July 12, 2006

DTBBC: Mister Dog

mister_dog.jpgTitle: Mister Dog
Author/Illustrator: Margaret Wise Brown, Garth Williams
Reviewed by: Mark

You would think that a book entitled Mister Dog that had a dog with a bowtie and straw hat smoking a pipe on its cover would be about a dog named Mister Dog, but this book isn't. The dog's name is Crispin's Crispian because he belongs to himself. You'd actually think that the dog's name would be Crispi*a*n's Crispian, or maybe Crispian's Crispian Dog (Mister Dog) but it's not. Perhaps Ms Wise Brown alludes to William Shakespeare's Henry V's passage ("This story shall the good man teach his son; And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by") but the story is already random enough and trying to read into it always hurts my sleep-deprived brain.

Anyhow, Crispian befriends a boy, who isn't called boy's boy BTW, and after a creepy exchange, they move into Crispian's two-story dog house:

"I am Crispin's Crispian and I belong to myself," said Crispian. "Who and what are you?"
"I am a boy, " said the boy, "and I belong to myself."
"I am so glad," said Crispin's Crispian. "Come and live with me."

Crispian also likes to refer to himself in the third person:

They went to a butcher shop-"to get his poor dog a bone," Crispian said. Now, since Crispin's Crispian belonged to himself, he gave himself the bone and trotted home with it.

Then story goes on for a bit, and it ends as a bedtime story reminiscent of "Goodnight Moon". Perhaps if I read this book enough to my daughter, she'll become an English major and figure this one out for me.

[ed. note: I'm pretty sure the 'Henry V' reference is just a coincidence, given how commonplace the phrase 'Crispin Crispian' is, I mean.]


What is the deal with Margaret Wise Brown? "Goodnight Moon" and "Runaway Bunny" are a little different than standard children's fare, but not really weird in the DTBBC-sense, and "Big Red Barn" seems downright mainstream (it rhymes! it has animals!).

But this dog book and "My World" are totally wacky. I submitted a different review for the DTBBC, but My World could have worked too. Same bunny family from Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny (Clement Hurd illustrates). No rhyming, very stilted text. The little bunny has some sort of acid-trip dream about dogs and spoons, and the book ends with a tiny b&w drawing of a bumblebee and the question - How many stripes on a bumblebee? - which has nothing to do with the "story" of the book.

Is there some sort of DT lifetime achievement award for bizarre books? I nominate MWB.

[no kidding, i was thinking the same thing. -ed.]

Margaret had a dog in real life named Crispin Crispian, which was no doubt in reference to the Hanry quote.

With all due respect, the two new dads who commented on July 12th, 2006, must either be extremely old for being new dads, or have totally forgotten what it was like to think like a child. Mister Dog was my favorite Little Golden Book as a kid - it was magical! Any little one who loves animals also loves to see them in anthropomorphic roles - just witness the success of Sesame Street in captivating and teaching, and the enduring popularity of Disney characters. Imagine your child being approached by a gentle Big Bird who asked if s/he would like to be his friend - most wouldn't find it odd at all and would be delighted.

Small children relate to simple, familiar, non-threatening ideas, and the scenes of mundane things like Mister Dog going food shopping with his new Boy would be totally in line with the simple and idealistic way in which they see the world. And even if you don't want to live with Mister Dog, don't kid yourself, most children WOULD!

PS - I know something about this - I'm a child psychologist.

with all due respect, as one of the dads you're referring to, the bizarreness of the book has nothing to do with the dog's anthropomorphic qualities, but with its uncontextualized Shakespearian references and its stilted, self-conscious rejection/inversion of the traditional dog-owner hierarchy.

Also, it's obvious to any adult who watches Sesame Street or who takes a kid to meet Mickey at Disneyland--or who plops a kid on Santa's lap at the mall, for that matter--that a child is more willing or able to accept a muppeteer or costumed performer as reality; or to flip it around, they're less able to distinguish between reality and fiction or to suspend disbelief when presented with the artifice of performance.

Frankly I'm a little more unsettled by a child psychologist's references to delight and magic and her own subjective childhood memories, at least when they're seemingly unaccompanied by any professional analytical distance.

I'm late to this discussion but on the internet, everything still lives. I was doing a search for Garth Williams and ran across this discussion for Mister Dog, one of my favorite Golden Books when I was little. I loved this book mostly because of all the minutiae depicted: the shopping for supper, chopping the meat and greens for the soup, etc. I saw the boy coming home with Crispin's Crispian as like a stray following you home.

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