My daughter is on a first-name basis with Paul and Judy. You know who I mean. The Paul and Judy who go around patting bunnies, sniffing flowers, and wearing Mummy’s rings. The Paul and Judy of Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt. If we’ve read Pat the Bunny once, we’ve read it 82 times. And that’s just today’s tally. Thank goodness for my sweetly-numbed adult brain that something a little edgier has come into our lives: the fractured tale of Beastie.
My family has a generational tradition of giving books to babies at Easter. I’m still reading my tattered, taped copy of Dr. Seuss’s ABCs that my aunt bought for my first Easter many, many years ago. So for my daughter’s second Easter, it seemed only natural that her grandmother would give her a book. Enter Pat the Beastie by Henrik Drescher. We found this dark gem at one of my favorite Indy book stores in Pittsburgh, The Penguin Bookshop (sure to be the focus of a future Wanderings post). A haven for book mavens, The Penguin Bookshop arrests me the moment I enter the door. I mean it. I can only take 1.5 steps before I’m sucked into the cover of a featured book on their front table. I trust their recommendations impeccably. To further establish my credentials before revealing the true nature of this book, let me just say that I have a Masters of Arts in Teaching. I’m an English teacher. And my mom, who sanctioned and paid for the book, spent a decade running a highly successful remedial reading program for elementary school students. Just to review: a book store, an English teacher, and a remedial reading instructor all agree–this is a book worth consideration.
Why the caveats and justifications? Well, let’s just say this book features a Paul and Judy who have wandered down darker roads than their more saccharine circa 1940 counterparts. The floppy, fuzzy bunny has been replaced by a furry, harried Beastie. Henrik Drescher’s story is a cautionary tale about what could happen to you if you don’t treat your pet (or pat the bunny) nicely. As in Kuhnhardt’s tale, children have the opportunity to physically interact with this book, but Drescher has aptly subtitled it “A Pull-and-Poke Book.” Through the book, Paul and Judy (and by extension your child) torment the Beastie until he takes drastic action. You can pull Beastie’s hair and tickle his foot. You can interrupt his shower with an unsuspecting game of peek-a-boo. Perhaps my favorite page is the (and I even cringe writing this) pull Beastie’s worm boogers page. I’ll give you a second to re-read that last sentence. I’m not a squeamish person. I watch as I have blood drawn. But when my daughter reaches out and full-fist grabs the rubbery worms extending out from the page of Beastie’s hair-follicle-filled nose, I have to confess I squirm a little.
Spoiler alert: In the end, Beastie eats Paul and Judy. An ever-helpful dog who spends his time giving sage advice on each page of the book quips, “Remember: Be kind to pets!” My daughter innocently waves bye-bye to the characters, closes the cover, and immediately asks to read it again. And I let her. Does this make me a horrible mom? Please don’t judge until you’ve at least picked up the book.
Along the lines of Jon Sciezka’s The Stinky Cheeseman and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, Pat the Beastie wrings some post-modern humor out of a story many of us have come to take for granted. His illustrations reflect his odd-ball humor with off-beat colors and characters whose smiles more closely resemble grimaces. If this were the only book my daughter were reading, I would probably be concerned. But if we can’t let a little adult humor and irony into our lives now and then, where would we be? Let me put it this way, I may encourage my daughter to treat Beastie nicely, but I also won’t say no when she asks to read Pat the Bunny for the 83rd time today.