Toad BOOK LOOK – Chapter 6 of 19

Chapter 6

How Old Mr. Toad Learned to Sing

Old Mr. Toad paid no attention to Peter, not even when he was spoken to. He was so absorbed in his singing that he just didn’t hear. Peter sat there a while to listen; then he called out to Jimmy Skunk and Billy Possum, who were also listening to the music, and they were just as surprised as Peter. Then he spied Jerry Muskrat at the other end of the Smiling Pool and hurried over there. Peter was so full of the discovery he had made that he could think of nothing else and he fairly ached to share this with others.

Muskrat – Illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“Jerry!” he cried. “Oh, Jerry Muskrat! Do you know that Old Mr. Toad can sing?”

Jerry looked surprised that Peter should ask such a question. “Of course I know it,” he said. “It would be mighty funny if I didn’t know it, seeing that he is the sweetest singer in the Smiling Pool and has sung here every spring since I can remember.”

Peter looked very much chagrined. “I didn’t know it until just now,” he confessed. “I didn’t believe him when he told me that he could sing. I wonder how he ever learned.”

He didn’t learn any more than you learned how to jump,” replied Jerry. “It just came to him naturally. His father sang, and his grandfather, and his great grandfather, way back to the beginning of things. I’m surprised you do not know about this.”

“I don’t actually. Oh, please do tell me more about it Jerry,” pleaded Peter.

“All right, I will,” replied Jerry good-naturedly. “In the first place, Old Mr. Toad belongs to a very old and honorable family, one of the very oldest. I’ve heard say that it goes way back almost to the very beginning of things when there wasn’t much land. Anyway, the first Toad, the great-great-ever-so-great-grandfather of Old Mr. Toad and own cousin to the great-great-ever-so-great-grandfather of Grandfather Frog, was one of the first to leave the water for dry land.

“Old Mother Nature met him hopping along and making hard work of it because, of course, it was so new. ‘What are you doing here?’ she asked. ‘Are you not content with the water where you were born?’”

“Mr. Toad bowed very low. ‘Yes,’ he said humbly. ‘I’ll go right back there if you say so. I thought there must be some things worth finding out on the land, and that I might be of some use in the Great World.’”

“His answer pleased Old Mother Nature. She was worried. She had planted all kinds of things on the land, and they were springing up everywhere, and she had discovered that bugs of many kinds liked the tender green things and were increasing so fast that they threatened to strip the land of all that she had planted. She had so many things to tend to that she hadn’t the time to take care of the bugs. ‘If you truly want to be of some use,’ she said, ‘you can tend to some of those bugs.’”

A Fly or otherwise known as a “tasty treat for a Toad”!

“Mr. Toad went right to work, and Old Mother Nature went about some of her other business. Having so many things to look after, she quite forgot about Mr. Toad, and it was several weeks before she came that way again. Right in the middle of a great bare place where the bugs had eaten everything was now a beautiful green spot, and patiently hopping from plant to plant was Mr. Toad, snapping up every bug he could see. He didn’t notice Old Mother Nature and he kept right on working. She watched him for a while as he hopped from plant to plant catching bugs as fast and he could, and then she spoke.

“’Have you stayed right here since I last saw you?’ she asked.”

“Mr. Toad gave a start of surprise. ‘Yes, I have,’ he said.”

“’I thought you wanted to see the Great World and learn things,’ she said.”

“Mr. Toad looked a little embarrassed. ‘So I did,’ he replied, ‘and I wanted to be of some use, and the bugs have kept me so busy there was not time to travel. Besides, I have learned a great deal right here. I couldn’t get around fast enough to save all the plants, I’ve just saved what I could.’”

“At that Old Mother Nature’s face lit up with one of her most beautiful smiles. ‘Mr. Toad,’ she said, ‘if you could have just one wish what would it be?’”

“Mr. Toad hesitated a few minutes and then said quietly, ‘A beautiful voice.’”

“It was Old Mother Nature’s turn to look surprised. ‘A beautiful voice!’ she exclaimed. “Why would you want a beautiful voice?’”

“So that I can express my happiness in the most beautiful way I know of, by singing,’ replied Mr. Toad.”

“’Then you shall have it,’ declared Old Mother Nature, ‘although not all the time lest you be tempted to forget your work, which , you know, when you are of service is a real source of true happiness. In the spring of each year you shall go back to your home in the water and there for a time you shall sing to your heart’s content, and there shall be no sweeter voice than yours.’”

Toad in the water in late spring

“Sure enough, when the next spring came, Mr. Toad was filled with a great longing to go home. When he got there, he found that in his throat was a little music bag; and when he swelled it out, he had one of the sweetest voices in the world. And so it has been ever since with the Toad Family. Old Mr. Toad is one of the sweetest singers in the Smiling Pool, and when it is time to go back to work he is most diligent in Mother Nature’s garden,” concluded Jerry Muskrat.

More Toad egg strands piling up and some getting covered with the “dusty” silt from the bottom of the Smiling Pool after an overnight storm stirred things up.

