cover image The Dirty Little Boy

The Dirty Little Boy

Margaret Wise Brown. Winslowhouse International, $16.95 (40pp) ISBN 978-1-890817-52-7

This story, first published in Jack and Jill in 1939, feels dated now, despite a glossy treatment by Salerno (Chicken Chuck). The title character, sticky with jam and grit, appeals to his ""big round mother"" to give him a bath, but she is ""so busy scrubbing white clothes"" in a silver-gray washtub that she has no time to rinse him. So she tells him to ""Run along, and see how the animals take their baths."" The boy imitates a red bird splashing in a puddle and a yellow cat licking its paws, but each washing only leaves him dirtier; then his mother chastises him for not learning from the animals how to get clean. Brown's dialogue rings false, as when the child visits a pigpen (""Shoo, little pigs, take a bath so that this dirty little boy can learn how to get clean""). Elsewhere, the author sharply observes practical details, as when the bird shakes its feathers dry (""Whirrr"") and the boy tries to currycomb himself, horse-style (the iron brush ""just made white lines in the dirt on his leg""). Salerno styles the mother as a curvy giant compared to her petite blond son. The brusque, imposing woman, up to her elbows in suds, recalls the old-world model of motherhood rather than its sleek contemporary counterpart. The boy's experiment has modern relevance, but like Brown's posthumous Love Songs of the Little Bear (reviewed above) this work is not the author's best. Ages 4-8. (Apr.)