When the Normal School Christmas carolers sang outside Blanche Jennings Thompson’s Chestnut Street front door on Christmas Eve, not “Silver Bells,” but “Silver Pennies” would have been most appropriate.
Blanche Jennings Thompson produced “Silver Pennies” in her eight-foot-square writing space. Soon to be Geneseo’s all-time best-selling author, she first experimented with nouveau poetry in the early 1920s. By 1925, “Silver Pennies” went to press, selling more than 350,000 copies in the next few years. It was a collection of writing for children.
A primary school teacher at the Normal School of Practice, she used the phonic-word method for reading instruction. By fifth grade many of her students masters Scott’s “Lorna Doone” in understanding.
“Silver Pennies” appeared at the perfect time for better educated children. Unfortunately, she sold her literary rights for a mere $600.
Thirty-one titles followed in her lifetime, including “More Silver Pennies,” the “Holly Apostles Peter and Paul,” and a condensed version of the Old Testament “With Harp and Lute.”
The American Library Association named “Silver Pennies” one of a hundred best children’s books ever.
Blanche was thrilled when “Silver Pennies” was reproduced in braille.
When the carolers arrived outside her door, Blanche was not able to invite them in for a hot drink. She had become disabled from an automobile accident. It took her 45 minutes daily to make the shift from bed to a leg-pillow propped chair where she could continue writing.
Blanche was born in Geneseo on March 16, 1887. She died Sept. 20, 1983, at age 96 in St. Ann’s Home, Rochester, where she had been a resident since 1971.
Geneseo’s Blanche Jennings Thompson’s holiday gift to America’s children was one of fine literature. When asked her secret for success, she said, “I don’t think of a particular age for who I write. I just say what I have to say.”
David W. Parish is historian for the town and village of Geneseo. He writes the column “Historic Geneseo” for The Livingston County News. He is a Chancellor Award retiree from Milne Library at SUNY Geneseo and author of 12 reference and history books.