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Doctor Dolittle and the Green Canary by Hugh Lofting

Doctor Dolittle and the Green Canary


subjects: Children's Fantasy

series: Doctor Dolittle (#11)

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This work is available for countries where copyright is Life+70 or less.


The charming story of Pippinella, the green canary, as told by Pip herself to the Doctor. Although much of the material had been printed originally in 1924 for the Herald Tribune Syndicate, Lofting planned to complete the story in book form but never finished before he died. Lofting’s wife’s sister, Olga Michael, completed the book and it was published posthumously in 1950. Everything except the first and last chapter are by Lofting. Much of the material in this book is repeated from the earlier novel Doctor Dolittle’s Caravan and tells the story of the Doctor’s friend Pippinella the Green Canary, in slightly greater depth.

271 pages with a reading time of ~4.25 hours (67765 words), and first published in 1950. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, .

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This story of the further adventures of Pippinella, the green canary, begins during the time of the Dolittle Circus. It will tell–in much greater detail–the strange events which took place in the life of the little bird before she came to live with John Dolittle.

Pippinella was a rare kind of canary which the Doctor had found in an animal shop while taking a walk with Matthew Mugg, the Cats’-Meat-Man. Thinking he had made a bad bargain because–as he thought–hen canaries couldn’t sing, he had been greatly astonished, on getting her back to the caravan, to find she had a most unusual mezzo-contralto voice.

And what was more unusual still, she had travelled many thousands of miles and lived a most varied and interesting life. When she had told the Doctor some of the dramatic happenings which led up to her being sold to the animal shop he interrupted her to say:

‘You know, Pippinella, for many years now, I have wanted to do a series of animal biographies. But, because most birds and animals have such poor memories for details, I have never been able to get on to paper a complete record of any one animal. However, you seem to be different–to have the knack for remembering the proper things. You’re a born story-teller. Would you be willing to help me write your biography?’

‘Why, certainly, Doctor,’ replied Pippinella. ‘When would you like to begin?’

‘Any time you feel rested enough,’ said the Doctor. ‘I’ll have Too-Too fetch some extra notebooks from the storage tent. How about tomorrow evening after the circus is closed up for the night?’

‘All right,’ said the canary. ‘I’ll be harry to begin tomorrow. I am rather tired tonight; this has been a most trying day. You know, Doctor Dolittle, for a few moments this afternoon I was afraid you were going to pass right by that dreadful shop and leave me there.’

‘Indeed, I might have,’ said John Dolittle, ‘if your cage hadn’t been hanging in the window where I could see how disappointed you looked as I began to move away.’

‘Thank heaven you came back!’ sighed Pippinella. ‘I don’t know how I could have borne another moment in that dirty shop.’

‘Well,’ said the Doctor, ‘that’s all over now. I hope you’ll be very happy with us. We live quite simply here–as you can see. These animals and birds I call my family, and–for the time being–this wagon is our home. One day when we have had enough of circus life, you shall return to Puddleby with us. There you will find life a great deal quieter–but pleasant just the same.’

This conversation, which the Doctor had with the green canary, was all carried on in the bird’s own language. You will remember–from previous stories about John Dolittle and his animal family–that he had learned, many years before, to speak the language of animals and birds. This unique ability had earned for him the friendship and loyalty of all living creatures and had influenced him to change his doctoring of humans to a busy life of caring for the illnesses and injuries of animals, fish and birds.

While the Doctor was talking with the Pippinella about writing her biography, the members of his household had withdrawn to a corner of the wagon and were carrying on a lively discussion. Gub-Gub, the pig, as well as Dab-Dab, the duck, Jip, the dog, and Too-Too, the owl, were quite indignant that the Doctor should choose a newcomer to the group for this great honour. Whitey, the white mouse, being more timid than the others, just listened and thought about the idea. But Gub-Gub, the most conceited of the lot, said that he was going to speak to the Doctor about it.

So the next evening, when the family had gathered in the wagon to hear the continuation of the canary’s story, Gub-Gub cleared his throat nervously and spoke up.

‘I don’t see why anyone would want to read the biography of a mere canary,’ he grumbled. ‘My life is much more interesting. Why, the places I’ve been! Africa, Asia, and the Fiji Islands. Not to mention the food I’ve eaten. I’m a celebrity for that if for nothing else. Now, what can a canary know about food–eating nothing but dried-up seeds and bread-crumbs? And where could she go–cooped up in a cage most of her life?’

‘Food! Food! That’s all you think about,’ snapped Too-Too. ‘I think it’s more important to be a good mathematician. Take me, for instance; I know to the penny how much gold there is in the Bank of England!’

‘I have a gold collar from a king,’ said Jip. ‘That’s something!’

‘I suppose it’s nothing that I can make a bed so it’s fit for decent folk to sleep in!’ snapped Dab-Dab. ‘And who, I’d like to know, keeps you all healthy and well fed. I think that’s more important!’

Whitey just sat there and didn’t say a word; he didn’t really think his life was interesting enough for a biography. When the Doctor looked at him with a questioning expression on his face Whitey dropped his eyelids and pretended to be asleep.