Hop along with Uncle Wiggily Longears

Published 7:30 am Saturday, July 16, 2022

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I saw him—it really was him, an old friend, Uncle Wiggily Longears, sitting high atop a pile of books in a south Alabama bookstore. It had a colorfully illustrated book jacket with his picture on it. Dear old Uncle Wiggily. It really is you, I whispered, and reached for one of the books to browse. I flipped it open. The type and illustrations were similar to the paperback books I had read and loved as a child. Certainly it was authentic. Right away I spotted Nurse Fuzzy Wuzzy, Uncle Wiggily’s muskrat housekeeper, and his friend Dr. Possum.

Right there in the bookstore among the sale tables as I thumbed through the pages, I remembered myself as an eight or nine year old, sitting on the couch in my aunt’s living room, reading page after page of Uncle Wiggily stories to my five year-old cousin. When I completed one story, he begged for “just one more” until before I knew it, we finished the whole book. I wondered if he remembered our setting out on an adventure together with the cheerful bunny rabbit gentleman who helped us forget a sudden summer shower that chased us inside the house, or how the pain from a stubbed toe somehow subsided just as Uncle Wiggily made an animal’s problem disappear. The characters came alive to me again.

The creator of Uncle Wiggily was Howard R. Garis, a reporter, whose first Uncle Wiggily story appeared in Newark News on January 1, 1910. It apparently was a big success right away. After the first one, the newspaper published one a day except on Sunday. By the time he retired he had written more than 11,000 Uncle Wiggily stories. Somewhere during that time, his work was nationally syndicated. He had numerous pen names for his series. For example, The Mystery Boys Series, pen name: Van Powell. The Baseball Joe Series, pen name, Lester Chadwick. Tom Cardiff series, by Howard R. Garis. Circus Animals, published by R.F. Fenno. Bed Time Series, by Garis, in which each volume contained 31 stories, one for each day of the month. other Garis series, The Buddy Series, and Happy Home Series. Winkipedia lists 24 Uncle Wiggily books by Howard R. Garis.

It is no surprise to me that Garis was one of the most influential children’s authors of his time. From the looks of the Uncle Wiggily books I saw on display in the bookstore, children must still be enjoying the stories of the elderly rabbit. Checks on websites reveal there are varied items like t-shirts, books with easy to read type, board games and more. Some with book covers are so delightful to look at that they probably influence adults to take a peek, or maybe purchase some Uncle Wiggily item for themselves or a child.

Well, of course, I saw my great pal calling me in that book store, so I looked over the selections and bought one with a beautiful color cover. I could not wait to get home to start reading.

I can hear my son now: “You got that with the gift certificate I gave you for Christmas?” It is obvious he never knew my rabbit friend. The book was all worn out by the time he came along.