BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Amelia Bedelia is famous, perhaps infamous is a more appropriate word, for putting dusting powder on furniture, putting out light bulbs on clothes lines, and looking for cutlery in the roadway while out driving. She can also bake delicious pies, which saves the day more than once.
On Tuesday, Dec. 1, Herman Parish, the nephew of Peggy Parish, the author of the beloved children's book series chronicling Amelia Bedelia's misadventures, came to Mary Kay McMillan Early Childhood Center. Students and teachers hung on his every word as he talked about his aunt and the books she and he have written about the oh so very literal character.
When Peggy Parish died at the age of 61, in 1988, after finishing her 12th book in the series, it seemed as though that was the end of the beloved children's book series, Herman Parish told the children.
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But, for years "we got two thousand letters a year from children looking for a new Amelia Bedelia book," the Princeton resident said. After lots of thinking, note-taking and hard work, he wrote and published the first of his Amelia Bedelia books.
Parish said his aunt used to take real-life incidents and turn them into stories about Amelia Bedelia. He thinks that his aunt even came up with the idea of a literal-minded housekeeper after hearing stories about her grandparents' maid. The Rogers, her grandparents, had lots of household help, but one of them "was hopeless with housework," Parish said. When asked to sweep around the room, that was what she would do, leaving dust and dirt in the center, as she only swept along the perimeter of the room. He said he thinks Amelia Bedelia was modeled on this maid and her employers, Mr. and Mrs. Rogers, at the very least, took their names from his aunt's grandparents.
Parish, a former Summit resident, said when he decided to write his first Amelia Bedelia book, he carried a small notebook around with him so he could record odd happenings. One day, while driving with his wife, who was following directions on a map to their destination, they came to a "T" intersection. Parish said he asked if he should turn left, and his wife said "right."
He asked the children, "What do you think my wife meant?" and many of them thought she meant he was correct, he should turn left, while others thought she meant he should turn right. Parish thought she meant turn right and soon they were lost. They eventually turned around and, while discussing his driving, he claimed his wife said, "Left is right."
That statement prompted giggles all around from his audience. Parish said before getting out of the car, he scribbled "left is right" in his notebook and, later, thought of other silly driving misunderstandings that Amelia Bedelia might make, which is where he came up with having her searching for forks on the street, when told to turn "left at the fork," or not turning right when told "bear right." All of which appeared in "Good Driving, Amelia Bedelia," his first book in his series.
It's hard to keep 100 youngsters captivated, but a special appearance by Amelia Bedelia, who dropped by to bring some "dressed" chickens in for lunch, did the trick. The chickens were very fancy, one wore a tux, the other a lovely dress. She also dusted some students and teachers, then went back at Parish's insistence and "undusted" them. She even brushed a teacher's hair - with a very large brush, much to the amusement of the students.
Parish has gone on to write many more books than his aunt did about Amelia Bedelia -- but not just as a housekeeper. He's written other, Level 1 readers, about her as a first grade student and chapter books about her as a fourth grade student.
Following the talk and slide show, he posed for some photos, then went back to the library to sign hundreds of pre-ordered books and got ready for a second presentation for another group of students.