“ONCE UPON A TIME there were two crows who had a nest in a cottonwood tree at Pearblossom.”
In 1944, Aldous Huxley, chronicler of our Brave New World, wrote a children’s book. The Crows of Pearblossom is the story of Mr. and Mrs. Crow’s dream of a family. The Crows crave chicks but their eggs are always eaten by the Rattlesnake living at the foot of their tree. The Crows try and try. When their 297th egg is devoured the Crows resolve to murder the snake. They take wise Mr. Owl into their confidence. He advises them to create two fake eggs from baked earth. These rock eggs are painted to look like Mr Rattlesnake’s now favorite meal. The greedy critter takes the bait. He slithers up the tree, slinks into the nest and eats the stones. The excruciating pain causes him to writhe and thrash about, trying his body in knots. He dies entangled in the tree whose inhabitants he once terrorised.
The delighted Crows hatch and rear “four families of 17 children each”. And a reformed Mr Rattlesnake gets to helping – the Crows use his corpse “as a clothesline on which to hang the little crows’ diapers”.
In 1967, four years after Huxley’s death, the book was published with delightful illustrations by the wonderful Barbara Cooney.
Ariel S Winter explains how the book came to be:
[Huxley’s] sister-in-law’s family lived in the nearby town of Pearblossom, and the Huxleys were often visited by their young niece and nephew, Olivia and Siggy. For Christmas in 1944, Huxley presented Olivia with the short story The Crows of Pearblossom, which mentioned her brother and herself, as well as their neighbors…
After receiving The Crows of Pearblossom as a gift, the five-year-old Olivia returned the manuscript to her uncle requesting that he illustrate it. The manuscript remained in Huxley’s house until it burned down several years later. Fortunately, Olivia’s neighbors the Yosts… had a copy that they preserved.