Monday Magpie: Mike Mulligan edition

woodcut illustration of boy with Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel

[text: Robert was quite sure that Mike was his best friend. And because he loved Mike so very much Robert thought that the whole library had been built as a house for Mike. He always called the library “Mike’s house.” He never said, “I’m going to the library.” He always said, “I’m going to Mike’s house.”]

This is a page from Julia Sauer’s Mike’s House, published fifteen years after Virginia Lee Burton’s Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and fourteen years before Ramona Quimby asked how Mike Mulligan goes to the bathroom while he is digging the cellar for the town hall. I ran across Mike’s House at the university library– I liked Sauer’s Fog Magic as a kid and wanted to check out The Light at Tern Rock.

Mike Mulligan’s fame and longevity blow me away. There’s not even a note in Mike’s House explaining that Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel is a real book or giving the author’s name. Mike Mulligan just is. And once you know the story, he continues to live, unnamed, in the news:

Seattle construction-crane operators cope with stress, no bathrooms
“He says the most common question people have is how he goes to the bathroom up there.”

The bizarre secret of London’s buried diggers
“The difficulty is in getting the digger out again. To construct a no-expense-spared new basement, the digger has to go so deep into the London earth that it is unable to drive out again. What could be done?” (The reality is less cheery than Dick Berkenbush’s solution.)

You know what else has longevity? Don’t Stop Believin’. This Boomwhacker version has been in my head for days since I ran across it at TYWKIWDBI. I watched it all the way through on a difficult news day and felt better, that people do stuff like this, work on it until they can do it off book in one take.


Southeast Portland was very foggy when I went out to catch my bus this morning. I was glad when someone else came to stand at my bus stop, because if there were two of us the driver would see us and stop, right? (It worked.)

I like how fog lends solitude to a walk, even in the city. It’s like snow– everything is quieter. When I’m cross-country skiing, the most popular trails on Mt. Hood feel uncrowded (partly because sound is dampened and partly because I’m watching my feet a lot). I suppose for some people fog is just a pain, like snow is a pain for commuters, but for me it hasn’t lost its magic.

And fog is so literary. When I got to the Hawthorne Bridge, I couldn’t see the west bank from the eastern end of the bridge. People were taking photos (I’m no photographer, but that struck me as futile!). The fog made me want to smuggle something, made me think of Huck Finn and Poldark.

But the book I always think of when I step into a fog is Julia Sauer’s Fog Magic. Its status as a Newbery Honor book in 1944 is probably what kept it in print; I still have the Pocket Books paperback I got in the late 1970s. It’s a quiet story about a girl who loves the fog, and who finds that on foggy days she can slip back in time to a long-ago village. Her adventures start when she sees through the fog the outline of a house where there has been only a cellar hole for many years.

I just found a sweet web tribute (angelfire, that’s a time-trip itself!) to Julia Sauer, her partner, and the Nova Scotia village the book was based on:

Julia was a Librarian and an Author. Alice was a Fruit Farm Proprietor. It was talked in the village that they were wealthy ladies since they drove a big sports car to the envy of many here at that time….

Julia was a very hospitable lady. She was always so pleasant. She had a quiet, soft voice and a very friendly and welcoming smile. All were drawn to her charisma and charm. She was heavy in stature and both she and Alice dressed in country style attire.

It was a common sight to see them walk along the roads of Little River and stop to visit or chat with folks along their way. Little River was blessed by their kindnesses in many ways.

There are some books that form a quiet, almost unnoticed part of a reader’s DNA. Fog Magic is one of mine.