building, crossed the playground, followed a path down a hill, and at the bottom of it, came upon Pigeon Creek. It was just a little stream but it was no longer choked with trash and no longer polluted. I stood there for a long while gazing at the clear flowing water, and at the tiny bits of life darting in and about over the clean sandy bottom. Then I climbed back up the hill, got into my car, and headed back toward Seattle. And what I came home with was a picture in my mind of a book called, Come Back, Salmon.

Writing a true story is decidedly different from writing a make-believe story. In a fiction story, the writer can begin anywhere and end anywhere he or she likes. But in writing a true story the writer has to start at a particular moment that really happened, and end at a particular moment that really happened. To find those particular moments, I gathered together some of the fifth graders who had been first graders when the project started, turned on my tape recorder—and asked a lot of questions.

They talked about how hard they had worked to pull all the trash out of the creek, and how easy it was to believe that no kind of fish would ever live in Pigeon Creek again. They talked about their efforts to keep people from dumping more trash into the stream after they had cleared it. They talked about their excitement when the fish tank in the wall of the first grade classroom was filled with fish eggs which they had procured from a state fish hatchery, and the troubles they had in keeping the eggs alive and the tank water clean. They talked about their wonder at seeing those eggs hatch, their worry when they had to feed the baby fish every day and test the water, the care it took to move the tiny growing fish from the tank to the creek, and the anxious waiting to see if any would actually return to spawn. And they talked about the fever of excitement that raced through the school when a fifth grader burst into his classroom one rainy November morning and shouted—"I saw a fish in Pigeon Creek!"

I listened to that tape again and again until I knew for sure exactly what particular moment I would choose for the story's beginning and the particular moment I would choose for the story's end.

Meeting a photographer who had snapped pictures of the project when it began, was my good fortune. Sidnee Wheelwright's interest in the kids, the stream, and the school was as great as my own.

It was ironical that the book when finally finished was published not by Houghton Mifflin but by Sierra Books. The contract first offered by Houghton Mifflin was for a twenty-page book with black and white photographs. Very fortunately, after Houghton Mifflin decided not to go ahead with the publishing of the book, Sierra Books took it, requesting thirty-two pages and photos in color,

With my words and Sidnee's superb photographs, Come Back, Salmon became a book that garnered eight awards. What was surprising was that these awards were presented in a number of different categories including Reading, English, Nature, Science, and Social Studies. Come Back, Salmon also received the Washington Governor's Writers Award (the third time a book of mine received that particular honor).

During the course of my years of writing, except for travel adventures articles, I have focused mostly on writing for young readers. My books for children included not only tales about ordinary kids, but biographies of out-of-ordinary individuals as well as stories searching out the meanings in the rituals and the holidays in my Jewish background. My strong interest in and writings about things having to do with being Jewish led to a commission by the Washington State Jewish Historical Society to join a team of writers of a book tracing Jewish life in the state of Washington. No comprehensive history of Jewish pioneers in Washington State existed.

This was an enormous task even for a team of three, for it included not only going back several generations to the beginning of Jewish immigration to the Northwest more than 150 years ago, but it also meant covering every town and city in the state where Jewish people lived. As head writer, my task after conferring with my two colleagues was to produce a general outline and proposal for the book, and correlate the work of all three of us throughout the process of writing. Seven years after we signed the contract with the Washington State Jewish Historical Society, the book Family of Strangers: Building a Jewish Community in Washington State, was published by the University of Washington Press. Its 394 pages included twenty-three pages of source notes and 123 photographs.

As I handed over the final draft to the Press editor, she was curious to know whether communication between us three cowriters had survived the rigors of working together. In her experience, she told me, coauthors were seldom even speaking to one another by the time their project was completed. In our case, Howard Droker, Jacqueline Williams, and I were not only still speaking to each other, we had developed a warm friendship.

Between times, during the years of researching and writing Family of Strangers, I also did some other writing, revising several of my previous books for new editions at the request of the original publisher or another publisher. The Jewish Sabbath, for example, originally published by U.A.H.C. Press, was reissued by HarperCollins Publishers as The Story of Shabbat with new illustrations. It was an interesting working experience for me—the editor of children's books, almost a child herself, was no older than one of my granddaughters. She immediately directed me to change the opening line of the book. Originally it was "Chicken soup means Sabbath to many Jewish children, for the Sabbath dinner in a Jewish home often begins with chicken soup."

