I came across a blog the other day that talked about the book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. The first time I was ever exposed to that book was in 3rd or 4th grade (I had the same teacher both years, so it kind of all blends together) when our teacher, Mrs. Murphy, read the book out loud. Mrs. Murphy used to read out loud every day after lunch. It was a soothing time… we were allowed to engage in other activities during that time. Kids would quietly play board games, or draw, or even read. One of the stranger things about that class room (which was in a portable, by the way) was the furniture. We not only had desks and tables, there was a couch, a rug, and… a bathtub. Yes, an old, claw-foot metal bathtub, and it was fur-lined. (Pretty sure it was faux fur.) There was a sign up sheet for the privilege of sitting in said furry bathtub during the reading time, because it was a treat. I have a visual and touch memory of running my fingers through the cream-colored fur, pushing it in different directions, making it smooth or nappy. I remember listening to such classics as The Westing Game, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, and A Wrinkle in Time. There are many wonderful children’s books out there.
One of the children’s books that I discovered on my own in the public library is a well-known but little read classic: The Hundred and One Dalmations, by Dodie Smith. Oh, most people have seen the Disney movie. Pongo and Perdita have to rescue their puppies from the evil Cruella deVille before she makes fur coats out of them. They find more than their 15 puppies – there are 99 puppies in Cruella’s country home. The journey to said home is very vague just how Pongo and Perdita get to Suffolk from London… making it seem as though they ran in one night. Nope.
A few differences: 1. It was Pongo and Misses. NOT Perdita. Perdita is in the story, too, but she is a different dog. She is adopted by the Dearlys as a wet-nurse to assist Misses in feeding her brood of 15 puppies. 2. It takes Pongo and Misses several days to run to Hell Hall from London, and the journey is quite charming. 3. When they do arrive, they find 97 puppies to rescue, not 99… I won’t say any more, because I don’t want to give away any of the charming surprises, but the book is so much better than the movie! (I know, it usually is…)
I was pondering all of this later that day while searching my bookshelf for another book to read, when I thought of another children’s book that not many people have read, one I didn’t know existed until I was in college… Burrhead’s Confessions by Guy Howard Hansen III.
This is a very charming story written in the mid to late 20th Century. Told from the point of view of a five year old boy, (who records his story on a cassette recorder that his father gave him) it evokes shades of Dennis the Menace… Burrhead and his friends Barney and Kit engage in antics such as spraying the garden hose through the open window of the neighbor’s house and tricking the ice cream man out of his inventory.
Containing many humorous scenes and a few sad, including a particularly poignant chapter in which Burrhead accidentally kills a pet bird while trying to perform a magic trick, this is the sort of book that will have you laughing in one moment and wiping away a tear just a few sentences later.
Unfortunately, it is a book that has been out of print for a while, so obtaining a copy can be pricey. I keep hoping that some day, someone will republish this and make it more readily available to the public.