Whenever I’m in a second-hand bookshop, the first thing I always do is go to the children’s shelves and look for a copy of Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang by Mordecai Richler. But I’m not looking for just any copy; it has to have the original 1970s cover with illustrations by Fritz Wegner. Jacob Two-Two is still in print and can be ordered from the US, but only with very ugly modern covers.
Look at that! Isn’t that a magnificent cover? Doesn’t the Hooded Fang look ferocious? Aren’t you wondering why he’s wearing such a revealing dressing gown?
Jacob Two-Two is the youngest of five children, and feels so disregarded in his large rowdy family that he finds it necessary to say everything two times. This lands him in a pile of trouble when he offends a local grocer by asking for `two pounds of firm red tomatoes’ twice. Before Jacob Two-Two knows it, he has been tried before a very unsympathetic judge, and incarcerated in the dreary Slimer’s Isle prison that is ruled by the terminally cranky Hooded Fang. Luckily for Jacob, the intrepid Shapiro and O’Toole (who bear a suspicious resemblance to Jacob’s brother Noah and sister Emma) from child liberation organisation Child Power have a plan to spring all the children from the jail. But Jacob Two-Two also has an anonymous helper and friend within the bars of the prison…
Fritz Wagner’s illustrations are absolutely gorgeous and oh-so-seventies. Here we have the dramatic scene of Shapiro and O’Toole confronting the courtroom. As a child I desperately wanted a Child Power outfit with flared Day-Glo jeans. I didn’t even know what Day-Glo jeans were at the time, but I wanted some.
I related very strongly to Jacob Two-Two as I was also the youngest child in my family. I understood perfectly his feeling that he could not be heard, and shared his frustration at being too short, too young, too weak, too silly and too careless to do so many grown-up things his siblings were allowed to do.
Mordecai Richler confirmed my suspicions that there are some adults who pretend to love children, but who do not; and equally, that there are some adults who pretend to hate children, but secretly love them. And I loved the message that the gnarliest, foulest-looking monsters could be the biggest softies of us all.
I’m not joking when I say this could be the best book ever written. I have memories of walking around the house as a child, with Jacob Two-Two clutched to my chest, and muttering lines from it under my breath as if they were spells.
Leanne’s new book ‘Queen of the Night’ will be published by Text Publishing in February 2012. For more, visit Leanne’s blog.