Curiosity, courage, forbearance and friendship are themes at the heart of “The Curious Lobster,” an engaging story for children and adults alike. Written by Richard Hatch (1898-1985), this newly released edition combines both the “The Curious Lobster” and “The Curious Lobster’s Island,” stories that have enchanted readers for nearly 80 years. It is a kind of American cousin to the English tale, “The Wind in the Willows,” published in 1908.

Mr. Lobster is, at 68, the oldest and biggest lobster in the Ocean. He learns a fateful lesson as a youth when he sees another lobster feasting on fish inside a slatted, wooden crate. When the trap is rapidly jerked to the surface, and then returned empty with fresh bait, Mr. Lobster is forever forewarned to avoid such contraptions. The experience, however, serves to pique his curiosity about the world. “…satisfying your curiosity is what brings knowledge,” he tells himself. “You must have courage to satisfy your curiosity.”

Curious where sculpin, his noisy neighbor, goes every day, Mr. Lobster make an inquiry. The fish tells him he goes up the river to eat. Because he’s never been up the river himself, Mr. Lobster decides he must go to learn what he might learn. Sculpin warns him that whatever he does, he must not go up on land. Land is dry and he might die.

On his first adventure upriver, Mr. Lobster encounters Mr. Badger, fishing on a bank. When Mr. Badger invites him ashore, Mr. Lobster allows his curiosity to get the better of him and climbs out of the water. Thus begins the first of his grand adventures. Being careful not to dry out is paramount, and by keeping that in mind that, the unlikely pair can become friends. Through a wild turn of events, Mr. Bear shows up, captures Mr. Lobster and attempts to boil him. But Mr. Badger rescues his friend.

All’s well that ends well, and Mr. Lobster, Mr. Badger and Mr. Bear become friends. The three couldn’t be more different: Mr. Lobster is curious and wants to become wise by learning more about the world; Mr. Badger thinks of himself as a natural leader, and concocts one hare-brained adventure after another, forever tricking his friends to go along with him; and Mr. Bear loves nothing so much as staying home, being comfortable and never having to work. In their widening adventures together, each has the opportunity to rescue the others. Together or separately, they encounter owl, seagull, turtle, mouse and, finally, serpent.

In the course of the stories, they borrow a rowboat, stow away on a ship, then steal a sailboat for their grandest adventure ever.

“Mr. Lobster took to the sea, although he planned to come ashore and crawl on the beach and in the woods once in a while so that he could keep in practice living out of water,” Hatch wrote. “He was still very curious about birds and trees and such land things, and he liked to watch birds flying, which was a wonderful thing he was most curious about. So he couldn’t think of spending all his time under water, although he knew, in spite of what Mr. Badger and Mr. Bear had said, that under water was really the best place of all. ‘I suppose,’ he said to himself, ‘that each person thinks his own home is the best; just think of all the best places there must in the world!'”

Though not as lyrical as “The Wind in the Willows,” Hatch’s book has the makings of a classic. It is brimming with adventures that stir thoughts on friendship, prudence, seeking to find the best in others and the bright side of all misfortunes. The exquisite pen-and-ink illustrations by Marion Freeman Wakemen (1891-1953) are spare and focused, yet poignant and dramatic. The book is well suited to be read aloud to young children and to be savored by adults.

Frank O Smith is a writer and ghostwriter whose novel, “Dream Singer,” was a finalist for what’s become the PEN/Bellwether Prize. It was also named a Notable Book of the Year in Literary Fiction by “Shelf Unbound,” the international review magazine. Smith can be reached via his website

frankosmithstories.com

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CORRECTION: This story was updated at 7:10 p.m. on Nov. 15, 2018, to correct the year of Richard Hatch’s death. 

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