Meet Rebecca Caudill's Daughter, Becky Ayars Baker
Learn more about Rebecca Caudill and her family in this interview with Becky Ayars Baker. We talked with her in 2005.
Do you remember your mother actually sitting down and writing books? Did she have a special place in your home where she liked to write?
I don‘t remember my mother actually writing her books. She wrote all of them after the first one at a cubicle assigned to her at the University of Illinois library. She said she could write uninterrupted there because the phone didn‘t ring all the time. What I do remember is her typing her manuscripts, most of the time at the Victorian typing desk in the master bedroom, but occasionally in the dining room. She usually had to do them over about 12 times. All her drafts are housed in the University of Kentucky library. With the advent of the computer, very few drafts of books are in existence, and the University of Kentucky uses these drafts to help educate their students on the writing process.
What was it like being the daughter of a popular children‘s author?
I didn‘t attach too much importance to the fact. When she wrote her first book, Barrie and Daughter, her friend, Anne Locklin, wrote a book about her father's adventures growing up in New England called, Tidewater Tales. So I thought a lot of people wrote books, not just my mother, especially when my fourth grade class chose to have the teacher read Mrs. Locklin‘s book to the class, not my mother‘s.
Did your mother ever use you as a character in any of her books?
Yes. The Best-Loved Doll and Higgins and the Great Big Scare were about my adventures. When I came home from the doll party, mother thought it was a good idea for a story and wrote it down. Twenty years later, she wrote the book. Higgins and the Great Big Scare was about the dog next door.
Did your mother ever ask you to read one of her books before it was published? Did she ever ask your advice or opinion of any of her books?
I can‘t remember reading any of my mother‘s books until I was freshman in college. However, when I was in law school, she was having trouble with how to start Higgins and the Great Big Scare. She asked me for my advice, and I had a good part in editing the first two pages of the book. She asked me because I had experienced what happened in the story.
Which of your mother‘s books are your favorites?
- A Certain Small Shepherd. Every time I read the last line, I have to hold back the tears.
- Up and Down the River. The story of the “two little peddlers” has a feel to it that is not in any of my mother‘s books that reflects her logical thinking.
Where did you go to school?
Elementary School — Leal School in Urbana
Middle School and High School — University High School on the University of Illinois campus.
Do you have any brothers or sisters?
I had one brother, Jimmy (James Sterling Ayers Jr.). He was born in 1932 and passed away in 1956 at the age of 23. The three beautifully written books about little boys, Did You Carry the Flag Today Charlie? A Certain Small Shepherd, and A Pocketful of Cricket were all written after my brother‘s death and reflect my mother‘s love for him.
Do you have any children or grandchildren?
My husband, Joe, and I have three daughters, Ann, Mary and Emily. Emily has two children, Mia and P.J.
Have you written any books? Did your mother inspire you to be a writer?
I have not written any books. I do not have a gift for it. However, two of my three daughters are good writers. One is a journalist.
Is it true your father was also an author? Do you have any comments about that?
My father was an author and wrote some books, but he wasn‘t the writer my mother was. His strong suit was editing — he was a professional editor. My mother wouldn‘t have been the writer she was had it not been for my father‘s editing. In fact, both of them ended up writing what my mother said was her favorite book, Contrary Jenkins.
Do you have any fond memories or a story or two about your mother that you would like to share?
I loved shopping trips with my mother. We caught the bus on Indiana Avenue and always ended up at the three department stores, Robeson‘s, Lewis‘s and Willis‘s. And for lunch, we always headed to Robeson‘s lunch counter for vegetable soup. To this day, I have never tasted any better — probably because my mother and I shared that memory.
I loved going on track trips with my mother (and father). Every summer, for seven years, my mother, father, and I, with the rest of my track team, headed for the Women‘s National Track Meet, and, in two cases, the Olympic Trials. My mother served as the team chaperone, but it seemed as if she had left every care she ever had at home. We laughed at just about everything, explored many interesting places, and I won some track meets, while my mother, in the stands, just got more and more freckles.
Photos courtesy Becky Baker
With James & Becky