Have you ever seen a book and thought, "Oh my goodness, I loved that when I was a kid!" and then it turns out that it wasn't even published until you were out of college. What's that all about? This sort of thing makes me uncomfortable. It reminds me of the new breed of stuffed animals that come pre-softened, all floppy and mushy as though a kid has already loved them to death. I can just see some corporate genius in an office somewhere saying, "Remember, it's those sucker grownups doing the actual buying. We want it to look like their own little bunny! The one they let their mom throw out and now they miss it. They'll fly off the shelves!"
But before I get too far into my own mind, the book I want to sing the praises of is this:
My sister gave this to Diana years ago, and I was so pleased to get it. I remembered reading it when I was a kid. Except, of course, that I didn't.
How is this possible? I think maybe I had some weird wooden figures like those in the book, and I somehow felt like I'd read about them? I don't know. All I know is that the story—of the little boy who strays too far and goes down the drain, only to be rescued and have everyone restored to happiness again—has been intensely compelling to every kid I have ever had the pleasure of reading this to. (It's definitely a read-to-a-kid sort of book, the language is too complex for a beginning reader, and the story is not quite right for an older kid.) Even the worrier, weepy sorts of kids you would think might be freaked out by the story line have loved it. I think it's mostly because of the subdued tone, the calming illustrations. It's engaging but in a very subtle way I can't quite explain.
So I can't explain how I came to think I read it, or why so many kids I know have loved it, or why it's so engrossing, or…anything. But I do know that when I came across it in the Big Playroom Cleanup of 2010, just seeing the cover sent a pronounced pang through my heart. I packed it away—it's not right for my people anymore—and hoped that whoever gets it next lets it work its strange quiet magic over them and theirs.