The Books We Got For Christmas

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The author of Doctor Dolittle, Hugh Lofting, was born in England, but settled in this country. Enlisting in the British Army in 1916, he saw nothing pleasant in the trenches to write about to his children. He was concerned, too, over the cruel fate of defenseless animals in wartime. In his letters home, he began writing stories of an imaginary figure, Doctor Dolittle, the best animal doctor in the world. Out of these letters grew the hilarious peacetime adventures of Doctor Dolittle, first published in 1920, now going into its forty-fifth printing of 20,000 copies. Of all the doctor’s feathered, furred, and four-footed friends, that rare specimen the “pushmi-pullyu” is the great favorite. The pushmi-pullyu was blessed with two heads—one for talking, one for eating. “In that way,” he explains, “I can talk while I am eating without being rude.”

After The Story of Doctor Dolittle, the great flood of modern books for children began. Today, children might well wish for the pushmi-pullyu’s two heads, so that they could keep at least one of them above the torrent of books that threatens to inundate them. They could do worse than to take occasional refuge in the books of our past, many of which stand clear and firm like islands above the deluge.