Sunday, September 23, 2012

Travels with Tucker: Photojournal of A Little Dog's Big Adveture


Take one adorably disheveled yet dapper Jack Russell Terrier named Tucker. Place front and center of the experienced loving lens of his "Papa," fashion photographer Danny Sit.  Result? A delightful story about a doggy who obeys his thirst for adventure but gets lost along the way.

When I woke up today, I had no idea what the day would bring. The bed called out, "Don't go." But I pretended that I didn't hear.I greeted Turtle, my favorite toy, as I always do. 'Today,' I announced to Turtle, ''I'm going on an adventure!" 

Despite his excitement, Tucker is at heart a dog of deliberate temperament. The idea of adventure is set; no need to rush the agenda. In fact, our fella ruminates rather intensely all through breakfast. He's so worn out thinking about where to go, he forgets to "help clean up" (instead of being scolded,  Papa praises his  "best little dog in the whole wide world" and is rewarded with a "big wet kiss right on his nose.")
Tucker's head gets so heavy he seeks relief in an immediate nap. Upon waking, the world once again his oyster, Tucker apparently draws on his storybook superpowers, climbing to the tallest tree in the yard.


No closer to deciding on his doggy destination, Tucker takes the sensible path of packing for any possibility. He brings his new coat with fancy new dog tag ("Papa said the tag would come in handy if I ever got in trouble.") Though it's a bright, sunny day, he recalls Papa saying how quickly the weather can change. Just in case "an iceberg floats down from the North Pole and he gets stranded on it," Tucker takes his warmest sweater. Thoughts of stormy weather prompt the packing of his yellow rain slicker, but our pup is not a gloomy gus by any means; he grabs his favorite hoodie, in case he runs across a "cool rock band" who ask him to join. After all, a little dude never knows! "barney in cashmere"


Wardrobe issues settled, Tucker tackles transportation. Recalling cozy road trips, our boy heads for the car but finds that driving requires Papa legs, not puppy paws, to reach the pedals. But wait, when Papa doesn't drive he takes the train! Tucker heads to the station just in time to climb "ALL ABOARD." A window seat, one more nap, the choo choo stops, and Tucker hops off to discover where his adventuring itch has led him. Nose and ears instantly disclose that Tucker's in the happiest place - the seashore!
I ran to the edge of the water. The rocks felt good on my back, and the sun felt good on my tummy. I gathered some driftwood. I dug some clams. How many biscuits can I trade for a bucket of clams I wondered. Lucky little dog that I am, I even found a big blue ball tat some other dog had left behind.


Suddenly, Tucker looks up from his fun and realizes he's far, far away from  familiar creature comforts - his turtle, his bed, most of all, his Papa!  Anxiety nips at his heels as he races up and down the beach wanting but not knowing how to return to them! Oh, the memories that flood his mind-- from that first day Papa brought him home to the time Eloise, the cat, took special care of him when he hurt his paw. Overcome, the only thing poor Tucker could do was to sit down on the beach and howl over and over "I'm lost!" Sadly, no article of clothing he packed had covered this calamity!


Just as Tucker's most forlorn howl escapes his lips, he hears a familiar bark! His best friend Puddles was playing nearby. Two Legs (Puddles' mommy) gives Tucker a "great big hug" (which he pronounces "swell" ), takes him home and shows him pictures of himself that a very worried Papa has been posting "everywhere!"  A happy reunion is little more than a nap time away for our hero, who can at last rest assured that things will once more be set right in his world. Puddles' house is comfy and cozy, but it's not the same as being home.


 The door opens and a distraught but delighted Papa greets/scolds his pup "Where have you been?" Tucker gives it all up, telling him everything, down to the tiniest detail, only stopping to plant kisses on everyone--everyone's ankles,  that is, "after all, I am a very little dog," though now with a great big adventure behind him.

Turns out, Tucker's story is a tribute to author/Vogue photographer Danny Sit's own dog Barney, another natural in front of the camera.

While Barney's adventures have taken him across the Rainbow Bridge, Sit remains doggy Papa and devoted personal photographer to two Jack Russell terriers named Apple and Henri - champion nappers both. Of all the terrific pictures in the book, the best may be the last page portrait of Sit reclining contently on his couch, a precious pooch lovingly perched atop his chest.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Tamest Taurus: The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf; Drawings by Robert Lawson

"Once upon a time in Spain, there was a little bull and his name was Ferdinand."


