Following successful graphic adaptations of Canterbury Tales (2011) and The Odyssey (2012), Chwast ups the ante with Hugh Lofting’s more challenging classic. Good luck.
The abridgment necessary to squash the full-length novel into 32 illustrated pages allows Chwast to avoid through omission some but not all of the original’s controversies—“Jolliginki” and its African prince, Bumppo, with his yen to be white, go unmentioned—and update its fustian language (“What do you want?” asks the Pushmi-Pullyu. “We want you to go to England with Dr. Dolittle and put on shows”). The illustrations, likewise sketchy, feature a nattily attired doctor and his animal friends drawn simply in ink and pale colored pencil, all placed in spacious panels with legibly hand-lettered captions, chapter heads, and dialogue. These days, the 1920 original makes uncomfortable reading (and, with Lofting’s illustrations, viewing) even in bowdlerized contemporary editions. In this boiled-down form, its parochial attitudes can still be discerned…but so can those lightly presented themes of compassion and respect for all living things that have given it enduring value.
Whether this meets a real need is debatable, but the format has its appeal for children still working on reading skills. (Graphic classic. 7-10)