Karen Kilcup: The Envious Lobster began around 2010, when I was finishing my book Fallen Forests. As I explored nature writing and environmental writing by American women, I found that many of them had contributed children’s texts to famous nineteenth-century periodicals. Fallen Forests was already too long, so I decided I’d have to do another project exploring children’s environmental literature (forthcoming in May 2021 as Stronger, Truer, Bolder: American Children’s Writing, Nature, and the Environment). In 2013, students in my graduate seminar, Literature and the Environment, researched several prominent children’s magazines and located some significant texts, which we compiled into an unpublished anthology. An influential university press was interested in publishing the collection online, but the students (many of them parents) insisted that they wanted their work to be free and open-access. This online version started with their work, and I’m grateful to them: Michael Bedsole, Virginia Eudy, Kathleen Fowler, Megan Latta, Kelia Moore, Ivy Rutledge, Richard Smith, Allison Wilkins, and April Williams.
If I think about The Envious Lobster more personally, I’d have to say that it began even earlier, with my childhood on a New England farm, surrounded by cows, chickens, ducks, sheep, horses (my favorite), and huge vegetable gardens. My cousins and I were never bored!
Celia Hawley: As I considered the kinds of children’s texts I wanted to represent in our anthology, I wondered about other moments in history like those of the 2020 pandemic which we are experiencing. What was being written and read, for example, during America’s time of strife and struggle in the years of the Civil War? I never realized how much anti-slavery sentiment was committed to writing for children, and was excited to find and edit those inspiring words. I accompanied these pieces with others that simply charmed me.
Maggie Kelly: As I selected pieces for this anthology, I was repeatedly influenced by my own two small children; all the pieces I have included on this website are stories, poems, and images that I felt my children would enjoy. I hope your children (or your inner child) enjoy them as well!
Kristina Bowers: The selections I curated for this collection reflect my evolving interests in 19th century literature with subjects including: Industrialization, disease, didactic literature for children, natural history, and animals. This project allowed me to reflect on nature both in literature and in my own life in new and meaningful ways. As my colleagues have mentioned, many obscure children’s periodicals are deserving of greater scholarly attention. One in particular is The Brownies’ Book, an early 20th century children’s magazine made for black children, or “The Children of the Sun.” Positive depictions of black children, both real and in fiction, remains an important and essential project in children’s literature.
Catherine Bowlin: Most of my selections for this anthology come from The Brownies’ Book, which fascinated me immediately upon my initial reading. I hope my contributions to this anthology shed light on the nuanced intersections of nature writing, children’s writing, and environmental racism. Growing up barefoot on a farm, I personally relate to much of the content in this anthology; just like many of the children authors featured in The Envious Lobster, I too am awe-struck by the natural world.
Jessica Abell: Before working on The Envious Lobster I had never considered the work and research that goes into creating an anthology. It is fulfilling work that can be very difficult at times, as I have learned in this very limited space of time. As I selected the pieces for The Envious Lobster, I usually began by wandering aimlessly through 19th century children’s periodicals until I found something that either I found interesting or lovely, or was something I thought that my children would be fascinated by. I was led to many unexpected pieces a that I thoroughly enjoyed and hope others will as well.
Kathryn T. Burt: Growing up, my favorite stories were always those that featured animal protagonists or—at the very least—included an animal sidekick. As I made my selections for our anthology, I sought out stories, poems, and nonfiction articles that would speak to the relationships we develop with animals throughout our lives. I hope you enjoy these furry, squishy, fluffy, scaly, chirpy, splashy, feathered, and absolutely wild stories!
Abby Army: I’ve always loved nature poetry. It spoke to me as a young poet, striving to figure out how to write the world around me. When we started the class and this project, we were asked to consider the meaning of nature and the environment. I felt that those two interconnected ideas provide us with the framework to create amazing art. As I worked on this anthology, I tried to find a selection of poems and stories that not only interested me but also described the world in the way that I see it. I truly hope you find even more wonder and delight in the world as you read the selections we have provided!
Ian McLaughlin: I have loved my time working on The Envious Lobster. It has been more fun and more challenging than I would ever have anticipated. I am an eclectic soul and this project has allowed me to indulge many of my interests, including Native American literature, the oral tradition, ancient stories, and popular culture.
I would like to give a special thank you to Betty Martin and Johnson Brody at the Octavia Fellin Public Library in Gallup, New Mexico for helping me access their extensive Southwest collections to find the right Native American folklore for The Envious Lobster.
Will Smith: As a medievalist, 19th and 20th century children’s poetry had not been on my radar prior to working on The Envious Lobster. That being said, as I explored the volumes of Our Young Folks, I was pleasantly surprised to the influence of medieval literature within its pages. I never expected to stumble upon accounts of cats and turkeys being described as valiant knights, but my life is richer for having read them.
Josh Benjamin: Nineteenth-century American literature is one of my favorite periods, but this project demonstrated how much of it I had never come across before—particularly from some exceptional women authors. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any Herman Melville (my favorite author) published for children. Still, I was surprised to encounter a great deal of material that is just as complex. Many of the authors represented here did not simplify their writing for a young audience. While I probably spent too much time doing it, I thoroughly enjoyed poring over 1800s newspapers and getting a glimpse of people’s daily reading at the time.
Jessica Cory: My love of the outdoors was fostered by my parents, both of whom grew up on farms in Appalachian Ohio. They willingly shared our home with the many critters I fell in love with at a young age: gerbils, parakeets, fish (which never seemed to last long), and the stray cats I inevitably begged into staying (and their later litters). We used to walk at a nearby nature preserve and noticed that the continual urban sprawl resulted in fewer deer each year. We planted pumpkins and tomato/es in our tiny apartment lot, and I’d come in at night, hands varnished in sap after climbing the lone pine tree that towered over our communal backyard. These early experiences showed me how interconnected humans are with nature; that’s it not humans vs. the environment, but an intertwined kinship, an interdependent ecology.
Mary Miller: I am an environmentalist studying for an MS degree at UNCG. I came across this project when I enrolled in a directed reading class with Dr. Kilcup. I love to read, so I jumped at the chance to drink from a fire-hose of creative writing. Working on The Envious Lobster project has given me a view into the amazing wealth of literature written for and by children related to nature. I am astonished at the level of literacy young people had in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Looking for material has become an obsession, and I can spend hours happily chasing material.