The Cranky Old Reader

I'm a Goodreads refugee, looking for a new home. Old books for children, science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, and humor are my main areas of interest. I've little interest in books that were written after 1975 or so, and prefer books that are older still. There are, however, a few still-living authors that I respect.

Doctor Dolittle's Garden

Doctor Dolittle's Garden - Hugh Lofting Doctor Dolittle's Garden occupies an odd spot in the Dolittle series; it's a transitional book, covering the end of the multi-book "entertainment" plot (as I call it) and the Moon plot that followed.The entertainment plot begins all the way back in the first book of the series, when the Pushmi-Pullyu goes home with the Doctor to help him make money to pay off his debts. It continues with the Dolittle Zoo and Caravan, the Puddleby Pantomime, and the Canary Opera. While the Doctor is, of course, himself always quite uninterested in money and even actively hostile to the concept ("Money! It's a curse."), the essential thrust of the entertainment plot is always how to make more of it.The Moon plot, on the other hand, couldn't be more different: not only is money not a factor, but the Doctor literally leaves the whole world in which money matters behind. That portion of the series focuses exclusively on discovery, exploration, and adventure. It almost seems that the Doctor's sudden fascination with the Moon might be a reaction to the previous multi-book focus on money, which was always an irritant to the character!Doctor Dolittle's Garden spans the change-over between the two story arcs. But it's quite an abrupt change, so much so that in many ways it's really almost two different books rather than one.I've been reading the entire Dolittle series to my son. We started when he was five years old; now he's seven. I should explain that we haven't restricted ourselves to Dolittle only, of course, and we mostly read at bedtime. On some nights he falls asleep so quickly that we make no progress at all, because he tends to forget the last page or so that I read before he fell asleep (or rather, I don't always notice exactly when he fell asleep).Anyway, this was a tough one to get through - so much so that even though we renewed the book once (it's a library book), it's still a week or so overdue. My son started getting a little bored towards the end of the first quarter of the book; roughly half-way through the "garden" portion, which could be considered the end of the entertainment story arc. It took a bit of determination on my part to get him to stick with the book, plus the promise that the Moon portion was coming up soon. I'd told him a little about the Moon plot about a year ago, and the idea captured his imagination quite powerfully.In fact, as the Moon plot picked up steam, his attention likewise sharpened. We even began reading the book in the car during my morning commute (in part, I must admit, because I felt guilty at having kept the book out from the library for so long - and on inter-library loan, too!).As always, Prince Bumpo of the Jolliginki was a favorite. It's a pity that so much of him has been censored out of modern editions; fortunately the copy from the library was an old one, and therefore uncensored. There was only one "Bumpoism" that I recall, but it got a lot of laughs.I should emphasize here that I don't feel that Lofting's portrayal of Prince Bumpo was racist. Lofting was a creature of his time: a Englishman of the early 20th century, with the provicial outlook typical of the time and some attitudes about race that can seem quite jarring to modern eyes (I'm reminded of Agatha Christie's casual racism, but Lofting is far less offensive). Losting's drawings, admittedly, can be odd; they make Bumpo look more than half a giant chimpanzee. For example, there's a drawing of Bumpo in Doctor Dolittle's Garden that was so ape-like that my son remarked on it; he thought it was strange. But Bumpo himself, for all that he's a comic character, is always clearly represented from the first book onward as good-hearted and brave, a friend to the Doctor and his animals - as witnessed by the fact that he is still a member of the Dolittle "family" many books later. And unlike the often-misbehaving Matthew Mugg (the Cat's-Meat-Man), Bumpo is always a trustworthy and staunch member of the family. Not that Matthew is bad, of course...he just has difficulty restraining his criminal tendencies (one of my son's favorite Dolittle memories is of the time that the Doctor goes to jail and finds Matthew's initials on his cell wall).Bumpo does have a tendency to violence towards intruding outsiders, and in previous books there were some humorous references to cannibalism which were doubtless deleted from modern editions. But Bumpo, like Jim from Huckleberry Finn, has been the victim of perhaps well-intentioned but certainly misplaced censorship by over-nervous editors (including, alas, Lofting's son).Once the Moon story is properly launched the pace of the plot picks up. My son regained his interest at that point. But fair warning: the book ends quite abruptly, and on what can only be called a cliffhanger. The Doctor and his companions are still hanging just above the surface of the Moon!If you're just starting the Dolittle series, this book is not the place to start. Unless for some reason you want to restrict yourself to the Moon plot only - in which case, you'd probably want to start half-way through. But I wouldn't recommend it. Much better to start with the first book and progress in order throughout the series, even though it does tend to jump back and forth in time between books. That said, despite the slow patch in the first half or so, Doctor Dolittle's Garden is still an exciting, enjoyable book that my son and I both liked very much.

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