A Thorndike great-grandmother publishes first book

Posted March 14, 2010, at 5:16 p.m.

With a bit of luck, you can find the same tribe of Little People who dwell on the Emerald Isle, right here, in the Land of Fir and Pine Trees.

If you don’t believe it, just ask Beverly Murdock of Thorndike.

For 55 years, she has been entertaining three generations of children with her magical bedtime stories about the exploits of a 12-inch-tall elf with pointy ears and bright-green eyes, who nests in a hollow tree on an old farm, somewhere in the Unity area.

His name is Tippy Tom.

If he hadn’t fallen out of a tree into her clothes basket while she was hanging out clothes one fine day, she might never have discovered him. At least, that’s what she has told her four children and eight grandchildren, who grew up hearing hundreds of her spur-of-the-moment stories about the kindly, helpful elf.

Now, she’s spinning more elf stories for “the new ones,” she said, referring to her 11 great-grandchildren.

“The children always say, ‘We want to hear a ‘tell’ story.’” They want me to look them in the eye when I tell them a story. And, I always say, ‘Let’s see what Tippy Tom is doing now,’” she said.

Last year, at the urging of family members and friends, she wrote down seven of her original elf stories. Her goal was to publish them in a book to give as Christmas presents. But she found it wasn’t easy to move from the spoken to the written word.

“I didn’t have the appeal of kids sitting in my lap, with expressions on their faces. It’s hard to get that in the written word. I’m a storyteller, not a writer. Writing for children is more difficult than writing for adults. You have to get down to their level,” she said.

But she persevered.

At age 83, Murdock had her first book, “Tales of a Woodland Elf,” published by North Country Press in Unity. The large, 45-page, glossy-covered paperback is enhanced with eight whimsical, colored-pencil illustrations by Connie Bellet of Palermo.

North Country Press publisher Pat Newell, a friend of Murdock, said she made a special arrangement for the book’s publication.

“This was not a purchasing situation. It was more a self-published book, in which she covered the printing costs,” Newell said. “We didn’t get into the typical author-publisher relationship.”

Murdock was anxious that her last-minute book project would not materialize in time to gift-wrap. But, the luck of the Irish was with her. The first copies arrived on Dec. 23.

She dedicated her book to “my wonderful family to help you remember the magic of our story times.” But the charm of her elf tales promises to extend her storytelling art to many more children and families than her own.

From the get-go, however, Murdock was a reluctant children’s author.

“For years, George was after me to write them down,” she said, of her late husband, George Murdock, who at one time ran the largest table-egg production business in the state. For many years, she worked with her husband in the family business based at their 200-acre farm in Unity, now the home of their youngest son, George Murdock.

For 39 years, she was a volunteer treasurer for the Unity Ambulance Service. She is also a member of the Unity Union Church in Unity.

An elusive elf

Murdock’s character, Tippy Tom, looks like the familiar elves of fairy-tale lore. On his head, he wears a jaunty red hat with a tiny bell sewn to its tip. His feet are shod in shoes that turn up at the toes; his garments are made of green and brown leaves. But in winter, he wears clothes as white as snow.

A resourceful fellow, he has been known to turn a recycled, plastic grocery bag into a raincoat. And, as you might expect, he is mischievous. Murdock tells us he can huff and puff, fill his tummy with air just like a bullfrog and bellow in a deep voice, like a giant.

Her elf, however, is not a malicious sprite. A helper of the forest folk, he is always on the lookout for friends in distress.

Sometimes, he takes on the role of bird rescuer. Once, he healed an eagle’s broken wing, feeding it fish as it recovered. And he pulled an arrow from a wounded wild turkey. He is friends with all the animals of the forest.

“Basically, what I want to do is make kids happy,” Murdock said of her storytelling instinct. “I try to bring in characters that are animals, so kids can understand them. I want an ethical message, of how you should behave with kindness and goodness. This is an expression of loving each other and loving nature, without being Pollyanna-ish.”

Her warm, low-key stories should appeal to youngsters from ages 3 to 9, and to the young at heart.

In an era in which kids are in the path of an avalanche of images from TV, video games and movies, Murdock thinks young children need and appreciate a simple story, and that they will benefit from hearing her elf’s little morality tales, which often end in messages such as, “Take care and always be gentle and good.”

“Grimm’s fairy tales are too cruel. Disney has a lot of horror. I think kids get stimulated enough. … I want stories to be simple — straightforward. I think I have a childlike mind,” she said.

But if elves inhabit our woods and fields, why don’t more humans see them?

Tippy Tom, himself, tells us why:

“Only very special people are ever able to talk to elves or pixies, and only people who have great imaginations. Those who can see funny faces when they look at clouds or hear soft music when the wind gently blows in the trees. People who have patience to watch a spider weave a web and can see wonderful beauty there. … These are the gentle people … the ones who find happiness and wonder all around them. These, too, are the lucky people.

“I’m very humbled about this whole thing and touched that it is taking off,” Murdock said of her book. “So many friends have read it and wanted copies for some of their family.”

But when she learned that Keel Kemper, a fellow member of the Unity Area Rotary Club, had bought a copy for his young daughter, she felt chagrined, she said.

“I told him that he would laugh at the way I wrote about animals,” she said.

Kemper is assistant regional wildlife biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. To her amazement, he e-mailed her a glowing tribute:

“Bev, I have read all the stories. I read two of them last night to Kate [age 5]. She loves them,” Kemper wrote.

“I find it very well written with excellent visuals and descriptions. I love how you handled the stories, especially with the animals. Last night, we read the snowstorm [story] where Tippy Tom curls up with the squirrel and wraps his tail around [him] for warmth. Very clever. … I wouldn’t change one thing. My recommendation is that you write more, a little each day,” he said.

However, like the elusive elf of her tales, many of the hundreds of made-up stories she has told to children over the years have vanished, without a trace.

“A lot I don’t remember,” she said. Nonetheless, she is already jotting down more elf stories for her next book.

“I’ve got three more written. Now when I tell a story to a great-grandchild, I go back and write it down. I want to keep Tippy Tom alive,” she said.

“Tales of a Woodland Elf” costs $12 per copy, plus $2.60 for shipping. Books can be purchased by writing Beverly Murdock, P.O. Box 166, Unity, Maine 04988, or e-mailing bevmurdock@uninets.net.

Lynn Ascrizzi is a poet, gardener and freelance writer who lives in Freedom.

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