Me 'n Crispin's Crispian

I used to think I was the only person in the world who had read, loved, and remembered MISTER DOG: THE DOG WHO BELONGED TO HIMSELF, by Margaret Wise Brown. I thought it must be a rare book, and I was content to know that I had discovered a treasure. It wasn't until the Internet began to bring us closer to one another that I found out so many readers adored MISTER DOG as much as I do.

When I was little, I didn't know what I responded to in this book, but it became important to me in a way other Golden Books did not, not even SAILOR DOG, which was also a favorite, and probably for some of the same reasons, but I would not list it in my personal canon. But today, I can look back on who I am as a person and know that I was probably resonating to the themes of independence and autonomy -- the dog who belonged to himself, and the boy who belonged to himself.

I have always needed stretches of time alone, even as much as I treasure community. I'm an introvert (although, not a conservative, as Crispin's Crispian is -- although, if we use MWB's definition, probably I am), and being with people -- as much delight as it brings me -- wears me out in short order, and I always need time to recover. The first time I went to ALA, in 1996, I was so overwhelmed by the lights! noise! people! movement! that I would take the shuttle back to my hotel room and have a little cry, sit in the dark for a while, and then try the exhibit floor again. Too much, too much! I've gotten better at that, today, but I still need recovery time after lots of people or lots happening. That needed recovery time has sometimes, over the years, been seen by others as anti-social, but it's not meant to be that way -- it's meant to fill me up and make me ready for people again.

Solitude feeds me in the way that it nurtures Comfort (in her closet and on Listening Rock) in EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS. So something in MISTER DOG -- even at an early age, when I already possessed these leanings -- made a deep connection with me. Crispin's Crispian and the Boy Who Belongs To Himself decide to live together in the end. I loved those two completely independent souls deciding that they could live independently with one another. And I loved Garth Williams's art.

I also credit this book with giving me my first written ideas about a safe and loving home:

"Crispin's Crispian lived in a two-story dog house in a garden... with a warm fire that crackled in the winter and went out in the summer. His house was always warm... and upstairs there was a little bedroom with a bed in it... and there was plenty of room in his house for the boy to live there with him."

That sounded perfect to me. Gentle. Kind. Compassionate. I would grow up one day, and that's the kind of home I wanted.

For more about this book, there are many sources to visit, including Leonard Marcus's biography of Margaret Wise Brown, AWAKENED BY THE MOON. Here's a nice essay on the blog "New York Wanderer" that includes photos of the house where MISTER DOG is set, in Brooklyn. And here's one more that says it better than I can, perhaps, about that lovely fictional world that Margaret Wise Brown created in MISTER DOG and how it spoke to readers.

One more Little Golden Book, and I'm done with Golden Books as personal canon. I received this book for my birthday one year: THE GOLDEN BOOK OF 365 STORIES by Kathryn Jackson, illustrated by the fabulous Richard Scarry, and it became a constant companion for me when I was probably 8 years old. This book was a precursor to the Junior Classics and the Book of Knowledge. I loved reading the daily entry for each date, and especially finding the important dates -- my birthday, my brother's birthday, even my parents' anniversary -- I remember marking all the important days with little pencilled stars -- my first intentional, informational marking in a book (I have gone on to copious mark-ups in books, but that's a story for another time).

Before I graduated to longer books, this book made me feel as if I was reading a great big book, and it helped me tremendously with my reading skills, as I read it over and over and, for such a long time, there was always something new in it to read -- and there were "genres" -- a short story, a song, a poem, a fable, etc.

There's a good overview of this book here, at the blog "Collecting Children's Books." I had forgotten the "infinity" cover, but I well remember thinking that my brother's birthday got a great story, and I got this puny little poem -- but it was a GOOD poem, I told myself. Ha.

Finally, don't miss Walter Mayes's comments (and mine in return) on First Influences, Friday's blog post. Thanks, Walter, for the great thoughts, especially about Dr. Seuss (Walter is directing SEUSSICAL: THE MUSICAL in San Francisco!) and thanks for listing your personal canon as well. Walter defines personal canon: "books that are, in one way or other essential to my image of who I am." Yes, that's what I'm after.

I love that one of Walter's picks is the Rand McNally World Atlas. I had forgotten about the atlases! Oh, yes, how wonderful they were. I fell in love with geography in fifth grade, thanks to an atlas (don't remember which one) and a teacher who made geography scintillating -- is it any wonder that Great-great Aunt Florentine in EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS calls herself a geographer? (Which is shorthand for gossip, in Snapfinger, Mississippi.)

Did you love Crispin's Crispian, Sailor Dog, or Rand McNally? What early books are essential to your image of who you are today? I remember reading over and over again SAILOR DOG, just for the lyrical, rhythmical language. The very sentence structure awed me (although I wouldn't have been able to articulate that as a child -- I just knew I heard something special). Here's the first sentence: "Born at sea in the teeth of a gale, the sailor was a dog. Scuppers was his name."

I'm deep, deep, deep into the Sixties this week. Hope you are deep, deep into something just as absorbing -- maybe it's vacation! It's hot here. It's August. The cicadas chorus outside my window at 8am -- time to get to work.


  1. Yes!! Crispian's Crispin! One of my favorites from my childhood too.
    What reminded me of it is a Dean Koontz novella I'm reading -- about a boy named Crispin and his dog. The name Crispin jogged something in my memory. So I googled the name.
    Thank you for being so articulate about your response as a kid to the book.
    I remember mine, similar to reading THE VELVETEEN RABBIT.
    When I was just learning to read, another favorite book was KATIE THE KITTEN ("...the small tiger cat, is asleep in hall, in a ball, in a hat"...). I was very happy to find a copy of it online.

  2. Cicadas chirping in August -- evokes a memory too. It was a reminder that we'd be back to school the next month. Not a bad thing -- a new box of crayons! 64 of them with a sharpener of course.
    On a given early evening in August, it seems they (the cicadas not the crayons) would erupt into chirping, in unison, on a remarkable arc, from their utter silence, crescendo to their maximum (mating-call level?) then back down to silence again for a few seconds.


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