When Beacon Hill kids (and their parents) sit down to read “Dream Wizard: Escapes!!” – the second in a series of children’s books by a former neighborhood resident – they will undoubtedly recognize many places in their backyard from another beloved children’s story.
Dr. Alexander Randall 5th admittedly drew inspiration for his book from Robert McCloskey’s 1941 classic “Make Way For Ducklings” and said he sought to create a story that is similarly “location-specific” to the neighborhood – even going so far as to tread the same streets, from Mount Vernon to Charles Street, while also making stops at the Frog Pond on the Boston Common and the Public Garden, among other local landmarks that Mrs. Mallard and her kin previously visited.
“I thought, why isn’t there another book like [McCloskey’s] for older kids where they can look and go, ‘I know that spot,’” said Randall, who added that “tweens” are the target audience for his book. “From Mount Vernon Street to the Frog Pond on Common, the whole thing takes place in that domain.”
One vignette (as well as an illustration) from Randall’s book is set inside Charles Street Supply Co., where a fictionalized Jack Gurnon, the proprietor of the longstanding Charles Street hardware store, helps Sandy, the young boy at the center of the story, build a “Squirrelarium.”
Jack’s literary counterpart cuts a piece of plexiglass to fit a wooden box Sandy and his father were repurposing as a home for a squirrel that Sandy befriended on the fire escape outside his bedroom in their family’s Mount Vernon Square home.
Set between the windows to Sandy’s room and the building’s hinged roof, the completed “Squirrelarium” is even furnished with a scarp of blanket to keep the squirrel cozy and warm.
This was taken from a real-life anecdote from more than 20 years ago when Jack assisted Alexander – Randall’s son and the eldest of his five children, who is now 32 and known as “Sander” – in building a home for a squirrel that Sander found on the fire escape outside the window of his bedroom in their family’s Mount Vernon Square home (which is also the basis for Sandy’s home in the book).
Meanwhile, copies of “Dream Wizard Escapes!!!” are now on sale at Charles Street Supply Co. at 54 Charles ST., where they can be purchased directly from Jack Gurnon himself.
“Dream Wizard: Escapes!!!” is, according to Randall, a contemporary bedtime story that takes Sandy, accompanied by his faithful Scottish Border Collie, Mr. Tweed, on an enchanted adventure to “rid the world of weeds” while Sandy learns how to conquer his own nightmares, and the story is particularly timely today, Randall said, as increasingly more children – and adults – find themselves suffering from bad dreams amid pandemic lockdowns.
“Kids have nightmares, and parents don’t know what to do,” said Randall, who now works as a professor of communications at the University of the Virgin Islands where he teaches the Psychology of Sleep and Dreaming, among other courses. “Read this book, it’s just that simple.”
Candace Lovely, a Copley Master Boston impressionist who painted the official Barbra Bush portrait in the Presidential Library, illustrated the book, which includes her renderings of Charles Street Supply, and the Common and the Public Garden, among other local landmarks.
“Dream Wizard: Escapes!!!” is the second in a series of children’s books penned by Randall; it follows “Dream Wizard: Conquers His Nightmare,” which was first published 20 years ago and also illustrated by Lovely.
Sales of the first book were slow upon its initial release, Randall said, as it was published on demand and printed in hardcover with full-color illustrations and a $40 price tag. It was reprinted last year, however, and now the first installment of the Dream Wizard series is available as a paperback, with black-and-white illustrations, as well as a hardcover with full-color illustrations.
A third entry in the series called “Dream Wizard: Pirate Gold” will be published soon, but in the meantime, Randall encourages neighborhood “tweens” and their parents to seek out “Dream Wizard: Escapes!!” today.
“It’s a Boston story, it all takes place on the flat of the Hill,” he said. “It’s a Beacon Hill story, it’s a great dog story, a great adventure, plus some dream wizardry thrown in, too.”
Copies of “Dream Wizard: Escapes!!” are available at Charles Street Supply Co. at 54 Charles St., as well as at amazon.com.