Written and Illustrated by Bill Peet
Houghton Mifflin, 1970
Scamp flopped down heavily on the porch with a mournful sigh. The old farm dog had been in a miserable mood for weeks and no one knew why.
The plot in a nutshell: A dog wants to be something better than he is, but gets more than he bargained for.
Scamp is unhappy because he feels that he will never be as wonderful or important as Palomar, the white show horse. One day, his boy, Orvie, catches him pretending to walk like Palomar and Orvie calls him a ‘silly ole dog.’ Hurt, Scamp runs away and finds a witch who can change him into something else. She offers to make him a one of a kind wonder called a whingdingdilly, a hodgepodge of several animals. He finds it hard to struggle through the woods in his new shape and when he hears Orvie calling him, he hides, knowing that he will frighten the boy. He returns to the farm house at night and sees Orvie through the window, looking sad and worried.
He goes back to the witch’s house, but she’s gone. Because he’s been seen, everyone is looking for the weird creature. He’s captured by a circus owner, kept in a cage and displayed, where people poke at him and pull his tail. When the witch gets home, she sees her tulips crushed. Knowing it was the whingdingdilly, she magically returns him to his dog form. The circus owner throws him out and he returns to Orvie, who is overjoyed to see him. Scamp is contented to stay a dog, knowing that Orvie loves him just as he is.
When author/illustrator Bill Peet visited elementary schools, he would play a game with the kids where he would start to draw an animal and the kids would guess what it was as soon as they could tell. Because the game was pretty easy, Mr. Peet would vary it up and change the animal as soon as the kids guessed it, so he would end up with a hodgepodge animal and the way the children laughed at those creations inspired this story. The character of Scamp was inspired by Mr. Peet’s beloved dog, Rama, and the book is dedicated to him.
As with many Bill Peet books, this one takes a little longer to read than other picture books, but is well worth the extra time. The illustrations are evocative of a wide array of emotions; from the witch’s whimsically drawn creation of the whingdingdilly to the portrayal of the frightened creature running for his life and his joyful reunion with Orvie at the end of the book. The message is a very good one and the story around it is entertainingly told.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that there’s no reason to try to be anything else when you’re already so good at being yourself.