Bandicoots, Google, and finally connecting with a dear old friend

About twenty years ago, my sister Linda, who worked in the magical upstairs children’s area at Montana Book Company in Helena, rescued a wonderfully quirky little book from a pile of remainders and gave it to my newborn son. (Hey, it’s never too early to read to the kid.) Hecate the Bandicoot, written and illustrated by Janet Little, was a top favorite for both my kids. I read it so many times I could recite it word for word, and believe me, recite it I did – on the way to daycare, during fussy airplane rides, in the dark after bedtime when the sandman never showed, waiting for vaccinations in the pediatrician’s office, lying on our backs in the yard watching fireflies. When I was lying on the bathroom floor, nauseous from chemo, my 5-year-old daughter used to sit on the edge of the tub and recite it back to me.

Hecate the bandicoot
Slavered at the maw.
Hecate was hungry,
And she wanted something raw.

Thick and swarmy was the night,
Addled was the air.
Smelly was that bandicoot,
Matted was her hair.

Guavas thudded to the earth,
Lorises were yawling.
Somewhere in the eel grass
Hecate was crawling.

The language in this lush, irreverent poem is like “Jabberwocky” meets Emily Dickinson. The art is finely drawn, richly detailed, and wildly imaginative. (Click images to see them enlarged.) The story ain’t no Peter Cottontail. It’s about a little girl being stalked by a huge rat. Hecate meets her match in the flouncy form of Fanny Thimble, who drags the beast home, scrubs it up, and adopts it as her beloved pet.

Fanny made her bandicoot
A frock with poplin pockets.
She decked her out in diadems,
And moa plumes, and lockets.

And to this day, that bandicoot
Is smelling like a crocus,
While sitting on a windowseat,
And staring out of focus.

I always thought the book was a zen parable about empowerment, turning the table and taming the fears that seek to consume us, but my kids roll their eyes and say that takes all the fun out of it. And it is scrumptious good fun. It’s also gorgeous good art. When Malachi was little, he was fascinated with the extraordinary details in the illustrations, particularly this ship-gargoyle-tiara worn by Hecate after her extreme makeover.

Curious about the author of this unusual book, I tried to send a letter to Ms. Little many years ago, but the publisher of the book, Dodd, Mead, & Co (Agatha Christie’s original US publisher) had gone out of business. Flash forward ten years and enter the Internet. I came across Hecate when I was cleaning my office a few weeks ago, Googled the author up, and sent her a brief fan letter. To my delight, she emailed back. We’ve been nattering across the time zones ever since. Instant kindred spirits. (Moral of the story: Take a minute to email that author you love. She wants to hear from you.)

Tomorrow, Janet Little will be visiting Boxing the Octopus to discuss the history of Hecate and life on Lipari.

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