It’s Read Across America Week this week and I had the privilege of hauling a bag of books to a local elementary school and reading to five different classes — K‑2nd grade — last Tuesday. A truly wonderful way to spend the afternoon, I must say.
#1 Son’s 21st birthday was Tuesday, which made me all nostalgic for the days of picture books, and so I’d packed a bag full of his long-ago favorites (and a couple newer ones, too). In each class we’d chat for a few minutes and I’d kinda suss out what they might like most. Small Walt was a hit with a kindergarten class, The Odious Ogre with the second graders. One Dog Canoe works for just about any age, of course. As does A Porcupine Named Fluffy. I think I read A Porcupine Named Fluffy by Helen Lester, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger, in three of the five classrooms. It never fails.
When #1 Son was small, we used that book to get things done. “When you’re all done with bath and have brushed your teeth…we can read Fluffy.” “Just as soon as you finish your lunch, we can read Fluffy out in the hammock….” He loved Fluffy.
The book opens with Mr. and Mrs. Porcupine taking a stroll with their first child in a stroller. They’re trying to find exactly the right name for him. They consider Spike. Too common. Lance? Too fierce for their sweet little guy. Needleroozer?
It’s Needleroozer that gets the kids laughing — it’s almost like a magic word that unlocks something.
“Needleroozer?!” they say.
“That’s a terrible name!”
“It’s hard to spell!”
Prickles? I say. They shake their heads. Pokey? More head shakes. How about Quillian?
“What kind of name is that?” said one little boy.
Then together Mr. and Mrs. Porcupine have an idea. “Let’s call him Fluffy. It’s such a pretty name. Fluffy!”
Lots of giggles at this. Porcupines aren’t fluffy! They all know this and so the name is hilarious! It’s a pretty wonderful introduction to irony, if you ask me.
So Fluffy grows up, beloved and somewhat protected, with his ironic name. At some point he begins to suspect he’s not fluffy — things happen. The illustrations carry the humor in these instances and kids love love love it. And so he embarks on the challenge of making his sharp quills fluffier — more hilarity ensues.
And then one day, Fluffy meets a very large rhinoceros. And the rhinoceros tells him right out that he’s going to give Fluffy a “rough time.”
“What’s your name, small prickly thing?” the rhinoceros asks.
“Fluffy,” says Fluffy.
And this just slays the rhino — he can hardly breathe he laughs so hard. By then, everyone is laughing — a proper reading depends on the laughter in fact.
“And what is your name?” Fluffy asks, despite his embarrassment.
And then we find out the rhino’s name, which I shall not divulge here. Suffice to say, it gives the irony of Fluffy’s name a run for its money.
The books ends with the two as fast friends, of course. And the book ends with readers — young and older — smiling and laughing. There’s just something about this book! If you haven’t read it, or don’t remember it (it was published before I graduated from high school!) look for it in your library. I saw it there just a few weeks ago — it is still very much in circulation.