50 Books: William Steig

First, some bloggy business.  If you are an email subscriber to this blog, you may have stopped getting notifications (and I’m just hoping that you missed them so much that you came over here on your own to find out what happened!).  I think this is because my dear brother figured out how to import the subscriber list to my new blog, which obviously isn’t live yet; but I guess that means that those people are no longer subscribed to this, the old, current blog.  So, sorry about that, if you got dropped!  Please re-subscribe via the sidebar, and I hope to have the new blog up soon!

And now on to our book pick, which I kind of forgot about for a couple of days.

The other day, Melanie Bettinelli was bemoaning the terrible selection of books in the dentist’s waiting room — specifically, the “retellings” of Winnie the Pooh that turn these nutty, hilarious, clever stories into sentimental mush only a literary half-step above the Care Bears.   Our dentist,  happily, has one of those fun-house mirrors, plus a huge collection of germy Legos; so I don’t usually have to read more than one or two hideous books.  But every time we go, I resolve that I’m going to present our dentist with this book:

Doctor De Soto written and illustrated by William Steig


One of the very few books, to my knowledge, that presents a dentist as a clever and courageous hero.  He’s also a mouse who has to decide what to do when a fox comes to him in pain.  I love how his wife tries to talk him out of finishing the job, because they both know that the fox intends to eat them; but Dr. De Soto says firmly, “Once I start a job, I finish it.  My father was the same way.”  I don’t know, that line slays me every time.  Same with his little glasses and his stodgy dentist’s smock.  Our family has also adopted the defeated fox’s exit line, “Frank oo berry mush” for use in many occasions.

I really like William Steig, but this one especially dodges some of his less appealing traits:  the way he uses super fancy words for no good reason, and, I forget what the other thing is.  I guess he can be a little brutal in his plot twists sometimes, which could be  hard on sensitive kids.  But this story is short, tidy, and satisfying, and highly original, and only has a little bit of blood.  The illustrations are funny and full of neat little details (some puppies playing jump rope in the city street below the office; the special double stairs, one for large animals and a miniaturized version for the De Sotos.  Steig uses delicate touches, both in his illustrations and in his words, to create solid characters and specific worlds for them to live in.

I also like Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Shrek (we also say, “Pheasant, peasant?  What a pleasant present!”) (this is the original book on which the movie is VERY loosely based.  In the book, Shrek is not charming, not one little bit; and neither is his bride), The Amazing Bone, Caleb and Kate — oh, and of course Yellow and Pink, which appears to be selling at exorbitant prices, for some reason.  Could it be out of print?   What a shame.



  1. My husband used this book repeatedly for his MBA business ethics class for its excellence in describing the phony moral dilemma: on the one hand, an evil action (“He wondered if it would be shabby of him to eat the de Sotos when the job was done”); on the other, you really, really, really want to do it (“On the other hand, how can I resist?”).

  2. Yes! Love all the ones you mentioned, plus Brave Irene. We have The Amazing Bone out from the library right now. It’s pretty good, but it reminded the kids of the other book with a fox where he says “frank oo berry mush” after his mouth gets glued shut. 🙂

  3. Love him! We just discovered his “Doctor” books this year with child #3 . . . glad that #4 will have them as part of her life from the get-go.

  4. I know I read some Steig long ago when I took a children’s lit class as an undergrad, but so far have missed introducing my kids to him. Making notes for our next library trip.

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