Harvey’s Hideout, written by Russel Hoban and illustrated by Lillian Hoban, is the first book I remember holding in my hand as a very small, pre-preschool aged child.
It is the charming story of two muskrat siblings, Harvey and Mildred, who are having some “issues” getting along. Harvey is the “stupid, no-good” little brother who annoys his older sister Mildred, who in turn is “mean and rotten.” In truth (and as their muskrat father wisely points out) neither is really stupid, no-good, mean, or rotten. They just seem that way to each other. Ah…memories of childhood.
Not that my older sister was never quite as mean to me as Mildred was nor was I ever quite as bratty or annoying as Harvey. Still, the colorful illustrations depicting the idyllic family life of a muskrat family charmed me and provided ample fodder for my imagination. I wanted a party dress like Mildred’s and fantasized that when I ran away from home, I’d carry my belonging in a bindle (bag on a stick) like Harvey.
I found this book several years ago at a second-hand book store and, reading it as an adult, I was happy to see that it hasn’t lost its charm. I still love the colorful illustrations which probably endeared muskrats to generations of readers, which was a feat in itself. I mean, I’ve seen muskrats in person, and they are not this adorable. But, I must say, this time around, I appreciated the book’s very realistic portrayal of sibling interactions.
Then there was the joy of finding all of the things that went over my head as a child (which were probably snuck in just to give parents a chuckle) for instance the part where the muskrat children list all the children in the neighborhood and the reasons they may or may not be suitable playmates…(they are not allowed to get mixed up with the weasels).
Reading this as an adult reminded me what a gift siblings can be. At the end of the day, all you really have is each other and that’s a lot. What a nice lesson to find in a children’s book.
I wonder if this book is the real reason my sisters and I always got along so well.