The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles
Julie Andrews Edwards
Fiction, YA Fantasy
DESCRIPTION: The Potter children - Ben, Tom, and Lindy - didn't even want to go to the zoo, not until their parents pushed them out the door that October
day. If they'd never gone, they'd never have met Professor Savant, an eccentric old man who tells them about the elusive Whangdoodle, an animal stranger and more wonderful than any beast at any zoo. Long ago, Whangdoodles and other peculiar animals like dragons and unicorns lived alongside people, but over time humans forgot about them; those who didn't pine away in sorrow found sanctuary in a world created by the last and greatest and wisest of all the Whangdoodles. Of course, Mr. and Mrs. Potter think it's all make-believe, but Savant's a Nobel-winning professor of genetics: surely, if he believes in the Whangdoodle, it's likely such a beast exists - and if it does, the three kids want nothing more in the whole world than to meet it. Under the professor's tutelage, the Potter children learn to stretch their minds and open their imagination, all in hopes of reaching Whangdoodleland and seeing its wonders... but the Prock, prime minister in charge of the last Whangdoodle's safety, mistrusts humans and will do anything to keep them away.
REVIEW: Considered a classic by many, this book is a fun old-school children's adventure tale hearkening back to a more innocent time, along the lines of Edith Nesbit or L. Frank Baum. The kids are simple enough characters, but worth rooting for, as is Professor Savant, whose struggle to reconnect to Whangdoodleland and its long-forgotten inhabitants is partially tied to his work in genetics. With humans on the verge of creating life, he reasons, we need our imaginations as well as our intellects on full alert lest our power run away from us, which means remembering all of what we've forgotten through the centuries (and even through our own lifespans; the differences between childhood imagination and adult intellect come into play at key moments in the journey) - a bit of a simplistic message, maybe, but not everything has to be deep and brooding. Whangdoodleland is the sort of place one can't help imagining in Technicolor animation around the live-action children, full of such contrivances as the Jolly Boat (which runs on joke power) and beasts like the helpful Whiffle Bird and deceptive High-Behind Splintercat, and while it's not without its hazards, nobody acts out of evil or malice. Even the Prock just wants what's best for his master. Younger readers will encounter wonders and peril and frequent fun, while grown-ups will find a glimmer of hope that long-lost days of imagination may not be completely lost. It's not quite my cup of cocoa, running silly for my tastes, and it can't help reading a little dated (I wonder how many children today even know what a Soda Fountain is, outside the fantastical Whangdoodleland version that serves up any ice cream treat one can imagine), but I can see and appreciate the charm.
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