This recently re-issued classic children’s book is damn delightful. John, Janey and Pete are children growing up in 1950’s midwest. Their babysitter, Mr. Pudgins, has a magical pipe, a flying car and a pet Dodo. The children have a series of magical adventures, until Mr. Pudgins has to leave to share his magic with a new group of siblings.
This book was re-issued as part of the Nancy Pearl’s Book Crush series for NPR. It’s a really sweet book with only a few issues. I read this book out loud to my four and five year old children. It kept their interest while being just long enough to tire them out so they fell asleep by the end of each chapter/adventure.
The book was written in the 1950’s so it has a few issues:
-Mr. Pudgins has the children pledge to keep the games he plays with them secret, which is super creepy with today’s knowledge of pedophile grooming behavior. Obviously, as this is a children’s book he is a good soul and it is nice to have a male babysitter character to challenge stereotypes even if he is more closely modeled after Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat than Mary Poppins.
-His magic comes from the pipe he smokes. That was a fun conversation with my children who don’t have anyone in their lives who smokes cigarettes, much less a pipe. I thought I had done a good job talking about the pipe as something that people smoked before they knew it could make them sick and very few people do that anymore. What I didn’t anticipate was my five year old equating the stupid vape cigarette that a relative was smoking at a family BBQ with Mr. Pudgin’s pipe. It was pretty funny to watch said relative try to find somewhere to smoke without being trailed by a curious 5 year old who was peppering him with uncomfortable questions while waiting for him to do something magical.
-There are some gender roles and stereotypes that are a little uncomfortable. It’s not as bad as some of the other contemporary classics, but Janey definitely wants different girly things from her more adventuresome brothers. There are also a lot of outdated terms for household items such as “icebox” and “Davenport” that I would have to either stop the story to explain or replace with contemporary words.
The adventures are really cute and the children are sweet and resilient. They fly a bathtub around the neighborhood, hold an animal circus in the backyard and make friends with an extinct Dodo Bird, and have play dates with their mirror images.
Overall this book is fun for adults and kids. There is no great overarching issue that ties the chapters together. The parents are loving and involved, they just sometimes need a babysitter. The kids are good to each other and Mr. Pudgins is kind and patient. Usually his magic goes a bit awry, such as filling the entire house with popcorn or getting the flying bathtub stuck in a tree. The children are the ones who come up with solutions to these problems and do a lot of the cleaning up and repairing the damage their adventures cause. It’s dated and some of the lessons are not on-point for what I want my kiddos to take away, but it’s perfect bedtime reading.