Monday, February 1, 2016

Book Review: How Fletcher Was Hatched

(Blogjob tags were children’s bookchildren’s storydog cartoonspicture bookrivalry among pets for human attentionWende and Harry Devlin.)

Book Review: How Fletcher Was Hatched
Authors: Wende and Harry Devlin
Authors' (memorial) web page:
Date: 1969
Publisher: Parents Magazine Press
ISBN: none
Length: pages not numbered
Illustrations: color drawings by the authors
Quote: “Fletcher, look at this dear chick. It’s so tiny. It’s so yellow. It’s so fluffy!”
Fletcher, a dog whose human is besotted with chickens, hatches a plot (sorry) to get himself repackaged in a giant clay egg, with a little help from his friends the beaver and the otter.
In real life, I observed a real dog in a similar situation. I had taken a job renovating an old farmhouse. A police-type dog called Penny, born at the house and adopted by some disreputable human neighbors, didn’t seem to get much of the attention and affection she wanted. Penny did not have the tough, dominant personality generally associated with her breed. For four of the six months I worked there, starting from the first day, she considered herself my dog. Asked whether I wanted to buy her, I said I couldn’t afford to keep her. All I ever did for Penny was scratch behind her ears, and she followed me everywhere.
Then the new owner for whom we were working sent some chickens out to the place. They were, he said, to be allowed to roam freely around the farm. They were purebred Game chickens, pretty birds, slim and graceful; they hardly looked like the same species as the big clumsy chickens that are bred for meat. 
At the end of the day, after washing and dressing to go back into town, I paused to look at the chickens. The dog bounded out from a shed, along a muddy track, to greet me with a hug. I didn’t hear Penny approaching; I heard a man yell at her, turned, and found myself hugging a muddy dog. “That (rude word) dog messed up her dress,” one man bellowed to another. “Wait and let her clean up—if she can.” While wiping off the mud I heard the men scolding and swearing at the dog. They knew as well as I did that that sort of thing matters a great deal to some dogs, but none of us thought we could possibly mean very much to Penny. After all, other people seemed to have been feeding her all her life.
The chickens were great fun for the next week or two, and then they began disappearing, always by threes. Three happened to be the number of disreputable human neighbors in the house where Penny lived. They told the new owner of the farm that that dog just kept sneaking out and stealing chickens.
“One dog keeps stealing three chickens at a time?” I said. Well, they had another dog who slipped out with her. “Two dogs keep stealing three chickens? For three humans?” A Game hen is just the right size to make one big meal for one fat, greedy slob of a human. I didn’t think Penny really deserved the blame, but Penny was chained, then locked in the cellar, while I was working there. 
And one day, after twenty-three chickens had been reduced to five—always subtracting three at a time (yes, additions were made before the subtractions ended), stopping only when the flock had been reduced to a mutant minority who were able to fly straight up from the ground, which most chickens can’t do—Penny was "put down."

It’s unfair to the Devlins that I had this animal tragedy in my mind before I read How Fletcher Was Hatched. Silly, whimsical stories shouldn’t have to clash head-on with real memories. Knowing that real dogs can and do feel envious of other animals who get their humans' attention, and what they do about it is not to have themselves repackaged in fake eggs, shouldn’t have to interfere even with my enjoyment of a silly cartoon-like story. We do not live in an ideal world.
Still, the cognitive dissonance between the cartoon dog story and the true dog story flashed into mind, causing me to laugh bitterly when I read at their web site that the Devlins were remembered for stepping out of the "angel fluff" school of writing for children. How Fletcher Was Hatched is pure spun sugar.

It is, of course, very cute and enjoyable spun sugar, and if either of the Devlins were still alive I would have tried to write a happier-sounding review and encouraged people to buy this one as a Fair Trade Book. But they have no further use for the dollar they'd get out of the $5 per copy + $5 per package + $1 per online payment I'd have to charge for this book...If How Fletcher Was Hatched interests you, though, you might want to add it to a package along with one or more Fair Trade Books; if you did, you'd pay only $5 for the whole package and could consider the shipping for this one free, which might make it a better bargain than you'd get from other online sellers after all.