A Chatham Childhood Tale Grows Into 'Bertie's Adventure'

By: Debra Lawless

Topics: Local authors

“Bertie's Adventure” author John Hutchinson. COURTESY PHOTO

Artist and author John Hutchinson of Chatham has just published his first children’s book, “Bertie’s Adventure at the Beach” (Hummingbird Publishing, 2016), a charming story illustrated by Hutchinson’s daughter Scout.

Hutchinson dedicates the book to his mother, Harriet Jaqueth Fitz Hutchinson, who shared the genesis of this story with Hutchinson. He says his mother, who died in 1983, “taught me so much about the beach when I was little.”

“At five or six, she would tell me a story of a little mouse,” Hutchinson recalled during an interview in the house near Chatham Light that has been in his family for 100 years. Hutchinson is a professional artist who was based in Salem until about five years ago when he and his wife Cindy moved to Chatham full-time.

While the mouse in Harriet Hutchinson’s tale was named Balter, John Hutchinson named his mouse Bertie. Balter “went to the beach. He had some adventures, some experiences, and I suppose he came home,” Hutchinson says. “So one day, about 12 or 14 months ago, I sat down to my computer and wrote down what I remembered. Well, it was precious little.”

Hutchinson’s inability to recall his mother’s tale sparked him to create his own. In “Bertie’s Adventure,” Bertie leaves the safety of his home to explore a distant beach. There, he is befriended by a seagull named Sebastian, a “sea dog,” who acts, in good classical fashion, as Bertie’s guide and protector—think Virgil and Dante in “The Inferno.” (Hutchinson majored in English literature at Harvard University.) Sebastian explains to Bertie mysteries such as how clams nourish themselves. “They sucks in seawater, which contains millions o’ ever-so-small critturs, into thur stomachs. Then they strains them little goodies by a kind o’ filter system.”

Sebastian also warns about the perils of this new world even while letting Bertie remain free to make his own mistakes such as swimming but getting caught in the tide. Most of the mysteries and perils of the beach revolve around the food chain—while Sebastian dines on clams that he smashes open on hard roads, foxes, coyotes, skunks and airborne predators dine on seagulls and mice. In the climax of the visit, a hawk suddenly dives from the sky, intent on snatching up a tasty little mouse. Sebastian comes to Bertie’s rescue—injuring himself and the hawk, which he knocks out.

“My intention was that it should be instructional, informational,” Hutchinson says. And “I wanted some scary moments.”

“Bertie’s Adventure” is Hutchinson’s second book. About a decade ago he co-authored, with his friend Ted Whittaker, “Beach Wagons in Chatham.” Whittaker and Hutchinson, both third generation Chatham summer residents, met here in 1946 as boys and now, as adults, remain friends linked by their shared memories. While Whittaker wrote the text, Hutchinson illustrated “Beach Wagons.”

Because Hutchinson has a long pedigree in Chatham, “Bertie’s Adventure” can be read as a local tale set on a Chatham beach. Hutchinson’s grandparents Charles and Edith Fitz lived in Manchester. Friends such as Whittaker’s grandparents, who first came to Chatham in 1914, encouraged the Fitzs to visit Chatham. Initially the Fitzs stayed at the Hawes House on Main Street, founded in 1882. “There’s something about Chatham that he liked,” Hutchinson said about his grandfather, who died in 1932 or 1933. Soon he bought the family’s first house on Silverleaf Avenue, and sold it after restoring it. Later he bought the family compound that remains in the family.

Painting is a talent that runs in the Hutchinson line. Hutchinson’s mother was a “wonderful painter—never acknowledged. She was a very, very good watercolorist,” her son says. Hutchinson says he did not illustrate “Bertie’s Adventure” himself because his daughter Scout, age 26, has a great talent depicting these creatures—the mouse, the seagull, the horseshoe crab—that Hutchinson does not.

And what comes next? Bertie will pursue another adventure, this one on a boat that he restores with his father and later sails to bring provisions to his aunt and uncle in Musport. This adventure will include new friends who hunt for treasure after finding a mysterious map in the boat. On Skull Island they share “frightening adventures” and are befriended by a kindly chipmunk named Daphne.

Hutchinson will sign copies of “Bertie’s Adventure at the Beach” on Saturday, May 28 from 2 to 4 p.m. at Where the Sidewalk Ends. The store will also kick off its annual Author Literary Luncheon Series on July 7 with bestselling children’s author Sara Pennypacker of Chatham. For more information call the store at 508-945-0499.

Up the street at Yellow Umbrella Books, on Sunday, May 29, from noon to 2 p.m. David Ostrowsky will sign “Game Over or Game On?: How Pro Athletes Leave Sports and Enjoy the Game of Life” (Mill City Press, 2014). The author is a graduate of Brandeis University and a sports writer who has interviewed many pro athletes who developed new skills after the game was over. For more information call the store at 508-945-0144.