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Toad BOOK LOOK – Chapter 5 of 19

Chapter 5

Old Mr. Toad’s Music Bag

“I’ve found Old Mr. Toad!” cried Peter Rabbit, hurrying after Jimmy Skunk.

“Where?” Jimmy asked.

“In the water,” declared Peter. “He’s sitting right over there where the water is shallow, and he didn’t notice me at all. Let’s get Billy Possum, and then peek over the edge of the Smiling Pool and watch to see if Old Mr. Toad really does sing.”

So they rounded up Billy Possum, and the three quietly approached the edge of the Smiling Pool, where the bank was low and the water shallow. Sure enough, there sat Old Mr. Toad with just his head out of the water. And while they were watching him, something very strange happened.

“What’s the matter with him?” whispered Peter, his big eyes looking as if they might pop out of his head.

“If he doesn’t watch out, he’ll blow up and bust!” exclaimed Jimmy.

“Listen!” whispered Billy Possum. “Do my old ears hear right? It appears to me that that song is coming right from where Old Mr. Toad is sitting.”

It certainly did appear so, and of all the songs that glad spring day there was none sweeter. Indeed there were few as sweet.

The only trouble was the song was so very short. It lasted only for two or three seconds. And when it ended, Old Mr. Toad looked quite his natural usual self again. Peter looked at Jimmy Skunk, Jimmy looked at Billy Possum, and Billy looked at Peter. And no one had a word to say. They all just sat so surprised by this unexpected revelation. Then all three looked back at Old Mr. Toad.

And even as they looked, his throat began to swell and swell and swell, until it was no wonder that Jimmy Skunk had thought that he was in danger of blowing up. And then, when it stopped swelling, there came again those beautiful little notes, so sweet and tremulous that Peter actually held his breath to listen. There was no doubt that Old Mr. Toad was singing just as he had said he was going to, and it was just as true that his song was one of the sweetest if not the sweetest of all the chorus from and around the Smiling Pool. It was very hard to believe, and yet Peter and Jimmy and Billy both saw and heard, and that was enough. Their appreciation for Old Mr. Toad grew tremendously as they listened.

Toad with the beginning of a bulging throat sitting near two egg strands.

“How does he do it?” whispered Peter.

“With that bag under his chin, of course,” replied Jimmy Skunk. “Don’t you see it’s only when that is swelled out that he sings? It’s a regular music bag. And I didn’t know he had any such bag there at all.”

“I wish,” said Peter Rabbit, feeling of his throat, “that I had a music bag like that in my throat so I could join in the singing.”

“Hold on, what are those long sparkly strands in the water?” asked Jimmy.

“I don’t know, there seem to be so very many spotty dots inside them all lined up,” said Peter.

Toad egg strands

Just then Mr. Redwing Blackbird briefly appeared again and said, “I overheard you two talking and thought I’d let you know that those strings of black little pearl beauties in the water are actually egg strands. In a few weeks those fertilized eggs will hatch out of the strands and be wiggling about as tadpoles.”

“What? How can that be?” asked Jimmy Skunk.

“Just you wait and see,” said Mr. Redwing Blackbird.

“How could that happen? What did I miss?” Peter Rabbit persisted with great curiosity.

“Overnight the female toads arrived to listen to the all male toad chorus and once they mated the egg strands were left here in the Smiling Pool. It happens every year about this time,” said Mr. Redwing Blackbird who then took flight and left Peter and Jimmy Skunk with a bunch of questions on the tip of their tongues.

Beautiful egg strands ripple and glisten in the water at the edge of the Smiling Pool

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Toad BOOK LOOK – Chapter 4 of 19

Chapter 4

Peter Rabbit Finds Old Mr. Toad

As each spring rolls around Peter Rabbit finds himself wishing he could burst into song as his feathered friends do at this time of year. The birds pour out in beautiful song the joy that is in them and he wishes he could do the same. Instead of a singing voice Mother Nature gave him the ability to kick his long heels and jump about to express his feelings . While that gives Peter a great deal of satisfaction, he still wishes from time to time that he could join in the singing.

And so he was wishing this very thing now, as he sat on the bank of the Smiling Pool, listening to the great spring chorus.

“Tra-la-la-lee! Oka-chee! Oka-chee! There’s joy in the spring for you and for me,” sang Redwing the Blackbird from the bulrushes.

Meadow Lark by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

From over in the Green Meadows rose the clear lilt of Carol the Meadow Lark, and among the alders just where the Laughing Brook ran into the Smiling Pool a flood of happiness was pouring from the throat of Little Friend the Song Sparrow. Winsome Bluebird’s sweet, almost plaintive, whistle seemed to fairly float in the air, so that it was hard to say just where it did come from, and in the top of the Big Hickory tree, Welcome Robin was singing as if his heart were bursting with joy. Sammy Jay was also adding a beautiful bell-like note. As for the Smiling Pool, it seemed as if the very water itself sang, for a mighty chorus of clear piping voices from unseen singers rose from all around its banks. Peter knew who those singers were, although look as he might he could see none of them. They were hylas, the tiny cousins of Stickytoes the Tree Toad.

