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Friday, May 7, 2021

Stocking - How the Bluebird Was Chosen Herald - Keeping the Public in Public Domain

It's Mother's Day on Sunday.  Rather than a story about mothers, I want to honor something I remember my mother doing with me when I was quite little, probably my earliest memory.  She would take me on walks identifying plants and birds.  It's given me a lifelong interest in "What's that?!?"

Here back in 2017, a book she read me called When the Root Children Wake Up was mentioned in relation to plant identification.  In 2017 it was 111 years old and is still being published.  There now are two different versions with either the original or new illustrations.  Right now is a perfect time to contact your nearby park naturalist as wildflower walks are happening seemingly everywhere!  

Something else I'm noticing lately is how walking anywhere outside in the daytime is accompanied by bird song.  Songbirds migrate and they are clearly back.  Mom not only had bird identification books, but eventually added tapes to help her identify them by their song.  

I confess I'm nowhere near as good at identifying them by either song or sight, but I keep trying. 

Oakland County blog "Homes for Bluebirds on the Polly Ann Trail"
 Today's story has birds commonly seen, except, possibly, the Bluebird of the title.  Hiking local county parks reveals volunteer-maintained bluebird houses.  I've thought of adding one to my own yard since they're good at catching mosquitoes.  It also might give me opportunity to see more than just a flash of its too rarely seen blue body.  Even as it flies past, if it wasn't for that bit of blue, you might mistake it for a robin with its similarly colored chest.  

Today's story's varied birds each have definite personalities matching the birds in real life.  It makes telling the story fun to bring each to life.  The story has a frame of a boy talking to the "Wise-and-Wonder-Man."  Like most literary frames introducing and closing a story, it's often best to remove it for storytelling.  I'm going to do that here, but include a parting comment that ends the story.  In between I will insert a photo of the bird as it is mentioned.  In telling the story it helps to have that bit of a visual, especially for young listeners.  If the children are familiar with birds, you can first show the picture to see if they know what it is.  You can even have a bit of Readers Theater, having children assigned a specific bird.  They can go from the easiest participation by just holding up their bird whenever it's mentioned up through fullest involvement reading that bird's part if they can manage it.

For additional audience participation, the brief verse about the herald is easily learned or read.  Check if the word "herald" is unfamiliar.  You might get an answer about the name, Harold!  Children can enjoy the idea of Spring being like a king with a bird, as herald, announcing his arrival.

All birds photos were found on, an excellent source for photos available to download.  To help shorten captions, I removed that from their captions, only giving photographer credit.  The Unsplash site is an online way to publicize photographer work and, hopefully, find even more work.

At the story's end I'll say a little more about the author and where I found it.  In storytelling I would not give the title as it reveals more than it should, although eventually it's obvious how the story should end to be satisfactory.


Jay T. Stocking

“You know there are four spirits of the year, Springtime, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. Some folks call them seasons, but they are really spirits. Of all four spirits, Springtime is the favourite. He had been coming to the earth every year for a great many years, year after year, when he got it into his head that it would be a fine thing and quite becoming to his dignity to have a herald,—some one to carry his colours and play the fife. At first he thought of the fragrant flowers, they could bear his colours. But he reflected that they could not play the fife. Then he thought of the buzzing bee; he might be taught to play the fife. But he remembered that he would not do, because he could not carry the colours. So he decided that he must have a bird.

“Springtime, being a very lively and practical spirit, called the birds together that very morning. He asked them all to meet him by the Great Rock under the Great Tree by the Great Bend of the Big River. They all came—birds of every size and colour and description. He sat on the Great Rock while the birds sat on the grass and listened with wide, round, blinking eyes and with heads cocked to one side.

“He made a speech to them of some length. He told them that he desired a herald to carry his colours and to play the fife. Of course, the bird to be chosen should be handsome and musical. But he must be more than all that. He wanted a bird of exceptionally good character, in fact, the very best bird that could be found. He did not expect to find a perfect bird, he said, but he desired a bird as nearly perfect as he could obtain. He concluded his speech by saying that his herald should be:

“‘Both handsome and happy, gifted and good,

And as modest as modest can be.

The very best bird that flies in the wood,

I would that my herald be he.’

The choice, he said, he would leave to the birds as they knew each other thoroughly.

