Wednesday, July 04, 2007



by William Steig

I just posted over at Pick of the Litter (at MBT, that is) about William Steig. And in getting that post ready, I read my first of his fiction books. (And this is, pretty much, a more in-depth version of the short annotation there.)

Let me start by saying I adore William Steig. His picture books are perfection, filled with his cartoon-y artwork, his wonderful storytelling, the kind of mild magic that makes for lovely fairy tales, characters of strong character, evocative decriptions of the natural world, and a vocabulary of the kind of depth that makes me smile for its appropriateness (if that is, indeed, a word from a real vocabulary) and for the slightly comic effect to which he uses it. So I had high hopes mixed with some trepidation when I opened Dominic.

I need not have worried. Steig retains his position in my heart as a master storyteller. He has claimed to be highly influenced by Pinocchio, and indeed, it shows here, for the story has the same sort of picaresque feel, moving from episode to episode. Some are the geneses (is that how you pluralize genesis?) of friendships, some are about the repeated battles with the Doomsday Gang, but all show him to be a pretty good guy, if a little young and a little self-interested. What really stands out for me again is his revelling in the world around him, taking in all the sights and smells (well, he is a dog) that nature has to offer, as well as the abundant and rich vocabulary employed throughout. What a wonderful treasure to share with a child old enough to enjoy a read-aloud without too many pictures. It is quite gentle enough for that, for the occasional fight scenes are glossed over nicely, and end with the bad guys fleeing, though parents who don't want to even approach that might wait a while longer and lean on Winnie-the-Pooh and Paddington and their cozier brethren in the meantime.

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Hey, I learned something new today from your blog post (besides being introduced to this author). The plural of genesis is indeed geneses! I never thought about it since I generally use the word only when referring to the first book in the Bible/Pentateuch (depending on your religion). It is a wonderful word. I should use it more.
I too am a fan of Dominic. It was actually one of the first chapter books I read to my older boy, and althought the story and illustrations were as charming as I remembered them, I was taken aback at the richness of the vocabulary. I think it says much for Steig's abilities as a story teller that even though I doubt my son understood the words, he loved the book. The episodic nature of the story also makes it a good read aloud, because you can come back to it after a break.

You should also read The Real Thief and Abel's Island, if you haven't yet!
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