"Chicken soup is no longer a distinctive Jewish soup," this young editor told me positively. Her change: "Candlelighting means Sabbath to many Jewish children.…" Colorful new illustrations by Emily Lisker, and the addition of a recipe for challah, was also the young editor's inspiration.

A book completed and in print is every author's "happy ending"—or so it is believed. The painful truth is that there is no assurance of "happily ever after." In the case of The Story of Shabbat, despite its attractive new face and good reviews, HarperCollins dropped the book from its list little more than a year later.

Authoring a book is fraught with both pleasure and pain as every writer knows. My most painful experience as an author came with the publication of my fourth book, Mishmash which was the first of the seven books I wrote about that same oh-so-friendly dog. And the pain came with the first review.

Kirkus reviews at that time were famous in the book trade for their discerning consideration of children's books. Scorn permeated this Kirkus review. Unlikely, far-fetched, and unbelievable was the reviewer's opinion of my characters, Mishmash (patterned after a much-too-friendly dog we had) and Miss Patch (patterned after our son's favorite fifth grade teacher).

My reaction was one of utter despair. I was ready to throw my typewriter out the window. (We had typewriters in those days, not computers.) I wanted to hide forever in a closet. I was certain that my writing life had come to an end.

Mary K. Harmon, my excellent Houghton Mifflin editor, came to my rescue. The next day, a sketch came from her Children's Books office. It was a pencil drawing of a young woman standing on one foot, holding aloft in one hand (like the Statue of Liberty) a cocktail glass. At the bottom of the sketch were the words (originally from the Book of Joshua) made famous at Masada, the fortress built on a rock hill near the Dead Sea, when Jewish fighters were besieged by the Roman army after the fall of Jerusalem. The words: "Be strong and of good courage!"

My confidence in myself revived when letters from young readers began to arrive. For example, this one: "I loved the book called Mishmash so much I wish I wrote it myself.… P.S. If I had written it, I'm sure it wouldn't be so good." And this from a student whose teacher read the book aloud to his class: "Your book is very funny. When teacher was reading she almost fell out of her chair she was laughing so hard. I hope you write many more stories about Mishmash."

My full vindication came when the New York Times selected Mishmash as one of 100 best children's books of the year (1962). The latest of many paperback reprint editions of Mishmash came out in 2000.

In my early years of writing, I had managed home, family, and writing by sitting down at my desk every morning as soon as the last child was off to school, and quitting for the day when the first child arrived home after school. I shopped once a week, bought food supplies in quantity, cooked a week's meals all at one time, and wrapped everything to be stored and frozen. The freezer became my number one helper in the kitchen. Any day of the week there was always a cooked meal and plenty of loaves of bread in it ready at hand.

However, my congratulations to myself on my efficient management came to an end on a weekend afternoon when our son was well into his teens. With him, my husband and I were sitting at the dining room table nibbling, drinking tea, and recalling with nostalgia, special dishes our mothers used to make. After my husband had recalled one, and I another, our young son spoke up. "Do you know what I'll remember when I grow up?" he asked. We both turned to him in surprise, I with some delight. I had always considered myself to be an excellent cook, managing house, writing, and children with efficient aplomb, a regular ballabusta, as my grandmother would have said in Yiddish, meaning a housewife whose management was so splendid "you can eat off the floor." "What?" I asked eagerly. Our son picked up a slice of bread from the basket on the table. "My great grandson learning how to make bagels from his 'great papa,'" 2001 Holding it out on the palm of his hand, he said, "What I'll remember when I grow up is bread—half-frozen in the middle."