“The birds put their heads together and talked in at least forty different languages. Finally, their spokesman told Springtime that they were content to leave the selection to a committee of six whom he might name. As Springtime wanted to be on good terms with all the birds, he thought it not best that he should appoint the committee. He pulled a handful of grass and held it tightly between his hands just so that the ends would stick out, and then he asked the birds to come up, one by one, and pull out a blade. The six who should draw out the shortest blades of grass were to be the committee.

“They walked up one by one, and drew. 

by Jesse van Vliet

Mr. Crow drew the shortest blade and so was the chairman. 






Mr. Parrot came next,

by Dušan veverkolog

then Mr. Blue Jay, 

by Aaron Doucett





Mr. Robin, 

by Gary Bendig






 Mr. English Sparrow, 

by Valentin Balan

and Mr. Bluebird. 

by Satyawan Narinedhat






It was a strange committee, to be sure, of all sizes and kinds of birds.

“That very evening the six birds met in a corner of Mr. Farmer’s orchard upon a dead branch of an old apple tree. They talked and talked and talked. They discussed all the birds that they knew, spoke of their good qualities and their bad ones.

“At last, as it grew late, very late, almost eight o’clock, and they had come to no conclusion, Mr. Bluebird proposed that they should vote, and all agreed. But how should they vote? That was the next question. Mr. Bluebird suggested that each one, as his name was called, should stand up and say which bird he thought was best fitted to be the herald. Mr. Crow cleared his throat and said that he did not think this was the wisest way. He thought it better, he continued, that each one should write the name of his choice on the under side of a leaf. The other members of the committee agreed with Mr. Crow. Each bird, therefore, took a leaf, and wrote a name upon it, and Mr. Bluebird counted the votes. There was one vote for Mr. Crow, one vote for Mr. Parrot, one for Mr. Blue Jay, one for Mr. Robin, one for Mr. English Sparrow, and one for—I don’t remember whether it was for Mr. Song Sparrow or Mr. Bobolink. Would you believe it?—every bird except the bluebird had voted for himself. The bluebird knew, because he knew the foot-writing of all the birds. He had seen it in the soft sand by the water.

“It was certain that they were not going to be able to decide among themselves who should be chosen, so Mr. Bluebird made another suggestion.

“‘I recommend,’ he said, ‘that we go and consult the old Wizard, Mr. Owl, who holds court every night by the light of the moon in the hollow of a great grey tree over the ridge. He is the wisest of birds and knows everything. I have heard, too, that whenever there is a star with a tail in the sky he can read your fortunes and your character. Now it so happens that at this very time there is in the sky a star with a tail, for I saw it this morning. Little Bluey, my eldest child, woke up very early and I had to fly out to get him a worm to keep him quiet. Just as I was starting, long before sunrise, I saw the comet. I propose that we go at once and consult the Wizard and let him decide for us who should be the herald.’

“‘It seems to me,’ said the crow, ‘that this is a most excellent suggestion. The Wizard is certainly a very wise bird. I have heard of him and doubtless he has heard of me. By all means, let us go.’

“It was decided then and there that they should go that very night, just as soon as the comet rose. Mr. Bluebird was to give the signal because he knew where to look for the comet.

“At the proper moment Mr. Bluebird shook them all by the wing and woke them up, and they started, Mr. Crow going first, then Mr. Parrot, Mr. Blue Jay, Mr. Robin, Mr. English Sparrow, and Mr. Bluebird.

“They flew and they flew and they flew, for it was a long way and a hard way to find, and not one of the six had ever been out so late in his life. When they reached the wood they were obliged to fly very carefully, so that they should not bump their heads against the trees, and so that they might be able to read the signs along the way. At length they spied a great grey tree, with a dimly lighted window in it, far up the trunk. Mr. Crow read the name on the door-plate and announced that they had reached the right house. There was no door-bell so Mr. Crow scratched three times,—scratch, scratch, scratch.

“‘Who-who?’ came from within.

“‘Friends,’ said the crow, ‘six friends come to consult the Wizard.’

“The latch was promptly lifted and the six birds walked solemnly in and up the stairs.

by Mehmet Turgut Kirkgoz

“They found themselves in a little dark round room with seats against the sides. Mr. Owl sat over on one side, his great fluffy coat turned up at the neck and his fluffy hood pulled down to meet it. He had his spectacles on and was reading by the light of his lamp,—that is, it looked like a lamp, but Mr. Owl explained later that it was not a lamp but the comet’s light which he caught through a knot-hole.

“The Wizard received them pleasantly and motioned to them to be seated. Mr. Crow sat down in front of the Wizard at his right, then the others in order, Mr. Bluebird sitting at the left.

