My friend, Rosie, a trendsetting 2nd grader with sophisticated taste in clothing, cooking shows, and fiction, recently introduced me to a new children’s book character, Dory Fantasmagory. After reading the two Dory books, I quickly became obsessed.
In many ways, Dory reminds me of the children in my practice. She so badly wants to do the right thing, and make everyone around her happy. But somehow she ends up undermining her own best intentions at every turn.
Dory has a range of unusual talents that set her apart from her peers, but are of questionable practical value. For example, she can eat cereal in such a way that it comes out her nose. She hums for no reason.
Dory contemplates life’s most complex questions, such as: “What is the opposite of a sandwich? Why do we have armpits?”
She has a heightened sensitivity to sensory, interpersonal, and spiritual elements of our universe, and she is among the very few who can actually see her own fairy godfather.
In contrast to Dory’s capacity for high-level thinking, she is dependent on others to complete basic self-care tasks, such as getting herself dressed and undressed. She often wears her clothes inside out, or substitutes costumes for school attire.
She takes a method approach to imaginary play.
She struggles with transitions.
Everyone in her family calls her Rascal, which suggests that her behavior is of a mischievous or volitional nature, when, in fact, she is trying to do the right thing, and is constantly caught off guard by other people’s negative reactions.
Much of the time Dory seems oblivious to her impact on others, but the cumulative effect of others’ negative responses seems to be impacting her sense of self worth.
When she encounters her fairy godfather, she pleads with him to turn her into something else, because she has “too many problems as a human.”
I reached out to Abby Hanlon, the author of Dory Fantasmagory and Dory and the Real True Friend, who agreed to a joint interview with Rosie and me. I let Rosie take the lead.
What inspired you to write Dory Fantasmagory?
My own kids inspired me. I have twins who are now nine years old, but when I first got the idea to write Dory, they were five years old. I remember when my son was little, listening to him play upstairs by himself, and there was SO MUCH NOISE—his feet running back and forth, his body slamming against the walls, all of his gear (whatever it was—backpack loaded with toy food, a pan, a mop, a bunch of blocks) crashing to the floor, and lots of yelling and banging and explosion sounds. I would call up the stairs, "Are you okay?"
And he would call down to say that he was just battling a monster or some weird character he made up. And I was amazed by how real it was to him, and how as I went about my life as a mom doing laundry and washing dishes and other boring stuff, there was another more interesting story happening in my house, that seemed just as real to my son as anything else. So, that was how I got the idea. I wanted to write a book where real and imaginary are happening at the same time.
How did you come up with the character of Mrs. Gobble Gracker? Is she based on someone real?
Mrs. Gobble Gracker is not based on someone real. She evolved from some doodling in my sketchbook. I was just having fun drawing a creepy lady and then I realized she would make a good character. She was the first character I had for the book, even before Dory.
Why did you make it so that Violet and Luke [Dory’s sister and brother] wouldn't believe Rosabelle was real?
Because I thought if Dory made a real actual friend at school, there is no way Luke and Violet would believe her since they think she is too weird and quirky for anybody to like her. Also, when I was a kid, I remember how frustrated I was when my brother and sister didn't believe me when I was telling the truth.
Where did Mr. Nuggy come from?
For some reason when my daughter was very little she would call her brother "Mr. Nuggy"—but only when she was mad at him. I thought it would make a good name for an imaginary friend. I can't remember how I decided to make him Dory's fairy godfather. It seems like he just decided to do that himself.
Are you one of the characters?
Yes! I am the youngest child in my family. I have an older sister and brother, and just like in Dory's family, we are all close in age. When I was a kid, I was very imaginative, and my brother and sister used to laugh at me for talking to myself. So Dory's feelings come from my own childhood, but I never actually did any of the things that Dory does—all of those details I got from my own kids.
For example, my son gave the doctor a shot once! He had a cow costume that he wore every day for almost a year. And he pretended to be a dog named Buffy for about three years. My daughter used to refuse to take off her nightgown like Dory. She used to wear lots of skirts like Rosabelle. And she called salami "floppy cookies." Together, my kids used to make lots of forts and poison soups, and drag each other around in laundry baskets.
Why do Luke and Violet give Dory such a hard time?
Because every story needs to have a problem! Dory's brother and sister think she is annoying, so she makes up her own friends who think she's terrific. But the more she talks to her imaginary friends, the more annoying she becomes to her brother and sister.
Do you have plans to write more Dory books?
Yes! I am writing the third Dory book now, which will come out in September 2016. In this book, Dory will be struggling to learn how to read. She wants to read chapter books like Rosabelle but she has to read babyish farm books with her reading partner, George. But when a little sheep comes out of the book and starts following Dory around, Dory finds a way to make reading fun!