Recently the boy came home from school with a comped copy of The Story of Ferdinand. I somewhat vaguely seeing that book in school, but it hadn’t registered. Apparently, Ferdinand has this ridiculously long political history, coming out as it did just on the eve of the Spanish Civil War, and set in the Spanish bullfighting rings. Gandhi admired it; Stalin named a gun after it (in a whack totalitarian dick-move); Hemingway wrote The Faithful Bull in response to it; Hitler banned it. Lots of sturm und drang with that one, boy howdy. But because I’m a philistine, I didn’t know all that. I took one look at the author’s name, and began squealing, because Mr Monro Leaf wrote one of my most favoritest books that lived at Grandma Dory’s: BOO Who Used to be Scared of the Dark. I really thought Leaf was just some dude who had fallen down the memory hole, like this book has, and I’m just jazzed as heck to find he’s a bigger deal than I knew as a kid.
Boo is a fearful child. He’s afraid of frogs, dogs, bugs, mice and the dark. Thank goodness he has a talking cat named Alexander who walks him through his outdoor fears, teaching him to be quiet and watchful around frogs and dogs, and to eat mice. Actually, Boo does’t eat any mice, but Alexander’s cattiness about mice makes them not-scary. The art is in this odd 50s style that feels like pin-up art, with the weird shiny round skin that people have in pin-ups, but I’m not saying this is sexualized or anything. It’s just a convergence of lithography stylins of the times. So, Alexander gets Boo over most of Boo’s fears, but the fear of the dark hangs on.
One night, Boo’s parents leave him alone in the house to “go to the neighbors” *wink wink* which I think is adorable and awesome. There’s no way most nervous middle class type parents would leave their six year old alone in the house at night, much as we would occasionally like to, but here it’s like, shrug, fend for yourself, kid. Boo wakes up in a panic, convinced there are all manner of wild animals – a gorilla, a snake, a lion – hiding in the darkness of his room. He screams; Alexander, who has been sleeping under the stove, wakes up so hard he cracks his head.
This is the scene I died laughing about as a kid, paging back and forth through the Boo panic and the spit-take of Alexander’s reactions. Sure, this is crazy dopey, but it was so funny to me. Alexander runs a Socratic dialogue on Boo, showing him that the snake was a pile of clothes, and the gorilla was the light fixture, and all of the fear is dissolved into the bright light of clean up your room. Boo’s parents arrive and wonder what is going on with how awake and cleaning Boo is, and Alexander says the only thing he ever does when adults are present: meow. Hearts.
I was very frightened of the dark as a kid, because if I slept facing the alcove, monsters would certainly eat my face off. I had this whole thing about jumping onto the bed so that Oncler arms wouldn’t reach out and grab me. I can’t say this book ever helped with that, exactly, but it was a valiant effort, and one I thought was the highest form of physical comedy. (I know kids have no taste.) So, for me, certainly the whole literary pedigree of bulls smelling flowers is notable, but I’ve got my Boo as my first love, in true hipster fashion. Sure, I mean, that wine bar is great, but there’s this other one just around the corner that no one knows about….