Listening to all these joyous voices, Peter forgot for a time what had brought him to the Smiling Pool. However, Jimmy Skunk and Billy Possum didn’t forget. They were still looking for Old Mr. Toad.

“Well, Mr. Dreamer, have you found him yet?” asked Jimmy Skunk, coming up behind Peter.

Peter came to himself with a start. “No,” he said. “I was just listening and wishing that I could sing, too. Don’t you ever wish you could sing, Jimmy?”

“No,” replied Jimmy. “I never spend time wishing I could do things that I was never meant to do. It is funny though that Old Mr. Toad is nowhere in sight. He said that he was coming down here to sing, and Redwing the Blackbird seemed to be expecting him. I’ve looked everywhere I can think of without finding him. Ah well, I do believe I’ll give it one more try. Stop your day dreaming Peter and come help us look.”

So Peter stopped his dreaming and joined in the search. Now there was one place where neither Peter nor Jimmy nor Billy had thought of looking. That was in the Smiling Pool itself. They just took it for granted that Old Mr. Toad was somewhere on the bank. Presently Peter came to a place where the bank was very low and the water was shallow for quite a little distance out in the Smiling Pool. From out of that shallow water came the piping voice of a hyla, and Peter stopped to stare, trying to see the tiny singer.

Suddenly he jumped right up in the air with surprise. There was a familiar looking head sticking out of the water. Peter had found Old Mr. Toad!

Toad in the water during mating season

P.L.A.Y. Ponderings

  1. Is it spring where you are? What animals are singing? Softly? Loudly?
  2. Could you describe their songs with words or letters and make a drawing? Or could you try to mimic or copy their sounds with your voice or by whistling?
  3. Are there animals that are staying silent at this time?

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Animal BOOK LOOK – Chapter 34 – Opossum

Chapter 34


On his way to the next learning session Peter Rabbit passed a certain tree in the Green Forest when a familiar voice hailed him.

“Good Morning Peter Rabbit,” said the voice. “What’s your hurry?” Peter stopped abruptly and looked up in that tree. There, peering down at him from a hole high up in the trunk, was a sharp, whitish-gray face, with a pair of twinkling black eyes.

“Hello Billy the Opossum,” Peter called out. “How are you and Mrs. Opossum this fine day?”

“Poorly, Peter as we haven’t had breakfast yet,” replied Billy with a grin.

A sudden thought popped into Peter’s head. “Billy,” shouted Peter excitedly, “are you a Carnivora?”

Billy the Opossum poked his head a little farther out and put his hand behind his ear as if he were a little hard of hearing. “What’s that Peter Rabbit? Am I a what?” he asked.

“Are you a Carnivora?” repeated Peter.

Peter wasn’t listening for the answer. The fact is, Peter had started lipperty-lipperty-lip for the next learning session, without even saying good-by. He arrived quite out of breath. “I know!” he panted. “I know!”

“What do you know?” asked Mother Nature.

“I know the answer to the question you asked yesterday. I know who it is that eats flesh, yet doesn’t belong to the order of flesh eaters. It’s Billy the Opossum!” cried Peter.

“Right you are,” replied Mother Nature. “However did you find it out?”

“I didn’t exactly find it out; I guessed it,” replied Peter. “On my way here I saw Billy the Opossum, and it popped into my head right away that he was one we haven’t heard about, and must be the one. However, if he eats flesh, I don’t see why he isn’t a member of the order of flesh eaters.”

“It is because he belongs to a group which has something which makes them entirely different from all other animals, and for this reason they have been given an order of their own,” explained Mother Nature. “They belong to the order of Marsupials, which means pouched animals. It is because the mothers have big pockets in which they carry their babies. Mrs. Opossum has just such a pocket.”

“Of course,” exclaimed Peter. “I’ve seen those babies poking their heads out of that pocket.”

“The Opossums are the only Marsupials in this country,” continued Mother Nature. “Now have I made it quite clear why, although they eat flesh, Billy and Mrs. Opossum are not members of the same big order as Buster Bear and the other flesh eaters?”

Everybody nodded. Just then Chatterer the Red Squirrel shouted, “Here comes Billy, and Mrs. Opossum and all the little Opossums.”

Opossum – Illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

Sure enough, down the Lone Little Path came the Opossum family, and a funny looking sight they were. Billy was whitish-gray, his face whiter than the rest of him. He looked as if he had just gotten out of bed and forgotten to brush his hair; it pointed every which way. His legs were dark, his feet black and his toes white. His ears were without any hair at all, and were black for the lower half, the rest being white. He had a long whitish tail without any hair on it. Altogether, with his sharp face and naked tail, he looked a great deal as though he might be a giant Rat.