“‘It is very late,’ observed the owl. ‘It must be most important business that brings you to me at this hour of the night.’

“‘It is,’ replied the crow, ‘exceedingly important business, indeed.’

“Then in plain and emphatic words he told the Wizard what their errand was. He repeated as nearly as he could the speech of Springtime, especially the last words:

“‘Both handsome and happy, gifted and good,

And as modest as modest can be.

The very best bird that flies in the wood,

I would that my herald be he.’

“He told the Wizard of their inability to decide who should be chosen and of their conclusion to leave the choice to him. This was the reason of their visit.

“Then the owl looked grave as a judge and remarked, ‘It seems to me in this situation that the first thing to be done is to secure the opinion of each of you as to who is the fittest bird to be chosen. Mr. Crow, will you be so good as to give us your opinion?’

“Mr. Crow stood up, cleared his throat, and said, ‘To speak quite frankly, it seems to me that I, myself, should be chosen. It is scarcely possible to find a better bird.’

“‘What makes you think so?’ asked the owl dryly.

“‘My wife,’ said the crow. ‘Only to-day Mrs. Crow said to me, “Mr. Crow, my dear husband, you are a perfect man, unless—”’

“‘Unless what?’ inquired the Wizard, raising his eyebrows.

“‘I don’t recollect,’ replied the crow, ‘in fact, I didn’t hear distinctly, but I am sure it was something unimportant,’ and he sat down.

“‘Mr. Parrot,’ said the Wizard, ‘your opinion, if you please.’

“‘It is my opinion,’ said Mr. Parrot, ‘that I am the bird who should be chosen. I have heard myself talk on many an occasion, and I am sure that I speak both wisdom and wit. In modesty, I forbear to say more.’

“‘Mr. Blue Jay!’ called the Wizard.

“‘Since you ask me, Mr. Wizard, for my honest opinion I am bound to say that I feel that I am the only bird for this position. I have been looking in the glass to-day; in fact, I see myself in the glass very often, and I have never yet observed a single fault in myself. There is no bird who can say more.’

“‘Mr. Robin, if you please.’

“Mr. Robin arose with his fingers in his armholes: ‘I am quite convinced, Mr. Wizard, from much observation, that I should be made the herald. I am handsome and gifted, if I do say it myself. Besides, I live in the best of society; I dwell in the Bishop’s orchard. This very day I heard the Bishop say, “That robin is a fine, handsome bird,—as fine and handsome as a Bishop.” I am sure that recommendation is enough.’

“‘Mr. English Sparrow.’

“‘I am sure, Mr. Wizard,’ said the sparrow, speaking very rapidly and excitedly, ‘that while I am not so big as some of these who have spoken, I have a better claim than any of them to this high office. For I have long made it a practice to study carefully the faults and weaknesses of all the other birds, and I know that I have none of these failings.’

“‘Mr. Bluebird,’ said the Wizard, ‘what have you to say?’

“‘Nothing, Mr. Wizard. I have not made up my mind. I leave the matter entirely to your eminent wisdom and judgment.’ And he sat down.

“‘Well,’ said the owl, after a moment’s deliberation, ‘the next thing to do under these circumstances seems to be to read your fortunes, that is, your characters, in the light of the comet. I shall ask you, one by one, to step up on this judgment-seat at my left, where the light of the comet can fall on you and where I can see you plainly. Mr. Crow, will you be the first?’

“Mr. Crow stepped up to the judgment-seat very confidently, while the Wizard put on his spectacles and turned the lamp so that the light fell full upon the glossy feathers of the large black bird. It was a revolving seat, which the Wizard turned round and round slowly so that he could see all sides of the bird. ‘A fine bird,’ he said, very deliberately, as if thinking aloud, ‘a perfect bird, unless—unless what?—let me see—ah, a slant in the left eye—in both eyes—a very decided slant—very sly—very cunning—inclined to steal—very much inclined to steal—a thief, in fact; steals Mr. Farmer’s corn and peas—especially in the early morning when nobody is around—a very bad fault—one of the worst. I am quite sure, Mr. Crow, that Springtime would not choose you for his herald—he could not trust you. That will do. Mr. Parrot!’

“Mr. Parrot walked up very sedately and took his place on the judgment-seat. The Wizard gazed at him gravely and stroked his back. ‘Fine feathers—green, red—yellow—fine feathers—rather small head—large tongue—large tongue, small head—talks more than he thinks—talks very much more than he thinks—talks often without thinking—says what he hears others say. Tongue rather harsh, too—and blisters at the end—bad words! bad words! I am sorry to say, Mr. Parrot, that I cannot recommend you as herald. People would not be glad to see you year after year. That will do. Mr. Blue Jay!’

