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Through the Mickle Woods

By Valiska Gregory

Illustrated by Barry Moser

Barry Moser as the King in Through the Mickle Woods and in his studio. One of the editors for the book thought the portrait of the Bear looked like Barry as well. Search your local library for more self-portraits in Barry Moser’s books—you’ll find him in many disguises.

The Story

In Through the Mickle Woods a mourning king and the boy Michael make a snowy, midnight journey through the great woods. In the bear's cave, lit by hundreds of candles that "flutter like moths," Michael and the king listen to the bear tell three stories. Like ancient myths, the bear's richly told tales—about a box of curious coins, a bird with green wings, and a woman who weaves stories out of thread—are full of mystery and truth.

Valiska Gregory's wise stories, combined with Barry Moser's stunning images, make Through the Mickle Woods a magical and poignant picture book that celebrates the indomitable capacity of the human spirit to choose love.  Barry Moser, artist, book designer, printmaker, lecturer, and author, has won numerous awards for his work, including the American Book Award for Design and Illustration.

The Story Behind the Story

This question was emailed me by a bookseller:  “I have been a bookseller for 16 years and Through the Mickle Woods is one of my favorite books of all time. What inspired you to write this incredibly beautiful and wise story?”  My answer:

Thank you for your kind words about a book that means a great deal to me personally.  I wrote Through the Mickle Woods for my husband, never thinking it would eventually be published as a book. For three years we had experienced a series of tragedies that seemed unending—more grief, more illness, more pain, more deaths, than we thought, quite literally, we could endure. We needed healing. One morning I looked out of the window of my writing room to find an overnight snow that made the backyard look like a white page on which not a single word had been written. Suddenly, I saw the huge shadow of the wings of a crow on the crust of the snow, and when the crow landed on the ground, it folded its wings slowly as if it were a king rearranging his robe.

A few days later (quite literally on epiphany day), I awakened with the first three pages of the book in my head. It took over a year for the rest of the story to arrive. Bits and pieces of it would appear whole and in order—like a photograph emerging in developing fluid—and when it was finished, I knew that none of the things we had experienced, no matter how hard, had been wasted.

The story tells all I know of loss, and the healing power of love, and I am extremely grateful to my fine editor, Stephanie Owens Lurie, for deciding to publish the book, and to Barry Moser for creating the book's elegant design and extraordinary paintings which continue to amaze me.