Sep 14, 2006

Comfort food

Michelle Pauli wants to know which books you turned to when you were feeling sulky as a child.

Of course, I loved the Chronicles of Narnia, Wind in the Willows, the Little House books and Noel Streatfield's Shoe books. But the book that always took me out of myself was an old rebound-from-the-library volume of comic strips called Barnaby, by Crockett Johnson, who's best known nowadays as the author of Harold and the Purple Crayon. The book's about a young boy, Barnaby, and his adventures with his fairy godfather, Mr. O'Malley.

If you've read Harold, you'll know it's a gentle tale about a magical journey. I suppose a book with a fairy godfather in it sounds like more of the same. But Mr. O'Malley is no ordinary fairy godparent.

o'malleyA card-carrying member of the Elves, Leprechauns, Gnomes and Little Men's Chowder and Marching Society, Mr. O'Malley is the same height as Barnaby, has little pink wings on his back, flies (if somewhat erratically), uses a cigar as a magic wand, and can do a bit of magic -- but only after consulting his Fairy Godfather's Handy Pocket Guide.


In Current Biography 1943, Johnson describes O'Malley as partly W. C. Fields, "partly Mayor La Guardia, and his cigar and eyes are occasionally borrowed from Jimmy Savo."

Why we had an old 1943 bound comic strip lying around the house, I never knew. But Mr. O'Malley cured many a sulk for me. Years later, we had it rebound, again, and I read it to my son. He also loved it. Our copy fell apart long ago and I see now that it's out of print, but thanks to the glories of the Internets that doesn't pose a problem. More Barnaby here.

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