While it received a Newbery Honor in 1954, one year after Charlotte’s Web, Meindert DeJong’s Hurry Home Candy seems to have been forgotten in the shelves of children’s literature. Currently out-of-print, this story about a nameless, lost dog paints a more “realistic” dog’s point of view, without the rollicking fun and humor afforded in anthropomorphized stories. This is not a Pixar screenplay.
Later named Candy, our lost dog struggles for survival during most of the book, encountering loss after loss. For today’s reader, accustomed to more editing and plot hooks, the book can often seem repetitive and wandering. But this is where the novel’s strength lies, in De Jong’s impressionistic telling of Candy’s experience. Here he describes the blur of puppy memories after leaving his first home:
“Then there was another house. No mother, no brothers, no sisters were in the is house. No nest. No furry warmth to snuggle into, snuggle and drink, crawl under and into, deeper and warmer, to sleep and drink warm milk. No nest in which to wrestle with another soft puppy with fierce puppy growls, only in the midst of the battle to forget and fall asleep or burrow under for another drink. Another house—a cold house, cold-clean house with hard clean smells; no mother, sister, brother smells.”
The puppy’s confusion, innocence and unawareness is clear, and we understand the simple warmth he seeks for the rest of the book.
Candy’s isolation, combined with the limited point of view, presents a darker view of loneliness than commonly seen in children’s literature. De Jong uses a broom as a reoccurring symbol of abuse in the story.
“The terrible broom came, swept over the waxy floor. The broom came to find him, poke him, punish him. He would crawl out before it, flattened, frightened, cringing. And when the broom prodded, it stabbed and hurt, and while the broom hurt the woman’s sharp, screeching voice lashed him.”
The broom is at the heart of the story, as this is not only about seeking warmth, but surviving and overcoming the horrible things that keeps coming at us. As a literary device, the broom is brilliant, its mundaneness contrasting the mythic shame it inspires. It is also an easy nemesis to resurrect throughout the narrative in a variety of human environments, revealing Candy’s irrational, ever-present fear, described so viscerally.
Because humans are both the puppy’s desire and source of fear, the use of the broom helps us to understand which humans are sensitive to Candy’s feelings, and which dismiss his reactions as beastly or illogical.
Maurice Sendak illustrations are not the cozy, sweet images found in books like Little Bear. No, they are wiry, vague and unnerving, appropriate to the story. While Hurry Home Candy is a more depressing read, I think that children will still be drawn to it, as they know that loneliness and suffering do, in fact, exist in the world.