Pity that Shakespeare never met Ruby the river otter, the heroine of a series of children’s books by Chicoan Thersa Mallinger. The Bard specialized in plays on words; Ruby specializes in words on play. Ruby, it seems, doesn’t know how to play.
Mallinger writes on her website (rubytheriverotter.com) about an event at Bidwell Park near Bear Hole. “I was blessed to witness a group of river otters playing! So, so cute!!!!! What an adorable idea for a character in a children’s story, I remember thinking to myself. Just like that, Ruby the River Otter was born!”
Through her books Mallinger encourages “self-exploration and discovery through creativity.”
“Ruby The River Otter Doesn’t Know How To Play” ($14.95 in paperback, self-published, available at Made In Chico and the Chico State University bookstore) traces Ruby’s quest to imitate other animals. She floats in the river like the alligator but “soon, Ruby’s back began to get hot and a fly flew right into her mouth. ‘PTOOEY!’ Ruby sputtered, spitting out the fly! She decided it was absolutely arduous trying to be an alligator!”
Ruby tries to have fun like the beaver, but just gets bits of wood stuck in her teeth. So how about being a songbird? “Instead of whistling, a bunch of spit and branches came flying out. She gave the birds a bath ... and it wasn’t the type of bath that birds like at all! ... It was bonkers trying to be a boisterous bird!” (The boisterous illustrations are by Bonnie Lemaire)
The bears, unbearable. The burrowing owl, a loner. So Ruby rubbed on sap, stuck on sticks and pretended to be a porcupine. “There, now no one will want to play with me, and no one will ever need to know that I don’t know how to play.”
But the story’s not over. When the snows come, Ruby makes a discovery. Maybe she does know how to play, a “porcupine” rolling down the riverbank, just being herself. For isn’t that what river otters do best?
Mallinger will be a guest at the Chico State bookstore May 9 from 1- 2 p.m.; the public is invited.