Thursday, February 27, 2014

Patricia Coombs & the "Dorrie" books

I learnt to read somewhere around the age of four. I have a very clear memory of the actual moment that the words in my "Dr Suess's Beginner Book Dictionary" made sense and became recognisable. From that time until the present, I have loved books and reading and could count on one hand the number of nights in my life where I haven't read myself to sleep. Even if I fall asleep without a book, I invariably wake an hour later and reach for whatever story I am currently engrossed in. I can't even imagine not reading every day and I am truly and deeply amazed by people who tell me they don't read for pleasure.
When I was primary school age, some of my absolute favourite books were the "Dorrie" series by American author and illustrator, Patricia Coombs. The books centred around a little witch called Dorrie who lived with her mother the Big Witch and her cat, Gink and a female cook. There was no father ever mentioned in the books and I wonder now if that played a sub-conscious part in their appeal for me, as I grew up without a dad in a completely female household.
I was lucky enough to live literally just down the road from a large and very well-stocked
community library. Whenever the Dorrie books were available I would borrow as many as my
card allowed and take them home to read and re-read until it was time to return them and hope
that new ones had come in.
Possibly even more than the stories themselves (which were, and are, completely wonderful) the
most  appealing aspect of the books was the incredible illustrations. I am lucky enough to own several of the twenty Dorrie books (click here for a full list) and when I look at them now, which I often do, I am no less impressed. The illustrations are mostly monochrome with occasional splashes of colour and are rendered with either ink or graphite. Each character has a distinctive and immediately recognisable silhouette and the mood of each story is deftly maintained throughout every book due to the skilled and sensitive use of these two mediums.
I'm sure that these books were very popular, but I've never met another person my age who read or remembers these books from their childhood. Perhaps they weren't in wide circulation in Australia? Pity. I read the books to my own daughters when they were younger and they all loved them. So, I'm sharing some of the illustrations here in the hope that more people will seek them out - I've heard that some are being re-printed, but I'll have to look into that further. Would love to hear from anyone else who read and loved these as a child.

Each book begins with these words.
("Dorrie and the Blue Witch", 1964)


I love Dorrie's profile and her faithful companion, Gink.
("Dorrie and the Wizard's Spell", 1968)


Lovely pen and ink.
("Dorrie's Magic", 1962)


Splashes of colour heighten the atmosphere.
(Dorrie and the Blue Witch", 1964)


Beautiful, soft graphite drawings.
("Dorrie and the Birthday Eggs", 1971)


("Dorrie and the Wizard's Spell", 1968)


("Dorrie and the Screebit Ghost", 1979)


("Dorrie and the Birthday Eggs", 1971)






10 comments:

  1. Lorell,
    Unfortunately, I have never heard of these. :( How very sad to me that I have not. However, they do bring to mind all the countless hours I would spend hovering over children's books at a very early age. Like you, I enjoyed reading, and in fact, was always several levels higher than my reading ability. Perhaps it was because I loved reading so much. :-) Seeing these brings back my fond memories of each Halloween, scarfing up all the Halloween related stories that I could find, and soaking my soul into the illustrations and stories for hours on end. In fact, even to this day, I find myself ever so tempted to dive into children's section to see the books, especially those related to Halloween. Thank you for bringing back a wonderful memory. :-)

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  2. Lori, you may not have read these particular books, but it sounds like you had a very similar "book life" to me...I loved (and still do) any stories related to Halloween, even though it really wasn't celebrated here in Australia when I was a kid. Anything to do with witches and wizards and ghosts was right up my alley. I'm sure this is why I loved Harry Potter so much when it came out...even though I was well and truly an adult with my own kids! I still buy children's picture books today, they give me so much pleasure. So glad this brought back good memories for you :)

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  3. Lorell, you brought back many childhood memories of reading for hours my favorite books which were "Grimm's Fairy Tales" and of course" Alice in Wonderland"...I still have a two book set of Alice signed by my parents, dated 1946 which would have made me 10 years old. I can see why you enjoyed your Dorrie books, they seem delightful. And I also go to bed every night with a book in hand until I fall asleep...reading is a huge part of who I am....I love buying beautiful children's books for my grand children and hope they too will enjoy reading. Thanks for the memories.

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    1. Oh, Grimm's Fairy Tales! I loved those too...and of course Alice :) How lovely that you still have the copy given to you by your parents...these things are so very precious.

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  4. Lorell,
    All I can say is that you and I are like 2 peas in a pod. LOL I buy children's picture books too because I just love the artwork. :-) And, too, I am a Harry Potter and Hobbit fan. What can I say. LOL :-) Imagination has no boundaries nor does it have a limit to age. :-P

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    1. That is so very true, Lori...in so many ways I still feel as if I'm nine years old. I'm grateful for that though, I like being a big kid!

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  5. It's so great to find someone else who remembers the Dorrie books! I also read them obsessively in our small public library and was fortunate to have a mother who kept a journal of every book I ever borrowed and how many times. When she showed this to me a few years ago I started tracking them down on the Internet but found that in America at least they are rare and very expensive on the second hand market. So far I have one! My dream is to create a Dorrie figure in Soft Sculpture, with Gink of course. And mismatched stockings!

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  6. Well, I cried when I saw your scan of the staircase in the Blue Witch book, so that may tell you how meaningful these books were to me as a child! I would absolutely love to read these books again.

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  7. The Dorie books are in print again and are available on Amazon. Patricia is elderly but continues to express the same love of exploration and wonder you find in her books. We grew up in California and her books were regularly available in the school system and library. I now live on the CT shoreline and Pat is my neighbor; small world. In fact, I shared a bottle of wine with her this last weekend.

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  8. as a child, i loved these books as well. the illustrations were my favorite part, and i can remember riding my bicycle to the library in our little rural town, checking them out, and then sitting and looking at them for hours on end. now as an adult, i am a print designer and illustrator myself. :)

    i would absolutely love to know where i might send Pat a letter, to thank her for her lovely work, and let her know how much it inspired me - as it still does today. -amy r. amydept@gmail.com

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