Doctor De Soto
Front cover of unknown edition
|Genre||Children's picture book|
|Publisher||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
Doctor De Soto is a picture book for children written and illustrated by William Steig and first published in 1982. It features a mouse-dentist who must help a fox with a toothache without being eaten.
Doctor De Soto was also recognized as a Newbery Honor Book. At 32 pages it is one of the shortest to be honored in that awards program.
The story is about Dr. De Soto, a mouse dentist who lives in a world of anthropomorphic animals. He and his wife, who serves as his assistant, work together to treat patients with as little pain as possible. Dr. De Soto uses different chairs, depending on the size of the animal, with Mrs. De Soto guiding her husband with a system of pulleys for treating extra-large animals. They refuse to treat any animal who likes to eat mice.
One day, a fox with a toothache drops by and begs for treatment. Dr. De Soto feels pity for the fox and Mrs. De Soto suggests they risk it, so they admit the fox for treatment. They give the fox some anesthetic and proceed to treat the bad tooth. However, while under the effects of the anesthetic, the fox unknowingly exclaims how he would love to eat the mice, but also notes that it is crass to try to eat the creature that had just relieved him of much pain. The De Sotos remove the bad tooth, and tell the fox to come back the next day to get a false tooth. Later that night, Dr. and Mrs. De Soto debate whether to readmit the fox. Dr. De Soto feels it was foolish to trust a fox, but Mrs. De Soto says she thinks the fox was reacting to the anesthetic in his comments. In the end Dr. De Soto vows to finish the job, and they prepare the new tooth, formulating a plan for how to insert it without getting eaten.
The next day, the fox returns; he is much happier, out of pain, and anxiously awaits installation of his new tooth. The De Sotos proceed with their work, but the fox is licking his lips and thinking about eating the mice. The De Sotos use a long stick to open his jaws and put in the new tooth. The fox has decided to eat them, but his jaws are braced apart, so he cannot grab them. Dr. De Soto uses a special mouth glue and spreads it onto the fox's teeth. When the fox closes his mouth, his teeth are stuck together. The De Sotos tell him to wait a few days or a few hours before the special glue wears off. (They kept their plan a secret from the fox and pretended that it was part of the treatment).
The fox goes home, not realizing that he had been tricked, but disappointed at his failure to eat the De Sotos. The book ends with the De Sotos triumphant at having "outfoxed the fox", and they take the day off.
An animated short of Doctor De Soto was directed in 1984 by American animator Michael Sporn.  It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. Also in 1984 the film adaptation of this book received the CINE Golden Eagle Award in Education.
- Picture books were separately recognized for only two years in National Book Awards history, during four years when there were dual hardcover and paperback awards in many categories.