“The blue jay stepped up very jauntily and took the seat.

“The Wizard looked at him admiringly, for he was clad in a beautiful tailor-made suit that fitted him to perfection. ‘A handsome bird,’ he said, ‘a handsome bird,—that is, handsome clothes. Eye very good, too—a little slant, a little slant—but on the whole a good eye. Let me see, what is this on the back of the head? these long feathers?—oh, a crest! I see. Just for decoration. A vain bird, vain as a peacock—and like all vain people, hard to get along with—and very unfriendly—likes to flock alone—other folks not quite good enough. I regret to inform you, Mr. Blue Jay, that Springtime would not desire you as his herald. That will do. Mr. Robin!’

“The robin hopped up on the seat in his fine dress suit and red shirt-front, his chest inflated and his eyes shining. The Wizard looked at him intently for some time, then he began, ‘You are the Bishop’s friend, you say. Let me see—a bright red spot on your bill—the Bishop’s cherries, I should say—but we’ll let that pass. Eye very suspicious—very suspicious—always looking even among your best friends, to see if somebody isn’t going to harm you—cannot pull a worm out of the Bishop’s garden without looking around suspiciously all the time. A very unhappy frame of mind to be in—unhappy for you—unhappy for others. You would hardly do for the herald. That will do. Mr. English Sparrow!’

“The English sparrow fluttered up noisily and took his place. ‘You say,’ began the Wizard, ‘that you have not the faults of the other birds.’

“‘Yes,’ said the sparrow, talking very fast, ‘I am not as mean as the crow, and I don’t talk such nonsense as old Polly, and I’m not so stuck up as the jay, and I am not suspicious as the Bishop’s friend is. I haven’t any of the faults of the other birds.’

“The Wizard pushed his spectacles up on his brow, turned the light away, and looked at him, ‘I see,’ he said, ‘I do not need the comet light at all. I could see you in the dark. Sharp bill—sharp tongue—sharp claws, in a continual state of bad temper—very quarrelsome—very unpleasant neighbour; in fact, a common nuisance. That will do, Mr. Bluebird!’

“‘I am sure, Mr. Owl,’ said the bluebird, rising, ‘that I need not take your time. I am not the bird to be chosen, for I know that I am far from being a perfect bird. I have many faults. There are many nobler birds than I from whom Springtime may choose his herald.’

“But the Wizard was quite insistent that the bluebird should come forward where he could read his fortune.

“‘You say that you have many faults,’ remarked the Owl. ‘That may be, but I see by the light of the comet that they are small, very faint indeed. Besides, the ability to see one’s faults and the desire to correct them is the greatest of virtues. There may be better birds, but I am frank to say that I am not acquainted with them. I have no hesitation, Mr. Bluebird, in saying that it is my judgment that you should be the herald of the Spring, for, if you will permit me to say it, it seems that you are

“‘Both handsome and happy, gifted and good,

And as modest as modest can be,’

whereat Mr. Bluebird blushed painfully, while in his heart he was very happy.

“Springtime agreed with Mr. Owl, and posted notices on every tree by the water’s edge that Mr. Bluebird should henceforth be his herald, the first bird of the spring.

“There is one now on the branch of that old tree,” said the Wise-and-Wonder-Man. “He is carrying the colours and playing the fife.”


If you should wonder how that Bluebird sounds, announcing Spring, “it always sounds to me as if he were saying, ‘Pur-i-ty, pur-i-ty,’ but I asked him one day and he said it was only, ‘Spring-is-here, spring-is-here.’”

That was how Jay T. Stocking ended the story.

by Ahmad Omari who says "That look kills me"

Whether to a photographer laughing at a winking owl or an author, birds have long fascinated us.  As natural historian and maker of nature documentaries, David Attenborough, says, "Everyone likes birds.  What wild creature is more accessible to our eyes and ears, as close to us and everyone in the world, as universal as a bird?"

Everyone likes birds. What wild creature is more accessible to our eyes and ears, as close to us and everyone in the world, as universal as a bird?

Stocking, or perhaps I should say Reverend Stocking, as he spent most of his life as a minister even writing one hymn, but he also wrote several books of stories for children and young adults.  Can you imagine how lively his sermons must have been?  Some time I may post more from his Stocking Tales, where this was originally published.  I own that book, but first discovered today's offering in my recent acquisition by the Skinner sisters, Ada M. and Eleanor L., The Emerald Story Book; Stories and Legends of Spring, Nature and Easter.  

