Manchester author, 94, pens children’s book | News

MANCHESTER — Like 19th century London’s Beatrix Potter before her, Manchester author Katharine Abbott’s new book, “Henrietta,’” was inspired by a little woodchuck nibbling lettuce in her Manchester garden.

“At first I wrote it long,” says the 94-year-old author, “but then it evolved over time into a sweet little book about a woodchuck that seemed just right for children.”

Abbott knows from which she speaks. Mother of four and grandmother of five, she’s logged plenty of bedtime reading in her day, so she knows what captures a little one’s interest. However, it wasn’t she turned 90 that she turned her talents to writing children’s books, including the illustrated “A Zoo Full of Rhymes” which she self-published in 2020.

Abbott may be 94, but she is no late-life bloomer. She has been reading, writing and rhyming since she was a child, and, after graduating from Vassar College, she added editing to the list with a two-year course at Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study in Cambridge.

Before moving to Manchester in 1956, she and her late husband, former Gloucester Daily Times editor Gordon Abbott, raised their children in Annisquam, and she wrote a column for the Times about “picking blueberries and what the children got up to.” She also — and this was before Julia Child came to own the words — she wrote a weekly cooking column for the Times called “Bon Appetit!”

Like her mother — Katharine Stanley-Brown, a writer and editor in New York City — Abbott has had a long and varied career as writer and editor that included three cook books. In “A Zoo Full of Rhymes” she had written about a menageries of exotic animals. But she had never, in her memory of her, written about a woodchuck. But then along came that lettuce nibbling creature she called “Henrietta.”

Like Beatrix Potter’s carrot-poaching Peter Rabbit, Henrietta gets herself into more than a spot of trouble when her nocturnal munchies lead her to a delicious garden owned by the parents of a sweet little girl named Lily. and things get very troubling indeed for Henrietta when she comes a cropper of Lily’s garden-proud mother. But in the end, the resourceful little woodchuck learns the rewards of bravery, honesty and—through Lily—friendship.

“Henrietta,” like “A Zoo Full Of Rhymes” was illustrated by “the wonderful” Vermont artist Kristin Richland, who specializes in animals and created all the animals that inhabit Abbott’s two children’s books.

Abbott, who writes under the pen name Katharine Stanley-Brown Abbott, has also written two books about her lifelong love of her family’s summer home on Nantucket, and says that the story of “Henrietta almost wrote itself.”

It didn’t, of course.

But when a writer is as seasoned as Katharine Abbott, the writing just seems to come easily.


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