Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowrey

From the favourer: "It's the nostalgia factor really - it's the first book I remember owning. It's about escapism & rebelling against authority & the little guy who stands out from the others! Most importantly it's about using desserts as a threat."

Everyone had a nice stack of chewed-on Little Golden Books as a kid - my favourite was The Color Kittens (I like it best when they make pink). But until recently they seem to have been relegated to the Big W/supermarket kind of shopping venue. Now suddenly there's big twirly stands of them popping up at Borders and Target, which is how I finally found a copy of The Poky Little Puppy.

First published in 1942, it's a harrowing tale of disobedience, the auditory qualities of chocolate custard, and the second meaning of the word 'poky' that I was not aware of.

One morning, "five little puppies dug a hole under the fence and went for a walk in the wide, wide world." They climb a hill, but when they get to the top, one of them is missing. Where's puppy #5 buggered off to? Finally they spot the poky little puppy still at the bottom of the hill, and down they go; "roly-poly, pell-mell, tumble-bumble", to suss out what Master Poky is up to.
He's smelled rice pudding back at home! The four non-poky little puppies race home ahead of him, but get into trouble for the hole under the fence and are sent to bed by their mother with no rice pudding as punishment. Lord Poky, however, comes home after everyone's asleep and snarfs down all the rice pudding for himself. (Apparently Mum's not up for puppy-counting and doesn't notice one of her sons is missing - perhaps once you have more than 4 puppies you get a bit lax about these things.)

The next morning, "someone" has filled in the hole and put up a sign: "Don't ever dig holes under this fence! BUT....The five little puppies dug a hole under the fence, just the same, and went for a walk in the wide, wide world." This time, they get to the top of the hill and His Pokiness is missing again; he's back at the bottom of the hill and this time he's heard something - it's chocolate custard! (I went 'err, what?' too, but apparently he can hear it being spooned into their bowls.) The four less-than-poky little puppies tear home, only to be scolded again by Mum for the hole under the fence, and sent to bed with no custard. Senor Poky, however, sneaks in after bedtime again, gutses down the noisy custard and sleeps the sleep of the just.

You're getting the idea here - each day they go out in the same fashion, see different creatures on the hill, go down the hill in the same way, etc. - lots of nice repetition for the kiddies (although parents might have a different reaction - I love how HarrangueMan tires of the repeated phrases pretty quickly and, in the grand tradition of parents altering picture books when reading aloud, he starts "to paraphrase, skipping entire chunks of text with the words 'they went back to the place they were at the previous day, looked for Poky, found him and went to see what he was up to.'" Tee hee.)

But in the final trip up the hill *spoiler alert*, when the four dessertless-and-pokyless little puppies miss out on strawberry shortcake, they get back in Mum's good books by filling in the hole. Mum is won over by this act of earthmoving, so the four get dessert after all. By the time the Pokster makes his usual delayed homecoming, he's out of luck: "'Dear me!' said his mother. 'What a pity you're so poky! Now the strawberry shortcake is all gone!'"

This is where I got a bit confused (after the audible custard incident I was already somewhat befuddled), because I thought 'poky' just meant 'small', and so I considered Mum's comment a bit insensitive. But a quick dictionary check informs me that 'poky' has a second meaning of 'dawdling, slow'.

Oh right then.

Things now make a bit more sense in a 'moral of the story' way - he's not at the bottom of the hill because he's too little to go fast, he's just somewhat of a slackarse. He is punished for his pokiness and goes to bed without any dessert feeling "very sorry for himself".

And in the morning, there's a final sign that "someone" has erected - though it's a bit confusing as well in a 'there are known knowns' kind of way: "No desserts ever unless puppies never dig holes under this fence again!"

Gosh. These are the desserts we know that we know. It's all rather scary, really. Not helped by the fact that the Poky-in-the-second-sense-of-the-word Little Puppy also has what Paul and I refer to as 'Sartre eyes':

If that's not creepy enough for you, there's also a wonderful Sinister Reading of the Poky Little Puppy by Rob Beschizza that you can listen to - as one of the commenters says: "I've never been so terrified of rice pudding."

So the moral of the story is: watch out for your brothers. If you hear custard in the distance, don't say a word, just get home quick and say that the other puppies dug the hole and what's for dessert?


Rita said...

I never noticed the thing about the eyes... Maybe it was an early calling - I used to see patients with eyes like that all the time at the clinic!

Anna said...

I can make one of my eyes go off a bit like that too...I do it to unnerve Paul sometimes.