We all know stories are everywhere. The most common, everyday object, incident or living being can be the spark for an extraordinary tale. It can start with something simple, move toward unbelievable and leave us with hope in our heart and a sigh on our lips.
Eleven years ago to the day, a series of books began with a pig. Does this pig live on Old MacDonald's farm? No, this pig does not live on a farm. This pig lives with Mr. Watson and Mrs. Watson in their home at 54 Deckawoo Drive.
Mercy Watson begins her adventures with Mercy Watson to the Rescue (Candlewick Press, August 23, 2005) written by Kate DiCamillo with illustrations by Chris Van Dusen. At the close of every day the Watsons tuck Mercy into bed, singing
"Bright, bright is the morning sun,
but brighter still is our darling one.
Dark, dark is the coming night,
but oh, our Mercy shines so bright."
In this opening book, Mercy may be the cause of the Watsons bed, with them in it, to be on the brink of crashing through the floor to the room below. She does have a constant craving for snacks, especially toast with
a great deal of butter on it.
This hankering leads her to leap from the bed, explore the kitchen and run next door to the Lincoln sisters' home. Baby Lincoln, the younger, kinder one, thinks the snout in her window is a monster. Eugenia Lincoln, the no-nonsense, stricter sister immediately calls the fire department. When firefighters Ned and Lorenzo arrive the sight before them is not what they expect. Mercy does love a good chase.
Are Mr. and Mrs. Watson saved? Does Mercy Watson get buttered toast? You'll have to read it.
As if this pig, the Watsons, the Lincoln sisters and Ned and Lorenzo, the firefighters, had not charmed readers enough, Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride (Candlewick Press, May 9, 2006) takes us on a trip quite unlike any other. Every Saturday Mr. Watson and Mercy go for a drive. It's a struggle to get Mercy out of the driver's seat but the promise of buttered toast on their return always does the trick.
On this particular Saturday there happens to be an extra passenger looking for folly and hiding in the back seat. On this particular Saturday Officer Tomilello is parked in his police cruiser. When a speeding car with a pig in the passenger seat whizzes by, he's got a job to do.
Can pigs drive? Can pigs fly? Will grumpy Eugenia Lincoln butter toast? You'll need to read this to discover the answers.
In her third escapade, Mercy Watson Fights Crime (Candlewick Press, August 22, 2006) noises in the kitchen at 54 Deckawoo Drive wake up Mercy. These are toaster sounds,
screeeeeech and clannngggg.
She also may be hearing
being sung by a little man who wishes to be a cowboy but is currently robbing the Watsons.
Since Leroy Ninker is not making toast he is able to lull the investigating, sleepy Mercy back to dreams of buttered toast. In no time at all two things lead to a wild ride, Leroy Ninker's inability to climb over Mercy and the sweet, sweet smell of Butter Barrel candy. The words of
being hollered with glee work their way into the sound sleep of the Lincoln sisters and Mrs. Watson.
Will Ned and Lorenzo arrive at Deckawoo Drive again? Will Officer Tomilello continue to ask questions and answer them himself? Will the daily newspaper headline a
Seventy pages filled with laughter will reveal the truth.
According to the calendar Halloween will soon arrive. Mercy Watson Princess in Disguise (Candlewick Press, July 10, 2007) celebrates the holiday, trick-or-treating (with a Mercy emphasis on treating) and introduces readers to General Washington, Eugenia Lincoln's new cat. On the festive night a signal from Baby Lincoln and the super abilities of Mercy's snout are the only elements necessary for chaos creation.
With the swipe of a cat's paw and a pig who loves a good chase, a race is soon being run. Two curious neighbor children, Frank and Stella who live at 50 Deckawoo Drive, observe from a distance but nevertheless intend to join the parade. Everything and everyone comes to a standstill at the base of an ancient tree.
Will the stuck general get unstuck? Can we count on the firefighters? Will worry-wart Frank approve of the offered fare? Mercy Watson knows. You will too.
On a warm spring day or perhaps in the midst of early summer nothing is quite as fine as enjoying the pleasures of outdoors. Eugenia Lincoln is attempting to bring graciousness to their lives despite having a pig living next door. In Mercy Watson Thinks Like a Pig (Candlewick Press, July 8, 2008) the peace and quiet of the neighborhood vanishes at the whiff of newly planted pansies.
This is the last "petal" for the elder sister. A call is made to the
Animal Control Center.
With Officer Francine Poulet at the ready, help is sure to follow although she is not expecting the problem to be a pig.
Will an Unmentionable Horror happen? Will a tea party come to a crashing conclusion? Will there be dogs involved? You should all expect toast...lots of toast....lots of toast with lots of butter.
The lives of Mr. Watson, Mrs. Watson, Mercy Watson, Eugenia Lincoln, Baby Lincoln, Ned and Lorenzo, firefighters you can count on, Frank and Stella, Police Officer Tomilello, Animal Control Officer Francine Poulet, and Leroy Ninker are about to get even more exciting in the sixth and final book, Mercy Watson Something Wonky This Way Comes (Candlewick Press, July 14, 2009). It's a lovely evening in the town of Gizzford. It's a perfect night for a visit to the local Bijou Drive-In theater to see When Pigs Fly.
Leroy Ninker, mostly-reformed thief who wishes to be a cowboy and practices with his lasso whenever he can, works at the concession stand selling Bottomless Bucket popcorn served with real butter. With the strong smell of butter in the air, Mercy becomes a pig with a single thought front and center in her mind. She must have butter whether it's on popcorn or toast.
Will Officer Francine Poulet really need her net? Did Officer Tomilello hear a scream? Is that a fire truck siren? Six books with stories within a story all lead to Mercy's best kind of ending.