It's hard to imagine a more innocent premise for a children's story. However, once upon a time in Spain there was also a Civil War, which erupted in 1936 shortly after Munro Leaf's book debuted. Despite the author's homage to the little bull's homeland, "Ferdinand" was banned in Fascist Spain and burned in Nazi Germany. Though some tried to brand this simple story regaling a gentle creature whose tail swished to his own drumbeat "subversive" it not only survived but thrived; translated into 60 languages, it has never been out of print. Heroic figures from Ghandi to FDR lauded Leaf and Lawson's work. The rest, as they say, is history.

Our library's  new copy appeared to be an exact replica of the original. Recognizing it as a classic from my own childhood (though I'd never read it), nostalgia and curiosity led me to reach for it from among the more lushly illustrated modern volumes on display. From the first page, the simply drawn story drew me in.

Like Rudolph  (the Red Nosed Reindeer) Ferdinand was what used to be labeled in less politically correct times a misfit.

 "All the other little bulls he lived with would run and jump and butt their heads together. But not Ferdinand." However, he wasn't excluded from playing; he chose not to join in.


"He liked to sit quietly and just smell the flowers" under his favorite cork tree--a fanciful answer to the many who may have pondered where wine corks came from. Ferdinand didn't appear to miss  the rough and tumble company of others. Of course, this worried his mother. But to her credit, she didn't care that her offspring was different (read: awkward, weird, nerdy), only that he might be  lonely and unhappy. Realizing that he was neither, she left him to enjoy his solitude and sanctuary. In my book, she ranks among the great literary mamas of any species. 


The little bull grew big and strong, but he didn't forsake his laid back lifestyle. While the other bulls fantasized of fighting in the bullring, Ferdinand could care less. However, he hadn't counted on the ironic twist of fate about to befall him. When men from Madrid arrived to find a fitting match for the matador, a random bee sting sent Ferdinand flying at full throttle. His involuntary display of strength and speed wowed the group and in short order our hermit-like hero was literally carted off to the city to face a surreal, Superbowl-like spectacle, in which he'd been cast as the main event.  (One can only imagine the reaction of Ferdinand's "home boys" as the "quiet one" was awarded their long sought after "prize".)


"Flags were flying, bands were playing..and all the lovely ladies had flowers in their hair." But the parade into the bullring soon raised a hackle on this reader.  "First came the Banderillos with long sharp stick in the bull and make him mad. Next came the Picadores..they had long spears to stick in the bull and make him madder." Finally the Matador, who was "supposed to stick the bull last of all." appeared.  (Gulp!) Enter  Ferdinand,  billed as  "El Toro Feroz", or Ferdinand the Fierce.


Our hero was soon socked in on all sides by shouting and clapping; the noisy throng eagerly awaiting the requisite head butting, snorting, jutting and sticking (plus all sorts of other mean, nasty, horrible things that adults reading to children are undoubtedly relieved he didn't mention).

Trembling, I could barely turn the page to learn Fernando the anything but Fierce's fate. I should have had more faith. This was one bovine who couldn't be bullied into being anything other than who he was. I've rarely been more relieved to read the rest of the story:

 ..."not Ferdinand. When he got to the middle of the ring, he saw the flowers in all the lovely ladies' hair, and he just sat down quietly and smelled." No matter how his tormentors provoked him, El Toro Feroz proved more pussycat than lion. Frustrated, the Matador threw off his cape (the bullfighter equivalent to throwing down your bat and helmet I'm guessing) and just cried. The flower child that  resides unseen alongside my graying soul flashed a triumphant peace sign.

Had Munro Leaf hailed from Hollywood instead of Maryland, the experience might have resulted in a major lifestyle upheaval for Ferdinand.  Fortunately, no such travesty took place.


"..for all I know he is sitting there still, under his favorite cork tree, smelling the flowers just quietly. He is very happy."

Fun facts/ final notes:

 The 1938 Disney Studio's feature won an Academy Award for best short animated picture.

Robert Lawson was the first person ever awarded both the Newberry and Caldecott Medals for excellence in children's literature.

A search of online images reveals an astounding number of creative tributes to Ferdinand, reflecting the enduring resonance of the story, it's hero, and it's subversive yet satisfying message.

A caption

For more on Munro Leaf, Robert Lawson, and the controversy surrounding The Story of Ferdinand: