Like most kids, I had a lot of stuffed animals when I was little, but there was one who was my favorite.
Peabody came into my life shortly after I woke up from having my tonsils removed the year I was in first grade. He was given to me by Dr. Marner, and remained by my side during the next week of Jell-O, ice cream and watching cartoons on the couch. About this same time, one of my brothers received a copy of the picture book Peabody by Rosemary Wells.
Comparable to The Velveteen Rabbit and Pixar’s Toy Story, Peabody is the story of a teddy bear who is given to his person, Annie, on her birthday. They have a great first year together. They ski in the winter, plant a garden in the spring, and collect seashells during their summer vacation. Peabody shows some wear and tear from these adventures, but Annie assures him that he isn’t growing old; he’s growing in.
Soon it’s Annie’s birthday again, and she receives doll (Rita) that walks and talks. Peabody can’t compete with Rita and is put on a shelf, where he is eventually forgotten. Luckily for him, Annie has a mischievous little brother, Robert, who plays with Rita when he shouldn’t and breaks her. (Reading this story now, I see definite similarities between Annie and Robert, and Wells’ popular brother-sister bunny duo, Max and Ruby.)
Losing Rita reminds Annie of how much she loves Peabody, a toy who doesn’t require bells and whistles to bring her joy, and the friends are reunited.
I named my bear Peabody after this book. I took him to camp. I took him to college. He moved with me to my first grown up job after college — and every job since. He now has a place of honor on my nightstand. His nose and smile are long gone, one plastic eye is scratched from a tussle with a dog, and his neck flops around after years of being lovingly choked while I slept.
He is the greatest stuffed bear in the world. And on Sunday, I’ll meet the author of the book that inspired his name.
Rosemary Wells will be at the Iowa City Public Library from 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday in Meeting Room A. Her visit, which is co-sponsored by Prairie Lights Books, will include a video tour of her studio, as well as her thoughts about reading, writing and illustrating. Prairie Lights will have copies of her books for sale before and after the presentation.
Peabody is no longer in print, but I still have the copy I swiped from my brother years ago (Sorry John!) and look forward to asking her to sign it.
Peabody will be so happy.