This summer NYRB Classics Children’s Collection is releasing new editions of two Dorothy Kunhardt books from the 1930s, Junket Is Nice (1932) and Now Open the Box (1934). While not moving and deep like the last one we reviewed, Hickory (see our review here), these two books are filled with imagination — they’re hilarious. My kids loved each of them
In each book, Kunhardt sets up a basic concept and then lets her imagination go.
In Junket Is Nice, the concept is this: a man with a big red beard is eating junket from a big red bowl (we are still in the process of procuring the right ingredients to make our own junket). He just keeps eating junket. He eats so much junket, people start to get curious, until the whole world comes to see the man eating junket. The man decides to have a little fun and asks them to guess what he’s thinking of while he’s eating his junket.
At this point, I stopped reading the book and asked my two boys, Carter and Holland. They each guessed correctly. If only they were in this crowd of people guessing the craziest — but funniest — things.
This one was Carter’s favorite:
And this one was Holland’s favorite:
As I said above, both of my kids got the actual answer right, so they’d win the wonderful prize the man with the red beard promised, but I wanted to push them a bit, see if they could come up with some crazy guesses. Here’s what they said:
Holland: “Phones. A phone getting called with.”
Yes, crazy, I know. But look where Carter takes that prompt:
Carter: “Two phones that are trying to jump but can’t.”
We’ve now read this book a few times, and it’s been a lot of fun each time. Here’s part of our second conversation about the book.
Me: Holland, does junket sound good?
Me: But junk is in the name. Do you like eating junk?
Carter: It’s not junk because Holland has a hall and an and, and he’s not a hall or an and.
Me: So you’re saying you’re not a car, a cart, or a ter.
Carter: That’s not even a word.
I did ask for a crazy guess again this time, and Carter, showing he’s highly literate when it comes to children’s books, said he’d guess that there was a pigeon wanting to drive the bus.
We were really excited, then, when the next Kunhardt book came in the mail:
But, I’ll be honest, I was skeptical. I enjoyed Junket Is Nice so much that I almost didn’t want to read Now Open the Box, lest I be disappointed. But, almost immediately, the book felt comfortable. There were the now familiar colored pages with run on sentences on the left, pulling crazy images from a basic concept.
Here, we go to a circus with a special dog named Pee Wee. Pee Wee is tiny, and everyone loves him. We were all very excited to see the crazy images popping up.
Holland’s favorite was the strong baby:
Carter’s was the lady hanging by her nose.
While the concept isn’t as strange as a man eating junket while the world guesses what he’s thinking of, it was still a lot of fun, particularly when Pee Wee started to get bigger, just like a normal dog, and everyone at the circus was nervous.
Carter made comparisons to Clifford and recognized the run-on sentences: “There are like 100 ands in this book.” Holland seemed skeptical about everyone’s love for Pee Wee: “He can’t do any tricks.” Carter was a bit more beneficent. When I asked if he’d love Pee Wee if Pee Wee were a normal sized dog, he said, “Yeah. Because it wouldn’t be nice to not like him.” And I’m happy to say that they thought the skinny man looked just like Dad.
In the end, I think they both enjoyed Now Open the Box almost — I don’t think they liked it as much — as Junket Is Nice.
They’re beautiful books, once again, and they emanate the kind of creative imagination that I hope inspires my children. If you haven’t already, get to know the man with the red beard and Pee Wee.