Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Tree Houses, Snail Houses, Summer Living

Got thinking this morning about the wonderful collaboration between Allan Ahlberg (Each Peach Pear Plum, The Jolly Postman) and Gillian Tyler, called THE SNAIL HOUSE (Candlewick 2000). A grandmother is sitting on the porch of a rural house as summer dusk falls, telling a story to two older grandchildren while minding the third, a baby. In a story within the story, the grandma shrinks the children down so they can crawl under the crack under the door, like Alice, into the garden wonderland, where they take up housekeeping inside a very well appointed snail. The drawings are wonderful, and float my boat in all kinds of ways: I always wanted to move in to Badger's house in WIND IN THE WILLOWS, the BOXCAR CHILDREN's boxcar, Bilbo Baggins's HOBBIT hole, and eat a fry-up of sausages in DR. DOLITTLE's kitchen. When we lived in Manila, we had a little nipa hut playhouse, but it was too mosquito-ridden to be much fun. The huge trees over at my friend Eleanor's house were much better quarters for various games.

And speaking of snails, THE VOYAGES OF DR. DOLITTLE by Hugh Lofting (1922) was a huge favorite of mine when it was re-released in the late 1960s as a paperback movie tie-in to the Rex Harrison Dr. Dolittle movie. In it, Dr. Dolittle voyages with a young boy and a lot of animals to Spidermonkey Island and rides across the bottom of the ocean under the shell of a Great Sea Snail. So living in and traveling by snail is a longtime fascination of mine, I suppose.

Another wonderful book while we're on this theme of outdoor and alternative housing.

WE WERE TIRED OF LIVING IN A HOUSE by Liesel Moak Skorpen, in which some children decamp to a tree, then a cave, then a castle on the beach, and finally home again.

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