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, or simply has the patient sit on the floor, 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 anesthesia, the fox unknowingly exclaims how he loves to eat mice (including with a dry, white wine). The De Sotos remove the bad tooth, and tell the fox to come back the next day to get a false tooth. On his way home, the fox notes that it is crass to try to eat the creature that had just relieved him of much pain, but still doesn't dismiss the idea. Later that night, Dr. and Mrs. De Soto, as she prepares the new tooth, 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, as his father taught him, to finish the job he started, and they formulate a plan to protect themselves.
The next day, the fox returns; he is much happier, out of pain, and anxiously awaits installation of his new tooth. Dr. De Soto puts in the new tooth, but by now the fox has decided to give in to temptation and eat them. Dr. De Soto then introduces a new formula the couple created recently, and claiming that one application will prevent toothaches forever asks the fox if he'd like to be the first to try it, who, hating pain, readily agrees. The dentist takes his time and paints each tooth with the formula, then has the patient clench his jaws shut for a full minute. The fox is surprised to find that his mouth has been glued shut, as this is what the secret formula really is, but Dr. De Soto states that he "should have mentioned" that the formula needs time to permeate the dentin and as a result, the fox will not be able to open his mouth for a day or two. Stunned, the deceived patient can only reply with 'tank oo berry mush' and in a daze, leave with as much dignity as possible.
The book ends with the De Sotos triumphant at having "outfoxed the fox", and they take the rest of 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.