The Horn Book Magazine asked Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, “What’s the strangest children’s book you’ve ever enjoyed?”
My mother introduced me and my siblings to the wonderful weirdness in Howard R. Garis’s Uncle Wiggily tales. Garis gave us old Uncle Wiggily Longears and his adventures with Sammie and Susie Littletail, Johnnie and Billie Bushytail, the Wibblewobbles, Nurse Jane Fuzzy Wuzzy, and others. His stories clearly are meant for reading aloud, at which our mother excelled. Garis’s talky way of telling put him right there at my bedside. “Now, if you’ll get nice and comfortable in your chair, and don’t wiggle too much, I’ll begin. You see, when you wiggle, it gives me the craw-craws, and I can’t think straight…One day, oh, I guess it was just before the Fourth of July, or, maybe, around Decoration Day, Jackie and Peetie…”
Of Garis’s many books, Uncle Wiggily and Jackie and Peetie Bow Wow was my favorite. The Bow Wow boys were always tripping and falling. I was a clumsy child (and still have my moments), so those puppies were kindreds.
But it was Garis’s story endings that kindled my taste for the strange and marvelous—
If the radio doesn’t talk in its sleep and wake up the alarm clock before it’s time for breakfast, in the next story I’ll tell you about Jackie in a boot.
Now, if I’m not bitten by a grasshopper with pink wings, purple eyes and a gold ring in his nose, riding in a plane, I’m going to tell you next about…
And…if a big, red ant doesn’t crawl upon our porch and carry away the hammock…
I’d lie in bed thinking, “What?…Wait…say that again?” conjuring the bizarre images Garis described. I’d smile at the silliness, then settle under the covers, secure in the knowledge that tomorrow would bring another story — for radios don’t talk when they sleep, I’d never been bitten by a grasshopper, and ants have no use for hammocks.
Now if the honey doesn’t skip tea time and leave Roger Sutton to dance with the crumpet instead…
From the March/April 2013 special issue of The Horn Book Magazine.