I never paid much attention to Eugene Field’s 19th-century poem about two stuffed animals in a toy shop who ate each other up, The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat. It just seemed like an irrelevant bit of doggerel — until I picked up this newly illustrated version by an artist who clearly understood the tale’s delicious potential for the preschool crowd.
The gingham dog and the calico cat are placed side by side on a toy-shop table. That night, the two begin to fight, ”employing every tooth and claw/In the awfullest way you ever saw.” By morning, only scraps are left.
The pastel pictures are filled with subtle but lively excitements as the battle rages and the other toys register their alarm. The illustrations are a witty and fascinating comment on the rollicking rhyme.
Because anger and family fights are a normal but frightening part of every child’s life, this comical combat is sure to strike a chord. Artist Janet Street neatly contains the explosiveness of the emotion by putting an avuncular, vest-wearing teddy bear in the margins of the pictures to narrate the story. His expressions of resigned ruefulness are a reassuring embodiment of the Victorian narrator’s voice.
An added delight for the small reader, who knows the secret of how those naughty stuffed animals vanished, is that when morning and the baffled store owner arrive, the toys are all silent and expressionless again. A