A family of earthworms is sitting down to dinner when the “child” cries out “There’s a hair in my dirt!” Start of a joke or shaggy dog story? Not exactly. It’s a book by Gary Larson, of Far Side fame, about basic natural science and Biology 101. And worms. And how people misinterpret the world around them.
The book begins with the child worm complaining about how worms are the bottom and ickiest rung in the world of nature, set off by a hair in his “dinner”1. The mother worm, which in typical Larsen fashion has a 1950’s bright red fright wig and cats’ eye rhinestone glasses is aghast, but the father worm, complete with pipe2, proceeds to tell a faux fairy tale, beginning with the traditional “Once upon a time”, of a beautiful (for a human in a Gary Larson cartoon) but typically dim young maiden who prances through a picturesque day gushing over and misinterpreting the wonders of nature around her. To her, the flowers are pretty and the birds’ song is melodious. To the flowers, their blooms are attracting pollination and therefore ensuring fertilization of their seeds for next year’s flowers. To the birds, their song warns other birds off their territory, and therefore ensuring they get mates this year in order to ensure another generation of chicks. To her, the ants are good parents, the slug slimy, the toad kissable, and the snake is cruelly offing a defenseless mousie. In reality, however, the ants are abducting the eggs of their competitors, the slug merely unpleasantly sticky while the toad is poisonous and the snake a valuable predator clearing the area of pests which are not only devouring other animals’ food but which are also disease vectors…and it is this last which does in the enthusiastic but clueless Harriet. In the course of rescuing the “hapless” mouse from the “cruel” snake, she catches the disease for which the mouse is a vector, and it is one of her hairs which ended up in the disgruntled young worm’s dinner.
The father worm’s story is, of course, accompanied by Gary Larson’s illustrations which, not surprisingly, included elements of Larson’s…er…sardonic humor. Bears lurk behind boulders, poring over human identification guides, or assemble for picnics by salmon runs, complete with jars of tartar sauce. Gangs of tough squirrel thugs loiter behind trees, smoking and wearing leather jackets. Birdsong translates to “yew-en-whut-armee?”, “Yew tawkin’ta-mee?” and so on.
If you like The Far Side and worms, chances are you’ll like There’s A Hair In My Dirt. For those who aren’t fans of Larson’s work or who have never heard of him: you might want to read it yourself before letting your innocent children read the book3. This may be closer in design to the conventional picture book–full page illustrations accompanied by a block of text off to the side–than what most readers and librarians would consider a graphic novel, but it’s not necessarily for the very young or squeamish among us. I suspect that the more conservative or conventional parents of kids of the traditional “read to me” age might hesitate about reading it to their kids, although anyone old enough to be interested in worms and dirt would appreciate it. It might also serve as an amusing introduction to high school biology or life sciences.
1well, what would worms have for dinner?
2no, I know worms haven’t got mouths in quite that sense. Bear with me; this is Gary Larsen we’re talking.
3Just as a distinction: If your kids have nightmares after watching movies like Finding Nemo, they won’t like this, but if they holler “BRUCE!” upon seeing the sharks at the aquarium…let them at the book.