on April 10, 2008
I don't know about you, pal, but I've always felt there never can be too many books, especially children's picture books, about hard-boiled toy rabbit shamuses who perform brain surgery on a stuffed duck. Turns out, and your jaw's going to hit the linoleum at the news, there really haven't been many books at all about hard-boiled toy rabbit shamuses, etc. etc. Darn few.
Incandescently-gifted writer/designer/illustrator Scott Nash dives in to rectify this lamentable lacuna of literature with "Tuff Fluff: The Case of Duckie's Missing Brain" (just out in softcover). Mr. Nash has tickled the funny bone of countless wee bairns of nosepicker vintage with his marvelous illustrations, which grace dozens of fine picture books, including "Flat Stanley", "Saturday Night at the Dinosaur Stomp", "Over The Moon", "The Bugliest Bug", and "Pickle and Penguin". "Tuff Fluff" is the first book in which Mr. Nash has unbuckled his giddy literary imagination and let fly a story of his own, a detective saga, one set in the sordid overbelly of Los Attic, where, if life is not exactly cheap, the storage is indisputably dusty. It's populated entirely by toys.
Tuff Fluff is the shamus. He wears an eyepatch, a Tang-colored bow-tie as wide as his head, and, truth be told, nothing else. This may well be standard garb for stuffed gumpaws, and I'm willing to take Mr. Nash's word for it. Presumably, the stuffy humidity of Los Attic would deflect any sane shamus away from the regulation-issue detective trench coat and felt fedora....though the same could easily be said of California, and that didn't stop Bogart. He needed storage space for his roscoe, his cigarette papers, assorted dinguses, a red herring or two, and his pocket flask. T.F., who travels light, carries none of these.
As our nocturnal yarn begins, Fluff's doing the crossword in his office, located "in the Ace Moving Box" in Los Attic ("The City That Always Sleeps"), when trouble knocks at the door. Need I tell you it's a dame? Trouble is Bluebell, a dead ringer for Lauren Bacall if Lauren Bacall were a turbo-plus-sized teddy bear "as big and blue as a whale in a room full of oranges". Bacall was way taller than Bogie, but you ain't never seen a height-differential like this. Bluebell may be big-boned, but she's plush---and she's plush in all the right places.
Bluebell has a sidekick---a duck. Duckie, by name. Yellow, by hue. Peter Lorre eyes. And he's one wacko quacko, jacko. He's neither gunsel nor gosling, but he's lost his gift for gab. All he does now is quack. T.F. finds nothing amiss in this, but Bluebell bats her ursine baby-blues, and before you can say "teddy-whipped" Fluff takes on the case. He doesn't even bother to ask for a retainer. Silly rabbit.
The ensuing action is, duh, action-packed. It's suspenseful, weird, hilarious, loud, and (toddler boys take note) at least one character gets bitten on the butt. Plenty of seedy, or at least raggedy, stuffed toys flush out the dramatis personae, all masterfully, colorfully, delineated by Mr. Nash in his illustrator trousers. Fluff, who is one agile lapin, saves the day---or I guess the night---by his surgical as well as his investigative skills. He's ably abetted by Bluebell, who (in a deft liposuction metaphor) donates some of her very own innards to restore Duckie's cognitive functionality. To paraphrase Sam Spade, "it's the stuffing dreams are made of." (Rim shot.)
Mr. Nash says he wanted to render "the sort of fantastic drama that kids might play out with a cast of stuffed animals and action figures". Tuff Fluff's first caper, the first of many, let's hope, fulfills this intention with jaunty style. A book briefly glimpsed along the way, "The High Seas Adventure of Blue Jay the Pirate" (the cover depicts an avian swashbuckler who, need I tell you, sports an eyepatch) is the next enchilada on Mr. Nash's plate, as it happens, and you'd do well to keep your peepers peeled for it, bucko. In the meantime, "Tuff Fluff" will keep the funny bones of you and your toddlers thoroughly tickled.
Review by David English, Somerville, MA.