By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department
It’s ok to come in, Darling Reader. There will be no mention here of Chucky, the murderous redheaded horror movie icon, or of any other scary incarnations of dolls (shudder) becoming sentient. We’re only going to talk about the fun, charming toys that inexplicably develop intelligence and the ability to communicate. If you are of the sort that finds it unbearably creepy to think about any toy becoming mobile and verbal, you might wish to bypass this blog and tune in to my next brilliant installment. But if you’re brave enough, take my hand while I introduce you to a random assortment of toys who have something to say . . .
First up on our list (because you should know by now that I do what I want) is the magnificent, delightful, enchanting The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo (J F DIC). Edward Tulane is a gorgeous, arrogant china rabbit who lives in an enormous house, wears only the finest clothes, and feels that he should be admired by all for his singular beauty. Anyone can see that Edward is headed for a heartbreak (nothing like the Winger song from the 1980s, but I couldn’t resist borrowing that particular turn of phrase. Apologies, Kip.) Through no fault of his own, Edward is sent on an odyssey in which he learns what it’s like to lose, yet to love and be loved again. This is my very favorite of all of DiCamillo’s books, and one of my favorite children’s books; the lush, intricately detailed illustrations by award-winning artist Bagram Ibatoulline enhance Edward’s adventure so beautifully, and make this journey worth taking again and again.
Next on my list, and the reason for this month’s blog theme because of the cinematic release of Christopher Robin in August of this year, is Winnie-the-Pooh by Alan Alexander Milne (J F MILNE). Winnie the Pooh, aka Pooh Bear, first appeared as Edward Bear in a poem in A.A. Milne’s1924 children’s verse book When We Were Very Young. The first collection of stories about Pooh and his friends was Winnie-the-Pooh, published in October of 1926 and followed by The House at Pooh Corner in 1928. Milne named the character for a teddy bear owned by his son, Christopher Robin Milne, who was of course the inspiration for the character Christopher Robin. Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, and Tigger were also toys belonging to Christopher Robin Milne and were incorporated into A.A. Milne’s stories. Owl and Rabbit were created from Milne’s imagination, and Gopher was later added in the Disney theatrical adaptation. Are you having a day, Darling Reader? Make yourself a nice cup of tea and get a “smackerel” of something like Pooh would, find a quiet place, and spend some quality time with Pooh and his wonderful friends, before you go see the new movie adaptation.
Another book-to-movie-to-remake in this same vein is the Caldecott-winning book Jumanji by gifted storyteller and artist Chris Van Allsburg (J E VAN). There are Judy and Peter, bored out of their little skulls and left completely unsupervised while their parents’ attend the opera, when they encounter a long, thin box that says JUMANJI, A JUNGLE ADVENTURE GAME, and also has an ominous, handwritten message taped to the box: “Free game, fun for some but not for all. P.S. Read instructions carefully.” There is an additional caveat in the game’s instructions, and apparently it’s a crucial one, since the writer of the note put it in all capital letters: “VERY IMPORTANT: ONCE A GAME OF JUMANJI IS STARTED IT WILL NOT BE OVER UNTIL ONE PLAYER REACHES THE GOLDEN CITY.” Hilarity and highjinks ensue, and Judy and Peter survive the game just in time for their parents return home, with guests in tow. They had a tremendous adventure that day with the game that became all too real, and learned a valuable lesson that day regarding the importance of reading the directions . . . but the sly, clever final paragraph of the book implies that young Danny and Walter, who are notorious for never listening to instructions, may not fare quite so well.
I often say that it’s a desperately sad irony that working in a library really cuts into one’s time for pleasure reading. Hence, much time passes between my opportunities to read Beatrix Potter’s delightful, classic tales of little beasties, and I forget between readings about how charming and clever her stories are. Such is the case with The Tale Of Two Bad Mice (J E POTTER). “Once upon a time there was a very beautiful doll’s-house; it was red brick with white windows . . . it belonged to two Dolls called Lucinda and Jane .” One fine morning while Lucinda and Jane were out of the red brick dollhouse for a spin in their perambulator, the aforementioned two bad mice, Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca, trashed the dollhouse out of frustration—they were hangry, to use a modern portmanteau—because they discovered that the appetizing delicacies on the dining room table were actually not edible. Hunca Munca continued the rodents’ crime spree by absconding with a pillow, a baby’s cradle, and some of Lucinda’s clothes, and also some “useful pots and pans, and several other things.” Reparations of a sort were later made by Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca for their vandalism and larceny, when he found a sixpence under the rug and stuffed it into one of the dolls’ stockings on Christmas Eve; and every morning before anybody is awake, she sweeps the Dollies’ house with her purloined broom.
Darling Reader, I’ve saved my favorite title for last. I don’t remember exactly when a smart-mouthed, spiky-haired kid named Calvin and his very real stuffed tiger Hobbes entered my life. I’m reasonably certain that it was not November of 1985, as I was a smart-mouthed, big-haired high school junior who was more concerned with my reflection in the driver’s-side mirror of my 1978 Camaro than with reflection on love, art, theology, mortality, public education, paleontology, environmentalism, and the repercussive effects of human free will.
Calvin and Hobbes was conceived by American cartoonist Bill Watterson and made its syndicated debut on November 18, 1985, and ran until December 31, 1995. The strip follows the raucous antics and adventures of Calvin, a precocious six-year-old boy, and Hobbes, his quick-witted toy tiger. The pair was named for 16th-century French theologian John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes, a 17th-century English philosopher. Hobbes’ shifting duality is a defining theme of the strip: to Calvin, he is always a live, anthropomorphic tiger; to all others (his parents, his archnemesis Susie Derkins, et. al.), he is merely an inanimate plush toy. Darling Reader, if you have room in your existence for only one toy that comes to life, I beseech you to make it Hobbes.
That’s it for today, Darling Reader. Tune in again next month for my meandering musings on literature and life.