Written by Russell Hoban, Illustrated by Lillian Hoban
“What are you looking for?” said Jack to his sister Daisy.
The plot in a nutshell: Kids try to fool the tooth fairies and have an adventure
Daisy’s loose tooth falls out, but then she can’t find it anywhere to leave it for the tooth fairy. Bothered that she won’t get a dime for her tooth, she and Jack make a fake tooth from paper, flour and water and leave it under her pillow. During the night, Daisy wakes up when she hears voices and finds herself small enough to crawl under her pillow to see what’s going on. She sees two little bearded men with wings carrying bags of teeth and dimes. The fairies, Wally and Jim, find her tooth and recognize it as a fake. At first they are sad and then they decide to look for the real tooth. Wally and Jim find the tooth, but get the attention of the family cat, Puss. Daisy feels responsible for the danger this puts them in and enlists Jack’s help to save Wally and Jim from Puss. They evade disaster and return to Daisy’s pillow, where they all part as friends.
As I mentioned yesterday, it’s my 1000th review on the Possum’s Bookshelf!! I pondered for a while on what book deserved the (somewhat fabricated) honor of being my 1000th book and when I thought of this one, I knew it was the right choice. Sure, the husband and wife team of Russell and Lillian Hoban are longtime favorites of mine, from the classic Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas to the Frances book series and even The Mouse and His Child, for older readers. But beyond that, this book has been at the center of a family joke that goes back to before I can remember. My family was having a yard sale and nobody bought this book, even though they kept lowering the price. Even when it was eventually offered for free, no one took it. So, never people to turn away from an epic bit, the family declared it ‘the worst book ever created’ and then we spent decades gifting it to each other in new and creative ways. When you got Jack and Daisy for your birthday or Christmas, it became your task to come up with a way to give it to someone else (but disguised so they couldn’t guess it was the book). It was ridiculous and fun. Thankfully, the operetta version that my brother and I recorded on a cassette player did not survive the 1970’s and can’t be used against either one of us at commitment hearings.
But is it really the worst book ever? No, of course not. The plot is a little contrived, but the underlying messages of the repercussions of cheating and the importance of taking responsibility for your actions is still solid. Lillian Hoban’s pencil illustrations are limited to shades of black and pink and they’re gentle and almost dreamlike. I love the portrayal of ‘the tooth fairy’ as a couple of old men with beards, which seems like a non-traditional depiction, until you look at the fact that there really isn’t consistency with how the tooth fairy has been presented over the years. There’s a moment after Wally and Jim discover the fake tooth when they both cry over the sense of betrayal (which prompts Daisy to cry over the guilt of her actions). Wally suggests they could maybe just accept the tooth and Jim points out that it’s the principle of the thing, but then suggests instead that they could help by finding the real tooth. As a kid, I didn’t think much of this scene, but as a parent, it brings back so many memories of times when my husband or I had to make similar decisions on how to handle problems with our kids. So honestly, it’s actually a pretty cute story with a nice message and I hope that the Hobans would have been amused to know how much it meant to my wonderful and silly family. I think every family needs a ‘Jack and Daisy,’ don’t you?
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that the fallout from your bad decisions can often land on others, which is yet another reason that honesty is a good call. (And, of course, that you never know the ways that a book can bring people together and have a lasting impact on them.)