In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Henry and his big dog Mudge

Dear Annie,

Bob and I are happily settled in the house in Maine now, eagerly anticipating Lizzie's return from Spain on Friday, and your visit next week.  All that, and Mona turns 20 tomorrow!  She's far away, alas.

I started rummaging around today for good books to read with your girls and unearthed
Henry and Mudge in the Green Time
by the multi-talented Cynthia Rylant. You've written about her Poppleton and High-Rise Private Eyes books; Henry and his big dog Mudge (as they're always introduced in the books) were her most important characters in our house. Henry is an only child. In the first book, his parents get him a puppy who grows into a 182-pound English Mastiff.  They lose each other, and Henry swears they'll never be apart again.  The books are structured like Frog and Toad and a number of other readers: broken up into several short chapters.

Henry and Mudge in the Green Time is three stories about summertime.  In the first, they go on a picnic, Henry doesn't see a bee who's investigating his pear, and he is stung.  "'Ow! Ow! Ow,' Henry cried," a line parroted by my girls whenever we read the story.
Henry just had to cry. He sat down beside Mudge and held on to his hurting hand and cried.
Mudge sniffed Henry's hair.
Mudge sniffed Henry's hand.
Mudge put his big nose in Henry's ear.
But Henry kept crying.
Then Mudge licked Henry's face.
Mudge liked the taste.
It was salty.
So Mudge licked Henry's face again and again and again.
Every tear that Henry cried Mudge licked away.
Henry cried, Mudge licked, and the hand hurt.  But in a while, the hand stopped hurting, Henry stopped crying, and Mudge stopped licking.
They finish the picnic and all's well.

The other stories involve Mudge getting a bath -- in which Rylant and illustrator Sucie Stevenson get the resigned misery of a soapy dog just right -- and Henry playing king-of-the-hill with his faithful dragon Mudge.

All the Henry and Mudge stories (there are 27 of them now!) involve realistic situations, with real feelings, and family and canine love.  They involve relatives visiting, lost cats, birthdays and various holidays, mud, getting sick, being scared of the dark, going to the beach, and on and on.  They're written with Rylant's deft hand, a pleasure to read.

The most recent listing I can find for a Henry and Mudge book is one that came out in 2007.  Since then, Rylant's been working on a spinoff series about Henry's cousin Annie and her pet rabbit Snowball, in which Henry and Mudge almost always play a part.  Annie showed up in a couple of H&M books, and I suspect the publisher said aha, let's market these books more directly to girls. The Annie books have phrases in their titles like "Pink Surprise," "Prettiest House," and "Teacup Club" which telegraph that they're being aimed at girls. As you know, this is one of the things about the current marketing mentality that drives me crazy.  The Henry and Mudge books have broad appeal: they talk about universal kid experiences. But then,as with Dora and countless other characters, the marketing message twists, and girl characters are pushed for girls and boy characters for boys.   

So resist the spin and enjoy the books.  We'll have Henry and Mudge in the Green Time waiting for you up here.



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