This article may be seen in its original form by purchasing the back issue from which it came.
Being Smart Is Best
by Patricia Gail Burnham
In shopping at thrift stores for dog rugs, I discovered the wonders of used books. One of the stores had a particularly nice collection of children’s books, so I started buying children’s books to donate to my friend Betty Lou’s third grade class. Not having kids of my own to buy books for, the third grade benefits from my love of kids’ books.
My rules for book acquisition were that the books had to be hard cover books printed on good paper. They had to be unmarked. And they had to have a winning story line or endearing illustrations. Picking good books from the shelves of mediocre ones gave me an excuse to read a lot of children’s books. Every now and then a book would call to me so strongly that it would never make it make it to the third grade.
One of those was Small Deer’s Magic Tricks by Betty Boegehold who was better known for her “Pippa Mouse” books. On a rainy afternoon I opened Small Deer and found Kira in its pages playing the part of a small, smart, deer.
The first of four stories starts out…
Long ago a small deer lived in faraway Borneo. She was called Small Deer because she was so small. She was also very smart. Tiger lived there, too. He was always trying to catch Small Deer.
One morning Tiger found some golden grapes. He said, “Small Deer likes grapes. She will come here to eat them. Then I will catch her.” Tiger hid behind a bush and waited. Soon Small Deer came trotting along, trippity-trip. She was carrying a big brown bag to fill with golden grapes.
“Aha!” shouted Tiger, jumping out. “I’ve caught you at last, Small Deer.” Small Deer’s little legs trembled, but she was thinking fast. She said, “No, no, Tiger. I can’t let you catch me today. I am on my way to the king. I must do my magic trick for him.” Needless to say Small Deer outwits Tiger and “far away, under the trees, Small Deer ate golden grapes all afternoon.”
Another story: “War on Small Deer”
Many crocodiles lived in a river near Small Deer’s home. The crocodiles would not let her cross the muddy river. “Go the long way around,” they would shout. “No one can cross our river!” One day, Small Deer wanted to play in the field of green reeds on the other side of the river. If I go the long way around, she said to herself, the sun will be going down. So I will think of a way to cross the river. The crocodiles clashed their terrible teeth and lashed the water with their terrible tails.
“Go away, Small Deer!” they shouted all together. “You cannot cross our river!”
“Listen to me, crocodiles,” called Small Deer. “The king has sent me to count all the animals. The animals who have the biggest number will win a prize. I have counted the pigs and the elephants. Now, I will count you.”
The crocodiles stopped clashing their terrible teeth and lashing the water with their terrible tails. The Oldest-of-All-Crocodiles said, “Count us, Small Deer, for surely we will win the prize.”
“Very well,” answered Small Deer. “Line up, all of you, so I can count you one by one.” The crocodiles lined up, one by one, all across the muddy river. Only their big eyes and noses stuck out of the water. Small Deer jumped onto the nose of the first crocodile. “One crocodile,” said Small Deer. Then she jumped onto the nose of the second crocodile. “Two crocodiles,” she said. “Stay very still, all of you.” All the crocodiles stayed very still. They didn’t clash their terrible teeth or lash their terrible tails. Small Deer jumped from nose to nose. She kept counting and counting. “Three, four, five,” said Small Deer. “Six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven crocodiles.” Then she jumped onto the big broad nose of the Oldest-of-All-Crocodiles. He was the last crocodile in the line. “Twelve crocodiles,” called Small Deer. “Twelve crocodiles in all!” With that, Small Deer jumped to the field of green reeds on the other side of the river. She looked back at the crocodiles. “Thank you, crocodiles,” she said. “Thank you for helping me across the river.” Then all the crocodiles began to roar and shout. “War on Small Deer!” roared the Oldest-of-All-Crocodiles. “Yes! War on Small Deer! War on Small Deer!” shouted all the crocodiles together. But Small Deer didn’t hear them. She was busy playing leapfrog in the field of green reeds.
In the stories, Small Deer outwits tigers and crocodiles the way Kira outsmarted her littermates and still plots to get her own way. And the illustrations show Small Deer as delicate, fawn colored, and long legged, with a telling smile and expressive eyes, as she maneuvers others into doing what she want them to do. When I look at the cover photo of Small Deer holding a hoop for the tiger and crocodiles to jump through, I see Kira holding a hoop for her littermates.
Five years have sped by since Kira and her littermates were born. Last June, their mother, Sheena, died at 13. As fate would have it, on the day before Sheena died, Sheena’s daughter Molly gave birth to 10 pups. This reminded me of when Sheena went into heat three days after Star Traveler had died and when she conceived Kira’s litter. Is it coincidence that opportunities for life presented themselves at important life-continuing moments? Maybe, maybe not.
Life is a chain that starts with the first one celled critter and branches out to reach every person and animal now alive. And, if they are bred, then it reaches ahead to the last Greyhound or person in existence. It only ends with the last dog of a bloodline or ultimately with extinction of a breed like Greyhounds. The links of the chain are individual dogs. The chain is the transmission of the genes. The individual dogs have a finite life span and we mourn their passing. But the genes are eternal, as long as someone makes the effort to pass them along.
The chain of life continues. Three of Sheena’s grandchildren now live with Kira, Ringo, and Jirel and the family lives on. Kira and her siblings have welcomed to the household Bella (Suntiger Sheena’s Silver Belle), Michael (Suntiger Lord of the Dance), and Shadow (Suntiger Sheena’s Blue Shadow).
CG Spring 01