Mrs. Opossum was even more funny-looking as she seemed to have heads and tails all over her. You see, she had brought along her family, and Mrs. Opossum is one of those who believes in large families. There were twelve youngsters, and they were exactly like their parents, only small. They were clinging all over Mrs. Opossum. Some were on her back, some were clinging to her sides, and a couple were in the big pocket, where they had spent their babyhood.

“We thought we’d join you and see what’s going on today,” explained Billy with a grin.

“I’m glad you did,” replied Mother Nature. “You see, the rest of your friends here are a little curious about the Opossum family.”

Meanwhile Mrs. Opossum was climbing a tree, and when she had reached a comfortable notch the little Opossums left her and began to play about in the tree. It was then that it appeared what handy things those naked little tails were. When the little Possums crawled out where the branches were small, they simply wrapped their tails around the twigs to keep from falling.

“My!” exclaimed Peter. “Those certainly are handy tails.”

“Handiest tails ever,” declared Billy the Opossum smiling proudly at his family.

“Would you like to climb a tree, Billy, and show your friends here how you manage to get the eggs from a nest that you cannot reach by crawling along the branch on which it is placed,” said Mother Nature.

Billy nodded and good-naturedly started up a tree. He crept out on a branch that overhung another branch way out where the branch was small. Then he wrapped the end of his tail around the branch and swung himself off, keeping hold of the branch only with his tail and one hind foot. Then, stretching down full length, he could just reach the branch below him. “You see,” he explained, “if there was a nest on this branch down here, I could get those eggs without any trouble. I wish there was a nest. Just speaking of eggs makes my mouth water.” Again Billy pulled himself back to the other branch.

“What else do you eat?” asked Mother Nature.

Two Toads that would make a Tasty Treat for an Opossum!

“Anything,” replied Billy the Opossum. “I’m not very particular–insects, roots, Frogs, Toads, small Snakes, Lizards, berries, fruits, nuts, young Rats and Mice, corn, any old meat that has been left lying around. I could find a meal most any time most anywhere.”

“Do you always have as big a family as you have here today?” asked Peter Rabbit.

“Not always,” replied Billy. “Although sometimes Mrs. Opossum has to tote around a still bigger family. We usually have two or three big families a year.”

“Where is your home?” asked Johnny Chuck.

“I know,” said Peter Rabbit. “It’s up in a big hollow tree.”

Billy looked down at Peter and said, “remember it isn’t necessary to tell everyone where that hollow tree is now Peter.”

“Are Possums found anywhere except around here?” inquired Happy Jack.

“Yes, indeed,” replied Mother Nature. “They are found all down through the Sunny South, and in the warmer parts of the Mid-West. Billy the Opossum and his relatives are not fond of cold weather. They prefer to be where they can be reasonably warm all the year round.”

“Billy learned a long time ago that he can’t run as fast as some others, so he has learned to depend on his wits in time of danger. What do you think he does?”

“I know,” cried Peter; “I saw him do it once. Farmer Brown’s boy surprised Billy, and Billy just fell right over dead.”

“Pooh! Now that’s a story, Peter Rabbit. How could Billy the Opossum have fallen over dead and be alive up in that tree this very minute?” cried Happy Jack.

“I didn’t mean he was really dead just that he looked as if he were dead,” explained Peter. “And he did, too. He was the deadest looking thing I ever saw. I thought he was dead myself. I was watching from a bramble tangle where I was hiding, and I certainly thought the life had been scared right out of Billy. I guess Farmer Brown’s boy thought so too. He picked Billy up by the tail, and looked him all over, and said, ‘You poor little thing. I didn’t mean to hurt you.’ Billy didn’t so much as wink an eye. Farmer Brown’s boy went off up the path carrying Billy the Opossum by the tail. By and by he laid Billy down on an old stump while he went to look at a nest of Clever the Crow. When he came back Billy wasn’t there. I never did see Billy hurry as he did the minute Farmer Brown’s boy’s back was turned. He came to life as suddenly as he had dropped dead.”

“Very good, Peter,” said Mother Nature. “Pretending to be dead in order to remain alive is the cleverest thing Billy does.”

“Now, how about we focus on Lightfoot the Deer for our next lesson?”

“Splendid,” cried everyone at once and prepared to start for their homes.

Using these prompts inspired from today’s chapter draw, write, color, paint, cut & paste, or creatively capture your ideas and story adventures in your P.L.A.Y. nature journal!

  1. What is the difference between an Opossum like Billy and a Possum? Have you heard folks talk about one or the other where you live? Time to get curious and investigate! Check out this LINK to the Mass Audubon Society page to discover more!
  2. Have you ever hung upside down from “your tail”(using your legs bent at the knees) from a tree branch or on a bar at the playground? What does the world look like from that view? Would you want to hang like that often? Would you wish for a marsupial tail?
  3. Where do many marsupials live? Do they look like Billy the Opossum? What do they have in common? What are their differences?

If you find the work and vision of P.L.A.Y. supports you and your family on the life learning path, please pass it forward to friends and neighbors as a Simple Gift that keeps on giving.

