Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Mr. Wilmer, by Robert Lawson

I received a copy of this book as a Christmas gift from my friend Sarah at Library Hospital. This is truly one of the best books I've ever been gifted with and I'm not just saying that because Sarah hopes I really think so. Truly, it is! This book is out of print and therefore hard to locate, although you can find a used copy of Mr. Wilmer through Amazon. I couldn't recommend that you hunt down a copy more strongly.

This book was originally published in 1945 and has all the charm, grace and purity of the age. Apparently Lawson once made the following statement:

"I have never, as far as I can remember, given one moment's thought as to whether any drawing that I was doing was for adults or children. I have never changed one conception or line or detail to suit the supposed age of the reader. And I have never, in what writing I have done, changed one word or phrase of text because I felt it might be over the heads of children. I have never, I hope, insulted the intelligence of any child. And with God and my publishers willing, I promise them that I never will."

I kept thinking throughout the reading of this book that it's geared for adults but has great kid appeal. It is the story of William Wilber, who at twenty-nine years of age discovers that he can talk to animals. (I'm sure this sounds familiar to those of who who have read The Story of Doctor Dolittle but as I have not yet had that privilege - I can compare it to nothing.) Suddenly, Wilmer is yanked from the obscurity of the Safe, Sane and Colossal Insurance Company and is shoved into the public spotlight. Whereas he used to earn a mere $34.00 and change a week (I know, huh?), he began making thousands by appearing in radio commercials and writing articles about the animals he could speak with while working his new job at the zoo. Overnight Mr. Wilmer finds himself cranking in the dough and before he knows it, he is purchasing a country home that will serve as a sanctuary for troubled animals.

This book reads like a 1940's black & white movie starring Cary Grant or Danny Kaye. (I'm not sure which.) Sarah told me that her family used to imagine which movie stars would be cast to which part and its easy to see why. Throw in a red haired secretary who secretly loves William and you've got a blockbuster hit. At least, a blockbuster hit for the 40's. Half of this book wouldn't fly on the big screen today but back then it would have been pure gold.

This book has charm, class and style. (Have I said that already?) It is clean and entertaining. It has the comedic element while appealing to the imagination of our younger selves who like to think it truly is possible to converse with animals. In short, I think this book is simply "wonderful" (as the love interest in the book would say!).

As an FYI, Lawson not only wrote the book but he also illustrated it. He was a great artist who focused primarily on pen and ink drawings. You might recognize his name from another little book he illustrated entitled The Story of Ferdinand.

Thank you, Sarah, for the gift and I hope to pass it on by encouraging the rest of you to find a copy of Mr. Wilmer. Enjoy as an individual, a couple, or a family (probably with kids ages 12 and up). It's just a fun book and, again, I appreciated the gift of it! Our family will be hanging on to this one.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a fun read!

Sarah M. said...

Yeah!!! I am so glad you enjoyed it. Everything you wrote is how I felt about this book and hoped you would too. :)

Thanks for posting your review.

Shanna said...

Sounds like a very fun read.

Nikki in Niagara said...

Wow, this sounds really good. I've never heard of it before. I love Lawson's books and of course, his illustrations. I often pick up a book at a thrift shop just because he illustrated it.

Sandra said...

Mr. Wilmer is one of my all time favorite books, and I recently ordered it off abebooks to give to my 12 year old niece for her birthday. I hope she loves it as much as I always have, since I was about 12!

Anonymous said...

I just finished this book this morning, and I heartily agree--it has a real charm, a kind of genuine sweetness to it. I think it might be out of print, though, because of its mixture of "young adult" and "adult" themes--it's too hard to classify. And the fact that it was written the last year of WWII also casts over it an odd light: nothing in it about problems abroad, a war, a Holocaust. It's basically a coming of age story, but the universe it takes place in is mythical. --Frank

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