Laurie Coulter

Laurie's Childhood

As a young person, you may think your childhood is not particularly exciting or special, but it is surprising how often what you experience as a child will influence your life as an adult.

Messing about in Boats

"There is NOTHING — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."

— from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The air mattress in this "let's bury Daddy in the sand" photo took me on my first solo voyage out into Lake Huron, where the lapping water lulled me to sleep until I woke to my parents' shouting from the beach. When I was older, my father taught me to how to "mess about" in sailboats and canoes. Today I still enjoy canoeing and kayaking with my family and friends. Given my love of boats, it's perhaps appropriate that a ship is the subject of my first book for young people, written with Hugh Brewster, 882 ½ Amazing Answers to Your Questions about the Titanic. Oddly enough, my grandmother (sitting behind me in this photo) had a first cousin who was a passenger on the Titanic — Lady Duff Gordon, a famous dress designer.

Reading Anywhere and Everywhere

In this photograph, my cousin Barb is reading to my brother Gary and me on one of my father's World War II army blankets. When I was older, I could often be found sprawled outside on one of these scratchy blankets reading on my own or acting out stories my friends and I had read.

I borrowed most of the books I read from the library bookmobile that stopped outside my elementary school every Thursday afternoon. After I had finished the seven books I was allowed to borrow from the bookmobile, I re-read the books I owned. These worn-out favorites included a series of books called the Junior Classic Series. Depending on my mood, I could pick a story from The Animal Book, Stories of Wonder and Magic, Myths and Legends, Stories from History or Poetry (a glimpse of Sir John Tenniel's terrifying illustration for "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll was guaranteed to send me scooting under the covers). Other books on my bookshelf included some Thornton Burgess books, Anne of Green Gables, Black Beauty, a few Katy Did books, a Maggie Muggins or two, and The Secret World of Og. Many of the stories I read took place in an earlier time, which I suspect sparked my lifelong interest in history.

Hats Off to History

"...it was a storehouse of unimagined treasures."

— from "The Lumber-Room," a story in The Story-Teller: Thirteen Tales by Saki

As well as reading books set in the past, I could actually visit the past in my grandparents' attic. The third floor of their house in Peterborough, Ontario, was full of possessions dating back to the 19th century, from butterfly collections and stuffed owls to old toys, scrapbooks, furniture, clothes and, as you can see from this photo, hats. Like all women of her era, my grandmother wore hats on special occasions.

While doing the research for Cowboys and Coffin Makers, I learned that millions of wild birds were killed in North America for their feathers, which were then sold to hatmakers. One aim of the early wildlife conservation movement in the late 1800s was to persuade women to stop wearing feathered hats. It worked. How many people do you see wearing feathered hats today?

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