P.L.A.Y. has created more updated animal, bird, beaver, deer, and toad story adventures from the Thornton Burgess archives for you and your family.


These tales are woven with fun facts and fiction featuring local four-legged and feathered friends in the fields and forests of New England.

Animal BOOK LOOK – Chapter 32 – Black Bear

Chapter 32

Black Bear

“Has Buster Bear a tail?” asked Mother Nature, and her eyes twinkled.

“No,” declared Whitefoot the Wood Mouse promptly.

“Yes,” replied Chatterer the Red Squirrel.

“What do you say, Prickly Porky?” Mother Nature asked.

“I don’t think he has any; if he has, I’ve never seen it,” said Prickly Porky.

“He certainly has a tail,” said Jumper the Hare. “It isn’t much of a one, however it is a tail. I know because I’ve seen it many times.”

Huffing and woofing a deep, rumbly, grumbly voice spoke “What’s going on here? Who is it that hasn’t any tail?”

At the sound of that deep voice it looked for a few minutes as if the learning session would be broken up for that day. There was the same mad scrambling to get away that there had been the morning Reddy Fox unexpectedly appeared. However, there was this difference: When Reddy appeared, most of the little people sought safe hiding places, versus now they merely ran to safe distances, and there turned to stare with awe and great respect at the owner of that rumbly, grumbly voice. It was Buster Bear himself.

Buster stood up on his hind legs, like a man, and his small eyes, for they are small for his size, twinkled with fun as he looked around the awe filled circle. “Don’t let me interrupt,” he said. “I heard about these sessions and I thought I would just pay a friendly visit. There is nothing for you to fear. I have just had my breakfast and I couldn’t eat another mouthful to save me, not even such a tender morsel as Whitefoot the Wood Mouse.”

Whitefoot hurriedly ran a little farther away, and Buster Bear chuckled. Then he looked over at Mother Nature. “Won’t you tell them that I’m the best-natured and most harmless fellow in all the Great World?” he asked.

Black Bear collecting honey – Illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

Mother Nature smiled. “That depends on the condition of your stomach,” she said. “If it is as full as you say it is, and I know you wouldn’t tell me an untruth, then not even timid Whitefoot has anything to fear from you.” Then Mother Nature told all the little four-legged folks to put aside their fears and return.

Buster, seeing that some of the more timid were still fearful, backed off a short distance and sat down on his haunches. “What was that about a tail I overheard as I arrived?” he asked.

“It was a little discussion as to whether or not you have a tail,” replied Mother Nature. “Some say you have, and some say you haven’t. Whitefoot the Mouse thinks you haven’t.”

Once more Buster Bear chuckled way down deep in his throat. “Whitefoot never in his life looked at me long enough to know whether I’ve got a tail or not,” he said. “I never yet have seen him until now, when he wasn’t running away as fast as his legs could take him. So with me always behind him, how could he tell whether or not I have a tail?”

“Well, have you?” Peter Rabbit asked bluntly.

“What do you think?” asked Buster.

“I think you have,” said Peter.

Again Buster chuckled. “Quite right, Peter; quite right,” he said. “I’ve got a tail, although hardly enough of a one to really call it a tail.”

As Buster sat there, every one had a splendid chance to see just how he looked. His coat was all black; in fact he was black all over, with the exception of his nose, which was brown. His fur was long and rather shaggy. His ears were round. His paws were big and armed with strong, wicked looking claws.

“You all see what a black coat Buster has,” said Mother Nature. “Now I’m going to tell you something which may surprise you. Just as there are Red Foxes that are black, so there are Black Bears that are brown.”

“What’s that?” grunted Buster, with the funniest look of surprise on his face.

“It’s a fact, Buster,” said Mother Nature. “A great many of your family live out in the mountains of the Far West, and there quite often there will be one who is all brown. People used to think that these brown Bears were a different kind of Bear, and called them Cinnamon Bears. It was a long, long time before it was found out that those brown Bears are really black Bears. Sometimes one of the twin babies will be all black and the other all brown. Sometimes one of Buster’s family will have a white spot on his chest. Buster’s branch of the family is found in nearly all of the wooded parts of the entire country. In the Sunny South they live in the swamps and do not grow as big as in the North. Buster, there is a soft open dirt spot on the ground and I’d like it if you would walk across it so that these little folks can see your footprints.”

Good-naturedly Buster dropped on all fours and walked across the soft dirt spot. Right away every one understood why Mother Nature had asked Buster to do this. The prints of his hind feet were very like the prints of Farmer Brown’s boy when barefoot, only of course very much larger. You see, they showed the print of the heel as well as the rest of the foot.

“You see,” said Mother Nature, “Buster puts his whole foot on the ground, while all members of the Dog and Cat families walk all on their toes. Animals that put the whole foot down are called plantigrade. How big do you think Buster was when he was born?”

