One of our all-time favorite children’s authors is Cynthia Rylant. This award-winning author has written too many books to mention, but our favorite series are the books about Henry and Mudge and Mr. Putter.
Henry is a young, red-haired boy whose family adopts an English Mastiff puppy. Every story has a fun, believable adventure and a happy ending. Mudge, instead of being an intimidating watch dog, is really just a big, sweet teddy bear of a dog who shivers from fright if he has to visit the vet and leaves puddles of drool wherever he goes. When Rylant first introduces Henry’s cousin, Annie, she is very prim and proper and worried that Mudge will soil the party dresses she constantly wears. However, Mudge quickly wins her over, and she learns to relax, even enjoying a snack that Henry finds under his bed and shares with her. A little later in the series, she and her single father move close to Henry, and the adventures continue. Annie is such a likeable character and so enjoyed by little girls, especially, that a spinoff series has been created in her name.
The Mr. Putter series is also fantastic. These stories feature an elderly man, Mr. Putter, and his neighbor and fellow senior citizen, Mrs. Teaberry. Their pets, namely Mr. Putter’s cat, Tabby, and Mrs. Teaberry’s bulldog, Zeke, are of equal importance and frequently the cause of the mishaps. My daughter and I are both waiting (and hoping) that Mr. Putter and Mrs. Teaberry will finally tie the knot.
There are several reasons why these books can truly be called “literature.” To earn that label, a book must have lasting value. These books do because not only are the stories very memorable, but they are also very well-written. The writing is such that a parent will most likely not feel burdened to read them repeatedly. This is in direct contrast to the multitude of books that are almost torturous to read even one time, such as The Berenstain Bears series. In addition to being well-written, Rylant’s books are timeless treasures because of the wholesome values they communicate: love and care of family members for each other; friendship; helping those in need; and care for pets.
Because this is children’s literature, illustrations are of almost equal importance. Most of the Henry and Mudge books are illustrated by Sucie Stevenson. The watercolor and pen-and-ink drawings are simply fantastic and rich in detail. The illustrator of the Mr. Putter series, Arthur Howard, also does an incredible job using the same materials, especially showing all range of emotions just in the title character’s eyes. It’s also amusing to see the various purple and bluish hues of Mrs. Teaberry’s hair. The pets, Tabby and Zeke, are just as integral to the stories as the main characters, so their illustrations also detail a lot of expression. You cannot help but be amused by all their antics.
Ms. Rylant is one of America’s foremost children’s authors. I am sorry that we didn’t know about her when my oldest children were young, but grateful that my younger ones had so many enjoyable hours reading her wonderful books. I look forward to introducing future grandchildren to her fun, intelligent stories, especially Henry and Mudge and Mr. Putter.