The Curious Lobster, written by Richard W. Hatch, illustrated by Marion Freeman Wakeman
originally published in two volumes in 1935 and 1939; this edition 2018 by New York Review Books
I love when I stumble across a classic piece of children’s literature that’s new to me and just as fresh as ever.
That’s the case with The Curious Lobster, originally published more than 80 years ago, and its sequel, The Curious Lobster’s Island, which have been bound together in one handsome volume by the New York Review of Books. Hurrah for NYRB as they continue to bring back into print some of these old gems.
Mr. Lobster is an impressively-old, genteel fellow who thirsts to know more, to find out, to push the boundaries of his experiences even at no small risk to his safety, to see for himself all the curious parts of the world beyond his ocean-floor, rock-niche home.
His neighbor, an ugly old Sculpin, is quite the opposite, a provincial, risk-averse guy who happens also to be rather a self-important know-it-all. The Sculpin tries his level best to dissuade Mr. Lobster from his foolish excursions abroad, but to no avail.
As this curious lobster roams about, he musters up the courage to explore the dry land itself, and there he makes two fine acquaintances — Mr. Bear, a large and grumbly sort of person with a tender heart he keeps hidden, and Mr. Badger, teasing, incorrigible, ever foisting his half-baked ideas on the group, rarely apologizing for the resulting ruckus, far too full of enthusiasm and impulsivity for anyone’s good.
The adventures of these three vivid personalities, leisurely told, comprise this fine old read-aloud. Their escapades have a nice splash of danger, numerous narrow escapes, and plentiful warmhearted humor. Written in the 30s, the vocabulary, rhythms, and wonderings of the text are sophisticated, with a blush of similarity to The Wind in the Willows, and a dash of Old Mother West Wind stories, though this is far less folksy.
It took me a couple of chapters to settle into the stories, to really feel invested in Mr. Lobster and Co., but once they were all introduced and making plans for explorations, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Its old-fashioned tone, the ambling quality of it, means not every one of your listeners will engage with it. But for those who are strong listeners, who don’t need space-blaster action to connect to a story, I highly recommend it for an inspiring, outdoorsy, read-aloud.
My kids would certainly have enjoyed this at about ages 6 and up.