The Man Who Lost His Head
story by Claire Huchet Bishop with pictures by Robert McCloskey
The Viking Press, 1942
I have never, ever read a children's book with an ending that is so shocking and wonderful, that you almost can't believe it is really happening. I read it for the first time to my son from a friend's collection a few weeks ago and was thrown for a loop at the shear awesomeness of the surprise finale. Though my husband remembers this book from his childhood, I don't think he remembered how it ended until he read it to my son at bedtime last night. He too was in awe. You could almost call the finish subversive, but in the most innocent and spectacular kind of way.
The story and illustrations are totally rad. The pictures are a stark black and white with great detail and personality. Even though the settings are simple, I always find something new every time I flip through.
The cat batting about the man's pajama top underneath the bed. The pocket knife and pumpkin rinds dropped casually beside the man's feet. The feather (peacock?) curving from atop an old woman's hat. A bottle cap laying on the ground, cast aside by some unknown person. I have to imagine Mr. McCloskey had a riot of a time drawing this man and his adventure.
Ms. Bishop doesn't fail either with a great story that is fresh and exciting right from the beginning and stays with you even once the book is closed and tucked away on the shelf. I am hesitant to give too much away as to not spoil the fun, but I will give you this...
Once upon a time there was a Man who lost his head.
UPDATE: The book was reissued by New York Review Children's Collection in 2009.
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