What We're Reading: Adventures in Children's Books

The Great Quillow

James Thurber, The Great Quillow. Harcourt Brace, 1994, (orig. copyright 1944)
When I was young, my grandmother owned a set of children's anthologies (probably the sort of children's anthologies that door-to-door salesmen of the late 1950s were selling to grandmothers everywhere) that included The Great Quillow by James Thurber.

It was not until I encountered The Great Quillow again, in the recent edition illustrated by Steven Kellogg, that I remembered that big red anthology, and my grandmother's scratchy red chair, and the wonderful story of the insatiable giant Hunder, and the tiny toymaker and storyteller Quillow. My grandmother must have read me that story dozens of times, and when she encouraged me to learn to read it myself, I suspect that she was not being entirely selfless.

Among the things that appealed to me about The Great Quillow were the very particular details of Hunder's daily diet; every morning he ate "three sheep, a pie made of a thousand apples, and a chocolate as high and as wide as a spinning wheel." And I loved the descriptions of the townsfolk preparing the giant's food, and clothing, and shoes, and candle, and housekey. But even more, of course, I loved Quillow's ingeneous plan for defeating the giant.

My own children, attracted first by Steven Kellogg's gruesome giant, loved the story as much as I did, and our household suffered through several days of woddly-talk as a consequence (you really have to read the story to understand about the woddly-talk).

As an adult, I can read the story as a hopeful fable about an artist and a dreamer who made a difference in a in a society frantically dedicated to serving the insatiable Consumer (Whew! Pretty impressive, eh?). What makes the story live, though, is the inventiveness and exuberance of the storytelling.

--David K. Brown

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Monday, September 30, 1996
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