This week, a delightful book which first appeared in 1947, then disappeared about ten years ago, came back into print, thanks to the folks at the New York Review Children's Collection, who appreciate a good yarn and a good laugh.
Wolf Story, by William McCleery celebrates the art of making up stories in a most entertaining fashion. Over the course of a few evenings at home and several excursions around New York, a father tells two boys a story -- but it's one in which many details are negotiable. On the first page, five year-old Michael asks his dad for a story:
"A new story?" said the man. "What about?"Despite the man's protests ("Anything but a wolf. A weasel, a ferret, a lion, an elephant . . . "), Rainbow's antagonist is a wolf named Waldo ("but Waldo was in our last story ! He's been in every story since Christmas."). Sleep interrupts the action before Waldo can grab the chicken, but it continues the next night.
"About a hen," said the boy.
"Good!" said the man. "I was afraid you might want another wolf story. Well, once upon a time there was a hen." The man stopped.
"Go on," said the boy. "What are you waiting for?"
"What is a good name for a hen?" Michael looked very thoughtful. "Make it that the hen's name is . . . Rainbow," he said.
After that, the man takes Michael and his friend Stefan on outings to Fort Tryon Park and Jones Beach. The carburetor floods and needs the attention of a mechanic, ice cream and popcorn are consumed, a kite is built and flown. The story of Waldo and Rainbow weaves through the car rides, nap time at the beach, waiting for repairs.
At the climactic point of the story, the hen (who was doing a pretty good job of outsmarting the wolf) is rescued when five year-old Jimmy Tractorwheel knocks him out with a baseball bat. The question then becomes:
". . . What shall we do with the wolf?"So the tale goes on. Michael eventually figures out a relatively non-violent denouement, with lots of plot twists on the way.
"Make it that he gets up and runs away," said Michael.
His father could hardly believe his ears.
"Let the wolf run away?"
"Yes," said Michael. "As fast as his legs will carry him."
"You don't want him killed? Or even captured?"
Michael shook his head, no.
"This is the first time you've ever wanted a wolf to get away. What is this, be-kind-to-wolves week?"
Michael's eyes were shining and he spoke in a loud whisper. "If the wolf gets away he will come back and steal Rainbow again!"
It's a lovely story about a boy and his dad -- at one point there's an aside about how damn "is more a word for grown-ups" -- and what happens when you give free reign to imagination.
I recommend, dear Annie, that you avoid going out and getting this book, and instead hold out until later this month, when a birthday box will be finding its way from our house to your house. This is one I'd love to add to your collection.