BOOKS: Stickeen & Dr. White

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1999:

Stickeen: John Muir
and the Brave Little Dog
by John Muir
as retold by Donnell Rubay
Illus. by Christopher Canyon
Dawn Publications (14618 Tyler Foote
Road, Nevada City, CA 95959), 1998.
Paperback, $7.95.

Dr. White
by Jane Goodall
Illustrated by Julie Litty
North-South Books (1123 Broadway,
Suite 800, New York, NY 10010),
1999. Hardcover, $15.88.

The 19th-and-early-20th-century
conservationist John Muir and contemporary
primatologist Jane Goodall achieved comparable
stature in advancing human understanding
of animals and nature, largely in lost
causes––Muir trying to save the last wild
places in the American west, Goodall trying
to save wilderness in Africa.


But they are not of comparable
stature at writing dog stories. Indeed, while
Muir is best remembered for securing the protection
of Yosemite as a national park, losing
the battle for Hetch-Hetchy Canyon, and
founding the Sierra Club, his most successful
book was his 1909 children’s classic Stickeen,
the story of a brave, scarcely tamed little dog
who got stuck with Muir one evening on an
Alaskan glacier. A literal cliff-hanger,
Stickeen went through 24 printings between
1909 and 1924.
Former attorney-and-teacher turned
author-and-mommy Donnell Rubay rediscovered
Stickeen on a visit to Muir’s home,
which is now a museum. The original edition
was illustrated chiefly by children’s own
imagination, and the language was a bit stilted
by current standards, so Rubay updated it,
found Ohio illustrator Christopher Canyon to
produce pictures doing the tense story justice,
and produced a new edition which should
delight children for another century or so.
Jane Goodall found comparably
dramatic material and a sweet story line in the
true saga of Dr. White, one of the first celebrated
canine “animal therapists,” who “volunteered”
in the 1950s in the children’s ward
of a London hospital. Unfortunately, from
my perspective, her narrative lacks dramatic
tension, her terse and seemingly uninterested
characterizations are quite unlike her emphasis
on the individuality of the chimpanzees
she has written so well about for so long, and
Julie Litty’s drawings are not enough by
themselves to hold interest.
Our son Wolf, however, who just
turned nine, was quite satisfied with D r .
W h i t e as a bedtime story––an hour at which
children prefer the soothing and familiar to
stories which might provoke anxiety.

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