There’s something about watching a child read a book you wrote.
It warms the heart.
That intense concentration, that look that says the rest of the world doesn’t exist right now.
Reading was like that for me as a child — I got entirely lost in the worlds of the books I read.
Meet Jian Noa, 10, and younger brother Taj, 7. The brothers attend a French school in Toronto. Taj has been teaching himself to read in English and was proud to be able to read Myrtle.
They and their loving grandmother brought the book for me to autograph, and Taj read the book to me, and we all had a great visit.
Earlier, at a Christmas party hosted by friends in the countryside northwest of Toronto, I had the pleasure of meeting two other readers. In the middle of a room filled with adults — talking, drinking, eating appetizers, moving around — I noticed two children sitting on a sofa reading Myrtle.
Siblings Claire, 6 and Josh, 8, were totally absorbed in the book.
They read every page to each other as if they were the only people in the room.
When I asked what they thought of the book, they both responded with “I loved it.” When I asked why, Claire said: “I love the pictures and all the colours.”
Josh’s response nearly took my breath away: “I loved it because it teaches kids that it’s not how you look, it’s how nice you are that matters”.
Meet some sweet young readers of Myrtle the Purple Turtle!
Above are Elias, almost 5, and Ava, 7, reading the book at their home near Toronto.Their mother Wendy kindly sent this photo and captions it: “Big Sis reading to Elias. It was picture day at school, hence why Elias has a tie on. :)”
And here’s Ava’s review:
And this is Arianna, at home in Wisconsin.
Arianna’s grandmother Karen adds this advice for anyone thinking of buying a copy of the book:
“Buy two. One for your bookshelf and one for your local school.”
Great advice. I’ve also heard from two individuals in the U.S. who told me they each bought an extra copy and gave it to their local library.
A common refrain I hear from adults about Myrtle? It’s this, voiced by Ava and Elias’ mom Wendy:
“Myrtle has such a powerful message and one that Shawn and I try to instil in both our kids. I wish this story was around when I was a kid.”
Thank you, Ava, Elias, Wendy, Shawn, Arianna and Karen!
Please keep sending those photos and reviews from your young relatives and friends, everyone. I love them!
David Walton-Ball opens the door of his summer home, east of Toronto, and is greeted by a child looking up at him:
“Can Sandra come out to play?”
Sandra — you may be surprised to hear — is not a child.
She’s David’s wife, a talented artist whose work hangs in galleries in Canada and Mexico.
Neighborhood children gravitate towards her and she loves them. So she teaches children to create their own artwork.
She and the children have developed a system at her small studio at the summer house.
If this sign is up, Sandra can’t come out to play.
In Mexico where she and David spend the winter, Sandra teaches art to children whose parents can’t afford to pay for lessons.
“We put on Andrea Bocelli and the children sing along.”
San Miguel de Allende is home to many artists from Canada and the U.S.
Years ago, Sandra met Leonard Brooks, an esteemed artist who started the Canadian and American migration to San Miguel. They became friends. That’s one of his paintings behind her, above.
Music playing, the children in her studio sing and paint. This is her gift to them and their families: encouraging the children’s creativity. She introduces them to the styles of Mexican artists such as Frida Kahlo.
You wouldn’t know that, nearly 20 years ago, Sandra was so ill, she was on life support for months. It took her 15 years to start painting confidently again.
Once recovered, she decided to take more risks with her art. And so wherever she is – in Owen Sound, the family’s main base, or in San Miguel de Allende, or here at the summer home near Toronto, she’s painting – doing “gutsier and more experimental work”.
“When something happens to disrupt your life, you recognize that things can happen and you may not get a chance again – so you start taking risks.”
David hired someone to turn half of the garage into a studio with skylights, and there’s been no looking back.
Generations of the Walton-Ball family have lived in Historic Bond Head for about 150 years.
During World War 2, the family planted and supplied potatoes to all their neighbours.
(Another historical tidbit: David’s first ancestor in Canada is the “Walton” for whom Port Hope’s main street is named. Port Hope, a famous heritage community, is near Bond Head.)
Through 50 years of marriage, Sandra has seen how special the place is to David. It’s grown on her.
“I fall in love with it each summer. Each year my garden grows. And now, like Virginia Wolfe, I have a room of my own, so it’s easier to find my heart.”
They love this place for the history, the house, the studio, the family times, the garden and the orchard. Some of the apple trees are more than a hundred years old.
One summer, Monarch butterflies visited Sandra and David here. (Monarchs fly from Mexico all the way to Canada each summer and back.)
“You couldn’t see a leaf,”Sandra says. “The trees were covered with Monarchs.”
