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by Tomi Ungerer

Flix is the first children's book Ungerer published after a long hiatus.  Ungerer's tale tells the story of a dog, Flix, who is - much to their surprise - born to two feline parents, Zeno and Colza Krall.  Despite the "genes amok" media uproar, Flix's parents deem his birth a happy occasion.  They love and cherish him, and Flix grows up in Cattown "good humored, bright, and kind" and bilingual, speaking both cat and dog but not accepted by cats.  Reaching school age, Flix enrolls in dog school, living with his godfather, a basset hound named Dr. Medor Klops, in Dog City.  With "Uncle Medor," Flix discovers his canine roots and finds commonalities between Dog City and Cattown.  His fellow dog students accept him due to his "quick wit and good disposition."


During a weekend at home, Flix saves a drowning cat, leading to respect from the cat community.  At university, Flix rescues a coed, a poodle named Mirzah de la Fourrière,  from a burning dormitory.  The two fall in love in and marry in a wedding attended by friends from both Cattown and Dog City.  Flix later enters politics, forming a new political party, "the CDU--Cats and Dogs United."  His campaign platform includes "joint administration of [Cattown and Dog City], mixed education, shared language, mutual respect, and equal rights."  Flix becomes the first Lord Mayor of both towns.  In the final pages, Mirzah delivers a baby girl that (somewhat predictably) turns out to be a kitten.


Ungerer's tale is obvious in its promotion of tolerance, cooperation and mutual respect.  This does not detract from the tale, however.  On the contrary, the tale has general appeal stemming in large part from the story's cultural markers.  Although the prevalent cultural markers in the tale pertain to Ungerer's imaginary cat and dog cultures, many of the cat/dog cultural markers have a human, often quirky, twist to them:


·          Clothing. Many of the characters wear human religious or cultural garb:

o    a cat nurse in a nun's habit

o    a mitered dog bishop who baptizes Flix

o    a female dog in white hijab with niqab

o    a dog in a Chinese type military uniform

o    a dog dressed similarly to a Tibetan monk, with prayer wheel

·          Situations.  The characters participate in human activities:

o    life events, such as

§       hospital births (Mrs. Krall and Mirzah)

§       a traditional European style church wedding (Flix and Mirzah)

o    Flix participates in typical children's activities, such as

§       climbing a tree

§       learning to swim

§       studying math in school

o    other human activities, such as jogging; dining in restaurants; and trysting in the moonlight on a park bench (Flix and Mirzah)

·          Settings.

o     The Kralls have a Statue of Liberty style lamp - with a cat face.

o    The Dog City commemoration of "Laika, the first dog ever to orbit in space," is a Washington Monument style obelisk embellished with a canine astronaut.

o    Neighborhoods within Dog City have a rich mix of human-style ethnic cultures ("Pekinese, Chows, Afghans").


The illustrations' human twists help the reader to understand Ungerer's desire for human tolerance, cooperation and mutual respect.


Ungerer seemed unable to resist, however, the addition of one type of quirky twist that detracts from the parallel between cat, dog, and human worlds.  On nearly every page, there is the incongruous addition of devices for regulating the flow of water:  a faucet, spigot, or showerhead.  Ungerer drew:


·          faucets projecting from

o      the side of the Kralls' television

o      a trash can

o      a book

o      the side of a pool table

o      the pedestal of the church's canine statue of St. Bernard

·          spigots appended to

o      a light fixture on the hospital ceiling

o      the metal hospital bed frame

o      the post of a "rat crossing" highway sign

o      the baptismal font

·          a faucet in place of the rung of a ladder

·          what appears to be a showerhead rather than the usual end of a stethoscope.


These incongruous details contrast the realistic bent of the illustrations, such as the portrayal of the birth of Flix's and Mirzah's first child, described as "the grueling torments of childbirth."  It is possible that Ungerer added the faucet details to soften his illustrations and text - a kind of comic relief.  However, these surrealistic additions detract from the story line and distract the viewer.  Once observed, they draw the viewer away from the story and its meaning into a hunt for incongruously placed faucets. 


In the end, however, perhaps these surrealistic details are characteristic of Ungerer's view of himself as a satirist, "a documentalist, a chronicler of the absurd."  Ungerer believes that if his books "teach children anything, it's to make fun of adults, especially those who are taking themselves seriously." So, should the reader/viewer take Ungerer's message seriously, or not?  Reviewer Selma Lanes asked Ungerer a similar question, wondering also whether the book "herald[s] the advent of a new and optimistic Tomi Ungerer."  Ungerer's answer:  "In [the] first version [of the book], I had a codicil to the book, a last sentence -- in parentheses -- which said, '(Yes, but those were the good times before the Civil War.)'  After all, we know that cats and dogs don't get along together for any length of time."  This codicil is not in the final version of the book, however, leaving the question of how seriously to take the story to the reader. [i]


[i] Lanes, Selma G. 1998. Tomi Ungerer: The enfant terrible grows up -- or is it down? Horn Book Magazine 76 (6): 682-88.




Ungerer, Tomi. 1998. Flix. Boulder, CO: TomiCo/Roberts Rinehart Publishing Group. ISBN 1-57098-161-2



This review was written as part of a graduate course in Library and Information Studies at Texas Woman's University, International Literature for Children and Young Adults.


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