A Porcupine Named Fluffy, by Helen Lester, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger
(1986, Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 0-395-52018-5)
After much deliberation over names they find to be overused, too fierce, or otherwise not quite right, proud parents Mr. and Mrs. Porcupine choose the name Fluffy for their little baby porcupine. As he gets older, Fluffy realizes that he’s not (fluffy, that is). He does everything he can think of to make himself fluffier (including acting like a pillow and covering himself in whipped cream), but everything fails. One day while taking a walk to try to come up with more ideas, he comes upon an aggressive rhinoceros who demands to know his name before he gives him “a rough time.” When he hears Fluffy’s ironic name, the rhinoceros breaks down laughing, and he is laughing so hard he can barely choke out his own name when Fluffy politely asks for it. It’s Hippo. Fluffy and Hippo enjoy a good laugh about their inappropriate names and become good friends.
Helen Lester and Lynn Munsinger are perhaps best known for their collaborations on the Tacky the Penguin and Wodney Wat books, but this book is definitely worth reading as well. The humorous text by Lester is well-supported by Munsinger’s detailed illustrations. Her anthropomorphic characters are half realistic, half cartoonish; for instance, when we first meet the rhinoceros, his body shape and the wrinkles and lines of his horns are quite real, but his eyes are expressive and cartoon-like. The porcupines have the very long quills and bulbous bodies of real porcupines, but Mr. Porcupine wears a sport jacket and tie, Mrs. Porcupine a lovely flowered dress, and Fluffy a pair of yellow overalls. The backgrounds–which include the inside of the porcupines’ house and rural fields and paths–are full of small details like the mitered corners on the front door, a fluffy armchair with a doily across the back, and the rough bark and feathery leaves of a tree by a brook edged by reeds.
GirlChild’s Reaction: GirlChild picked this one out at the library when I made her get out of the Arthur books aisle. (There are only so many of those I can stomach in a row!) She has had her daddy and me each read it to her several times since we got it two days ago. This is one I don’t mind reading over again because it is clever and relatively short, and the lessons that can be learned are gently and amusingly handled. GirlChild is at a perfect age to understand that it’s silly for a porcupine to be called Fluffy and to try to make himself fluffy (just retelling the story to me makes her giggle), but the coming to terms with his name at the end doesn’t really impact her or leave a lasting lesson because she doesn’t yet question her identity or understand feeling like she doesn’t fit in (thank goodness!).