Mother Nature smiled at the curious looks on all the faces. “The fact is Buster was a very tiny and very helpless little chap. He was just about the size of one of Prickly Porky’s babies. He was no bigger than a Rat. He was born in the middle of winter and didn’t get his eyes open for forty days. It was two months before he poked his head outside the den in which he was born, to find out what the Great World was like. At that time he wasn’t much bigger than Peter Rabbit, and he and his twin sister were as lively a pair of youngsters and as full of mischief as any Bears the Green Forest has ever seen. And now, Buster, you might tell us what you live on.”

Buster’s eyes snapped. “I live on anything I can eat, and I can eat most everything. I suppose a lot of people think I live only on the little four-legged folks who are my neighbors, however that is a mistake. I do catch Mice when I am lucky enough to find them where I can dig them out, and they certainly are good eating.”

Active Ant Hill – Tiny Snack Time for a Black Bear

At this Whitefoot the Wood Mouse and Danny Meadow Mouse hastily scurried farther away, and Buster’s eyes twinkled with mischief. “Of course I don’t mind a Rabbit either, if I am lucky enough to catch one,” he said and Peter Rabbit quickly backed off a few steps. “In fact I like meat of any kind,” continued Buster. “However, the greater part of my food isn’t meat at all. In the spring I dig up roots of different kinds, and eat tender grass shoots and some bark and twigs from young trees. When the insects appear they help out wonderfully. I am very fond of Ants. I pull over all the old logs and tear to pieces all the old stumps I can find, and lick up the Ants and their eggs that I am almost sure to find there. Almost any kind of insect tastes good to me if there are enough of them. I love to find and dig open the nests of Wasps that make their homes in the ground, and of course I suppose you all know that there is nothing in the world I like better than honey. If I can find a Bee nest I am utterly happy. For the sake of the honey, I am perfectly willing to stand all the stinging the Bees can give me. I like fish and I love to hunt Frogs. When the berry season begins, I just feast. In the fall I get fat on beechnuts and acorns. The fact is, there isn’t much I don’t like.”

“I’ve been told you sleep all winter,” said Johnny Chuck.

“That depends on the winter,” replied Buster Bear. “I don’t go to sleep until I have to. I don’t have to as long as I can find enough to eat. If the winter begins early, with bad weather, I make a comfortable bed of leaves in a cave or under a big pile of fallen trees or even in a hollow log, if I can find one big enough. Then I go to sleep for the rest of the winter. However, if the winter is mild and open and there is a chance of finding anything to eat, I sleep only in the really bad weather.”

“Do you try to get fat before going to sleep, the way I do?” asked Johnny Chuck.

Buster grinned. “Yes, Johnny, I try,” he said, “and usually I succeed. You see, I need to be fat in order to keep warm and also to have something to live on in the spring, just the same as you do.”

“I’ve been told that you can climb, although since I don’t live in the Green Forest I have never seen you climb. I should think it would be slow work for such a big fellow as you to climb a tree,” said Johnny Chuck.

Buster looked up at Happy Jack Squirrel and winked. Then he walked over to the tree in which Happy Jack was sitting, stood up and suddenly began to scramble up the tree. There was nothing slow about the way Buster Bear went up that tree. Happy Jack squealed with sudden fright and started for the top of that tree as only Happy Jack can climb. Then he made a flying jump to the next tree. Halfway up Buster stopped. Then he began to come down. He came down tail first. When he was within ten feet of the ground he simply let go and dropped.

“I did that just to show you how I get out of a tree when I am really in a hurry,” explained Buster. “I don’t climb trees much now unless it is for honey, however when I was a little fellow I used to love to climb trees.”

Suddenly Buster sat up very straight and pointed his nose up in the wind. An anxious look crept into his face. He cocked his ears as if listening with all his might. That is just what he was doing. Presently he dropped down to all fours. “Excuse me,” he said, “I think I had better be going. Farmer Brown is coming down the Lone Little Path.”

Buster turned and disappeared at a speed that was simply astonishing for such a big fellow. Mother Nature laughed. “Buster’s eyes are not very good,” she said, “and yet there is nothing the matter with his nose or with his ears. If Buster says that Farmer Brown is coming down the Lone Little Path, there is no doubt that he is, although he may be some distance away yet. Time for us all to move along.”

Using these prompts inspired from today’s chapter draw, write, color, paint, cut & paste, or creatively capture your ideas and story adventures in your P.L.A.Y. nature journal!

  1. Would you like to see a Black Bear snack in action? Visit this LINK to see a log full of fun food frenzy!
  2. Are there any Black Bears in your neighborhood or neck-of-the-woods? Do they visit any specific spots like bird feeders or dumpsters?
  3. Visit this LINK for photos and information about Black Bears from the Mass Audubon Society.

If you find the work and vision of P.L.A.Y. supports you and your family on the life learning path, please pass it forward to friends and neighbors as a Simple Gift that keeps on giving.

P.L.A.Y. has created more updated animal, bird, beaver, deer, and toad story adventures from the Thornton Burgess archives for you and your family.


These tales are woven with fun facts and fiction featuring local four-legged and feathered friends in the fields and forests of New England.

