June 28, 2006

DT Bizarre Book Contest: Little Fur Family

little_fur_family.jpgTitle: Little Fur Family
Author/Illustrator: Margaret Wise Brown, Garth Williams
Reviewed by: Eric

This may be the strangest children's book I've ever had the pleasure of reading to my 18 month old son 1,000X in a row, by request.

It's hard to put my finger on exactly why, but this book just feels like it was written by aliens who had studied our culture long enough to create a passable facsimile of a children's storybook (a family of bears, a young boy goes off on an adventure through the woods, a sneeze as deus ex machina [someone should write their doctoral thesis on that odd trope, btw], a bedtime finale) but who nevertheless didn't quite have a full grasp of how to pull those elements off in a way that felt, well, completely human (think Ford Prefect's eponymous gaff).

For example, everyone in this family looks rather anxious throughout the whole book, including the final page, entitled, "The End," with the young bear peering unsurely toward the distance, practically begging for the insertion of a question mark after the end title.

Then there is the strange passage with the grandfather, who looks none too happy to see the boy, their entire relationship seemingly predicated on seasonal allergies.

But by far the freakiest passage is during the bear's exploration of his natural environs. He plucks a fish from the water; it stares coldly and accusingly at the boy. And then he experiences what can only be described as an existential feedback loop, as he encounters what appears to be a miniature version of himself, quickly scampering in a panic out of view.

As the (full-sized) boy likewise runs home, he is seranaded to sleep by his parents, who creepily (and, I'm sure, off-key) inform him, "this is a song." But, hey, they're not ursine androids, they're a soft and furry family! Just feel the cover!

Goosebumps and shivers for me, endless delight for my son. Who knows, maybe he'll grow up to be a David Lynch fan.


haha - i always change the line "this is a song" to "this is YOUR song" when i read this one to my kids. something's not right about the original line. this was a gift to us from a friend who gives this book to every new baby she knows, and has been doing so for years. now we do that too. just spreading the creepiness.

It's worth pointing out that this was written by Margaret "Goodnight Moon" Wise Brown. I dunno if that counts for anything or not -- it certainly is a weird little book.

We own the "furry" cover version. I sing the song exactly like it's written to my daughter every night, only I sing it like a funeral dirge. this book freakin' rocks.

I also love it also for its strange rhythms and turns of phrase: It was a wild wild wood...,through the dark and sunny woods..., just as the darkness grew very dark...

MWB is had a great knack for dismantling the sing-song of children's books in a way that's still satisfyingly weird today. and we haven't even talked about the creepy bunny boat in Runaway bunny...

totally agree about the weirdness, fabulousness and hypnotic power of the language in this. (and hello, FUR COVER!) margaret wise brown rocks. the fact that i don't want to kill myself given how often my 20-month-old demands to hear goodnight moon and the big red barn is testament to her genius.

there's a biography of her i'd like to read (margaret wise brown: awakened by the moon, by leonard marcus) but haven't gotten around to.

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