Picture books dot the Newbery Medal landscape. According to the terms of the Newbery award, any genre–fiction, nonfiction, or peotry–may be considered, and the target audience includes “persons of ages up to and including fourteen, and books for this entire age range are to be considered.” Still, it seems to me that it would require a picture book of some complexity or with a very compelling theme to stand up to what an entire novel can sustain at least for the purpose of garnering the attention of an awards committee. There happens to have been two picture book winners during the 1980s, one of which is Doctor De Soto by William Steig. Doctor De Soto is a sophisticated story–one that might serve as a cautionary tale to intelligent but trusting mice everywhere. 😉 It’s the story of Doctor De Soto, a dentist who happens to be a mouse, and his assistant wife. Accustomed to treating all sorts of animals, they break their own rule about treating animals that are natural enemies of mice when a fox with a very bad toothache begs for their help. They keep their wits, though, and, with a very clever dental treatment, manage to thwart the fox’s plan to eat them. It’s the juxtaposition and sheer improbability of first, a mouse dentist, and second, that a mouse in such a precarious position (inside a fox’s mouth, no less) could outfox the fox, that make this story delightful. Couple those improbabilities with fantastic illustrations (Steig was cartoonist for The New Yorker for years) and intelligent and very endearing characters, and you have a winning combination. It’s like a modern-day Aesop’s Fable, only perhaps the moral mostly goes for mouse dentists. 🙂 Highly Recommended for any age.
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