Toad BOOK LOOK – Chapter 3 of 19

Chapter 3

The Hunt for Old Mr. Toad

Now, Old Mr. Toad was hurrying as fast as ever he could and was quite out of breath, and he wasn’t getting along very fast compared with the way Peter Rabbit or Jimmy Skunk or Billy Possum could cover the ground. You see he cannot make long jumps like his cousin, Grandfather Frog, only little short hops instead.

Possum – Illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

So Peter and Jimmy and Billy took their time about following him. They stopped to hunt for fat beetles for Jimmy Skunk, and pausing at every little patch of sweet clover for Peter Rabbit to help himself. They waited for Billy Possum to hunt for a nest of Carol the Meadow Lark, on the chance that he would find some fresh eggs there. He didn’t find the nest for the very good reason that Carol hadn’t built one just yet this season.

Half way across the Green Meadows they stopped to play with the Merry Little Breezes, and because it was very pleasant there, they played longer than they realized. When at last they started on again, Old Mr. Toad was out of sight.

“Never mind,” said Peter, “we can catch up with him easy enough”.

Meanwhile, Old Mr. Toad kept right on, hop, hop, hipperty-hop, while the others were playing, and so it happened that when at last Peter and Jimmy and Billy reached the Smiling Pool, they hadn’t caught another glimpse of him.

“Do you suppose he hid somewhere, and we passed him?” asked Peter.

Billy shook his head. “ I don’t reckon so, I think he just got ahead of us and we’ll find him here sitting on the bank somewhere.”

So right away the three separated to look for Old Mr. Toad. All along the bank of the Smiling Pool they looked. They peeped under old leaves and sticks. They looked in every place where Old Mr. Toad might have hidden, and they could not find a trace of him.

“Tra-la-la-lee! Oka-chee! Oka-chee! Happy am I as I can be!” sang Mr. Redwing, as he swayed to and fro among the bulrushes.

Redwing Blackbird – Illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“Say, Mr. Redwing, have you seen Old Mr. Toad?” called Peter Rabbit.

“No,” replied Mr. Redwing. “Is that whom you fellows are looking for? I wondered if you had lost something. What do you want with Old Mr. Toad?”

Peter explained how they had followed Old Mr. Toad to see what he was up to. “We are curious to know if he really has a singing voice,” said Peter,” or if the spring has made Old Mr. Toad crazy as he was in such a hurry to reach the Smiling Pool.”

“Oh, that’s it, is it?” replied Mr. Redwing, his bright eyes twinkling. “I’ve been wondering where Old Mr. Toad was, and I’m ever so glad to learn that he hasn’t forgotten that he has a very important part in our beautiful spring chorus.” Then once more Mr. Redwing began to sing.

  1. If there was a foot race on land who would come in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place between Jimmy Skunk, Billy Possum, Old Mr. Toad, and Peter Rabbit. Why?
  2. What would it like to spend your day with a “bird’s eye view” like Mr. Redwing flying overhead and seeing what is going on in the meadow, orchard, Smiling Pool, and other special spaces?

Discover more P.L.A.Y. TOAD nature videos and adventures!

Visit the P.L.A.Y. Bird Nature Story Adventures too!

The Burgess Animal Story for Children, The Burgess Bird Story for Children, and The Adventures of __________ series (Paddy the Beaver, Lightfoot the Deer, Old Mr. Toad, etc.), are all originally authored by Thornton Burgess and are now available to you through P.L.A.Y.

P.L.A.Y. has provided new online versions of these updated and annotated 100+ year old public domain classics to:

  • be suitable for the 21st century family by having the Thornton Burgess woodland characters evolve to model mindfulness and loving kindness
  • highlight and bring awareness to the New England nature settings and offer an opportunity to learn more about the fields and forests through these animal story adventures
  • create story extension moments through P.L.A.Y. suggested activities and investigations for making new nature connections generated by the reader’s own curiosity
  • encourage families to keep their own nature notebooks for drawing, writing, painting, and recording their own local daily outdoor P.L.A.Y. adventures.

Animal BOOK LOOK – Chapter 31 – Raccoon

Chapter 31


Mother Nature was just about to start the next learning session when a slight noise came from up the path drawing all eyes in that direction. There, shuffling down the Lone Little Path, was an interesting looking fellow. No one needed more than one glance at that sharp, black and white face to recognize him.

“Bobby Coon!” shouted Peter Rabbit. “Are you coming to join our sessions?”

Bobby shuffled along a little nearer, then sat up and blinked at them sleepily. No one needed to be told that Bobby had been out all night. He rubbed his eyes and yawned. “Hello, everybody,” he said. “I wish I felt as bright and lively as all of you look. I’d like to join you too, however I’m afraid if I did I would go to sleep right in the middle of the session. I ought to have been home an hour ago. So I guess I’ll have to be excused.”

Mother Nature nodded her head, “If you think you can’t keep awake, just go over and sit down there by Prickly Porky; he’ll
keep you awake.

