Written and Illustrated by Tomi Ungerer

HarperCollins, 1958

Once upon a time in a little French town lived an old lady whose name was Madame Louise Bodot.

The plot in a nutshell: A woman raises a pet snake.

Madame Bodot’s son studies reptiles in Africa and sends her a snake for her birthday. She is afraid at first and she checks with the zoo to see if it is poisonous. They tell her she has a boa constrictor and she names him Crictor. She takes good care of Crictor, feeding him milk from a bottle and decorating his room with tropical trees to make him feel more at home. She takes him to the school where she teaches and he learns letters and numbers. When a burglar breaks into her home, Crictor wraps himself around him until the police arrive, earning himself a medal, a statue and a park dedicated to him.

A boa constrictor seems like a pretty sensible home defense strategy.

A boa constrictor seems like a pretty sensible home defense strategy.

There’s a nostalgic kind of simplicity to this story that serves to underscore its premise that something as seemingly complicated as living with a boa constrictor can be easy if you just take the right approach. Author/illustrator Tomi Ungerer always seems to make the most imaginative ideas seem fairly commonplace and we see that here in the way that everyone in the town embraces Crictor and makes him part of their lives. Madame Bodot seems to really enjoy having Crictor as a companion and I love the way she integrates him into her classroom.

The illustrations are Mr. Ungerer’s traditional line drawings, in a color palette of mostly green and black, with occasional splashes of red. Madame Bodot’s initial reaction is shock, but she sees beyond that and finds a friend who becomes a crucial part of her life. I feel that Mr. Ungerer is challenging his readers here to do the same and realize that there is more to those people and things that you dismissed when seeing them for the first time.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that if you can get past your first impression, you can often find a wonderful friend where you thought there had been trouble.


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