“The outrageous and controversial classic … back in print for the first time in 30 years!” Tomi Ungerer has long been a “controversial” figure in children’s lit, but the Phaidon editions of his The Three Robbers and Moon Man don’t sport such brag stickers. What’s so risque about No Kiss for Mother?
I snuggle with three-year-old Sylvie as I open past the fly-leaf and title page. “Wow!” I say. “What nice paper.” Phaidon's production values never disappoint, and it’s a great fit for such a renowned illustrator. “Do you want to feel the paper?” Sylvie looks bemused and declines.
Piper Paw is getting to be a big kitten, and hates it when his mother shows affection. Still puzzled, Sylvie snuggles harder. When Piper’s mother calls him Honey Pie, he cites his research into the non-existence of this dessert. “Is there such a thing as a Pumpkin Muffin?” I ask, referring to our equivalent term. “No!” she says enthusiastically.
I’ve baked them before, but at least she’s getting into it.
At the climax, all the cats turn to watch Piper publicly berate his mother. She slaps him. “Hey,” I start to say while examining the illustration, “One of those cats watching is … Kitty Hitler ...” Blank stare. “The man who wrote the story, he’s Alsatian …” This conversation needs to wait.
So what’s so “outrageous”? Lost tempers and corporal punishment, but that makes Beatrix Potter outrageous, too. Ungerer doesn’t spare us the streetwise habits of Piper and the other young toms, smoking cigar butts in the boy’s room and fighting until someone nearly loses an ear.
“What did you think of that story?” I ask.
“Actually,” she says, “it was too long.”
“Read it yourself now, and tell me what else you think.”
After she puts the book down, she pitter-patters over and says, “I think this story is kind of weird.”
Sounds good to me.
Winnipeg author K.I. Press is the author of three books of poetry, most recently Types of Canadian Women (2006). She is the creative writing instructor at Red River College in Winnipeg.