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Mr Dog and the Rabbit Habit (Mr Dog)

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For all of Margaret Wise Brown’s oddities, I think she knew how to tap into the brain of a child. The word “belong” resonated with me. As a child, I heard it often. I “belonged” to my parents and my friends “belonged” to theirs. “Who does such-and-such belong to?” adults would ask each other. This never sat well with me, for I felt that nobody owned me. This is the child-like mindset Brown exploits (and which Mister Dog then exploits with the little boy). Margaret Wise Brown wrote hundreds of books and stories during her life, but she is best known for Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny. Even though she died nearly 70 years ago, her books still sell very well.

But the best part is when we are told that Mister Dog is "a conservative". That is a direct quote. And note the italics. It is a word that Margaret Wise Brown wishes to define. “He liked everything at the right time – dinner at dinner time, lunch at lunchtime, breakfast in time for breakfast, and sunrise at sunrise, and sunset at sunset. And at bedtime he liked everything in its own place – the cup in the saucer, the chair under the table, the stars in the heavens, the moon in the sky, and himself in his own little bed.” This evening he made a bone soup with lots of meat in it. He gave some to the boy, and the boy liked it. The boy didn't give Caspian his chop bone, but he put some of his bright green vegetable in the soup." Margaret Wise Brown died the same year this was published, and I can’t decide if she was an eccentric genius or a nut-job. She is best known for Goodnight Moon, which was haunting and strange, but Mister Dog is at least a little warmer, thanks to Garth Williams’ fun illustrations. Williams was probably best known for illustrating the classic versions of Charlotte’s Web and the Little House on the Prairie series.Margaret Wise Brown wrote my favorite childhood book Home For a Bunny. She also wrote Goodnight Moon which is one of my favorite books to read to my kids. Surely I would love a book about Mister Dog the pipe smoking dog who belongs to himself! I’ve decided to take my next book in a slightly different direction. Picture this. A hairy, Republican nudist – no, it’s okay, stay with me – convinces a little homeless boy to come and sleep with him. It has a wonderful moral.”

The dog’s name is Crispin’s Crispian. We are told that “he was named Crispin’s Crispian because he belonged to himself”. Okay, so he answers to nobody. An admirable sentiment. But then, if his name is Crispin, why is he called Crispin’s Crispian? Why not Crispin’s Crispin? Where did the “a” come from? And if his name is Crispian, why is he not Crispian’s Crispian? He probably dreamed it up after a session on that pipe. The house is full of riddles and pitfalls. On top of everything else, Mr. Dog hunts everyone who enters his place. And after you realize what secrets the fat man keeps in his mansion, your escape will turn into real horror. The night at Mr. Dog’s house will be truly unforgettable for any intruder.

It seems there are people who are against this book due to the pipe smoking and the fact that a little boy goes home with the dog, etc., etc. It's a 1950's Golden Book with a pipe smoking dog. I'm not sure what folks really expect, but I do know that I expected a nice story at the heart of Mister Dog. Unfortunately, this book was a weird mess with one odd event after another. I wasn't a huge fan of this book as a kid. It was in a large anthology of Little Golden Books. (I have no idea how that anthology came to our family, now that I think of it). I may have been in middle school before I read it. Well, Miss Brown, we liked The Color Kittens and The Seven Little Postmen. What have you got for us this time?”

Yeah, you gotta watch those damn liberals, they’ll move sunset to the morning just to keep the unions happy. It’ll be a two-hour working day. Only Eisenhower will keep the stars in the heavens and the moon in the sky. A vote for Adlai Stevenson is a vote for chaos. Reveal the secrets of the evil family! Find out why Granny and Grandpa were chasing you and your friends. After you had successfully escaped from Granny and Grandpa and were passing Mr. Dog’s house, you noticed that the fat man had caught one of your friends after all. Mr. Dog is that same policeman, Granny and Grandpa’s son. You’ve got to get inside his mansion and help your friend to escape. Keep in mind, however, that the process is not going to be easy. Mr. Dog’s house is a true prison — and escaping from prison has never been easy. It’s the dead of night, there are no neighbors around, and there is no point in calling the police. But your friend is counting on you to save him! So hurry up! The only way I would recommend Mister Dog is in the " Hey, you want to see a really strange book?" kind of way. I haven't read this to my kids, and I don't plan to. I remember their reaction to But No Elephants. I'm not bringing them down that road again. Margaret loved animals. Most of her books have animals as characters in the story. She liked to write books that had a rhythm to them. Sometimes she would put a hard word into the story or poem. She thought this made children think harder when they are reading. The writing style changed several times throughout the book which added to the overall strangeness.

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Then they went to a butcher shop – "to get his poor dog a bone," Crispian said. Now, since Crispin’s Crispian belonged to himself, he gave himself the bone and trotted home with it. Yet for all the peculiarities (and there are a LOT of them), Mister Dog has a very valid message. Its subtitle is “The Dog Who Belonged to Himself”. He answers to no human family and asks nothing of the state. He is clearly a classic conservative lover of small government. The moral of this story is clear: your life is your own, and don’t let anyone else rule it. Mister Dog belongs to himself. The boy belongs to himself. They both act on free will. If the boy can be easily convinced to come and do chores then, hey, that’s just Mister Dog’s good fortune. Note the direct quote. Why would Mister Dog say he wanted “to get his poor dog a bone”? He should say “to get my poor dog a bone”. Who edited this stuff? Anyway, then the little boy prances off happily with Crispin/Crispian, blissfully unaware that soon he will be tidying a dog’s living room. They make dinner at Mister Dog’s house and each of them, in Brown’s words “chewed it up and swallowed it into his little fat stomach”. Then boy and dog sleep in side-by-side beds.

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