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'Mary Smith' Wakes Up Village Sleepyheads

In the early 20th century, many of England's workers woke up to the soft tap, tap, tap from their town's "knocker-up."

These human alarm clocks — armed with pea shooters or other noisy instruments – walked the village streets with the sole purpose of waking the town's workers. The delightful title character in Andrea U'Ren's children's book, Mary Smith, takes her job as town knocker-up seriously, rousing the laundry maids, the fishmonger, and even the sleepy mayor. In bold, colorful illustrations, children follow a day in Mary Smith's life, watching as her peas clink and clank against workers' windows.

Set against a background of early-morning blues and grays and traditional English buildings, Mary Smith gives colorful life to these historic figures of the Industrial Era. U' Ren also includes an afterword with facts on real-life knocker-ups and the first "wake-up calls."

Mary's day ends with twist. Could her daughter — of all people — still be in bed?

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Daniel Pinkwater
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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