What they are saying…
“Nobody who ever read The Wind in the Willows wants it to ever end. Thank you, Frederick Thurber, for this delightfully worthy sequel, in a fresh new setting, and with gorgeous artwork by Amy Thurber. I love it!”
— Sy Montgomery, author of How to Be A Good Creature and The Soul of an Octopus
“Charm, fun, adventure; the sparkle of light on water and wit in words. Thurber layers his own deft imagination onto a beloved classic, and returns us to a world lost to most of us — one that he never left.”
— Dominique Browning, writer, editor emeritus House & Garden, co-founder of Moms Clean Air Force
“It really, truly is charming . . . . If Kenneth Grahame captured your heart with the adventures of woodland creatures in The Wind in the Willows, then Frederick Thurber is sure to keep it as he explores the antics of said creatures’ offspring in his sequel, In The Wake of the Willows, a charming book that captures the essence of Grahame’s work and infuses it with Thurber’s own deep knowledge and love of the natural world.”
— Jeannette de Beauvoir, Writer and host of Arts Week on WOMR.
— Dr. Jonathan L. Atwood, Director of Bird Conservation, Massachusetts Audubon Society
“Thurber’s writing is witty, charming, and dear. He has set the tone perfectly…The world he has crafted is both a homage to Grahame’s classic tale and original. It is inviting, and beautifully rendered.”
“This delightful sequel to The Wind in the Willows features a new generation of young animals who learn to value nature, hard work and family as they grow up. It is fun to read, and fun to read aloud.”
— Tom Gidwitz is a writer, editor, and photographer specializing in archaeology and volcanology. Formerly editor of Currents, the members quarterly at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and a contributing editor for Archaeology Magazine, he is the author of The Story in the Stone, a children’s book on the Smithsonian Institution’s Panama Paleontology Project, which revealed how plate tectonics built the Isthmus of Panama.
“We started your husband’s book…and its adorable. We are loving it. Asher just loves nature and its right up his alley . . . . He LOVES this book. It started with me reading it to him, but he likes reading it to himself more. He likes to stop and think about what part interests him.”
— Amanda Deane founder of Flying Starlings
‘In the Wake of the Willows’ is set on the Westport River
Columns share an author’s personal perspective and are often based on facts in the newspaper’s reporting.
“If you follow me on Instagram, you know I love the Westport River.
I walk it just about every day. To me, it’s magic.
I see egrets, white and blue herons, deer quietly grazing, osprey circling and swooping for fish.
I’ve always thought of it as a storybook setting.
Apparently, Frederick Gorham Thurber thought so, too.
The South Dartmouth writer and his talented wife, Rhode Island School of Design grad Amy Thurber, have created the most stunning sequel to Kenneth Grahame’s 1908 children’s classic, “The Wind in the Willows” — and they set it on the Westport River.
My soul is aglow.
“In the Wake of the Willows” is a passion project too good to be called “fan fiction” and so stunning you’d never guess it was self-published.
Set in Westport in the 1920s, the tale is about “the denizens of a very special river. For like their relatives on the other side of the ocean, this river had its own Rat, Mole, Badger, Otter, and Weasel clans,” according to the synopsis. “When a spooky nocturnal creature starts terrorizing the riverfront, Mr. Rat’s clever daughter sets to work solving the mystery and unmasking the culprit. But that is only the beginning of the intrigue…”
The synopsis also tells us: “All the natural history and science in this book is accurate and will inspire young readers to learn more.” Fred Thurber contributed a nature column to our sister paper, The Dartmouth Chronicle, called “Woods and Waters” for some 10 years.
Written in an old-fashioned vernacular that feels similar to the original, this pastiche is simply enchanting. With Amy Thurber’s charming pen and ink drawings scattered throughout, and the feel of coastal Westport on every page, the whole package is a gem.
And it ain’t just a kids book — they suggest ages “12 to 112” and that’s probably a good description. This is a 145-page chapter book, for maybe 6th grade and up — actually, adults will probably marvel and appreciate this work more than young kids.
