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The Girl Who Owned a Bear

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"The Girl Who Owned a Bear" is a short story by L. Frank Baum, one of his American Fairy Tales first published in 1901.

Summary

Her mother leaves Jane Gladys Brown in the care of Nora the maid and goes shopping. While Nora polishes the silver in the pantry, Jane Gladys is left to her own resources. Nestled in the sitting room's bay window, she works on her embroidery, until she is interrupted by the arrival of a mysterious little man with a bald head and a shabby suit.

The strange man says he is a book agent. He has a quarrel with Jane Gladys's father, who refused to buy a copy of the Complete Works of Peter Smith, and even threw the book agent out of his office. The book agent wants revenge; but since Mr. Brown is "big and strong and a dangerous man," the agent chooses to exact his revenge from the man's little daughter. He gives the girl the large book he is carrying, first inscribing her name on its first page; then he leaves.

Inevitably curious, Jane Gladys inspects the book. It has a red and yellow cover, and is titled Thingamajigs. She opens it to a picture of a clown, with a white painted face and a costume of green, red, and yellow. She is astonished when the clown climbs out of the picture and into the room beside her. The clown is glib at first, but his spirits are quickly crushed when the girl notices that he is clownish only in front; his back side is a blank white, since the artist only drew the clown in a front view.

Further inspection of the volume liberates a monkey, a donkey, and a leopard from book to sitting room. The animals complain of their state; the donkey grouses that the artist has drawn him in poor perspective, and indeed the animal has an unfortunate tendency to topple over. The monkey dislikes his unnaturally large ears; the leopard snarls that he has no teeth or claws and cannot even open his mouth.

Jane Gladys drops the book to the floor, and in so doing exposes one more picture at the back of the volume. She now confronts a full sized grizzly bear, who is equipped with both teeth and claws, and a strong desire to eat little girls. The child manages to save herself by cleverly claiming to be the bear's owner. The book from which he came is her "private property," as shown by her name on the front leaf. The bear is forced to concede that it would be wrong for him to eat her.

Suddenly the doorbell rings; Mamma is home from shopping. Even before Jane Gladys can reprove the "stupid creatures," they leap back into the book with "a swish and a whirr and a rustling of leaves...." And that is that.

Background

"The Girl Who Owned a Bear" is one of the three stories in the collection illustrated by Harry Kennedy.

In the book's first story, "The Box of Robbers," the girl protagonist's problem is similarly solved by a doorbell's ring.

E. Nesbit wrote a story about animals emerging from the pictures of a book; her "The Book of Beasts" was included in her 1900 collection The Book of Dragons. There is no clear indication that Baum knew of, read, or was influenced by Nesbit's story; the two writers may well have arrived at their tales independently of each other. In G.E. Farrow's The Wallypug in London (1898), the book's characters step out of a painting.

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