Wanda Gág is one of those Minnesotans we’re proud of — she’s the famous author/artist of Millions of Cats, The ABC Bunny, and The Funny Thing, among other titles, and an inspiration to many talented illustrators.
She was also an inspiration to her little sister, Flavia. Ever heard of her?
I hadn’t, until I came across this book, republished by the University of Minnesota Press in 2009. I’ve been searching their catalog because I keep finding excellent titles from the past which they’re bringing back out for us, and here was this quaint little book about woodchucks.
Georgia Travers was a childhood friend of Wanda and eventually wrote a biography of her. She wrote this delightful story in 1946, based on “the Gág family’s real-life encounter with hungry woodchucks at their summer home in New Jersey in the 1930s.” Those woodchucks hit the jackpot when they found the lavish vegetable garden since none of the Gágs had the heart to do them any harm, no matter how much they gobbled. It’s a funny, warm story and a fascinating look behind the scenes at this artistic family. There’s Wanda, drawing and painting in her studio!
Flavia was the youngest of the seven Gág children, and she was a very talented person in her own right. Just overshadowed by her sister Wanda, whom she loved dearly. Nicknamed “Flopsy” by her siblings, Flavia was an infant when her father died, and just a young girl
Flavia illustrated quite a few children’s books herself.
when her mother also died. Wanda became a mother figure to her. You can read more about this in Deborah Kogan Ray’s fabulous picture book biography of Wanda which I’ve reviewed here. You can also read more about Flavia herself in this 2010 newspaper article from New Ulm, their birthplace.
You will definitely see some similarities in the two sisters’ line and composition if you read the charming Wily Woodchucks, perfect for sharing with children ages 5 and up.
The garden-feasting and goodwill towards small creatures reminded me of Robert Lawson’s Rabbit Hill, so check out the tale of these naughty, pudgy woodchucks first, and if you crave something else a bit longer for reading aloud, give that a try.
And three cheers for all little sisters and big sisters alike!