“I–I think I can keep awake,” stammered Bobby and opened his eyes very wide as if he were trying to stretch his eyelids so as to make them stay open.

“I’ll help you by asking you a few questions,” replied Mother Nature. “Who is it that people sometimes call you the little cousin of?”

Bobby grinned. “Buster Bear,” he said.

“That’s right,” replied Mother Nature.

Raccoon – Illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“Of course, being a Raccoon, you are not a Bear, however you are related to the Bear family. I want you all to notice Bobby’s footprints over yonder. You will see that the print of his hind foot shows the whole foot, heels and toes, and is a lot like Buster Bear’s footprint on a small scale. Bobby shuffles along in much the same way that Buster walks. No one ever mistakes Bobby Coon for any one else. There is no danger that any one ever will as long as he carries that big, bushy tail with its broad black and gray rings. And there is no other face like Bobby’s with its black cheeks. You will notice that Bobby is rather small around the shoulders, and he is big and heavy around the hips. Despite the fact that his legs are not very long Bobby is a very good runner. However, he doesn’t do any running unless he has to. Bobby, where were you overnight?”

“I was over at the Laughing Brook,” he said. “I caught three of the sweetest tasting little fish in a little pool in the Laughing Brook, and I got some of the tenderest Clams I’ve ever eaten,” replied Bobby, smacking his lips. “I raked them out of the mud and opened them. Down at the Smiling Pool I had a lot of fun catching young Frogs. I certainly do like Frogs. It is great sport to catch them, and they are fine eating.”

“I suppose you have had an eye on the beech trees and the wild grape-vines too,” said Mother Nature.

Bobby’s face brightened. “Indeed I have,” he said. “There will be an abundance of beechnuts and grapes this fall. My, they sure will taste good!”

Mother Nature laughed. “There is small danger that you will go hungry,” she said. “When you can’t find enough to eat times must be very hard indeed. For the benefit of the others you might add that in addition to the things mentioned you also eat other fruits, including berries, insects of various kinds, birds when you can catch them, Mice, Turtles, in fact almost anything that can be eaten. You are not at all fussy about the kinds of food you eat. You also have one habit in regard to your food which is unique. Do you know what it is?”

Bobby shook his head. “No,” he said, “not unless you mean the habit I have of washing my food. If there is any water near, I always like to take what I am going to eat over to it and wash it; somehow it tastes better.”

“Just so,” replied Mother Nature. “More than once I’ve seen you in the moonlight beside the Laughing Brook washing your food, and it has always made me smile. Now, did you raise a family this year, Bobby?”

“Mrs. Coon did. We had four of the finest youngsters you have ever seen over in a certain big hollow tree. They are getting big and lively now, and go out with their mother every night. I hope they grow big and strong then I’ll enjoy my winter sleep better, and I know Mrs. Coon will too.”

At this Johnny Chuck pricked up his ears. “Do you sleep all winter, Bobby?” he asked eagerly.

“Not all winter, although a good part of it,” replied Bobby. “I don’t turn in until the weather gets pretty cold, and it is hard to find anything to eat. After the first snow I’m usually ready to sleep. Then I curl up in a warm bed of leaves in a certain big hollow tree, and don’t care how cold or stormy the weather is. Sometimes I wake up once or twice, when the weather is mild, and take a little walk around for exercise. I don’t go far and soon return to sleep.”

“What do you do when Bowser the Hound gets after you?” asked Peter Rabbit.

“Run till I get out of breath,” replied Bobby. “And if by that time I haven’t been able to fool him so that he loses my trail, I take to a tree. Thank goodness, he can’t climb a tree. Sometimes I climb from the top of one tree into the top of another, and sometimes into a third and then a fourth, when they are near enough together.”

“Thank you, Bobby, now you can trot along home for a good sleep. Tomorrow we will see what we can find out about Buster Bear.”

Using these prompts inspired from today’s chapter draw, write, color, paint, cut & paste, or creatively capture your ideas and story adventures in your P.L.A.Y. nature journal!

  1. Raccoons have amazing markings on their tail and face. What other animals have distinct markings that set them apart and make them easy to recognize?
  2. Visit this LINK for a photo and more information on raccoons from Mass Audubon Society.
  3. *Why do raccoons like to live near the water? Of what use is their large bushy tail? How do raccoons arrange themselves in a tree for a nap? At what time of year are raccoons the fattest? Do they move slow or fast?

Prompts with a * are inspired by or found in the Handbook of Nature Study written by Anna Botsford Comstock, a professor at Cornell University, focusing on flora & fauna in the Northeast in 1911.

If you find the work and vision of P.L.A.Y. supports you and your family on the life learning path, please pass it forward to friends and neighbors as a Simple Gift that keeps on giving.

P.L.A.Y. has created more updated animal, bird, beaver, deer, and toad story adventures from the Thornton Burgess archives for you and your family.


These tales are woven with fun facts and fiction featuring local four-legged and feathered friends in the fields and forests of New England.