The arrival of a new series, Tales from Deckawoo Drive, is (was) happy news to fans of the Mercy Watson titles. In the first, Leroy Ninker Saddles Up (Candlewick Press, August 26, 2014) on a specific night at the Bayou Drive-In concession stand during a double cowboy movie feature, ticket taker, Beatrice Leapaleoni makes a very important point. What Leroy needs more than any attire and his trusty lasso is a horse. Beatrice also gives Leroy an important piece of advice.
Patty LeMarque is moving and all she wants for her horse Maybelline (not Tornado as Leroy would prefer) is a happy home. She agrees to give Maybelline to Leroy but cautions him about three idiosyncrasies of Maybelline; she takes great pleasure in sweet words directed to her, she consumes large amounts of food and she cannot be left alone for more than the merest of seconds.
Will poetic phrases turn Maybelline into a speed demon? Does Leroy have enough spaghetti? Will a thunderstorm and an umbrella cause the end of a beautiful new friendship? You, dear reader, will come to agree with Maybelline about the stories in the best movies. Perhaps you will be surprised but you will understand.
Do you remember the animal control officer who may or may not have captured Mercy Watson successfully? In Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon (Candlewick Press, August 25, 2015) this winner of forty-seven trophies for her astute animal capturing skills is baffled beyond belief by what she encounters one dark night. Upon receiving a phone call from Mrs. Bissinger, residing on Fleeker Street, about a screaming-like-a-banshee, shimmering raccoon Francine, who fears nothing, finds herself on a very high roof facing said raccoon.
This meeting with the details better left for you to discover ends with Francine in the hospital with more than one broken bone and broken in spirit. Upon leaving the hospital she does something completely out of character for a third generation animal control officer. Words from Frank and a tiny treat from Stella leave Francine Poulet wondering about her future, wondering about her place in the world.
Will our humming genuine article save the day? Will a new era begin? You should ask the raccoon.
For the third volume in the series Tales from Deckawoo Drive, author Kate DiCamillo and illustrator Chris Van Dusen showcase a woman in need of change. Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln (Candlewick Press, August 2, 2016) begins, unlike the previous two titles, on Deckawoo Drive. It follows the younger, more kind-hearted of the two Lincoln sisters.
Baby Lincoln was dreaming.
A dream of riding on a fast train and stars shooting in the sky comes to a fast close with the shouting of Eugenia. She wants Baby to wake up and write goals for the day. Today Baby does something she has never done. She says no. It's time for her to take
a necessary journey.
After packing her suitcase, which is no easy task for someone who has never done this and has no idea where they are going, she walks out of the house and down the street to the train station. Along the way Stella asks to walk with her. Stella is wise beyond her years.
Now on the train heading toward the town of Fluxom, Baby begins the most interesting part of her trip, speaking with other passengers. A fur-hat wearing man and the comic section of the daily newspaper leave her filled with laughter. A young woman with a bigger-than-big bag of jelly beans helps her to see the importance of given names, singing stars and tasting sunshine and springtime. A little, paper-crown-wearing boy, George, awakens the storyteller in Baby.
The station at Fluxom is deserted when Baby arrives. Beneath the starry sky the only sound she hears is that of a lone cricket. Thankfully, Stella is indeed wise beyond her years.
It does not matter if Kate DiCamillo is writing about animals or people. It does not matter if the book is an early chapter book, a picture book or a novel. There is universality about her writing which finds a way into every heart. She makes us laugh. She makes us cry. And most of all, we are better people for reading her books.
Her storytelling is straightforward but brings many threads together in a nearly magical style of art. She adds extra descriptive details to very exact portions of her sentences. When we see the world through her eyes, we see more. Here are some sample passages from this book.
Baby opened her eyes. She didn't know exactly what she was talking about either. But she knew that something important was happening. Her heart was beating very fast.
The sun was shining into the kitchen, and everything seemed outlined in brightness, possibility.
Eugenia stared at Baby. Her mouth was open. She looked quite astonished.
Baby was astonished, too.
Calaband Darsh sounded like a very grand place, a shooting-star kind of place. Baby opened her purse and took out her wallet. She handed the wallet to Stella and watched as Stella counted the money inside.
"Okay" said Stella. She handed the wallet back to Baby. She consulted the train schedule. "Let's see."
It turned out that Baby didn't have enough money to get to Calaband Darsh.
She had enough money to get to Fluxom.
"Fluxom?" said Baby.
"Fluxom," said Stella.
Fluxom did not sound like a shooting star kind of place at all.
The Mercy Watson books and the volumes in the Tales of Deckawoo Drive series have been delightfully rendered with gouache by the talented Chris Van Dusen. All of the book cases and dust jackets portray key moments in each one of these titles. The Mercy Watson books have full color in the interior pages. The images in the Tales of Deckawoo Drive are in black and white.
In each of the books Van Dusen includes two page spreads, single pages and smaller picture tucked in the text. The facial features on all his characters are guaranteed to evoke laughter. He depicts the people and places exactly as you imagine them to be in your mind as you are reading DiCamillo's words.
In preparation for the most recent book, Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln written by Kate DiCamillo with illustrations by Chris Van Dusen, I reread all the other titles yesterday. It was a truly heartwarming experience to step back into the world at Deckawoo Drive. There are moments of absolute and total hilarity and minutes you want to replay over and over because of their profound truths but most of all these books speak about love in all its forms.
To discover more about Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen and their other work please take a few minutes to visit their websites by following the links attached to their names. Here is the link to a website entirely devoted to the Mercy Watson and Deckawoo Drive titles. Here is a printable PDF outlining activities and lessons related to all the Mercy Watson books. At each of the publisher pages for each of the nine titles there are many wonderful resources for each book. They are in order of publication here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.