William Steig (1907-2003)

Doktor de Soto

Transl. into German by Barbara Haupt
Frankfurt/Main: Insel Taschenbuch, 1989
[20] fol., col. pen-and-ink
17,8 x 12,5 cm, pictorial soft covers*

OE: Doctor De Soto
New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1982

The book and its history

This story of the mouse dentist and his wife is one of Steig's best-known books in Germany. Out of compassion, they feel compelled to treat a patient who is dangerous to them, a fox. 
Large animals always present a special challenge to the little dentist, and performing surgery in the jaws of a natural enemy requires special measures. Dr. De Soto saves his own life and that of his wife by coating the fox's teeth with a glue that seals his mouth for two days until, freed from pain, he can bite again. In this book, Steig plays with virtually all expectations in connection with a visit to the dentist. Unlike the normal scenario, however, it is not the patient who is afraid, but the doctor.
The pictures frequently change perspective. We join Dr. De Soto as he fearfully looks down through his window at his threatening patient on the street, then as he examines the inside of his jaws. We see the dentist high up on the ladder or bent down working the handle of the pulley to pull out the bad tooth.
In the end, we smile a sigh of relief: the cunning fox has been outfoxed by the friendly dentist couple!

Biographical note

William Steig, born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1907, died in Boston in 2003, named King of the Cartoon by Newsweek Magazine in 1995, also became known for his award-winning picture and children's books in the late 1960s.


Raised in modest circumstances as the son of Polish immigrants in the Bronx, he studied drawing at the National Academy of Graphic and Design in New York from 1925 to 1929. As early as 1930, he was able to place his first cartoon with the New Yorker. By the time of his death, he had drawn more than 1,600 cartoons and about 120 covers for the intellectual city magazine, which is still respected today. John Updike said of Steig that his cartoons not only visualize a joke, but also make us think about the nature of the reality that surrounds us.


Steig developed his style of multi-layered drawings in the 1930s, humorous, at times tongue-in-cheek, illustrating states of mind and emotions, and became a model for many subsequent cartoonists.

From the late 1930s, he published a series of comic books, before turning to picture books rather by chance at the age of 60, and since then he produced more than 30 titles. He became known worldwide for the animated 3D film and, subsequently, a series of computer games based on his picture book Shrek! in 1990.

Steig said of himself that he has always had a close bond with the child inside him, and many of his early cartoons also involve children. He had a special admiration for Pablo Picasso, whom he once quoted as follows: "All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." It becomes clear that Steig saw his picture books as integral part of his art, as the following quote from his acceptance speech for the Caldecott Medal for "Sylvester and the Magic Pebble",1969, shows: "Art has the power to make any spot on earth the living center of the universe."


Claudia J. Nahson: The Art of William Steig,
Jewish Museum, New York, 2007
New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007

Lee Lorenz, The World of William Steig,
Introduction by John Updike
New York: Artisan, 1998

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