William Pène du Bois ~ Viking, 1951
Ever since someone gifted me the angelic book Lion, I've been on the lookout for titles by this Jersey-born Frenchman. One of the founding editors of The Paris Review and author of the Newbury Medal-winning classic The Twenty-One Balloons, Du Bois' stories are very whimsical and often border on science fiction in their altering of reality. Here, he imagines the social life of koala bears and adds another layer of mystery to their already snuggly legend.
There's a park down in Australia named Koala Park where real teddy bears live in trees. They are most always happy and play together all day, but: Once upon a time they became angry with each other, no bear remembers why, and they became angrier and angrier. First they stopped speaking to each other, and then they even stopped looking at each other and just stared straight ahead and made growling noises.
Unrest ensues until a wise old bear decides to have a costume party to throw the bears off the scent of their anger. All works well, until the party ends and the costumes come off and they are all reminded of their tempers. After much grumbling and rumbling, the bears learn that sometimes it's good to stay partially costumed in order to keep the peace.
I really don't see how the drawings here could be more wonderful. They remind me a bit of the Little Fur Family in their fuzziness as Du Bois uses that same wonderful scratching to create the most touchable pelts. As a nonAustralian who's been lucky enough to see koalas in the wild, I have to say, it is very jarring to see a hugable teddy sleeping in the tree above your tent, so to imagine them with a colorful social life doesn't seem all that far fetched. And I did pay some crazy amount of money to some national park over there to hold one and I have to say, as long as you keep shoveling eucalyptus in their chow holes, they'll snuggle you til the cows come home.
The Runaway Flying Horse