When Fred Thurber emailed me about his book recently, I told him to send me a copy. Honestly, I didn’t expect to be so captivated. I was in love by Page 1. This is, quite literally, Westport in a storybook, from two people who clearly know and love the nature of our area.
In fact, the couple has a Westport-grown romance: they met at Partners Village Store in Westport, where Amy worked in the ’90s.
Amy, who graduated in 1988 with a degree in Illustration from RISD, told me: “I didn’t read the original until I met Fred as an adult. His enthusiasm for ‘The Wind in the Willows’ was contagious.”
I asked what she meant by that.
“Fred, like Mr. Toad, has ‘enthusiasms’ — which is to say, he gets into a subject in a big way, and carries those around him into his latest passion. These can last many months, and sometimes decades,” she told me.
(Fred told me, “My wife thinks I am Mr. Toad, and she may not be too far wrong.”)
“When I met him, it was fishing and bird-watching, then bird photography, heirloom roses, and now rhododendrons,” she said. “He’s always loved ‘The Wind in the Willows,’ and when we were newly married we had a ‘Peeper Party,’ where our guests were wined and dined, then led into the swamp to be treated to a frog chorus by the Spring Peepers.”
Oh my God, I love that so much. Hosting a Peeper Party, as the kids would say, is #Goals.
The idea for the book started when Fred was “laid up in bed for three weeks with a chainsaw injury,” he told me. “Saw hit my foot, and I needed 22 stitches.” (Welp, I guess there’s an upside to everything.)
“I was casting about for subject to write about and decided on a pastiche of ‘The Wind in the Willows.’ It would allow me to write about the river that I love, and incorporate many of the nature observations I’ve made in the last 30 years.
“Every place is in the book is based on real locations in our area: The River, of course, is the Westport River. The Beach is Horseneck Beach. The Point is Westport Point. The Inn is the Paquachuck Inn… Montaup Hill is the Native American name for Mt. Hope in Narragansett Bay. Hen & Chickens Reef is the Hen & Chickens Reef off Westport. The Island really exists, but I dare not aggravate my animal friends any more by disclosing its exact location …suffice it to say, it’s within sailing distance of Westport.”
The storm in the book is “an amalgam of various hurricanes” from SouthCoast history, he said, including Hurricane Bob, Hurricane Carol and the Hurricane of ’38.
“The Ode to Toad” in the book was “mostly written while I was biking at night near Demarest Lloyd State Park” in Dartmouth. And — this is so amazingly SouthCoast — parts of the books were edited in the Azores, where they were staying with friends.
Born in 1954, Fred Thurber grew up in Providence, R.I., and “commercial fished in the Sakonnet/Westport area for striped bass for a few years after high school. I quit that and went to Brown, graduating in ’83. I moved to Westport about 1989. I wrote a weekly or almost weekly nature column from about 1990 to 2010. My articles appeared in the Chronicle, East Bay News, and (Op Ed nature pieces) in the ProJo.”
Amy said her “Wake” illustrations “were inspired by the drawings I did for Fred’s nature columns… I attempted to create visual puzzles that carried clues to what may occur during each chapter.”
Amy “grew up surrounded by acres of woods and fields. My childhood was centered in the outdoors. I studied Illustration at RISD in the late 80s, then moved to Little Compton, (then) Westport and Dartmouth. I worked at Partners Village Store in the ’90s when it still baked its own bread, carried beekeeping, beer and wine making supplies. I became very connected to the community, and look back on that time behind the counter with great fondness. It also happens to be the place where Fred and I met.”
What does she love most about this story?
“I love the young characters and the way they grow and develop throughout the story. Fred took the best of the original characters and made them into great parents… I also love the natural history. Many of the observations Fred describes were inspired by events on our family walks.”
The books are apparently selling like hotcakes — they’re now in their fifth printing, Fred said. “In the Wake of the Willows” is currently available locally at DeDee Shattuck Gallery in Westport, Davoll’s General Store in Dartmouth, Courtyards in Tiverton, Titcomb’s Bookshop in East Sandwich, and on Amazon.”