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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

Little Critter Storybook Collection

Reviewed: May 27, 2009
By: Mercer Meyer
Publisher: Harper Festival
176 pages, $12.99

There was a time when there was a shelf of Little Critter and Little Monster books in my son’s bedroom, but that was about 15 years ago. Eventually they migrated to the local library and we lost track of the character.

His creator certainly didn’t. Meyer began illustrating and writing books in 1966, and published his first Little Critter story in 1975. This hardcover collection of seven of the more than 200 Little Critter stories he’s produced since then (plus 100 or so other books) was first issued in 2005 to celebrate 30 years of the character.

Much to my surprise I had not seen any of these books before, I would have expected to see some of the titles I knew. I suspected that these were just later books, all published since 2000, to which Harper had the rights. Sure enough, a little searching revealed that Meyer’s earlier publisher, Golden Books, brought out a similarly sized collection in the same year (Just a Little Critter) and it has seven of the earlier books.

Little Critter lives in the country, probably the way his creator did in Arkansas before his family moved to Hawaii when he was 13, and there’s always seemed to be an old-fashioned, pastoral quality to the books, even though he had moved to New York by the time he started the series.

In Critterville he’s created a lovely little slice of rural America peopled by anthropomorphic residents - a place it would be neat to visit of you could transform to fit. Critter has a sister and some understanding parents, as well as a dog. There’s also a mouse and spider that turn up on almost every page. The mouse provides a kind of visual commentary on the scene in front of you. The spider is a little harder to find, but he’s there somewhere.

If, as Meyer has said, the early books are based on his childhood and the later ones on his children and their children, the Meyer family must have some interesting times.

In these books, Critter has to come up with a school project, find a way to eat more healthy food, deal with some bigger kids at school, spend a weekend with his grandparents, and do lots of stuff on a “snow day” when there’s no school.

There are also two stories that start out with him playing with toys and turn into full sized daydreams involving boats and heavy equipment. The illustrations in these don’t have quite the solidity and detail of the other five books, but I think that was to emphasize the daydreamy quality of the stories.

Meyer’s books are mostly for beginning readers, and I can attest that they work well for that purpose. They don’t talk down to youngsters and they look at the world from their point of view, but they don’t dismiss older folks as irrelevant the way many TV shows with kid stars seem to.

Adults will find that there’s something else going in the books as well and that they have an appeal which makes them fun to read to your kids. I’m not sure a hefty book like this one will actually appeal as much as the regular 32 page paperback versions, but it’s a good piece of work and should still be enjoyable.

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