Here again is something a little different, and “Saturday Surprises!” seems to be the most appropriate name for this type of post. It’s just a glimpse into life here with my chickens. I knew this book was somewhere in my garage and had been meaning to find it for months and months. I finally went looking on New Year’s Day.
This book is so special to me because it is one that I had checked out of my elementary school library when I was perhaps in the fourth or fifth grade. This was around the time when the original 1967 “Dr. Dolittle” movie with Rex Harrison was released. Unlike most of my classmates, I never saw the movie, but I read the books, all that our school library had. The Dr. Dolittle from Puddlby-on-the-Marsh who lived in my imagination was much more vividly real than any on the movie screen.
When they were closing the school several decades later, they gave everyone a chance to walk through one last time. I found this copy in a box of books to be discarded and picked it up as a remembrance.
I loved the illustrations in the books as well. Their simple hand-drawn lines were appealing and still have an “honest” feeling to me. They helped me to believe Dr. Dolittle was a real man and these adventures with animals were real. After all, the books were the genuine account written and illustrated by someone who knew all about Dr. Dolittle and his animals, Hugh Lofting.
Lately on sunny winter afternoons, I’ve been reading “Doctor Dolittle and the Green Canary” to my chickens. We are taking our time with this book because it is a treasure, just as a real green canary would be a treasure.
It will likely not appear on any of Gracie’s reading lists, but that’s not because it’s an unworthy book. It’s because you can’t buy this book any more, at least not the copyrighted in 1924 and printed in 1950 version with the reinforced library tape and the loose falling out pages and chocolate milk stains on the cover. Pre-read and pre-loved books are becoming harder to come by these days.
All of my chickens were ambivalent at first when we started reading this book because there are no chicken characters. Of course, they liked hearing about Pippinella, the green canary, Too-Too, the owl, and Dab-Dab, the duck, but they all felt the story would have been better with a chicken or two.
“Mr. Lofting should not have left out chickens,” protested Bessie. She is the one who most often speaks up when things appear to be unfair.
“Maybe there is a chicken who will appear in the end of the story and solve all of the problems,” suggested Gracie.
So we skimmed through the pictures in the remaining portion of the book. There were no pictures of chickens. Everyone was hugely disappointed.
“There can be a duck in the story but no chicken,” someone softly grumbled to herself. I think it was likely Bessie.
“Quite honestly, I’m glad Mr. Lofting did not write about or draw any chicken characters,” I said.
Everyone looked stunned, almost hurt.
“It’s like Mr. Lofting left all of the writing about chickens for me to do, actually for us to do. And for that, I am very grateful.”
Every head tilted to the side at exactly the same time. This was not something they had considered.
“Anyone reading our stories would think we were just rehashing what had already been written. It would be like if we had a pushmi-pullyu living with us here in the backyard. Everyone would say I was just copying Mr. Lofting and they wouldn’t believe anything I wrote about having a pushmi-pullyu in our backyard or any of you.”
“It definitely would be awful if people didn’t believe we were real,” said Emily.
“Or didn’t believe we could dance ballet,” added Gracie.
“All of that is beside the point,” said Amelia. “Tell us about this pushmi-pullyu animal. I want to know more about that. Can you find a book with a picture of it?”
Everyone agreed with Amelia. Finding out more about the pushmi-pullyu was much more important.
And so we spent the rest of that evening discussing the remarkable pushmi-pullyu and some of the other characters not found in “Dr Dolittle and the Green Canary.” By bedtime, the pushmi-pullyu was just as real in their imaginations as it had been in my own elementary school imagination.
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