Listen to the Recess! Clip
Brief sound clip
That’s Neil Patrick Harris (remember Doogie Hauser, M.D.?) reading the opening of Elmore Leonard’s first book for children, A Coyote’s in the House. The story plays with one of Leonard’s favorite themes from his adult fiction (like Get Shorty): the wiley outsider breaks into the star-struck world of Hollywood and ends up being better at the role than the insiders. Here, it’s Antwan, the young aspiring leader of the pack, the Howling Diablos, who, while he’s foraging for dinner in the Hollywood Hills one night, leaps into the backyard of a mansion while he’s chasing a wasabi and sushi-covered mouse and ends up meeting a washed-up dog movie star, the German Shepard Buddy, who gives Antwan an entry into the world of privilege, peanut butter cookies ready for the taking, and poodles like Miss Betty, the trophy-winning show dog, with whom Antwan falls immediately and hopelessly in love.
Leonard’s style – quick-moving, edgy, smart-alecky, and street smart – wouldn’t seem to be a likely fit for a story for young people. It certainly isn’t a book for younger children, and I’d caution parents to first read it or listen to it in audio format in order to judge whether or not it belongs in your family’s library. Yet, there’s something about its fresh honesty, its lack of any of the usual assumptions about children’s books – what they are and what they can be about – that makes it work, especially for adolescents. It’s a little rough and slouchy, with some attitude; but it’s also an achingly innocent love story. And though it’s part of the long tradition of talking animal fables and fantasies in children’s literature (from Aesop to the present), A Coyote’s in the House is also saying something that’s very much about our celebrity-driven, contemporary scene (that young people are certainly observing), with its class divisions and pretensions, its separation from the authentic, natural world, and its crushing realities that would defeat all by the strongest, most resilient and romantic hearts – human or coyote.