I took my first trip to Yellowstone last summer and in one of the official gift shops in the Park, I picked up this innocent little book as a souvenir–supporting the Park Service and all that! Originally published in 1932, Cubby in Wonderland tells the story of a mother bear and her cub as they travel from Grand Teton National Park to Yellowstone and the many interesting critters they meet along the way. I’ll confess, during the opening pages I was all set to make some good-natured jokes about this book, like how everyone is named with their titles: Mr. Moose, Mrs. Otter, etc. What’s gonna happen when they run into more than one moose, huh? And feminism hasn’t reached the Park yet, because you never run into a Ms. Squirrel, do ya? So things like that. . .
My inclination to tease Cubby in Wonderland for being quaint vaporized like the steam off a hot spring, though, because the stories are just too darn adorable! I found myself chuckling aloud at the encounters of Mommie Bear and Cubby because they brought me back to my lovely Yellowstone vacation. The wildlife they encounter helpfully describe some of their natural behaviors so that children reading the book can learn about them. I do have a minor quibble in that the author uses the terms horns and antlers interchangeably, but this was written in 1932 and science is always changing, so I figured that’s a more modern distinction and I should get over it. But seeing as I’m a wildlife geek, I was delighted when Mrs. Otter explained how she has to teach her babies to swim, something that is true to real-life otters. My favorite encounter is with a pronghorn with the distinguished name of P.H. Antelope, for pronghorn antelope (CUTENESS). P.H. Antelope is very proud that he is the only antelope with a branched horn and describes to Cubby how the outer sheath of his horn is hollow and is shed. I’m in heaven!
In addition to the amazing animals they meet, Mommie Bear and Cubby visit all the major landmarks. From the Dragon Mouth Spring to Lake Yellowstone, the bears take in the wonders of Yellowstone National Park and learn about them at each stop. At the Petrified Tree, they learn how the tree was once alive, but volcanic mud encased it and eventually each bit of tree was replaced by silica until a stone stump remained. At Mammoth Hot Springs, they learn how the different colors in the pools are formed by algae and represent different temperatures, and that Cubby would be foolish to try to stick his hand in any one of those pools. The pièce de résistance is, of course, Old Faithful, which they watch erupt several times before finally deciding it might be time to head home.
Now for all its charm, I’d caution the reader to remember this book was written 85 years ago and there are points where our modern-day sensibilities are strained. Most notably, I cringed when Mrs. Otter described all the different “colors” of people she has seen, including “red” ones and “yellow” ones. Additionally, feeding wildlife wasn’t even remotely frowned upon in the 1930s, apparently. There are frequent descriptions of bears begging for food and even being given treats by Park staff to entertain the visitors. This is so outrageous by our standards that the publisher includes a note in modern printings that essentially says, “Yeah, we didn’t know jack about bears back then, but nowadays you’d be a fool to feed a bear or leave food in your car, so don’t do, signed our lawyers.” Plus a link to the Park’s bear safety page for good measure.
I enjoyed this book as a sweet trip down memory lane. Even if you haven’t visited Yellowstone, there is enough charm here to delight any nature lover on a rainy afternoon.