I now have their entire year of four jewel-named books.  They are indeed jewels, so I'm delighted to have them to prowl, but my copies are paperback reprints losing the full-color of the Maxfield Parrish frontispiece illustrations.  Today and in the future I find Project Gutenberg online helps save my books and are worth supporting their organization for their many Public Domain books.  So far they don't offer the rest of the "jewels" in the series not linked to the seasons, so I hope they add them soon.

Just as Reverend Stocking found birds worth observing, there also are many quotations about birds, including this appropriate one from the Uruguayan writer, Eduardo Galeano

Each day has a story to -- deserves to be told, because we are made of stories.  I mean,  scientists say that human beings are made of atoms, but a little bird told me that we are also made of stories.

Let us keep those stories alive and in the Public Domain. 


This is part of a series of postings of stories under the category, "Keeping the Public in Public Domain."  The idea behind Public Domain was to preserve our cultural heritage after the authors and their immediate heirs were compensated.  I feel strongly current copyright law delays this intent on works of the 20th century.  My own library of folklore includes so many books within the Public Domain I decided to share stories from them.  I hope you enjoy discovering new stories.  

At the same time, my own involvement in storytelling regularly creates projects requiring research as part of my sharing stories with an audience.  Whenever that research needs to be shown here, the publishing of Public Domain stories will not occur that week.  This is a return to my regular posting of a research project here.  (Don't worry, this isn't dry research, my research is always geared towards future storytelling to an audience.)  Response has convinced me that "Keeping the Public in Public Domain" should continue along with my other postings as often as I can manage it.
Other Public Domain story resources I recommend-
  • There are many online resources for Public Domain stories, maybe none for folklore is as ambitious as fellow storyteller, Yoel Perez's database, Yashpeh, the International Folktales Collection.  I have long recommended it and continue to do so.  He has loaded Stith Thompson's Motif Index into his server as a database so you can search the whole 6 volumes for whatever word or expression you like by pressing one key.
  • You may have noticed I'm no longer certain Dr. Perez has the largest database, although his offering the Motif Index certainly qualifies for those of us seeking specific types of stories.  There's another site, FairyTalez claiming to be the largest, with "over 2000 fairy tales, folktales, and fables" and they are "fully optimized for phones, tablets, and PCs", free and presented without ads.

    Between those two sites, there is much for story-lovers, but as they say in infomercials, "Wait, there's more!"
The email list for storytellers, Storytell, discussed Online Story Sources and came up with these additional suggestions:            
         - David K. Brown -
         - Richard Martin -
         - Spirit of Trees -
         - Story-Lovers - is now only accessible through the Wayback Machine, described below, but the late Jackie Baldwin's wonderful site lives on there, fully searchable manually (the Google search doesn't work), at .  It's not easy, but go to snapshot for October 22 2016  and you can click on SOS: Searching Out Stories to scroll down through the many story topics and click on the story topic that interests you.
       - World of Tales - 
           - Zalka Csenge Virag - doesn't give the actual stories, but her recommendations, working her way through each country on a continent, give excellent ideas for finding new books and stories to love and tell.
You're going to find many of the links on these sites have gone down, BUT go to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to find some of these old links.  Tim's site, for example, is so huge probably updating it would be a full-time job.  In the case of Story-Lovers, it's great that Jackie Baldwin set it up to stay online as long as it did after she could no longer maintain it.  Possibly searches maintained it.  Unfortunately Storytell list member, Papa Joe is on both Tim Sheppard's site and Story-Lovers, but he no longer maintains his old Papa Joe's Traveling Storytelling Show website and his Library (something you want to see!) is now only on the Wayback Machine.  It took some patience working back through claims of snapshots but finally in December of 2006 it appears!
    Somebody as of this writing whose stories can still be found by his website is the late Chuck Larkin -  I prefer to list these sites by their complete address so they can be found by the Wayback Machine, a.k.a., when that becomes the only way to find them.
You can see why I recommend these to you. Have fun discovering even more stories!





Each day has a story to - deserves to be told, because we are made of stories. I mean, scientists say that human beings are made of atoms, but a little bird told me that we are also made of stories.
Each day has a story to - deserves to be told, because we are made of stories. I mean, scientists say that human beings are made of atoms, but a little bird told me that we are also made of stories.

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