Written by Else Holmelund Minarik, Illustrated by Maurice Sendak
Harper Collins, 1958
“Cousin Joan, I want to sit with you,” said Rosa.
The plot in a nutshell: A boy and girl annoy their cousin by not sitting still.
Rosa and Willy can’t keep still and Cousin Joan has trouble reading her book. Finally, she tells them they are like little alligators. They ask for a story and she tells them two stories about Light-foot and Quick-foot, two young alligators who keep fighting and biting each other, which nearly ends up getting them eaten by a large hungry alligator. At the end of the story, Rosa realizes she’s lost a tooth and they all look for it. She gets upset, but then Willy finds it. When they all sit back down to read, Rosa and Willy start some trouble, but Cousin Joan reminds them about ‘no fighting, no biting’ and they settle down to read properly.
Author Else Holmelund Minarik was best known for her Little Bear series of books, which were also illustrated by Maurice Sendak. A native of Denmark, Ms. Holmelund Minarik was a fan of Hans Christian Andersen and wrote her original Little Bear stories for her daughter. The first book in that series became the first book in Harper Collins’ popular I Can Read series, launching a line of books that young children could read on their own. This book is also in that series, featuring simple words and an easy to follow plotline.Mr. Sendak’s artwork sets the stage in a Victorian house with illustrations limited to shades of yellow and green. It especially works well in the pictures of the alligators, where Quick-foot and Light-foot are yellow and the adult alligators are green. He manages to give all the alligators such delightful mischievous faces that you really have a sense of the danger that these two little gators are in if they don’t learn to get along. My kids read this book in elementary school and the title became the standard declaration at our house whenever anyone quarreled. Somehow, I imagine that is probably the case in lots of other houses, too, because it is a lot of fun to say and it always seemed to stop the squabbling in its tracks. This was a fun book that I really enjoyed reading again after all these years.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that fighting between yourselves often has bad results for you and everyone around you.