Book Review: Call Me Bandicoot
Author: William Pène du Bois
Publisher: Harper & Row
ISBN: none, but click here to see the cover picture on Amazon
Length: 63 pages
Illustrations: color paintings by the author
Quote: “Ermine Bandicoot...looks ratlike, as his name suggests.”
Actually, as painted, he looks like one of the masses of Beatle fans found in high schools at the time, and his name turns out to suggest that he belongs to one of New York’s old Dutch families, but why quibble? This is another funny story about inventions that might or might not have worked in real life, as designed by William Pène du Bois, as seen in Squirrel Hotel and Peter Graves...only there’s more to it.
When I consider the funny story in its historical context, I confess, Gentle Reader, I am puzzled. Toward the end of his distinguished career, William Pène du Bois set out to write a short book, accessible to children but amusing to adults, about each of the seven deadly sins. (He died without having figured out a way to write a kid-friendly story about Lust, though one might have thought that the 1980s panic about sexual predators would have simplified that problem.) There was no question that Lazy Tommy Pumpkinhead was a caricature of Sloth. Porko von Popbutton and Pretty Pretty Peggy Moffitt were vaguely linked to historical events, but were clearly about Gluttony and Pride (well, vanity). Call Me Bandicoot is about Avarice, but it’s not clear what’s being held up as the bad example, or who learns what, or what the author wanted readers to learn from this story.
There are two forms of Avarice in Call Me Bandicoot. Which one you consider worse probably depends on which side of the famous “generation gap” you were standing on in 1970. Teenaged Ermine Bandicoot seems to be homeless; he rides around on the ferry, demanding snack-bar food from the audiences to whom he tells elaborate stories, presumably on the way to and from school. When the narrator realizes that a story he’s taken for fact was probably fiction, he takes an unfavorable view of young Bandicoot...until he sees old Hermann Vandenkroot and decides, “Ermine Bandicoot was as great as he had said he was.”
So, which of these stubborn men is “the stingiest, money-grubbingest cat that ever was,” and what’s the moral? While making their judgments, readers will be entertained by Bandicoot’s preposterous stories.
This book is recommended to anyone who likes picture books that are either funny or serious. It rates high on both qualities.
If you buy it here, the price is $5 for the book + $5 for shipping, and anything else that fits into the same package comes under the same $5 shipping charge. If you can get a better deal elsewhere...this author no longer needs a dollar, and I've sold the copy I had on display when I wrote this review.