The Picture Book Doctor De Soto, Steig's Masterpiece
By Ty Hulse
Steig has a special ability to create picture books which speak to children. The Book story is of a mouse dentist who takes care of all the animals except those that would harm mice such as cats, and fox. Then one day a fox shows up and cries to be let in, De Soto takes pity on the fox and begins to treat him. However over the course of the treatment the fox makes plans to eat Doctor De Soto, realizing what is happening De Soto too makes plans.
The picture book is done in Steig's thick ink line and watercolor style which seems to relate well to children. As the book opens the precariousness of De Soto's job is shown as he enters the mouth of many animals to fix their teeth, though all of these are harmless animals from cows to pigs.
De Soto is given power in his ability to choose patients both through the text and the upwards angle on him. This is important for it shows his power over the fox who shows up asking for treatment, the as we look down on the sad little fox and the street below. It is not long however before the fox takes power and the angle becomes even with him as he breaks down crying. This is when De Soto lets him in.
Once in the fox becomes the dominant figure in the illustrations, although he pleads with the mice one can see that he indeed is dominant over them, he merely needs to choose to be.
And so it is as the De Soto's treat the fox, they are tiny to his huge mouth, as he wears the drool bib dentists put on patients, which on the fox looks disturbingly like a bib for eating.
De Soto pulls the foxes bad tooth and tells him to return to get the new one in place, on the way home the fox thinks about eating the De Soto's. The warped perspective of this picture pushes the fox farther away from the viewer mentally, taking our sympathy away from this character.
It is then that we truly enter the De Soto's world for we see them making the foxes tooth as he plots to eat them, they are close in a very domestic scene. Talking and laying in bed worried about the fox, then however they have an idea.
Once they have put the foxes new tooth in the fox is seen to be looking down on them as he licks his lips. However the De Soto explains that he has a new treatment to help the fox, the power in this picture shifts yet again for with a slight change of perspective and angle the fox is looking up at Doctor De Soto. The difference is slight but it is important because it keeps the back and forth of power shifts going, something that makes this picture book interesting and exceptional in its visual story telling ability.
The end of the book ends with the De Soto's in power as the fox walks down the stair, although he is much larger in this picture he is headed for the door to leave, and the De Soto's are well above him on the stairs.
Ty Hulse has degree's in art and psychology with both with a children's and a cross-cultural focus. He is currently working to create the site www.zeluna.net which discusses Children's Literature and Picture Books, as will as Fairy Tales.
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