Monday, August 10, 2015

The Adventures of Jimmy Skunk by Thornton W. Burgess (1918)

Villains are always the most interesting characters in stories, particularly children's stories.  Maybe they appeal to my dark side.

Reddy Fox and Old Granny Fox are my two most favorite characters in Thornton W. Burgess's animal world; I also am a fan of Sammy Jay (I like blue jays; I also think I'm sort of loud, hence the appeal).  I liked the crow too (I think his name was Blacky).  I wonder if there is a cardinal or chickadee?  I don't remember.

I'm sorry more kids don't read Thornton Burgess today.  They are great easy chapter books.  They hold up well, although Unc Billy Possum's southern speak is difficult to read (although that didn't stop me as a kid; I don't think I knew he was from the south, I just thought that was how he talked).  

I like how even good characters have flaws, and make mistakes (really, possibly deadly mistakes, although no one ever dies except some chickens).  Peter Rabbit in this book is the good example; generally Peter is the good guy and Reddy Fox is the bad guy.  But Peter pulls the trick on Jimmy Skunk, and really rotten thing to do.  He pays for it though.

That brings me to Jimmy Skunk and Unc Billy Possum.  I remember loving these characters.
Unc Billy Possum is like someone from Hee Haw almost; he's clearly modeled on Uncle Remus stories.  Interestingly, opossums were at one time found only in the south, hence his southern accent.  Both of them are also examples of characters with dark sides.  They are almost anti-heroes here; they are the focus of the story.  Jimmy throughout the book; Unc Billy (even though the book is nominally about Jimmy) gets the last fourth of the book to himself.  They both have to eat and what they want to eat are eggs, even though eggs (as Thornton Burgess explains) are the young of birds.  They don't actually get any eggs, but they do try.

Still beloved books to me.

The Adventures of Jimmy SkunkThe Adventures of Jimmy Skunk by Thornton W. Burgess
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Do kids still read Thornton W. Burgess?  I still have my beloved childhood set, with a place of honor on a bookshelf at home.  My father used to occasionally read a chapter or two aloud at night.  I think I developed a love and appreciation of nature and animals from Burgess.  Jimmy Skunk is a standard Burgess.  A teensy bit preachy, but also cute and funny too.  What's interesting about Burgess is that no one is purely good or bad - all the animals have shades of dark and light.  In this book, Peter Rabbit, who you think would be a good guy, pulls a trick on Jimmy Skunk, and then gets a comeuppance for it.  Jimmy Skunk and Unc Billy Possum would be portrayed as bad characters - creatures of the night, eaters of eggs - but they also have good characteristics.  So to Sammy Jay.  I like that about these books.  Animals can stand in for people, and we can learn something from their mistakes.  That said, these books are never overly moralistic, or perhaps less so than other books from the same time period.  I think it's high time these books make a come back!


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