As my writing output grew, it came clear to me that my children made an important contribution not only to my writing success but to my character—they kept me humble. Susan was fifteen years old when a letter came from the editor of Thomas Nelson Publishers accepting my first book, Only Jane. The letter closed with the comment: "You certainly do understand children." Later I heard Susan on the telephone to her girlfriend: first a giggle, then: "They think my mother understands children!" Gary was about twelve when that first book was published. Unlike his younger sister, Ellen, who grew up taking her mother's writing work for granted, Gary was a little uncertain about the changed situation. I was sitting at the dining room table in front of a pile of books sent by a local bookstore when Gary came in from school. "Hey mom, what're you doing?" he asked as he plunked himself down beside me. Pleased at his interest, I explained that my autograph in the books had been requested. As I began to sign my name, he jumped up. "You mean you're going to spoil all these nice new books by writing in them!"

Another time I was sitting at my typewriter still working, when Gary arrived home from school with a friend. I heard the door slam but continued to type furiously to complete the page before the pounding feet on the stairs had reached the top. I was almost finished when I heard: "Hey Gary! What's your mom doing?" Then, Gary's mumbled, "Writing stories." His friend gasped: "That's what she's doing on the typewriter right now—writing stories?" I glanced up to see my son say out of the side of his mouth: "Her handwriting isn't very good."

Ellen, our youngest, grew up with a mother who was forever writing and looked upon the arrival of each new book I wrote as nothing out of the ordinary. She was ten years old when she read my book Hurry Henrietta. "How did you like it?" I asked. "Well, it wasn't at all boring," she said.

As the number of my books grew, so did our family. Today, the count includes: Josh and Sara (Susan's children), Ilana, Danielle, Dan, and Michelle (Gary's children), Nathan, Hannah, and Sarah (Ellen's children), plus spouses, and two great-grandchildren, Sam and Leah.

As I sat at my computer working on Family of Strangers, or searched through the University of Washington library archives and various old newspapers for accounts of Jewish pioneers long since gone, my retired husband, Jerry, smoked salmon in the Little Chef smoker sitting next to the barbecue grill on our deck, or put together yeast and flour and eggs for twisted loaves of challah in our kitchen. It was then that I began to appreciate the luxury of having a husband who could and did cook, and cooked well. He grocery-shopped as well as grew vegetables in a nearby pea patch, dahlias in the area near our condominium pool, and geraniums in the pots on our condo deck. He did all this and at the same time attended the University of Washington, auditing classes in history. He treated the nearby QFC Supermarket as a village well where he met and chatted with both his and my friends. He always arrived home from a shopping expedition filled with the gossip he gleaned as he plucked greens from the produce department or eggs from the dairy shelves, and new recipes he wanted to try.

When the book was finally completed, I joined him in the shopping. We split the grocery list in two, half in my hand, half in his. However, the shopping time we spent doubled, mostly because I spent an inordinate amount of time, after completing my half of the list, going up and down the aisles looking for him. It finally dawned on me that, while to me, shopping was a necessary chore to be accomplished as quickly as possible to get back to writing, to my husband, it was not a chore at all but a most pleasurable time. He compares one item to another, takes time to discuss its possibilities Molly Cone (left), with her daughter Susan Coleman (right), and her granddaughter Sara Wilson holding her great granddaughter Leah (middle), 2002 "With my great grandchildren, Sam and Leah," 2003 with other shoppers, gets lost in the delights of examining new items on the shelf, and often detours to learn what he can from the fish man, the meat man, or the manager of the store.

My husband continues to do most of the cooking, a situation which I fully appreciate. We "eat out" a lot; for a company dinner, we cook together.

In the world in which I grew up, few men of my parents' generation ever stepped into their wives' kitchens let alone took over the cooking. Back then few husbands would admit to even liking to cook. The world I lived in then was nothing like the world I live in now.

During the time my three sisters, my brother, and I were children, no house had dishwashers or televisions or computers. (Not yet developed.) What our grandchildren today call "cool," we called "swell" and "keen" and "neat." What is now "weird," to us was "coocoo" or "crazy" or "nuts." Back then no one had ever heard of rock festivals, adolescents were not called teenagers, old people were not senior citizens, and Israel was not yet a country. Not in our wildest dreams did we even imagine anyone walking on the moon, or landing on Mars. To us, space was what you left between paragraphs.

Almost nothing of the world I knew as a girl remains today except Campbell's tomato soup and Hershey bars. And of course—books.

Michael G. Coney (1932–2005) Biography [next]

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