Our first Bill Peet book of the year arrived today! As you will know from our Favorites page, we are big fans of Bill Peet – a long-time writer and illustrator for Walt Disney (at least, until a reputed break over “The Jungle Book” in 1967). “The Spooky Tail of Prewitt Peacock” tells a “tale about a tail” with a familiar theme: an outsider with a physical trait that makes him a second-class citizen becomes a hero when he realizes that what he thought was a shortcoming is actually a great strength. Prewitt’s apparent flaw is the spooky face/design that has appeared over time on his tail feathers (hence the play on words in the title). The face scares and alienates the other peacocks, until it also scares off the tiger who is constantly stalking them. “Prewitt” is a fun book, with wonderful illustrations that look – not coincidentally – like a Disney movie from the 50s or 60s. However, if you want to introduce your kids (or yourself) to Peet, I recommend starting with one of his rhyming books, all of which will eventually show up on this blog (Kermit the Hermit, Zella Zach and Zodiac, Smokey, etc).
Tonight we also finished Huck Finn! The final stanza of the book presented us with a several major twists, the first of which was that the farmer who bought Jim from the King is Tom Sawyer’s uncle (!) Huck plays himself off as Tom, which seems just “bully” until Tom himself shows up (!!). Together, Tom (aka, “Sid”) and Huck (aka, “Tom”) launch the most convoluted, confusing, and difficult plan to free Jim that could possibly be conceived. To be fair to Huck, his original plan is straightforward and even Tom allows that it is likely to succeed. Unfortunately, as Huck predicts, the simple but effective plan just doesn’t have enough “style” for Tom’s taste – a concept which, while frustrating in this context, has really stuck with us after reading two stories with Tom as a central character. I expect that in future we shall as a family seek to have the requisite amount of “style” in everything we do.
Tom then proceeds to work in all kinds of complicated wrinkles, each of which is borrowed from some story or history that Tom has read, and each of which seems destined to derail their plans (Jim can’t escape out the open window of the rickety one-room shack where he is held – he must be dug out, preferably with pocket knives; Jim must have a rope ladder snuck to him in a pie; the family must we warned with anonymous that something is afoot, etc., etc.). All of the various permutations that Tom invents, and scolds Huck for questioning, eventually become rather tiresome. The funniest parts are when Jim expresses his incredulity regarding each new requirement (such as when he learns that he “must” have pet snakes and rats and spiders in the shack with him). We couldn’t help but be frustrated for Jim, who seems so close to freedom but continues to be put through the ringer by Tom’s antics.
At long last…well, I’m not going to give everything away…but it all ends well after one more major twist – perhaps the biggest twist of all! We thoroughly enjoyed both Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn but are ready to move on to another literary universe…and to try some read-aloud voices that aren’t all slight variations on the same Southern accent.