That magical event led to this painting….
… and a gift: a butterfly chair from David.
“Perhaps the Monarchs were saying thanks for all your good works with the children in Mexico?” I ask.
“Perhaps,” Sandra replies.
To learn more about Sandra’s work, or to acquire her paintings, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
My ancestors had a saying when asked why some of their relatives had married first cousins:
“Cousin and cousin make good soup.”
The Farncomb family must have made a lot of good soup.
Frederick married his cousin Jane.
Son John married his cousin — another Jane.
Younger son Alfred married his cousin Hannah.
But let’s go back to 1867.
Frederick inherited money from his uncle Thomas Farncomb, the wealthy Lord Mayor of London, England. He and Jane bought more land in Bond Head, and hired a Toronto architect to draw up the plans.
The house was built in 18 months between 1868 and 1869.
Three of the Farncomb sons – William, John and Frederick Edward – became Anglican priests.
Two others – Alfred and Thomas – became doctors.
Alfred became a popular and influential general practitioner in the Newcastle area. His wife Hannah appears to have helped him with the record-keeping. She was a skillful host of weddings and other special gatherings at Ebor House. She was also the organist at the family church, St. George’s Anglican, for 40 years.
In 1895, John, who’d been posted to various Anglican churches in Ontario, returned home to St. George’s as the Reverend Canon John Farncomb … a nice step up from being an ordinary priest, He was a well-respected rector.
He’d married cousin Jane in 1880 and they had five children. Two sons, Frederick Charles and John Robson, went to Trinity College, a prestigious private school in nearby Port Hope that previous Farncombs had attended.
In the summer of 1901, the boys were 16 and 18 years old. They were home for the holidays.
Lake Ontario held tragic memories for their father John and the older Farncombs; John’s brother Charles had drowned at the Bond Head Harbour at 14 years of age.
But there was a nice sandy beach at Bond Head, and it was a popular spot for both adults and young people alike. I imagine that on the first hot days of their summer holidays, the boys could hardly wait to put down their school stuff, shuck off their school uniforms and head to the nearby lake for a swim.
But August 11 was different. Frederick and his brother John did not return home that day. Both drowned in a boating accident in Lake Ontario.
It was as if the world had come crashing down on the Farncombs.
The tragedy made the news far and wide – even the New York Times carried the story.
Parents who have experienced it will tell you that the worst thing that can happen is to lose a child.
Jane and John lost not one, but two children in one day.
Two beloved sons gone.
And now, John and Jane were expected to grieve, but carry on.
Perhaps onlookers thought that a priest and his wife would have some special way of coping with tragedy. Perhaps they thought that with three priests and two doctors in the family, there would be plenty of comfort and strength – that everything would be alright.
But everything was not alright.
The boys died in August 1901, and John, Jane and their remaining children left St. George’s Church before the year was over. John served at another parish for several years.
How did they cope?
One imagines they tried hard to get over the loss.
That they relied on each other, their families and their faith.
But – as happens with many parents who lose a child – Jane fell apart, and, in his own way, so did John. She died in 1914, broken. He followed three years later.
In the century that followed the boys’ deaths, momentous events took place in the world.
The first and second world wars, in which many Canadians fought.
The great depression.
A man landing on the moon.
The cold war between the west and Russia.
And these were just a few.
Ebor House lived through them all. Despite tragedies, it occupied a special place in the Farncomb family – as their ancestral home, and a busy family dwelling to successive generations. It appears to have been full of activity inside and out.
Frederick Farncomb’s granddaughter Helen (daughter of Alfred) married Reginald Le Gresley and they operated the farm.
The huge barn on the property, Newcastle Dairy, produced 1,000 quarts of milk each week.
They hired outside help for the farm and dairy, but the whole Le Gresley family worked there – adults and children alike.
There were also many fun times, especially for the children.
There was a creek nearby for fishing and a beach for swimming.
Neighborhood children to play with. And the knowledge that their parents were within hollering distance from wherever they played.
The records show that Frederick Farncomb died in 1893 and his wife Jane died in 1905.
The house passed to their son Alfred (the doctor) then to Helen, Alfred’s daughter, then to Helen’s son Balfour. He was the last Farncomb to own Ebor House. He held on to the house for some years before selling it to Ron.
Not much was written or said about John and Jane Farncomb in the decades after their deaths, even within the family. Their shared tragedy seems to have haunted their lives to the very end.
As if to make sure their part in the family history was remembered, one or more Farncomb descendants had a memorial stone made for the couple in recent years.
The wording is one of the most moving I’ve ever read.
“Heartbroken on drowning of sons Frederick and John Farncomb.”