(previously in this series: Ella)
Well, three books in and I’ve already screwed up the chronology. I think I’ve got it all sorted now. This week, we return to 1959–the same year that Hubert’s Hair-Raising Adventure came out. Hubert was the true beginning of Peet’s career as a children’s book creator, but we would be remiss if we didn’t mention Goliath II.
Released as a Little Golden Book, Goliath II is actually an adaptation of the 1960 Disney short that Peet wrote. He didn’t work on the animation for that short, but he did illustrate this book, so the two are certainly distinct from each other. I’m planning to get to Peet’s animation work in due course, so I won’t dwell on the film version here.
However, I will say that the film packs in some familiar faces. It’s got Sterling Holloway (the original Winnie the Pooh) as narrator, Goliath I and his elephant crew look remarkably similar to Colonel Hathi and his crew from The Jungle Book, and Tick-Tock Croc (from Peter Pan) appears as the crocodile. Peet’s book version, by contrast, feels wholly original.
Goliath II is the son of an elephant leader: Goliath I (naturally). He’s 8 years old, and he’s only 5 inches high. He’s a disgrace to his father. He’s a misunderstood diamond in the rough to his mother. And he’s a snack-size morsel to the local tiger. The story itself has all the hallmarks of a Bill Peet story: underdog overcomes his “limitations” and ultimately proves his worth to those who bullied and didn’t appreciate him.
The story moves along rather briskly. We only have 22 pages (with 3-4 sentences per page) to cover the same ground the film had 15 minutes to explore. It’s also told in prose, which is a marked contrast to the first few books of Peet’s solo writer/illustrator career.
The style also feels right at home with the rest of Peet’s canon. The crayon/charcoal coloring. The low perspective. The underdog story. The “believe in yourself” moral. The inclusion of elephants, a mouse, and a big cat (a tiger), which all feature prominently in later books.
Combined with Hubert’s Hair-Raising Adventure, 1959 marked an auspicious “start” to Peet’s second career as a children’s book author and illustrator. He certainly started out with a bang.
Verdict? I wish the story were longer. I wish he had more pages to explore the character of Goliath II. As it is, the book breezes by. It’s wonderfully enjoyable, but it’s just too short. This is also one of the more difficult-to-find Bill Peet books. As far as I know, it was only ever released as a Little Golden Book. This is one to look for in used-book shops and thrift stores (and eBay, if you’re so inclined).