Creative Writings of Edith Patch

After finishing her PhD at Cornell in 1911, Patch initiated her career as a writer of natural history for young people. Although nearly 40 when she began this activity, for the next 25 years she was a prolific and respected author of nature literature for juveniles. In all, she published over 100 articles for magazines and wrote or contributed to 17 books for children. She wanted to give scientifically accurate information that would stimulate youthful curiosity. To do so, she spent hours observing wildlife, especially around her Orono home. She devoted the same intensity of observation, verification and study that went into her scientific studies. She had two objectives: to write in an interesting way for children, and to keep faith in her own scientific traditions. In 1913, she published her first book for children, Dame Bug and Her Babies – eighteen fanciful but accurate stories about insects written so that the smallest children could wander through fields or explore crevices with their parents and notice the minute signs of insect presence.

The excitement of discovery that Patch experienced as a child is still felt by readers whose eyes are opened by her descriptions of the natural world: “It was so surprising to find a little clay jug sitting on a willow branch….Just then a queer little creature alighted on the branch….She held something in her mouth and walked up to the jug with a restless shake of her wings and dropped it right in….It was a little green caterpillar.” Thus begins the story of how a wasp, Emmenes fraternus, provides food for its offspring. The child broke off the twig holding the “jug,” took it home and watched until an adult wasp emerged later. The story related the unseen events within the jug. Dame Bug and her Babies was followed by a book of poems, Laddie Tells the Time of Day. These books were published by Pine Cone Publishing Co. in Orono, which appears to have been her own publishing company.

In 1915, Patch began to publish stories and articles on natural history in various children’s magazines and newspapers. Little Folks Magazine, Red Cross News, and John Martin’s Book no longer exist, but the Christian Science Monitor also carried many of her stories in their children’s section. Her next two books, one on insects and one on birds, published by The Atlantic Monthly Press, were written to supplement elementary school science classes. In the introduction to the book on insects, Hexapod Stories, she wrote, “The Hexapods are funny folk who have six feet….They have wings, the grown-up ones do, wonderful wings of many shapes and colors,….And let me tell you this, for this is very important: although hexapods are common and easy to find, there is not one among them all that does not have a story about his life so strange and interesting that he is worth watching just to find out what his story is.”

By the mid-1920s, she had established her reputation as an author of children’s nature literature. In 1926, Macmillan became her publisher for fifteen books: the Holiday Series, focusing on animal and plant life in meadow, hill, seashore and mountain habitats, The Neighbor Series, describing animals in their natural settings, and the Science Readers, covering scientific topics for primary to eighth grade levels.

Well-known nature illustrators provided sketches and line drawings for Patch’s books while local photographers are credited with many of the photographs. It is estimated that over two million copies were published. Schools throughout this country used her books and many were sold abroad.

Contributed by K. Elizabeth Gibbs

From The Maine Entomologist, 4 (2000)