• Happy birthday Ellen Schecter (The Warrior Maiden), Thacher Hurd (Art Dog), Kathleen Hague (Alphabears), and Christopher Raschka (Yo! Yes? ).
  • It’s the birth date of Will Eisner (1917–2005), Will Eisner’s Shop Talk.
  • The artist Michelangelo (1475–1564) was also born on this day. Read Michelangelo by Diane Stanley.
  • It’s Celebrate Your Name Week. Read Borrowed Names: Poems about Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C. J. Walker, Marie Curie, and their daughters by Jeannine Atkins, The Named by Marianne Curley, and Someone Named Eva by Joan Wolf.
  • It’s also National Pancake Week. Read Pancakes, Pancakes! by Eric Carle and Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie dePaolo.

Today we celebrate National Dentist Day. Suggestions for the day include delivering a thank-you note to your dentist—although I would recommend giving them the book of the day instead. For me, the greatest book ever written about a dentist is also one of the best picture books of the twentieth century: Doctor De Soto by William Steig.

In the stock market crash of 1929 Steig’s father lost everything, and, as a young man, Steig had to work to support his family. He could draw with great finesse and believed if he became a commercial artist he would have the best chance of putting food on the table. He sold his first cartoon to The New Yorker in 1930 and became their longest running contributor until his death in 2003, crafting scores of covers and more than seventeen hundred drawings.

Steig was a late bloomer when it came to children’s books and didn’t start publishing them until he was sixty. A fellow New Yorker artist, Robert Kraus, founded his own small publishing house, Windmill Books, and began enticing his friends to be authors and artists. With Windmill, Steig published Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, which won the Caldecott Medal in 1970. And with that he launched his next career, one that continued for thirty-five years.

In Doctor De Soto, William Steig explores what would happen if a mouse dentist suddenly had to deal with a fox as a patient. White-smocked and of good cheer, Doctor De Soto treats his larger patients, such as cows and donkeys, by climbing onto a ladder and using a hoist to get into their mouths. No one is more dedicated than the good doctor, although he does refuse cat patients, for obvious reasons. When a fox with a rotten bicuspid shows up, Doctor De Soto uses all his own cunning—and a little help from modern science. Readers watch with glee as the protagonist and his wife outwit a wily fox.

Steig’s art always looks fresh and vibrant, but that spontaneity actually took a great deal of work to achieve. Using Picasso as his model, Steig worked from a loose pen line and began his drawings with a face or an expression. If readers look closely at Steig drawings, they see the drooping mouths, raised chins, or narrowed eyes that reveal what the characters are thinking and feeling. Steig’s language matches his artwork to perfection. He always chose the right phrase. The text of Doctor De Soto, in fact, won a rare honor for a picture book, a Newbery Honor Award. His characters—Brave Irene, Shrek, Amos and Boris—enchant children. His language, humor, and playfulness make the books totally satisfying for all ages.

I am very grateful for dentists on this day that honors them. But I must admit, I would go a good deal more cheerfully to the dentist office if I thought I’d find Doctor De Soto there to greet me.

Here’s a page from Doctor De Soto:


Originally posted March 6, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Animals, Award Winning, Humor, Imagination, Mice, Newbery
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Doctor De Soto


  1. Rebecca says:

    I’m delighted to see this entry today – and happy to learn Steig’s fascinating history and method. This is one of my favorites and I’m always so impressed with Steig’s ability to make me laugh in this one, and then just sob at the end of Amos and Boris (every time! Like I don’t know what’s going to happen!). I love that his texts are really different from most picture books and often seem over the head of his intended audience, yet his illustrations work so harmoniously that the intended emotions are evoked in even the smallest children. Thanks for including this one! It does make me like my dentist just a little bit more…

  2. Chelsey says:

    My third grade teacher read us this book, and I remember getting very excited when my mother passed “De Soto Street” in the car later that afternoon! Obviously it made an impression!

  3. Michael Sims says:

    Yes, this is a smart and funny and very cleverly drawn book. I love Steig. Thanks for connecting this with dentist day. Your connections are inspired.

  4. Ann Featherstone says:

    I too wish Dr. De Soto was my dentist! I feel sure he would have been more gentle during my last root canal. In seminars on writing for children, I’ve used this book to demonstrate narrative voice. I love the way Steig created a distinct narrator using language without being editorial. And the voice in this story is so erudite, so suave! My favourite line is: “On his way home, he [the fox] wondered if it would be shabby of him to eat the De Sotos when the job was done.” Despite his often sophisticated word choices, Steig never confuses children. Though they sometimes ask about what a word means (and how terrible could that be?) they know pretty much what he is saying anyway. Love him!

  5. Tess W. says:

    This is one of my top ten books of all time. My sister and I used to parade around the house chanting “A pinch of salt and a dryyyyyy white wine!” This is such a fantastic story in part, I think, because it’s so original and yet archetypal. I enjoy the simplicity of the illustrations also – or rather, deceptive simplicity. Each picture is so clear and easy to decode but also very interesting.

    I’m so glad you chose this one, Anita!

  6. Mary Graf says:

    To paraphrase the fox: Fank oo berry mush!

  7. G. Perry says:

    I read this last year, but I’m going to hold off on reading it again for now, because (taking a deep breath…) I’m scheduled for a root canal in the near future. Sigh..

  8. Anita says:

    Gordon: Sorry to hear about the root canal — I hope someone as nice as Dr. DeSoto does the work.

  9. Until just now, I had totally forgotten about this book! I loved it so much as a child – I love the whimsical, bright-colored illustrations. And just the sheer cleverness of the premise. Thank you for reminding me of so many great books of my childhood!

  10. suzi w. says:

    My dad remembers reading this one, but I don’t remember it, so I think he must have read it to my siblings (who are 10 years younger than me). I get to see my dentist tomorrow, the 2nd appointment in a three-part series for two crowns.

    Suzi W.

  11. Ariana Klassen-Glanzer says:

    I gave this to my dental hygienist, whom I love.

    But… has anyone noticed that the fox wears virtually the same outfit Gene Wilder does in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? He has the top hat, purple coat, tan pants, and cane. It can’t possibly be a coincidence, can it?

Leave a Comment

Daily children’s book recommendations and events from Anita Silvey.

Discover the stories behind the children’s book classics . . .

The new books on their way to becoming classics . . .

And events from the world of children’s books—and the world at large.