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Picture of AuthorMiriam Evangeline Mason

Hoosier Connection: Miriam Mason was born in Goshen, Indiana. She lived in Bloomington and then in Batesville until her death.

Works Discussed: Little Jonathan , Sara and the Winter Gift, Smiling Hill Farm

Mason was born on January 23, 1900 in Goshen, Indiana. She later moved to Bloomington where she was a teacher and an assistant magazine editor. She married in 1924 to M.M. Swain, and they had one daughter. Many of Mason’s characters were inspired by her grandchildren, or by her experience of growing up on a farm. She moved to Batesville in the 1940’s and lived there until her death in 1971. She has written more than 57 children’s books in her lifetime.

Mason’s discussion of nature is mostly in regard to the way that nature has sustained human existence. She often describes the many different plants and animals that were available to pioneer families and how they were used as food, medicine, and the like.

One of Mason’s most popular books was Little Jonathan. This was a story of a little boy who is the youngest child in a large family. Throughout the book, the older children are assigned chores to help around the house, but Jonathan cannot help out the way he wants to because he is so small. Jonathan tries hard to find a way to help, but often causes more trouble than anything.

In this story, Jonathan tries to go hunting with some of the men of the house. He is not permitted to go, but there is lengthy discussion of the importance of hunting in preparation for the winter.

People in those days spent most of the summer and fall getting food ready for the wintertime. Pioneer people could not call up the grocery store and have food sent quickly over to them in sacks, ready to cook.... When cold weather came the men of the family went out to hunt. In those days much of the land was still covered with forest. There were wild animals in the forest which made good food. (88-89)

Jonathan was not able to go hunting, but was determined to help out. He decided to find a honey tree.

In those days bees made nests in big, hollow trees. They filled the hollow trees with honey. It had a delicious taste, and all the people loved the wild honey. The bees were very clever about hiding their honey, and it took a smart man to find a bee tree. When a man found a tree which had a bees’ nest in it, he put a mark on the tree to show that it belonged to him.(91)

Mason’s last book, Sara and the Winter Gift is a great example of her experiences growing up on a farm. The story is about Sara Wayne, a girl in Indiana who has moved from Virginia. Because the family does not have much money, they make each other gifts for Christmas. When Sara’s father finds a young raccoon in their barn, he decides that it would be a perfect gift for Sara.

In the beginning of the book, it is April and the forest is awakening from the winter.

The woodland was filled with sound and movement. Sweet, fresh smells roseup from the ground which had been covered with snow and frost a few weeks before.
Birds which had gone away for the winter were back in the Indiana trees searching in the old dead leaves for sleepy bugs.
Busy ants were repairing their homes and getting ready for a summer of hard work. Wasps were starting new nests on tree limbs.
Leaf buds were beginning to unfold on many trees and bushes. The willows were decorated with fluffy yellow catkins which waved in the spring breeze. (1-2)

Many other animals were coming out of their homes and beginning their work. Toads, frogs, turtles and fish were described as they began work building nests and preparing for the birth of young animals. In this scene, a man enters the woods and disturbs the peacefulness of the forest. He walks along smoking and crushing plants, and in the process deliberately kills a couple of garter snakes.

He paid no attention to the yellow pussy willow catkins or the pink arbutus flowers or the gold-colored buds of the spicebush.
He reached down to pull some plants which he would trade for something in the village and as he did so two big wasps landed on his neck and dug sharply with their long stingers.(5)

This passage seems to show that nature was not inclined to let anyone take advantage of it. The other pioneers in this book use the land to sustain themselves, but this man is abusing nature’s gifts. He intends to sell things to become rich, and is ungrateful. Because of this, he is attacked quite viciously by the wasps mentioned in this passage.

The Wayne family uses everything that nature offers and wastes nothing. Even the children know how to use the gifts of nature to the fullest. They gather sassafras roots, ginseng, fennel, catnip and other herbs from the forest to use in cooking and medicine.

Just as it was shown in Little Jonathan that humans must prepare in order to survive the harsh winter, Sara and the Winter Gift shows how animals prepare for and how they survive winter. They must compete with each other for homes and food. The following selection shows the difficulty a young raccoon has finding food in the winter.

He saw no grasshoppers or beetles. The ground was covered and there were no snails or birds’ nest in sight.
He saw a white-tailed deer scraping the snow with her hoof in search of dried grass or green moss. …He looked around for some wild grapes and acorns.
…He remembered the brook which had always been filled with good things to eat. But when he finally got there through the deep snow, the brook was gone. It was frozen over and covered with snow. (80-81)

Another popular book by Mason was Smiling Hill Farm. This book contains the story of the Wayne family farm through three generations, beginning with that of Sara. The story describes the industrialization of the area and the farming business. Machines begin to replace people and horses, brick replaces wood, and asphalt replaces dirt roads.

The Whitewater River is introduced in this book as the foundation of the town that grows in the area surrounding the farm. The river provides transportation to New Orleans where goods and crops can be sold. Flatboats are used to transport these things, and later the new railroad is used. Although the river provides the town with many things, it also takes away from the community. At one point, the river floods and many of the townspeople are left with homes and few belongings.

The most memorable chapter of this book is the one told from the viewpoint of the hill on which the farm was built. In it, the hill describes the many changes that it has seen in the years since the Wayne’s built their home.

“I saw the land when it was covered with a forest where the Indians and animals made their homes,” the hill might say. “I saw the first pioneers come and cut down the great trees to make homes for their families….
“I saw the river rise over its banks when it became angry and wicked, like a mad animal, and tried to destroy what the people had built. But the people would not give up. They built new houses. They built new barns. They plowed once more the wet fields. Some gave up and went away, but there were always others who stayed.
“I saw the railroads come, taking the place of the steamboat and the stagecoach and the slow pack wagon.
“I saw the pike roads become highways- broad highways, as smooth as a city street. I saw men making the highways: cutting down trees, building bridges, cutting away the hills in order that people might travel faster.” (244-245)

Mason’s books are a great way to explain the workings of nature to children. They teach that nature is to be used, not taken for granted. They also how wild animals belong in a certain place, which may or may not be in human homes. Without books and stories such as Mason’s, it would be most difficult to explain the somewhat darker side of nature such as death and natural disasters.



Mason, Miriam E. Little Jonathan. New York: Macmillan, 1944.

Mason, Miriam E. Sara and the Winter Gift. New York: Macmillan, 1968.

Mason, Miriam E. Smiling Hill Farm. New York: The Junior Literary Guild and Ginn Company, 1937

Wonning, Paul. "Batesville Public Library: Biographical Sketches from Batesville: IN". October 7, 2005. http://www.bmpl.cnz.com/bios.html.


Wonning, Paul. "Batesville Public Library: Biographical Sketches from Batesville: IN". October 7, 2005. http://www.bmpl.cnz.com/bios.html,


Batesville Biography Page

Batesville Area Historical Society